Archive for July, 2018|Monthly archive page

Cigarette advertising blooming like summer flowers

It is true, I did say it was quiet, not much doing on the cigarette advertising advertising front. Anything but, now. First up Camel (left). Sticking with the “Do your Thing” strapline here we have two relatively young people with (unlit) cigarettes in their mouths (always an unattractive image, surely?) doing their own thing. In line with the campaign more widely – and there are many examples elsewhere in this blog – the message is “Fuck off”?

Next up, Pall Mall is back with some fantastic tosh. Take “New Neighbour, New Friend” (right) as part of the “Enjoy the moment” campaign. How nice, meet on the balcony and be introduced by sharing a death stick. Most people do the introductions safely using an intermediary, such as a dog or cat.

Same campaign, same nonsense. Sorry about this one, it has been literally defaced, but none the worse for it. Strapline is very clever: boring short holiday or long-time short holiday. I do not know whether this a a play on the old British saying that I know confuses German speakers. “What did you do on your holiday?” We did nothing”. “Great!” “How can doing nothing be anything but boring?” “Is doing nothing good?”

Finally, (un)Lucky Strike is back (right). Now this one is truly bizarre. And it is almost in line with the Pall Mall neighbours above. The innovation here is that the cigarettes are brown. Not great, I would have thought, but there you go. But added to that, there is now a Luck Strike dating app, “Cigarillo”, presumably for people with a death wish?

“Flaschendrehen trifft”, by my translation, is something like “meet by spinning the bottle”. Random? But to make it even stranger, if one looks at the packet with the “cigarettes are deadly” warning on the white block, one finds, “Wollen sie aufhören?” – “Do you want to stop smoking?” Mixed messages, at the very least.

 

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Competition over the tracks: the EU seems to learn nothing from the British experience?

Back in the 1990s I a wrote a PhD thesis. It was about railways. The privatisation of the UK rail system. Actually, it was two theses. The first part was about privatisation; the second, contrasting part, was about the Beeching years where the network was significantly reduced. Anyone wanting to read it can do so here.

The UK passenger rail industry was privatised using a franching model. The infrastructure management was separated from the provision of train services. Contrived competition came as a result of competition for 7-year franchises, not between trains running over the same track. However, there was to be limited “open access” whereby new operators could have rights over train paths in competition with franchise holders. Out of that provision came Hull Trains (now owned by FirstGroup) and Grand Central (Deutsche Bahn) linking towns and cities that were essentially cut from the Intercity services on privatisation. These open access services have been, arguably, some of the successes of rail privatisation.

I remember at the time the “blame” for privatisation by advocates as coming from the EU. It was true, back in 1991, the EU required national rail operators – largely state-owned providers – to account for infrastructure separately to train services. All in the name of transparency, seemingly. What the EU did not require was wholesale route or infrastructure privatisation. The UK got both; though after a spate of accidents, the privatised infrastructure provider, Railtrack, collapsed and the assets were re-nationalised. The rest is history.

It would seem, however, that the EU’s intention was, after all, to force national operators to liberalise their services and, by implication, allow competitors access to all routes, not just the minor ones as is common at the moment. In Bavaria, for example, Transdev, the French multinational, has run the BayrisheOberlandBahn (BOB, left) under this limited franchising model since 1998. Deutsche Bahn bought Arriva in 2010 but had to sell its German Arriva rail franchises to comply with EU competition policy.

The current European scenario is familiar to British rail observers. In Germany the new operators may well be major coach operators. Now coach operation is a relatively new thing in Germany. Who needs a national coach network when there is a comprehensive national rail network with connecting buses to non-connected locations? Well, one was created and, as might be anticipated, there was a flurry of new operators which, over not very much time, consolidated into a new dominant operator. In particular, I point to Flixbus. In the UK it was Stagecoach, FirstBus and GoAhead leading the bus-to-rail charge.

Flixbus was founded in 2013, has three main backers (General Atlantic, Holtzbrinck Ventures and Silver Lake Partners) and operates throughout Europe and in the United States. Taking on Deutsche Bahn is an interesting diversification. Another entrant is thought to be Leo Express, a Prague-based start-up. But more interesting is perhaps competition from other state operators. In Germany, for example, we might expect the French national operator, SNCF, Dutch national railways (Nederlandse Spoorwegen), Trenitalia and Spain’s RENFE to enter?

The EU’s position seems to be championing of customers. The argument goes something like this:

  • rail travel is too expensive across Europe;
  • monopoly providers keep fares artificially high due to producer interests at the expense of passengers;
  • more competition leads to lower fares.

Lower fares have implications. In this case, as has been seen in the UK, national operators subsidise their existing operations by taking on potentially lucrative operations in other countries. In the UK, services run by Deutsche Bahn/Arriva and Dutch state railways (Abellio/Nederlandse Spoorwegen) qualify in this respect.

Cheerleading this nonsense, as ever, is the Economist. Take the case of the Czech Republic: “new operators have achieved costs per seat kilometre that are 30-50% lower than those of the state operator. Passengers are benefiting: the average ticket price from Prague to Ostrava has fallen by 61% since 2011, when the state rail firm lost its monopoly.” The Economist notes also that it leads to greater yield pricing similar to what airlines use. The closer to time of travel – or on particularly-known busy times – prices go up to choke off demand. Great! OK, the opposite is also true, fares go down at quieter times. But trains are not like planes; people use them because they have to and have limited flexibility. Rail has a social purpose, planes, largely not. Innovation is not what is needed per se. Reliability is what is needed.

The Economist goes on. Nederlandse Spoorwegen carry more passengers in the UK than in the Netherlands!  Scotrail had to be bailed out by its parent, Deutsche Bahn, to the tune of £10m, presumably making services in Germany even less-well funded? Liberalisation and privatisation fracture national networks and reduces network effects (the Germans already know about declining network benefits; British passengers have understood this since privatisation).

The Economist then highlights what it knows about such firms when put under pressure. Surprisingly they use their control and knowledge over the infrastructure to gain an advantage. They collude. They even sever track across borders (Lithuanian Railways on rail link with neighbouring Latvia – detailed in the Economist article).

Let us finish on Economist optimism: “And the high costs involved in starting a new railway firm mean that it will take time for the full benefits of competition to be felt by EU passengers, says Lorenzo Casullo of the OECD, a think-tank. Europe’s railways are on a long journey, but commuters will surely be better off down the line.” Same old, same old.

Economist article published 30 June 2018

Photos: Flixbus: Florian Fèvre

All a bit quiet on the cigarette advertising front

Despite my best efforts with my blog – posts about politics, art and travel – it is the cigarette advertising that brings in my readers and sparks interest. It seems, in particular, that Germans are the most curious about my posts, even though all of the examples are free to be seen in any German city.

Of late, the billboards have been few in number, and when they do appear they are boring as anything. The latest JPS (left) is a case in point. “Maximales Vergnügen” translates literally as “maximum pleasure (in death)”

Then there is “Passt Perkfekt ins Jetzt” (right) sort-of Perfect Fit now? And this “compact” innovation. That is interesting. Does that just mean it is narrower because it seems to be cheaper than “Maximales Vergnügen”?

There is, however, a new kid on the block, as it were (left). The no batteries needed, of course, refers to the considerable competitive challenge coming from e-cigarettes. And whilst I do not like the latter – users fail to appreciate that the vapour that they produce smells and has emanated from their mouths. It is also voluminous (I am sure this is deliberate on the part of the manufacturers and is unnecessary for the efficient delivery of nicotine). Users Blythely inhale and exhale with no care at all for anyone behind them who gets a face full of the stuff. I almost prefer the real thing.

Anyway, not only are batteries not needed, but users get American Spirit. New to me. Looking forward to more genius straplines from this brand and its marketers. And here’s me thinking the Germans were in hock to Russia!

 

 

A return to Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna: Low Countries and Germany

We made our first visit to KHM at Easter and we managed but a fraction of the artworks (largely the Habsburg’s Italian collection). So we went back to see the work of some of my favourite 15th and 16th Century artists.

Let me start with Valckenborth whose series of scenes from the months of the year. Five are in Vienna. They are hung really badly (high), one has to take a photo to study them; but the snow on this one is almost 20th Century impressionism.

Talking of snow, Pieter Bruegel the Elder made his career out of depicting ordinary people in the landscape. His show scenes are always cold, but equally, there is always people enjoying themselves. Skating is a particular outdoor fun activity, but here there are also hunters. For some, I assume, that is worth getting out of bed for.

There are some 12 Bruegel the Elder’s paintings in this collection (more than a quarter of all those that survive in the world). All that I have seen in various museums are always a thrill. Though the subject matter of another winter scene, “The Massacre of the Innocents” is not a positive thrill. It recreates the biblical scene of Herod’s infanticide in the low country winter landscape.

Perhaps Bruegel’s most recognised painting is his depiction of the Tower of Babel (1563). What is remarkable about this picture is its encyclopaedic detail and depiction of considerable technical and craft skills. All made up of course.

This period is great if you like ghouls, demons, witches and hell. H Francken the Elder’s wonderful Hexenküchen (witch cooking) is a wonderful example of the genre. I particularly like the church in background as a reminder of some sort of duality. But the witches surely win? I am not quite sure what is going to happen to the naked individual on the far right, but I suspect it is not good.

Next up, Hell. I rather like David III. Ryckaert’s “Dulle Griet” (on a Raid before the Entrance to Hell). I have to say I am not quite sure what is going on but the thrashing woman seems to be managing the fantastical collection of ghouls. Difficult to know how long she was going to keep them off.

Here is another great depiction of Hell. This time from Herri me de Bles (somewhere around 1540). It is circular – maybe Hell is circular? – and the hellish colours are brilliant. It does not look so bad relative to other depictions. It is almost Boschian in the strange creatures that are there. Maybe it is some sort of subterranean eco-system? It is not the usual hellfire. Survivable, maybe?

Next up is Man at a Window by Samuel van Hoogstraten. Hoogstraten, apparently, specialised in trompe l’oeil – translated as “deceive the eye”. So we have a wonderfully painted window in a frame with a man’s head protruding from it. Forgive me, I am not entirely sure what the deception is in the literal reading. However, historically, Jews were not permitted to live in the Leopoldstadt district of Vienna in the 16th Century. The man depicted may well be Rabbi Yom Tov Lipmann Heller who achieved permission to live there. The picture has a symbolism associated with looking into the forbidden district?

This being a Low Countries collection there is Rembradt, one of his many self-portraits (I am sure the Habsburgs would have been delighted to have The Nightwatch instead). However, there is this fantastic Vermeer, The Art of Painting. The model is Clio, the muse of history, who inspires and proclaims the art of painting in the old Netherlands. These can be seen on the maps with the provinces prior to their division into North and South.

Left is a picture that looked familiar and indeed it was. This is the work of Hans III. Jordaens entitled the Cabinet of Curiosities. I always feel that I may be developing a bit of cultural capital if I can draw a comparison.

 

There are a couple of depictions of stag  hunts in the collection. Actually, they look more like massacres in terms of scale (Lucas Cranach the  Younger, Stag Hunt of Elector John Hendrick). These are all Court commissions. Frederick of Saxony himself can be seen on the far left with Emperor Charles V. But the scale of the endeavour is troubling.

 

So there we are wandering around and there is a Holbein! Holbein, of course, was Henry VIII’s court painter who famously got sent out to paint potential wives for the King. Sometimes too complementary for the king’s liking. This is his portrait of the elegant Jane Seymoor.

By contrast, Albrecht Dürer portrait of the semi-naked grinning mature woman was unlikely to charm a king. It is unclear what this picture is about as the woman grins with her bag of money. Maybe it is a picture of seduction or avarice. Maybe Dürer’s patron wanted to caricature his then wife, the wealthy Dorothea Landauer? I am a shade confused on this, but whatever the meaning, older people are always more interesting sitters.

One thing I  have learned to do is not to focus always on the central characters. As a form of communication, the whole canvass carries messages, some more interesting than others. For example, Bernaert van Orley’s Alterpiece of St Mattewand Thomas. St. Thomas is being martyred. This involves walking on hot coals, accepting a poisoned chalice and, of course, being thrown in an oven (left). I think I will stick to mortal being-hood.

Finally, a branch of feminism that I was not previously aware of. Otto van Veen’s Persian Women, depicts a scene from Plutarch’s Brave Women (new to me, I have to say). They revealed their nethers to shame the men from fleeing in the face of the enemy. I am not quite sure how that works, but apparently it was a great victory in the end.

 

University of Brighton School of Art Degree Show 2018 pt 2: collage, nature and protest

The exhibition has now been closed for a few weeks, time for me to write my second review (part 1 is here). Let me start with the work of Sola Olulode. Olulode is Nigerian and has produced her pictures using a representation of Adire – a regional indigo-dyeing technique. Essentially, these canvasses are collage. Look closely and the texture is clear. With four of these enormous canvasses enveloping the viewer in the gallery, the space is discernibly uplifting. They are like major keys in music.

Not dissimilar in terms of texture is the work of Dannielle Scott (right). Scott presented a series of portraits, each rather distorted. She incorporates the technique of Julian Schnabel, an artist new to me, who painted on to velvet, a most unlikely canvass? The first layer is an undercoat of acrylic which prevents subsequent layers from soaking into the fabric. But there are also unpainted areas which allow the fabric to show through – black, red and blue.

And so on to some discussion about art itself. This show’s artists are a largely a digital generation. Fine art as a discipline seems to me like doing social science with fountain pens and card indexes (I do admit to retaining the former). So to find a piece of work that explores this raised my level of interest. Rosie Burt (left) grapples with it through inserting “a diagrammatic language of the digital into scenes of nature…to explore the omnipresence within our modern society and our detachment from our once ‘natural’ environment”. Now there is clearly a lot going on in that statement. The pronoun “our”, “omnipresence” and “detachment” are open to challenge. But I take it as an attempt to raise awareness of those factors through visually stunning paintings of contrived nature.

Finally, the pallet protest (right). It is tough for students with fees, living costs, work and the desire and pressure to study. Though there was in this case additionally a discussion around the curriculum. Mhairi Lockett’s pallet is an unlikely graduate-show entry. It was made to make a particular point but increased in significance after the University, sensitive to the message, put it in safe storage. I have a bit of a soft spot for pallets having had a period myself of austerity back in the 1980s. I collected them having seen the Channel 4 programme called Low Tech based on the challenge of making stuff from discarded materials, largely found in skips. Pallets were a key source of wood, though the presenter never said how difficult they were to take apart. The barbed nails fail to defeat only the most persistent.