Sunday, 4 July 2010

We value your business


“Hello and welcome. You are through to RM Design. Let me assure you that your call is important to us. In a moment you will hear a list of options. This helps us deal with your enquiry as quickly as possible. May we remind you that all calls are recorded for legal reasons and training porpoises.

“Press one to hear a list of options that is half way through but doesn’t go back to the beginning.

“Press two to repeat the list from half way through and still doesn’t go back to the beginning.

“Press three for the first half of the list only.

“Press four for a fresh list of options when you finally realise that none of the options in either half of the original list is what you want.

“Press five for customer services (please leave your name, registered customer number, National Insurance number, hospital number, and two forms of identification – passport, driving licence or utility bills. We will respond within 28 working days.)

“Press six for the opportunity to record a message to help us improve our services to you. Don’t forget to use your twenty-five digit PIN number you will have received in the post but threw away without realising what it was.

“Press seven to receive a new PIN number in the post. Allow 28 working days.

“Press eight to record a suicide note

“Press nine to listen back to your suicide note

“Press ten to delete and re-record your suicide note

“Press eleven to repeat this list of options.

“Press twelve for the operator (not available during working hours)

“Please refer to the Frequently Asked Questions section on our website on for the answers to questions you will never ask.

“Thank you for phoning RM Design. Remember, we value your business.”


© Roger Murphy 2010

Friday, 30 April 2010

The right words

We all know when the right words are found. They fit. They need no addition, no adornment, they just say it all.

Two years ago, a 16-year old, Alexandros Giroropoulos, was shot by the Athens police. The exact circumstances are the subject of a case that continues, but this was the spark that ignited a powder keg filled with resentment at crippling economic conditions, financial scandals, unpopular pension and education reforms, and a general strike. The Greeks took to the streets and battles raged in cities up and down the land.

A peculiarity of Greek law meant that the police are not allowed onto university campuses, so, under assault, the rioters in Athens had let it be known that they would regroup on the University library, a solid building. Professors and librarians, who had got wind of this at the last moment, and fearing the loss of incalculable treasures, locked the doors and barricaded the building, breaking up the furniture to do so, and grabbing lamps and chair legs to repel boarders. Thwarted, the rioters threw Molotov cocktails in at the windows and tried to break in. Some forced their way into the entrance hall, and a pitched battle began with white-haired, overweight bespectacled professors struggling in hand-to-hand combat with angry rioters. But suddenly, like a will o’ the wisp, the rioters retreated and moved off, leaving a lot of charred doors, smoke, smashed windows and broken white heads behind them. Luckily, with the collection being on the upper floors, none of the treasures were damaged. But it had been a close run thing.

One professsor, smeared with ash and distraught at the near disaster, was filmed by a TV crew with a pail of water still in his hand, trying to catch his breath. He was asked a question. He looked into the distance and shook his head, trying to control his anger and was at first unable to speak. Then, reaching into his memory, he found something.

“Two thousand years ago, we had a philosopher called Isocrates,” he said “who warned us of this moment.”

He turned to face the film camera and wagged his finger at it, and that night the citizens of Athens saw him on television framed by fire and smoke.

“ ‘Our democracy is destroying itself, because it abused the right to freedom and equality, because it taught people to consider impudence as a right, illegality as freedom, rudeness as equality and anarchy as happiness.’ ”

He left it at that, and went back to his work putting out smouldering fires.

It was quoted around the world, and one Greek daily newspaper cleared the front page and used the quote in isolation.

They may have been two thousand years old, but they were the right words.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

You ain't seen (or heard) nothing yet

Eyjafjallajoekull is a name to conjure with. It’s a name I like. Katla is also a nice name. Warm. Friendly.

These are the names of two of Iceland’s largest volcanoes and it is the smaller of the two, Eyjafjallajoekull, which is currently causing a lot of trouble all over Europe. But it is as nothing compared to the trouble that will happen when Katla blows its top, which it usually does when the warm-up act of Eyjafjallajoekull finishes. When that happens, we will all need to take to our cellars, stock up on rats and start licking the condensation off pipes to slake our raging thirst. Katla will be disruptive in a permanent and thoroughly effective way. It won’t toy with you like Eyjafjallajoekull.

It will start with a huge explosion below the glacier that sits on top of the volcano. This explosion will be loud, if ‘loud’ is a strong enough word. Possibly the loudest sound ever heard on earth was emitted by Krakatoa in 1883. It was certainly much louder than the loudest nuclear explosion, and was heard 3,000 miles away, with people up to 200 miles distant being struck instantly deaf. There is, therefore, a fair chance that we will get to hear Katla above the roar of party political broadcasts. The crater will crack open, the glacier will fall into the billions of tons of lava and a crazy mixture of lava, ice, steam, ash, gas and molten rock will pour out down towards the sea and up towards the stratosphere. This will cause trouble. Billions of cubic tons of lava will make the sea boil, surge and swell across the North Atlantic. Billions of cubic tons of ash, molten rock and quintillions of tons of volcanic gases will make a sizeable mess of the landscape, seascape and skyscape. Nothing will fly over Europe. Not even birds. Insects? Forget it. We will be gassed in our cellars to which we will have retreated after the opening salvo. Over the next few months, we will be buried under about 100 metres of volcanic ash.

We have one chance. Wind direction. Although the prevailing winds will probably take it to us, now and again, the circulation of winds will head everything West, that is, towards the US and Canada. Obviously if the eruption happens while the winds are westerly that would be fine. We’d be laughing. Until you remember that there’s always Etna, Vesuvius and Stromboli to our East.

Next week:
Earthquakes in New Malden +++Security against roaming gangs of looters +++How to panic-buy landmines.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Branding: make it catchy

It is interesting to note that Offa, King of Mercia from 757-796 is still making a bit of a splash in our supermarkets. There are lessons to learn. Everywhere you look, the shelves declaim: “Special Offer” – which obviously employs the modern spelling of his name. They knew a thing or two about PR and branding in those far-off days, always looking to make things distinctive and memorable. Their key insight, developed over hundreds of years, was to use throwaway parts of speech as names. It lends a surprising familiarity. Offa’s dad, for example, was Thingfrith, a name that rings with clarity and decisiveness down the years. One can almost hear his mother calling: “Thingfrith! Put down that axe and come to your dinner at once.” He would, inevitably, have been known to his pals at school as Thing, and they may have given him merry hell for it, but it seems to have done him little harm. On second thoughts, though, calling his son ‘Offer’ might perhaps suggest a brooding and resentful nature. It’s hard to say.

What may have made things worse for Thingfrith is that he had a couple of alternative names, presumably because the Thingfrith thing didn’t stick in everyone’s mind. He seems to have been known also as both Dingfert (now Dingbat) and Thumfried. This latter clearly comes from his school days and suggests an incident not unlike Alfred’s burning of the cakes, only more painful.

Thingfrith (or Thumfried) was himself from a long line of well-named Kings. His ancestor Eowa (“Here you are”) ruled over the midland people called the Hwicce (which modern branding experts should note is so good they named it once). “Here you are” has the distinction of being the only King in British History to have died in two battles which perhaps explains the undisguised note of surprise in his name.

The Venerable Bede, local news correspondent with The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and founder of the National Union of Journalists, on whose information much of the above depends, has himself a name that excites the imagination. It could so easily have been John Smith, but The Venerable Bede is obviously catchier and more memorable. He may also have been small, round and highly strung. Typical journalist.

But the lesson from history is clear: when it comes to names, make it catchy.

© Roger Murphy 2010. All rights reserved.