Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Peddling Filth

Two excellent stories vie for the cartoonist’s attention in this week’s Westmorland Gazette
The first was about road works in Kirkland, Kendal. After weeks of disruption, attractive stone setts have been laid along the main street … only to be dug up again in order to instal faux Victorian street lights. Brilliant. (And that’s not the lights.)
The second was about a series of rude pamphlets found at Townend, the National Trust cottage in Troutbeck Valley. These saucy stories were called Chapbooks and once sold door to door. They’re extremely rare (most have dissolved over the years through being dribbled over) and have gone on display just in time for Easter.
Here are my four cartoon sketches which competed for the front page. Find out which one got in by buying the paper or visiting my website tomorrow.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Cats, Clients & Communication

This is another in the series of guest blogs which have been organised by Emily Cagle and Adam Vincenzi. Today’s post is written by Sue Windley, Marketing Director of the Pragmatic Performance Group, a business acceleration consultancy based in south-west England that works with small and medium sized businesses to help them increase their rate of growth profitably and sustainably. You can also visit Sue's blog Dangerous Marketing or follow her on Twitter as @DangerousMkting.
My guest post - about dogs in the office (what a surprise) - is over on Sue's blog.

I am a marketer and have been for many years.  I specialise in getting businesses to communicate properly with their target markets.  I am also newbie cat-owner. It's been a while since I was a beginner at something - and it's scary!
Last year I adopted 2 strays who had been rescued and brought back to health by the Cats Protection League who'd named them Matisse (self-assured and chilled out) and Mefistofelees (who acts like a little devil). Their names certainly seemed to match the cats' characters so I kept them. 
But after 6 months, the joys of coping with a devilish cat started to wear a bit thin. Mefistofelees likes attention - lots of it. If you ignore him, the volume goes up. If you still ignore him, the carpet gets wet (leave that to your imagination). But hey - I use psychology for my business and some of my clients are like herding cats, so same principles should apply to training my own cat. So I treated my cat like a naughty teenager and reacted accordingly.
But it didn't work - he just got louder and the carpet got wet more often 
Luckily I have a friend who is an animal trainer and behaviourist, so I asked her what I was doing wrong. She asked me an interesting question: Describe what the cat actually does, rather than what I expected which was to describe his behaviour. She knew if I was describing behaviour, I would naturally put my own perspective on it. But simply describing what I saw enabled her to understand what my cat was trying to communicate.
He wasn't being naughty at all. In fact, how can cats be naughty when that is a human description? He was being a nervous cat - unsure of his territory because of the other cat, so he sought reassurance from me, his surrogate mother. Only I kept ignoring him. The answer was simple - I changed my behaviour to respond to what he was actually communicating now that I had been given a lesson in cat talk. I now have a confident cat who is (nearly) as relaxed as his house mate. 
My misinterpretation of the context of my cat's attempt to communicate with me resulted in the exact opposite result I was seeking (more of the negative behaviour that I was trying to stop). Only when I took a step back and understood the context, was I able to understand correctly. How often do we misinterpret what other people are trying to say to us because we interpret the context based on our view of the world, rather than theirs?

It's a vital lesson to learn - see things from another person's perspective and suddenly communicating gets easier. Hopefully you too will find it a much more positive experience!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Singin' in the Shed

This is another Guest Blog as part of the #bemyguest campaign by Emily Cagle and Adam Vincenzini. Writers are renowned for working in sheds (think of Roald Dahl and Philip Pullman). But how about composers? Shedworker and freelance journalist Alex Johnson investigates.
(You can catch my contribution to his blog - describing my ideal shed - over on Shedworking.)

Lamb and mint sauce. Tom and Jerry. Sheds and composers. Although for many people the third pairing is a less well known coupling, it's nonetheless one with a considerable and venerable history.
One of the great attractions of shedworking for composers in particular is the peace and quiet it provides. Joseph Haydn wrote several of his great creations in his composing hut on B├╝rgerspitalgasse, Eisenstadt, which is surrounded by his well-kept (and now recreated) herb garden.  In 1891 Edvard Grieg had built and then worked in a lakeside hut at Troldhaugen, Norway, following a spate of visitors and noise from the kitchen in his house, although he then found that the lake provided other, albeit more delightful, distractions such as boats going past. Whenever he left the hut, he left a message for intruders: If anyone should break in here, please leave the musical scores, since they have no value to anyone except Edvard Grieg. 
Gustav Mahler had three composing huts, as architect Keith Clarke describes in his groundbreaking study, Mahler's Heavenly Retreats. Mahler had a particular aversion to noise  including birdsong, the barking of his architect's dog, and the performances of nearby military bands   but also demanded that the servant who brought him his breakfast in one of his huts left via a route that meant Mahler would not see her so his train of thought would be undisturbed. Mahler's need for a place away from people and noise, for peace and quiet in which to compose his music, drove him to work away from his family, says Clarke. He arranged for the construction of workspaces, buildings built separately from his living quarters and constructed, one after another, in three different locations. They were created for him alone and visitors were not generally welcome. Mahler had composing huts at Steinbach, not far from Salzburg, where he wrote part of his second and all of his third symphony; Maernigg in southern Austria (symphonies four to eight); and Dobbiaco on the border of Italy and Austria (Das Lied von der Erde, his ninth symphony and sketches for the tenth). Mahler's Third, his Nature Symphony, is a celebration of the natural world in all its forms, its beauty, serenity and power, its comic and grotesque, says Clarke. The heavenly retreat at Steinbach, perhaps like no other, perfectly served Mahler's needs. It was a laboratory for his art. Director Ken Russell also made use of Mahler's huts in his film on the great composer, including a scene where one of them gets burnt to a crisp. 
Composer Harrison Birtwistle is another serial shedworker who has worked in garden offices in Twickenham, an island in Scotland, France, and now in his current home in Dorset. He works inside for seven hours a day and says he is now dependent on it as a retreat. Aren't we all?

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Planes, Trains and Number Twos

This week's Westmorland Gazette presented two likely subjects for cartoons. The first of them, a little unsavoury; an influx of slurry into a local river was saved from being an environmental disaster by the unseasonably high rainfall in the Lake District. (It rarely rains in the Lake District.)

The other story revolves around a website which offers up the use of driveways as a solution to the problem of urban parking. Oxenholme railway station, just outside Kendal, has high charges so a couple of houses nearby are renting out their drives.

Here are the unexpurgated sketches. If you want to know which one got in, buy tomorrow's Westmorland Gazette, visit my website or see which one Clare votes for below.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The dos and don't of radio interviews

This is the first guest contribution to the Radiocartoonist blog as part of the Be My Guest blog exchange. 
Emily Cagle is a PR consultant, blogger and copywriter. I thought it appropriate to ask her to blog about presenting yourself on the radio. 
Here are Emily’s dozen Dos and Don’ts. (And I’m glad she omitted number 13: Don’t try and draw cartoons on the radio…)

Getting invited in for a radio interview can give your profile a real boost, but it can also be a nerve-racking experience.  
Generally, the more prepared you are, the better you’ll perform on the day, so here are dozen dos and don’ts to get you started.
1. Do arrive in plenty of time. Whether in the studio or by phone, get ready in plenty of time so you’re not flustered. You’ll probably only be called/called in moments before the interview starts, which is too late to start preparing mentally.
2. Don’t go in blind. It’s not wise to walk into an interview with no idea what to expect. Read up on the programme and if possible, the interviewer to get a better idea of the angle the piece is likely to take and the questions you’re likely to be asked.
3. Do prepare what you want to say. Have some key points in mind — or even on a note card — but don’t expect to be able to recite them word for word. The aim is to sound confident, rather than like you’re reading from a script.
4. Don’t make claims you can’t back up. If you’re asked a question you can’t answer, rather than an evasive “No comment”, it’s far better to give a reason such as, “Unfortunately that information is confidential until X has been completed”.
5. Do speak in short sentences, with brief pauses in between. This will make what you say easier for listeners to digest, and will also improve your chances of sound bites being clipped and used in subsequent news bulletins and the like.
6. Don’t speak too fast. Racing through your words is a sure sign of nerves, so pacing yourself (to just slightly slower than normal ‘conversation speed’) will make you sound less nervous and will reduce the need for ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’.
7. Do remain polite at all times. The interviewer or other guests may disagree with you, but it’s never wise to argue, get angry or be rude. Stay polite, reiterate your view, if necessary and remain calm.
8. Don’t be afraid to ask a clarifying a question. Like a job interview, if you don’t understand something, ask.
9. Do have a drink handy in case you feel your mouth or throat getting dry.
10. Don’t go ‘off the record’. For the purposes of an interview, it’s really best to assume there is no such thing, so if you don’t want something in the public domain, don’t say it.
11. Do turn off phones, PDAs and anything that beeps. If being interviewed live over the phone, it’s even more vital to turn your radio off. Left on, it will only create confusion because the radio feed will be a few moments behind what you’re hearing on the phone.
12. Don’t lean into the microphone. If you’re in the studio, take your lead from the interviewer. In most cases, you shouldn’t need to lean forward in your chair at all.

Being the perfect guest

It comes as a shock to realise that I’ve been blogging now for five years. Off and on. When the mood takes me.
It began when the editor of The Westmorland Gazette, Mike Glover, asked me to blog about the 2005 general election.
“But I know nothing about politics and hate politicians, “ I wailed. 
“Good,” he said, “you’ll be perfect.”
Since then, the blog has wandered about and covered local affairs (though I don’t have too many of those in case of gossip), world politics, Dr Who, space, the universe, God, Dr Who and the boundless joys afforded by the interweb. My online footling around has also broadened out to include Twitter, where I now have 100 followers - many of whom appear to be perfectly normal.
This has led to some interesting projects. One of the latest is something called Be My Guest (or #bemyguest if you want to find it in the Twitterverse). PR consultants Emily Cagle and Adam Vincenzini came up with the idea of making March mutual blogging month. This is not as rude as it sounds. It simply means you offer to contribute to someone else’s blog and vice versa.
Now, the accepted wisdom about blogging seems to be that you blog about your business, about your core um strength thingies and areas of expert erm … stuff. Clearly I don’t do any of that (although you may expect rather a lot of cartoon-related blogging when my new book comes out in May). So when Emily asked on Twitter for a photographer to contribute to her blog, I pointed out that a cartoonist would be much more stylish and trendy. To my surprise she agreed and gave me an immediate brief: 
“Draw a cartoon and write 100 words about how you thought of it.”
How I think up cartoons can usually be described in one word: “Ping!” 
They just happen. Or not (as is sometimes the case).
So I pondered this for a bit and then came up with an idea, inspired by Emily’s suggestion (which is what she planned all along, of course). It deviates from the initial brief but that’s what being a cartoonist is all about.
You can read my guest blog on Emily’s site.
In return, Emily is guest blogging here.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

The Windermere Triangle

You may have heard mention of this on national radio. It is a mystery like no other; deeply disturbing, profound and baffling, which has consumed world-renowned experts for all of five minutes.
Basically, if you parked at a certain spot on Windermere’s main street, your electronic car fob ceased to work. Immediately conspiracy theories erupted. It was aliens, it was ghosts, a disturbance in the Earth’s aura, Geisterwege, a weird geo-electrical fault in the Earth’s crust, Windermere was on a ley line.
My theory was that Windermere was feeling left out of it when someone spotted a log in the lake last year, shouted “Monster!” and dubbed it Bownessie. Time to get a few gul- psychically-minded punters to the Windermere shops.
It turns out that it was … no, you’ll have to read the story
Meanwhile, it was one of the subjects for this week’s Westmorland Gazette cartoon. Along with a cancelled charity run and, rather excitingly, someone being Tasered by the police at a local hotel.
As usual, on Thursday you can see which one got in my visiting my site or heading off to Windermere to buy a copy of the newspaper. Just watch where you park … (cue X-Files music).