Sunday, July 24, 2005


Rain stopped play in the first Ashes test match at Lords yesterday afternoon. The ground was packed with men in blazers and women in bright summer dresses and the England cricket team were being sent reeling back into the pavilion as their wickets fell like ninepins to the Australian bowling when big drops started to fall from the darkening sky.

The Australians, who began their current tour getting beaten by Bangladesh, minnows in the world cricket league, had found their form — and England, as they always seem do against the Aussies, had lost it.

After two weeks when bombs in the London Underground have sent police sirens and ambulances screeching around gridlocked streets and TV and radio have been dominated by news and pictures of wrecked trains, police cordons, deaths of innocent victims and stories from stunned survivors and witnesses, the news from Lords was a welcome relief because it was normal.

To hear commentators mulling over and speculating about the state of the wicket, past test match glories and England’s chances of regaining the Ashes instead of the prospects of further terrorist attacks was like listening to soothing music after the cacophony of war.

Players holed-up in the pavilion on a wet afternoon made it seem the English summer was once again in full swing despite the terrorist attacks.

Since the first bombs exploded on 7 July, pleas by the Metropolitan Police and Government for people to carry on as usual have largely been answered and Londoners have gone about their business as normally as possible.

But, though it goes on, life has changed. Wariness and nervousness haunt the streets and passengers on the buses and Underground. When they get on board they look around the carriage or bus deck. Young men with rucksacks and holdalls are eyed with suspicion; their appearance and behaviour is noted even by people who are often too preoccupied with their own concerns to notice other travellers. Some whose suspicions are aroused get off before their destination stop or station and walk the rest of the way to the office. Others have swapped public transport for bikes or pay the congestion charge to take their cars into central London. The possibility of bag searches and airport style security on the Underground, causing delays in getting both to work and going home after it, hangs in the air. Extra staff may be posted by ticket barriers. Sniffer dogs already prowl some stations.

The utter ordinariness and normality of the rain stopped play scenario at the Lords test match was not an illusion. It happened all right and for a moment made things seem to have been restored to the way they have always have been and we expect they always will.
The change, the difference the terrorist bombs have made is that we no longer can. We will now have to fight to keep the safety and normality of the packed, uncomfortable work journeys that we have for so long taken for granted.
DOES HE THINK HE’S WORTH IT? The latest pictures show Saddam Hussein with bottle black hair. Perhaps he uses L’Oreal because he thinks he’s worth it. Copyright © Rebecca Hamilton 2005 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, July 17, 2005


A new book suggests that branding is the path to prosperity for impoverished states. The writer has a point.
Japan and South Korea were the first to understand that a direct relationship with a consumer in the West was the way to go. Powerful car and electronic brand names like Hyundai and Sony were built on it.

Egypt has done it with the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh, where world leaders queue up to hold conferences and thousands of ordinary Brits as well as Prime Minister Tony Blair take holidays.
Dubai has transformed its desert status into a playground for the super rich with its fabulous hotels and off shore man-made islands.
China, which has pulled itself up by its bootstraps to become the world’s work horse and commodity manufacturer, joined the branding band wagon with the purchase of IBM’s computers. Now it has its eyes on US oil and gas giant, Unocal.
Emergent India, fast becoming the globe’s call centre capital, would do itself a big favour if, instead of being known simply as a cheap wellspring of outsourcing, entrepreneurs seized the initiative and set up their own branded call centres.
Imagine the improvement in image if people were greeted with the words, ‘Good morning, this is the Bangalore Global International Universal Business Centre, about which company are you inquiring?’ instead of just being an inquiry service for a foreign bank or company.
Image is everything in the world of global marketing. It’s no good doing the work, making and exporting the stuff, if somebody else brands it and gets the credit and big time cash. You’ve got to have your own brand.
And if your image is one of poverty, corruption, war and aid dependency, you can shout as much as you like about fair trade and even get it, but nobody is going to invest in your country — or even pay you visit.
But wait a moment. The West is hoaching with travel snobs, people who hate to be considered tourists. They want to be seen as travellers, insiders who like to claim they really ‘know’ a country because they have done a bit of rough travelling there, not just basked in its four and five star hotels and on its beaches.
Among people who lead cosseted lives in centrally-heated homes and spend their days in air-conditioned city offices, there remains an atavistic longing to experience life in the raw, to feel in touch with nature and the elements as their long ago ancestors did. That’s why they go sailing, rough trekking and climb mountains.
They have seen it, been there — ‘experienced’ what life is really like. Their holiday snaps and videos would be a lot less boring if some bright entrepreneur in a downtrodden country branded this kind of holiday.
One idea is that poor countries join together to improve a region’s brand image. Parts of Africa could cash in on the market for visits to literary and film locations.
For instance, an enterprise called say, Sub Saharan Storyteller Tours could be a start to lifting the fortunes of several African countries.
Visitors could kick off in West Africa where Graham Greene set The Heart of the Matter followed by a trip to Hotel Rwanda and Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness country before proceeding to Botswana for a bone-shaking spin around the streets of Gaborone in a car driven by a real life version of Alexander McCall Smith’s Mr J. L. B. Matekoni of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors.
There must be plenty of bright young people out there who could make this kind of enterprise work and improve their countries’ images while becoming multi-millionaires out of the brand.
Copyright © Rebecca Hamilton 2005 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, July 03, 2005


If you want to improve your image, hang on to your job, impress the world that you are a ‘good’ person, get on the stage. Or join a march.

Kofi Annan, who is trying to save his job as UN Secretary General, did it on Saturday — getting in on the act at the Live 8 concert in London’s Hyde Park.
Gordon Brown, Britain’s Finance Minister, says he is going to do it on Wednesday and join the Long Walk to Justice in Edinburgh. So is the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England, Cardinal Cormac Murphy- O’Connor.
I can’t really see Gordon Brown doing the whole hike round central Edinburgh along with an expected one million other people. I suspect that he’ll just be there long enough to exploit a good photo opportunity.
After all, he is a busy man and has to get to Gleneagles for the G8 conference later in the day. But doubtless he hopes it will impress the world how much he cares.
As the chasm between politicians and elites and the public grows ever wider, being seen on television to be out there ‘identifying’ with the motley is the best kind of publicity.
But if Brown’s appearance is anything like as staged as his General Election outings with Prime Minister Tony Blair, when they were surrounded by Labour Party supporters posing as ordinary people, it won’t just be his security minders who are all about him. Labour Party members, suitably attired in jeans and baseball caps on back to front, will be recruited to be at his side as extras for the cameras.
But hey, all the world’s a stage, especially if your business is politics.

Sincere as I believe he is about Africa, there is no glory for Brown in his civil servants (his ‘sherpas’) just beavering away quietly behind the scenes to get a better deal for Africa out of his G8 colleagues, especially America.

It is not really enough in spin and publicity terms for him to tell a Press conference or business leaders meeting about his aims and what he is trying to do. Even if he gets more than a sound or video bite, people won’t pay much attention and those who do may dismiss him as just another politician mouthing words and not believe him.
But if Brown of Africa can get out there front of stage on the hoof looking like a modern David Livingstone, the image will register more readily in the public mind. People are more likely to remember it and be convinced he really does care, though he is unlikely to achieve very much.
As with global warming, Britain’s EU rebate and the CAP, the real politick is that no country is willingly going to give up what it has and enjoys today to provide a better tomorrow for another country or continent. It would be political suicide for its leaders and the vested interests always know how to fight to keep what they’ve got.
The global pop concert extravaganza was a fantastic success in both in publicity and the pleasure it gave to millions around the world.
But though it sent a loud, clear message, like Brown of Africa on the march, it was showbiz.
Just as it’s all showbiz now.
Copyright ©Rebecca Hamilton 2005 All Rights Reserved