Wednesday 26 December 2012

The route to a router

Belkin!   BELKIN!   Our old internet router doesn't always answer when we call. Maybe it's suffering from selective deafness like an old dog. It's also getting a bit shaky and ill-tempered, so I begin to wonder whether it might be better for everyone if I bought a smarter, faster version. That way I can introduce the youngster and let dear old Belkin live out his days in a box in the corner of the room. Well, it's better than waiting for the elderly chap to collapse, leaving me on my own with nobody to talk to during the day.

Much like shopping for a puppy, when you buy a new router you're often a bit desperate and more than a little upset. You're also wondering whether the current router really is on its last legs or whether there's life in the old dog yet. Perhaps it's not the router at all. Is it too soon to say goodbye to Belkin?   Could be he's picked up something nasty. Has the lead started to fray?

And so I was racked with insecurity and guilt when I eventually picked a new router. I tucked the old one away and showed my new companion to family and friends. Then there was lengthy training before I could trust it enough to leave it on its own. Ultimately, a lot of work I'd rather avoid.

But things still aren't quite the same without old Belkin. Something's wrong. Maybe there was a fault with the line after all. I look at the new router. No, everything's fine. It's responding quickly when I call. Time for self-doubt. I start peering round corners to see what it's doing when I'm not in the room.

Then, one morning, no internet. I run to the new router. It sits with a guilty expression, blinking angrily. It's out of control. Unstable. Ha!  I knew there was something wrong all along. You're going back to your original owner.

Come on, old chap. Wake up, Belkin. We've got work to do.

Friday 7 December 2012

How do you write a good restaurant review?

How do you write a decent restaurant review?   That's my challenge. I've written about many things in my time but - until now - haven't written a review of a meal. That's just about to change.

In many ways, I reckon the answer is pretty obvious. A meal is a slice of time; a story. You plan, you arrive, you look around at the venue and its customers, you're seated, you receive advice about the food, you choose from the menu, you wait, you eat, you drink, you pay, you leave.

The answer everyone's waiting for is whether or not you enjoyed the experience. Was the food good, what were the staff like, was the restaurant attractive?  In a sentence - or perhaps a tweet - how would you describe the restaurant, its menu and your visit?

Then there's the potentially embarrassing part: snapping a photograph. It's all very well describing the presentation of the food but taking a picture can provide a perfect summary. It can also make you look like the odd bloke at the end of the table. Food photography is a specialist profession, so a few quick shots by candlelight will never match the studio set-up used for cookery books and TV shows - yet switching off the flash and using the macro setting on a standard camera can produce perfectly acceptable results for many publications.

I also need to remember that the food is the story. That's not to say I won't mention my journey there or the accident when I dipped my tie into the soup - and I might even crack a joke or two - but it's a review I'm writing, not a stand-up comedy routine.

From a personal perspective, one of the first criteria I use whenever I eat out is "could I have cooked this myself - and could I have cooked it better?"   My catering qualifications didn't progress much beyond "Mark tries hard" in a school report, so I'm not in a position to be hyper-critical. Besides, we all have a bad day sometimes. As long as I'm honest and accurate, I reckon I'll do okay.

Notebook?   Pen?  Camera?   Wallet?   Appetite?   Right, I'm ready to begin.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Pre-Christmas postmodernism

I stopped for a coffee this morning. Big mistake.

For the benefit of any environmental health officers reading this, it wasn't the coffee itself that was the problem. What bothered me was the setting.

I stopped at Next - yes, the clothing retailer - in Shoreham.

In the main window of Next is a festive tableau. Nativity?   A family unwrapping presents?  No. The centrepiece is one of those sawn-off cones used for wrapping Christmas trees in a giant fishnet stocking. Except, of course, the trees in the window display are artificial.

"Is it postmodern?" I asked myself. Or did the designer think this really summarised Christmas in 2012?

But I wasn't stopping. On the first floor, accessed via the bedroom department and a travelator from the future, is Starbucks.

And then I realised I was off to a coffee shop that has dropped 'coffee' from its name. The coffee shop that's been telling us "red cups are coming", a celebration of takeaway cardboard containers rather than the contents. Red cups are coming; an apparent parody of Coca-Cola's announcement that "holidays are coming", in which Santa Claus drives a giant truck across the country like a festive Kris Kristofferson.

Okay, I'll stop now. A skinny gingerbread latte with whipped cream, please. Yes, of course I'm serious.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

The buns of war: cake and death in the trenches of WW1

I have a project on Kickstarter. If you don’t have the first idea what on earth I’m talking about, I’ll quickly explain. Kickstarter is an online service that helps people fund all kinds of creative projects, from feature films to iPhone cases. Until recently it’s only been available in the USA but since 31st October the service has been offered to UK residents as well.

My project is a non-fiction book. This also needs an explanation.

It’s about a man called William Foord Bridge… although, in many ways, the story could have happened to anyone. Mr Bridge was working in a Kent department store when the First World War started in 1914. He joined the army a month after Britain declared war and the following year was sent to France, which is when this story really begins.

You’ve probably spotted the similarity in our surnames. W F Bridge was my grandfather and part of his story is told in a notebook that I’ve recently discovered.

His notes describe the journey to the Front Line in the kind of detail that struck a chord with me. He doesn’t talk of secret manoeuvres and military detail; instead he remarks on the food at the French camp and tells of a cake that he couldn’t resist.

“I got into disgrace with the Staff Captain by purchasing a cake from a travelling local man”

Plenty of people kept diaries during World War One. This isn’t about simply transcribing five thousand words from a notebook, although I’ll certainly be doing that. Instead it’s about discovering the man behind the story.

Although we never met, I certainly feel a connection with him – and I don’t think it’s just because we appear to have shared a sweet tooth.

My plan is to link the ‘official’ reports of the war in 1915 with the events in the notebook. I’m hoping to retrace some of Private Bridge’s first steps in France by visiting the battlefields where his regiment fought. And I’m also planning to track down the mysterious cake that threatened to end his military career.

funded with Kickstarter
Why have I turned to Kickstarter?   Because it combines support and reward. Depending on your pledge you could even think of it as being rather like pre-ordering a book. The backing will allow me to devote a fair amount of time to this research and to pay for printing. Yes, I could have approached a publisher but I’d rather write this particular story on my own terms.

So that’s it. If you head over to my Kickstarter project page you’ll find more about my plans and an opportunity to offer support. Or to pre-order the book.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Eric Hill meets Harry Hill?

A literary critic I am not. Neither would I call myself a Direct Marketing expert. I have, however, written more than a few letters on behalf of CEOs, managing directors and business owners.

Dear customer... Dear retailer... gentle introduction, sales bit, reminder, close. That kind of thing. To be honest, it can be a bit of a challenge to avoid cliches.

This is clearly not a problem for Eric Hill, the company that recently sent a clothing catalogue to my mother.

I picked up the catalogue before reading the letter, which could be why the opening paragraph seemed more like Harry Hill... perhaps briefed by Salvador Dali.

I'll admit I might be missing the point. Or perhaps I'm just the wrong demographic.

Friday 12 October 2012

C'est la guerre

"To all enquiries the same answer is returned: c'est la guerre, monsieur".

French philosophy, according to my grandfather's diary of the First World War.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Time to escape from the escape

It's the noise that hits you first. A guttural roar that tails off into a hiss, as though an angry medieval dragon was rousing itself from sleep. The crashing of a hundred china plates and the clattering of a dozen metal jugs. The desperate shouting of long-forgotten names. And the screams of children abandoned by parents lost in their own fantasy worlds. I'd forgotten what a busy Starbucks sounded like.

Thursday 13 September 2012

The iPhone is still as anti-social as ever

I'm sitting on a train listening to the music leaking from another passenger's headphones. He's got an iPhone, although it could just as easily be one of many other smartphones.

Actually, I'm going to take that back. He's got an iPhone 4S and he's using the Apple earphones that came with the device. They're open-backed. Designed to leak sound. Designed to offer a premium experience for the consumer while annoying the heck out of everyone else.

Yesterday the iPhone 5 was announced. A new device with new headphones.

The new iPhone 5 is supplied with 'EarPods'; updated earbud-type headphones that promise enhanced audio quality when compared with the previous design. Yet these earbuds are still open.

Apple says "Adding to the superior audio quality are strategically placed acoustic vents. The most notable of these vents is the one located in the stem of each EarPod. It allows air inside the stem, which acts as an acoustic chamber, to flow out."

They may well "rival high-end headphones that cost hundreds of pounds more". But that doesn't make them any more sociable. And that's an opportunity missed.

Friday 31 August 2012

Eurostar from Paris

That's the thing about travelling on a train: you can't focus on the detail and the bigger picture when you look out the window. Turn your head quickly enough and you've captured a moment while the landscape flies by. Focus on the middle-distance and the foreground is a blur. This is undoubtedly a metaphor for something. The fact that I don't know what it's a metaphor for is probably also a metaphor. Or a sign of trying too hard.

Friday 27 July 2012

Who's up for a spot of sponsor bingo during the Olympics opening ceremony?

In a blog post dated tomorrow (oops), Samsung has confirmed that its Galaxy Note and Galaxy SIII mobile phones have a role in the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

With the BBC already having made the most of its ‘official broadcaster’ status by apparently adding a few BBC-contracted celebrity runners during the torch relay, I was wondering whether any of the other sponsors will also be making an opening-night appearance. McDonalds?  Coca Cola?  I reckon we’ll probably be able to spot quite a few of the Olympic Partners throughout the event.

An event that I’m very much looking forward to watching on TV, in case you wondered.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

I want a pick-up truck. This proves I'm a copywriter.

Earlier this month I was driving a pick-up truck. A Ford Ranger, since you ask. Powerful, comfortable and all the other things you’d hope a 2012 commercial vehicle would be. Probably reasonably economical as well, although I didn’t really check because I wasn’t paying for the diesel.

Anyway, it did its job even better than I’d expected. And when I’d finished with it, I parked it outside the farm office, handed the keys back... and wished I had my own pick-up truck.

This, I fear, is a symptom of being a copywriter. Understanding and appreciating benefits. Not just from my own perspective but from the viewpoint of other people. A pick-up truck is designed primarily to carry a variety of loads but I can also visualise its practicality as a family car. A taxi. A towing vehicle. A statement of personal style.

Okay, it’s not for everyone but then neither is an iPhone or a McDonald’s burger.

Why don’t I have a pick-up truck today?  Because I’m not working for Ford, Toyota, Mitsubishi or any other maker of utility vehicles at the moment. And that means I can also sell myself the benefits of NOT having a pick-up truck.

Right now, I’m convincing myself about the benefits of catching the bus.

Friday 6 July 2012

East of Earwig: not the hyperbolic ramblings of an anti-Lewes troll

Look, I have a confession to make. I'm not like the rest of you. I'm from the wrong side of town. In fact, I'm not from town at all. I live three miles north-east in the village of Ringmer, where only the bravest of bus drivers venture.

Here's another confession. I like it here. And I don't want to join you down there on the flood plain, thank you all the same.

Now, this is probably the point where you dismiss my introduction as the hyperbolic ramblings of an anti-Lewes troll. But you're wrong.

You see, I have a theory. Here it is.

Bridge's Lewesian theory: all the good bits of Lewes are available to me without living there.
It has a companion theory that goes like this: all the bad bits of Lewes are only really suffered by people who live there.

Let me demonstrate with the following example. Harveys beer. Wonderful stuff. But I don't need to stand by the Argos car park to enjoy a pint in the sun. I can walk to The Anchor in Ringmer and sit in the garden. (Heck, I can cross the road with my pint and watch cricket on the green as long as I take the glass back and no-one ever finds out).

Fair enough, you may say, but what about Bill's cafe? Well, my Lewes friend, there's no priority queue for residents. Waving your council tax bill doesn't get you a table any quicker. You locals suffer the gastro-tourists, I walk in for a sausage sandwich and a coffee when they've gone. Besides, given the company's recent expansion, I reckon there'll be a Ringmer branch of Bill's by 2014. (Not that we desperately need one, for we have the Jack & Jill bakery: home of the Jack & Jill bun - fruit, icing and jam combined. You won't find that in the Collison collection).

May I also point out that parking's free in Ringmer and our house prices are more affordable than yours?

People of Lewes, escape those knee-trembling hills and head for the countryside. You know it makes sense.

Just don’t come looking for me when you arrive here. You'll probably find me in Laporte's - or in Steamer Trading - or Octave music - or perhaps even visiting an estate agent. Being from the wrong side of town doesn't mean I don't have aspirations.

First published on 5th July 2012:
All 'East of Earwig' articles will be archived at 

Friday 15 June 2012

Man issues press release after witnessing news event

  • Shameless attempt to gain publicity
  • No direct connection with the event
  • Does a quick survey

BRIGHTON, UK, 15th June 2012

Following a news event somewhere in the world that gained a considerable amount of media attention in the tabloid press, a survey by internationally-acclaimed copywriter Mark Bridge has revealed that around 50% of people agreed with what happened. Astonishingly, a further 50% disagreed.

The incident didn’t really have anything to do with Mr Bridge or the people he interviewed. Nevertheless, he formed an opinion and later asked others what they thought. Many people sympathised with the subject of the news story – possibly an elderly woman whose fence had fallen down, a young mother whose child doesn’t like strawberries, an orphaned ducking or the relative of a Big Brother contestant. Others didn't.

Mark Bridge, who conducted the survey for no reason except to publicise himself, said “The news is full of things that happen. Some are often referred to as ‘good news’. Others are ‘bad news’. By picking one of these events and talking about it, I’ve gained valuable publicity.”

He added “I’ll now say something with a tenuous link between the news event and the services offered by my business. It doesn't really make sense but I'm hoping you won't notice.”


About Mark Bridge
Mark Bridge is a copywriter who also produces and co-presents a weekly podcast for the mobile phone industry. He receives too many press releases that don't say anything important.

Friday 4 May 2012

Getting Entrepreneurial About Journalism

There comes a time when you need to feel the fear and do it anyway. When you want to change your life in seven days. When you stop hoping a few affiliate links will generate any revenue and decide to actually do something instead.

By you, I mean me, of course.

And so with a spring in my step and a childlike delight at catching the train to London, I set off yesterday to hear Milo Yiannopoulos talk on the subject of Getting Entrepreneurial About Journalism.

“Sassy and enthusiastic young writers are quietly earning a living by supplementing their expertise with events and consulting services and by building their reputations as connectors and pundits.”

Hey, that could be me. Enthusiastic, if not sassy.

“There are more opportunities for enterprising writers to make their name and make a living than ever before.”

Excellent news. The making of my name and my living will start anew.

The event promised that Milo Yiannopoulos would share his experiences setting up technology publication The Kernel, explaining what has worked and what hasn’t.

Indeed he did.

He started the evening at London’s General Assembly by telling the two or three dozen of us there that he’d talk about his experiences with The Kernel (which launched slightly less than five months ago and has been a financial success) and would then move on to the ‘future of content’ - what people pay for.

It is a myth, Milo said, that writing is profitable. After the pamphleteers of the early 18th century, journalism has been subsidised by advertising and supported by patrons.

Today, he said, the patronage model is becoming relevant again - thanks to paying customers, not rich benefactors.
Quite simply, you need to create content that people like and will pay for.
A moment of joyous hyperbole (it was hyperbole, wasn’t it?) saw Copyblogger’s business model described as “immoral” as Milo offered his own perspective on writing for profit.

Again, it’s simple. You need content that will do one (or both) of two things.
You need to educate, to address controversy, to introduce something new... to make people gasp.
And you need to make people laugh, because fundamentally we’re all miserable.
The Daily Mail was offered as an example of a publication that was getting some things right; addressing vulnerabilities and lifting people up to give a vision of ‘better’.

But ultimately there’s no money in ‘reporting’, Milo said. People put money behind individuals, not brands. Which means, when you’re writing editorial, you need to ask yourself “What can I do that nobody else can do?”

It seems the secret to making money from content isn’t a secret.
Make people gasp. Make people laugh. And do it in a unique way.
We gasped. We laughed. We went home.

Since last night I’ve seen a little online chatter about the event, with some people relatively happy and others less so.

Did the event deliver what it promised?  Well, despite the title, all it ever promised was Milo’s experiences in setting up The Kernel. So yes, I’d argue it did.

Did it deliver all the title suggested?   In an object lesson, you might say. To get entrepreneurial about journalism, you talk about your unique personal experience, you inform your audience, you entertain your audience... and you charge them £20 a head.

UPDATE: I receive an email on Friday afternoon.

Hey Everyone, Thank you for attending last night's Getting Entrepreneurial About Journalism class with Milo Yiannopoulos. GA education is about delivering high quality, practical, and actionable insights from top practitioners in the field. Last night's course did not meet the high standards that we set for ourselves and that you should expect from us. We have gone ahead and refunded your money and we hope that you'll accept our sincerest apologies. Our Education Team works hard to keep these slip-ups rare, and we hope you'll come check out another class soon.

Thursday 22 March 2012

Zero harm

This morning I was in London, home of perpetual redevelopment and permanent reinvention. As I passed a building site I noticed a sign that had been put in place by a construction company. The company's goal? "Zero deaths".

Never mind injuries. Never mind deadlines. Let's just not kill anyone when we're turning this old office block into a new office block, okay?

Initially, it struck me as the kind of aim Brunel might have aspired to... not a 21st century building contractor.

But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. In Brunel's time, construction-related fatal accidents - while regrettable - would happen pretty regularly. It was dangerous work. Today, construction is much safer. Accidents still happen but they're less frequent and less serious. It's now realistic to set a goal of avoiding serious injuries.

Mind you, I'm not convinced that 'zero deaths' or 'keeping the public safe' really require a well-publicised commitment. It doesn't reassure me, anyway.

Monday 19 March 2012

Take out a loan... and shop 'til you drop

It’s not often I take to my soapbox. Oh, alright then. It’s not often I admit to taking to my soapbox.

Anyway, last week I received an advertisement posted through the letterbox. The format – not especially classy – was of two leaflets stapled together. The front sheet gave details of Provident Personal Credit and its local agent, while the second sheet promoted ‘Love2shop’ vouchers in association with… you’ve guessed it… Provident Personal Credit.

LeafletsThe first was largely inoffensive. “I could help you with a loan of £50 to £500!”

The second offended me rather more.

“Love to shop till you drop?” it asked. “Ready to start shopping?”

Apparently I could take out a loan “from as little as £3.50 per week!”

You may be thinking this promotes irresponsible spending. I can assure you it doesn’t. Provident’s small print insists the company is a responsible lender.

You may think “Your vouchers could be delivered today!” might encourage customers to make an inappropriately quick decision about entering into a credit agreement. Once again, I refer you to the small print.

And that’s before you wonder whether customer satisfaction statistics from 18 months ago are still valid, or whether having different representative APRs on each leaflet is confusing.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your time. I shall now step down from my soapbox.

Sunday 1 January 2012


It's easy to make assumptions about people. For example, some folk have expressed surprise when the rhetorical skills of footballers don't match up to their footballing talent - despite there being no reason to expect this.

And now I'm starting 2012 with a shocking revelation: award-winning Financial Times journalist Lucy Kellaway has only recently discovered how to make porridge in the microwave.

I'm reminded of what I was taught in telesales training many years ago. Don't assume. It makes... well, I'm sure you know the rest. Don't you?