March, 2016

F1 to Follow Cricket Into Obscurity

Here’s how F1 and Bernie Ecclestone do business:

21 December 2015Channel 4 wins terrestrial rights to Formula 1, after the BBC hands them back. There was rumoured to be a fight with ITV for them.

Bernie Ecclestone, Chief Executive Officer of the Formula One group said: “I am sorry that the BBC could not comply with their contract but I am happy that we now have a broadcaster that can broadcast Formula 1® events without commercial intervals during the race.

“I am confident that Channel 4 will achieve not only how the BBC carried out the broadcast in the past but also with a new approach as the World and Formula 1® have moved on.”

(No – that second line really doesn’t really make any sense, but I swear I cut and paste that from the press release!)

20 January 2016 – Channel 4, having announced a new presenting and commentary team, broadcasts its first race in Australia as the new F1 season gets underway.

23 January 2016 AM – The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GDPA) publishes an open letter to stakeholders, followers and fans expressing concerns about their sport. This includes an implied concern about the changing TV environment as the sport has shifted from free-to-air to pay TV, leading to a decline in overall audiences.

23 January 2016 PMSky Sports announces an exclusive deal for all F1 rights from the 2019 season. Only the British Grand Prix and highlights will be made available free-to-air – presumably somewhere like Pick TV.

In essence the sport will disappear from most UK viewers’ screens despite a multitude of manufacturers and suppliers being British based, employing many people.

I’m very much a laissez-faire F1 watcher – or at least I used to be. If I was around and it was on, I might watch. But over the years, it has become duller. Tracks have turn numbers and not names; over-taking is so rare we get it from multiple angles; racing is manufactured through forced pit-stops; each season there are seemingly less than a handful of drivers who can win a race while the rest make up has beens. And that’s before we get to the dubious political aspects of F1 which sees the carnival pitching up in whichever country will give Bernie Eccelestone and his cronies the most cash.

Earlier this year I was appalled when I saw that Silverstone was recruiting for volunteers to help out at the British Grand Prix a la Olympic volunteers. This is a multi-billion pound industry. Would you expect, say, a commercial music festival to be manned by volunteers? Nope. They’re nearly all paid. It may be minimum wage, but that’s still cash in hand rather than a T-shirt.

I’ve got to feel sorry for Channel 4 in all of this. They’ve not been given a chance by F1. They’ve only broadcast a single race before losing the rights, and there’s been no time to see what innovations in coverage they can bring to the sport before the tablecloth has been whipped from underneath them. They have no chance to prove their metal or attempt to make a viable business case for continuing their coverage beyond the first three years. What kind of “partner” does that to you? I think that even if this deal has been in the making for many months, it’s extraordinarily bad grace of F1/Sky to announce it so soon.

It’s as though F1 is sticking two fingers up at C4 and saying – carry on paying us for the next three seasons, but we don’t care, because we have a new best friend.

Yes – Sky wants F1 exclusively. The fans are probably considered upmarket, and often don’t follow other sports. But expect ratings and interest in F1 to wane as it has done for cricket and golf before them.

Out of sight – out of mind.

I understand that this makes sense to Sky, because Sky has profits to achieve each year. But you’d be foolish to think that Sky actually has the long-term interests of the sport in mind. Instead they have spreadsheets detailing what proportion (and it will only be a proportion) of free-to-air F1 viewers they can sell subscriptions to.

I’ve no doubt their coverage will be technically superb. UHD is fine in principle, but in practice I’ll wait for standards to fully finalise themselves before I even think about upgrading. And you do have to listen to the world’s dreariest commentator in Martin Brundle – the man who on learning in 2011 that Sky would share rights with the BBC, instantly Tweeted a “come and get me” message.

But popularity will diminish as it has done with cricket, and is doing with golf. That’s what happens when your sport is owned by an investment company. They want the highest returns over the shortest period.

Telling the Truth About Ages

Back in 2012, James Cridland wrote a very good piece he called Truth in Numbers, which examined how Facebook marketed itself. He showed that while the Office of National Statistics showed there to be 7,482,000 16-24 year olds in the UK, Facebook was somehow selling access to 9,155,804 16-24 year olds.

I was curious to update these figures and look a little deeper across Facebook. It seems clear that while Facebook is clearly pretty popular amongst all age groups, it still dominates in younger groups.

So I decided to plot Facebook users that I can advertise against using James’ method, against the most recent ONS figures I can find – 2014 estimates.

A few notes on this chart:

  • Facebook only allows children to open accounts when they reach the age of 13. Therefore in the 10-14 category, they’re massively understated. But the chart does look a little odd. Only a tiny fraction of the audience seems to have an account. Either they already have an account (see below), or just aren’t really interested until hormones kick in as they get a little older.
  • Once you get to the 15-19, Facebook suddenly has over 100% of all people in that age group. Amongst 20-24s, Facebook reaches a remarkable 144% of adults in that category!
  • In reality, you would probably expect Facebook to reach a percentage in the high 90s, but there will always be people who don’t have an account.
  • But of course, just because a child is under 13, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to get onto Facebook. It seems likely that a lot of 10, 11 and 12 year olds over time have registered as being 13 or older just to get their accounts early. Peer pressure at school is probably enough to force this. If you have an email address, you can get an account.
  • And that skews the demographics going forward. At what point does someone “own up” to Facebook about their real age? Facebook lets you change your birthdate, but for the most part there doesn’t seem to be much incentive for correcting birth years.
  • And we must assume that there are fake accounts. There are a lot of people willing to sell you followers (and likes). We must assume that these are bots, operated through networks. And they’re likely to be pitched as advertiser-friendly younger demographics.
  • Once you get to 40, Facebook no longer claims to reach the entire adult population. I can attest to having friends in their forties who are not on Facebook. The numbers obviously slip as you move older – and this is despite your mum and perhaps your grandmother now being on the site.
  • And while 65+ looks bad, hover over the blue column because it’s way worse. I capped the chart at 6m on vertical axis. In fact there are 10.4m 65+s in the UK, of which only 26% are claimed to be reached by Facebook.
  • Facebook provides much more rounded numbers today compared to what it did when James ran his test, hence numbers to the nearest 100,000.

There may be other reasons why there seem to be so many UK Facebook users between 15 and 39, including use via proxies and so on. But it’s still a little disturbing that these numbers are being sold. But I guess that’s really just the tip of the iceberg in digital marketing!

On a separate note, there was an interesting piece on More or Less a couple of months ago. They reported that there is a significant imbalance between 16-17 boys and girls in Sweden, with 123 boys to every 100 girls, making it a greater imbalance than even China.

It seems to boil down to asylum seekers and Swedish rules which mean that if you’re under 18 and gain asylum, you have the right to bring your family into the country. If you’re 18 or over, you don’t get that right. That means that as an asylum seeker, you’re strongly incentivised to give you age as less than 18. Given that you probably arrived in Sweden without a birth certificate, who’s to know how old you really are? They don’t check, and in any case, they probably can’t.

_88003397_asylum_seekers_age_624

A Sheringham Soundscape

Sheringham Beach-3

Recorded along the coast during a near high-tide this morning. The promenade in Sheringham was quite badly damaged during December 2013 storms, and more than two years later, there is still work being carried out to repair some of that damage.

The audio is a mix of different sounds with some “treatment” particularly to the workmen repairing some of the metalwork.

Nell Gwynn

Sitting down at the Apollo with a few friends, I realised that I didn’t know a whole lot about Nell Gwynn. I knew vaguely that she’d once been a prostitute, became a stage actress – famous in her day – and won lots of admirers including the King.

Broadly speaking that’s right, and although I couldn’t definitively say that this stage play written by Jessica Swale, and transferring to the West End from The Globe, is biographically accurate, it delves somewhat more into her life.

Gemma Arterton plays Gwynn. We see her first as an orange seller sitting at the foot of the stage at the King’s Company’s theatre. This was a time when men played all the parts, and indeed playing a woman was a specialist skill. Thomas Killgrew (Michael Garner) leads the company and he sees something in Gwynn that he likes. So he gives her acting lessons, and before you know it she’s appearing on stage with the rest of the company, despite the best efforts of Edward Kynaston (Greg Haiste) who plays the default female role in the company.

Before you know it, the King himself (David Sturzaker) has spotted the charms of Gwynn, and she is being hoisted into a world of private apartments and ladies in waiting.

The play is the very definition of bawdy, from an hilarious song from Gywnn early on which she uses to win her place in the theatre, delivered with gusto by Arterton, to practically pantomine lines at various points. The audience is very much a character here. There are knowing winks and lines for the audience aplenty.

The stage we see is the stage of the Bridges Street Theatre, appearing very much in the style of the Globe where this play premiered.

The play rips along without concerning itself too much with the distasteful parts of Gwynn’s life – how young was she as a prostitute? But we do get asides suggesting that some punters paid to watch actors dress or get undressed! And at one point a production of Lady Godiva is suggested as a way of packing in audiences. I note that Mrs Henderson Presents… has recently reached the West End stage. A case of having your cake and eating it?

But it’s Arterton who shines here. She’s perfectly cast in the role with song, dance, and knowing glances at the audience a plenty. Well worth seeing.

Govia Thameslink Railways – Closing All Ticket Offices

Enfield Chase - Ticket Office Closing

I like to think I’m fairly on the ball. I pay attention to what’s happening, and that includes transport issues. So I was a bit surprised to learn only this morning that Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), the operator of my local trainline, is busy trying to close pretty much all the station ticket offices on the line.

Instead, everyone will have to use self-service ticket machines for everything, and they’ll have someone wandering around to either help you, or sell you a ticket from a handheld machine. How they will cope, on their own, late at night (the proposals say they’ll be present from first until last train) isn’t clear.

There has been a minimum duration consultation that is closing this Sunday. I only learnt of it because a member of the RMT was handing out postcards at my station this morning. And if there has been a poster up in the station promoting the consultation, I’ve not seen it. I suspect that majority of rail travellers from my station – and probably many others on the line – hadn’t realised this is being proposed, and still don’t.

[Update: The picture above, taken at Enfield Chase station, shows the information that is being given to passengers. It says “modernising” rather than highlighting “closing”]

Of course London Underground has now closed all the ticket offices on the network with the exception of 6 visitor centres at major stations like Victoria and King’s Cross (well, it’s in St Pancras actually). Instead commuters, tourists and visitors have to use machines to learn the delights of the Oyster Card system. Or you can use your contactless card – assuming you have one, and if you’re an overseas visitor, don’t mind paying a very healthy transaction fee on every trip.

But at least the London Underground is relatively simple. You can only buy tickets to other underground stations, and they all lie in zones, meaning that the ticketing costs are relatively simple (I say “relatively”, but explaining about off-peak, peak and daily caps is fiddly).

And the closure was planned over many months. There wasn’t a quiet 3 week consultation with a desire to get the whole thing finished within months regardless of readiness.

So what’s the problem with this then?

Well lots.

This proposal is “to change ticket office opening hours at 45 ticket offices at 44 stations and to make amendments to the operation of the ticket offices at a further 39 station ticket offices.

That description is disingenuous.

At 45 stations, the ticket offices will close entirely, and they’ll have a “station host” standing around by the gates helping people use machines. That’s not a “change” to “office opening hours” it’s an end to opening hours.

The “amendments” at the other 39 stations will see those ticket offices closed at all times except between 0600 and 1030 on Mondays to Fridays.

Fancy a trip to London at the weekend? Going to the football? You’ll have to make do without unless you join the massed ranks in the morning commute and buy your tickets then.

Or you’ll have to use a ticket machine.

Here’s a short, and not remotely comprehensive list of things you can’t do with ticket machines:

  • Buy railcards
  • Get photocards – most season tickets require them
  • Buy Gold cards (aka – buy annual season tickets)
  • Get refunds
  • Buy “Boundary Zone” fares*
  • Discounted advance purchase tickets
  • Split tickets and more complicated journeys
  • Some machines don’t even let you buy a ticket starting at another location. Especially frustrating if you’re using your season ticket for part of the journey.

* Few people seem to know about these, but if you have a Travelcard for, say, Zones 1-5, then you can buy a ticket from the boundary of your zone onwards. This saves money if, you’re perhaps travelling across London and on to another destination beyond your zone on the other side. You effectively don’t have to double pay for the part of the trip you already have a season ticket for.

And that’s before making use of the booking office staff who can often alert you to discounted tickets that you may not have known about – group travel deals for example.

To do many of these things, you can’t complete purchases online either. You may be able to buy a season ticket in advance, but you have to await delivery, be available when it arrives and so on. It’s an enormous inconvenience in comparison to going to your local station.

If you don’t have access to the internet – perhaps because you’re elderly, or poor (i.e the most disadvantaged in society), you will be forced to make an extra trip to the closest station that will actually sell you tickets, at additional cost!

Londoners have proportionately fewer cars than the rest of the population, and therefore need full access to public transport. Closing station ticket offices undoubtedly curtails this.

Under these proposals, from Letchworth Garden City to Harringey along the line I use daily, there will be no station ticket offices open at all, with the exceptions of Hertford North, Stevenage, Hitchin and Letchworth during early peak Mon-Fri – all stations far to the north of where I live.

To buy any ticket that is not available via the ticket machine will involve a trip to Finsbury Park or more realistically (since the ticket office there is tiny), King’s Cross St Pancras, where ticket offices are already extremely busy.

Have you ever been to a commuter rail station in the morning at the start of the week, month or year? They’re full of people spending hundreds or thousands of pounds on rail tickets.

Ticket machines breakdown and go out of order. Last week, the only ticket machine I could use on a Sunday wasn’t accepting credit cards. I had to walk away.

Just to be clear how massive the imapact of this is going to be, I dug into the Office of Rail Regulation’s station usage stats. Cumulatively, these stations deal with over 191m entries and exits a year. They account for 7% of the entire UK rail network!

Below I’ve posted all the stations under threat and the entries and exits they’ve recorded in the last two years. I’ve noted the change in usage of these stations too, because there is significant year on year growth – 4.7% across all of these stations.

My local station, Gordon Hill, has seen 8.7% growth in just a single year, with 1.3m entries and exits. It won’t have a ticket office.

Stevenage has 4.6m entries and exits and year. It’ll only have a ticket office open between 0600 and 1100 Mon-Fri (NB There is a small Virgin Trains office too). Hitchin has over 3m entries and exits a year and will have similarly curtailed facilities.

This is a dismal state of affairs, and it feels like Govia Thameslink Railway is really trying it on to see what they can get away with.

This is the rail operator that does not have enough drivers to sustain its service. While it’s training more drivers, it does not offer 7-day a week contracts, which means that all Sunday shifts are voluntery overtime. Before Christmas, Sundays were a disaster as drivers simply chose not to work, leading to entire services being shut down, including the day they launched a new timetable and redirected services to Moorgate at weekends.

Elsewhere on the network, they’re trying to implement a smartcard system called The Key, so far with very poor results.

They are currently installing barriers in stations, which should stop some of the rampant fare avoidance (you never get checked for tickets except at weekends), but will lead to queues to get out of stations in particular, as hundreds of passengers try to get through a maximum of two barriers.

This is a disaster waiting to happen, and it’s going to happen very very soon.

Respond now to the consultation by Sunday 13 March. Support the RMT’s stance. Ensure that rail travellers can get the best deals!

Ticket Office Closed - No Other Ticketing FacilitiesEntries & Exits
2014/152013/14% Change
Alexandra Palace1,419,8521,282,46210.7%
Battersea Park2,417,2142,402,6040.6%
Carshalton Beeches1,020,594952,7307.1%
City Thameslink6,354,1286,019,9465.6%
Cricklewood1,493,5581,338,29611.6%
Denmark Hill5,631,0085,166,0409.0%
Enfield Chase1,390,1101,326,7204.8%
Gipsy Hill2,063,9461,992,1363.6%
Loughborough Junction1,404,5521,386,2901.3%
New Barnet1,266,3501,220,7683.7%
Palmers Green1,878,0041,723,5189.0%
Peckham Rye5,074,0804,665,5868.8%
Queen's Road Peckham1,790,7861,585,24013.0%
Selhurst1,626,7361,493,1568.9%
South Croydon1,294,3421,286,2740.6%
Streatham3,194,0982,883,73410.8%
Streatham Common4,003,9383,827,2964.6%
Streatham Hill2,813,1822,725,3203.2%
Tooting1,451,7321,317,76010.2%
Tulse Hill2,597,7522,442,1266.4%
Wandsworth Common1,835,0841,789,0402.6%
West Norwood2,265,2182,118,2606.9%
Ticket Office Closed - Limited Ticket Machine AccessEntries & Exits
2014/152013/14% Change
Balham7,643,7986,916,22010.5%
Carshalton1,425,6361,354,7065.2%
Caterham1,065,0661,055,6980.9%
City Thameslink6,354,1286,019,9465.6%
Coulsdon South1,753,4301,714,3222.3%
Elstree & Borehamwood4,043,6803,616,33611.8%
Falmer1,336,3341,316,5501.5%
Gordon Hill1,271,3341,169,8148.7%
Hornsey1,351,5021,237,6989.2%
Lancing999,790987,4821.2%
Luton Airport Parkway2,754,7002,567,2327.3%
Mill Hill Broadway2,674,5902,482,1707.8%
Norbury3,433,8083,316,6303.5%
Purley3,205,6663,064,1704.6%
Radlett1,198,7021,139,0245.2%
Reigate1,613,0501,622,182-0.6%
Sanderstead1,225,6641,140,7967.4%
Shoreham-by-Sea1,491,7421,471,6921.4%
Sutton (Surrey)6,778,9326,607,1802.6%
Thornton Heath3,266,6423,073,4966.3%
Wallington2,178,9022,114,8743.0%
West Hampstead Thameslink3,591,3963,288,7209.2%
Winchmore Hill1,573,3061,440,3189.2%
Ticket Office Closed - Except Mon-Fri Morning PeakEntries & Exits
2014/152013/14% Change
Angmering882,480883,150-0.1%
Ashtead1,296,4341,249,7483.7%
Barnham1,015,654995,2622.0%
Bexhill1,509,5501,577,696-4.3%
Bognor Regis1,236,7941,231,3860.4%
Burgess Hill1,783,4381,756,3301.5%
Chichester3,232,6543,269,046-1.1%
Crawley1,997,2882,018,116-1.0%
Dorking1,292,4281,259,9832.6%
East Grinstead1,608,4141,563,4982.9%
Eastbourne3,752,7343,693,0601.6%
Epsom4,116,6243,962,7163.9%
Flitwick1,450,9701,347,0507.7%
Harpenden3,315,8903,182,2944.2%
Hassocks1,344,3821,317,8342.0%
Hatfield2,134,0842,085,1342.3%
Hertford North1,429,1431,373,3194.1%
Hitchin3,035,6922,902,6064.6%
Horley984,932955,3883.1%
Horsham2,837,9862,746,5623.3%
Hove2,453,1942,421,5361.3%
Huntingdon1,769,7021,692,1544.6%
King's Lynn970,890913,4606.3%
Leagrave1,894,2941,810,1204.7%
Leatherhead2,147,8762,104,6862.1%
Letchworth1,751,8201,652,2566.0%
Lewes2,663,5082,748,556-3.1%
Littlehampton1,038,3901,044,158-0.6%
Merstham719,172724,584-0.7%
Oxted1,723,4081,692,9241.8%
Polegate1,027,230994,2903.3%
Portslade1,147,3081,101,6504.1%
Potters Bar1,851,5241,781,6083.9%
Royston1,394,1041,300,5227.2%
Sandy501,652480,5624.4%
St.Neots1,272,1521,214,3904.8%
Stevenage4,608,9844,448,6343.6%
Welwyn Garden City2,724,0162,677,7781.7%
Worthing2,575,5762,602,406-1.0%
Total191,010,433182,439,0094.7%

Hail Caesar!

A new Coen brothers film is always a cause for celebration. That’s particularly the case when they adopt more of a screwball tone to their films.

Hail Caesar! is actually more of a group of sketches than a fully fledged film – the plot is slight. We follow the action from the perspective of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), actually a real person who was a “fixer” for MGM. Here he’s the fixer at the fictional Capitol Studios, and is called upon to sort out problems with the various stars Capitol has on contract. These include Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) who has got himself kidnapped from the set of his biblical epic, DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) who’s trying to overcome an out of wedlock pregnancy while shooting her Esther Williams-style swimming picture, Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) who’s trying to break beyond the confines of his singing cowboy persona and Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) who’s making a song and dance naval number!

How the whole story stitches together doesn’t really matter. This film is all about the set pieces. In the cinema where I saw the film, the biggest laughs came from Ehrenreich’s appearances as Hobie. There’s a wonderful scene played with gusto by Ralph Fiennes’ Laurence Laurentz where Hobie is trying to transition to a melodrama but can’t lose his western twang. Later the scene is revisited via a cameo from Frances McDormand who’s editing the picture.

Meanwhile Tilda Swinton plays a twin role as gossip columnists for rival publications in the style of Hedda Hopper, last seen, of course, played by Helen Mirren in Trumbo with the same types of hats, but a very different tone of voice. In fact, the comparisons with Trumbo don’t end there, because the writers who form the group that kidnaps Whitlock, seem to be closely related to the Hollywood Ten. And there was an interesting interview with the Joel and Ethan Coen on Radio 4’s Film Programme last week which suggested that the left-leaning writers of the age really were smuggling in communist propaganda into their work.

While faith becomes a key theme of the film, for the most part the film is more of an excuse to have some fun. And for all the control that studios had when the studio system reigned supreme, the breadth of output must have been remarkable.

This isn’t the best Coen brothers film ever – you feel it could have been structured a little stronger in places. On the other hand, the characters are delightful, and the gentle mocking of the studio productions of the time is wonderful.

Now where can I get the eagle sound effect everytime someone mentions the mysterious events surrounding the movie “On Wings of Eagles”? (Stay until the end of the credits if you enjoy this gag).

Broadcast v Internet Listening

If there’s one thing that’s incredibly dangerous to do when you’re trying to work out what’s going on the world, it’s the “Sample Size of One.” What I mean is that just because you or your family is adopting a certain type of behaviour, that does not make it the norm.

That’s especially true in media circles, where smartphone penetration is close to 100% and Apple’s market share is probably in the high eighties. Yes, a lot of people own smartphones and tablets. But no, not everyone does. And just because everyone at your child’s school has a smartphone or tablet, that does not automatically make the same true on a national basis.

I mention this because I was listening to the very fine Media Podcast this weekend (especially fine since my blog on The New Day was referenced), and a few dubious facts were propagated when discussing the rumoured (and firmly denied) suggestion that Five Live might follow BBC Three as an online-only station.

One of the guests said that yes, it was a feasible plan in the long-term.

“I can’t remember the last time I listened to the radio when it was through an FM signal or even a DAB signal. The only people listening to radio are people who are of an older generation or people who are driving to work.”

Now to be completely fair, presenter Olly Mann noted that he was as big a digital advocate as you’d want to meet, but he didn’t think this was true and hypothesised that broadcast might have another 20 years.

Just because you personally don’t do something, you can’t simply extrapolate from that and say that the same is true for everyone.

To be clear, 90% of the population listen to the radio – for an average of 21 hours a week.

And what’s more, they’re mostly listening via broadcast – that is to say, large transmitters sited on hills, or even satellites in geo-stationary orbits.

If you exclude data for which no platform data is available (for simplicity – IP listening would be lower if I included it), just 7.5% of listening is via IP. The rest is mostly FM, AM and DAB, with a little via Freeview, satellite and cable.

Ah yes. But those people are all old aren’t they?

Well – no. That’s everyone. But if we look at the very youngest people that RAJAR fully measure – 15-19 year olds, the internet percentage goes up to 20%, but it’s still vastly outnumbered by broadcast.

Added to this, there is the recent research from Radioplayer showing that 82% of drivers would not consider buying a car without a radio, with 69% choosing radio ahead of CD, Bluetooth and streaming functionality.

And that’s before we get to the availability of strong 3G or 4G reception around the country, and the fact that data costs the consumers money while broadcast is for the most part free at the point of reception.

So be wary of your own personal habits. You can’t simply extrapolate from them.

Source: RAJAR Q4 2015, based on All Adults and Adults 15-19. Excluding “Platform Not Stated” and “Digital Platform Not Stated” listening.

February Books

My reading volume dropped a little in February, as will be noted below.

The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle is a lovely tale about a con-man and his latest – perhaps final – mark. The book alternates perspectives, but mostly this is about Roy – who when we meet him is on a date with Betty. We quickly realise that he is not a nice character. He seems scheming and we’re not sure what his goal is. Betty on the other hand seems very sensible – yet somehow she is nonetheless drawn to Roy.

Quickly we’re told that not all is as it seems. Betty is being helped by some friends, while with Roy, we get flashbacks further and further into his past. He’s clearly a chancer, and indeed a conman. Where is it all going to end?

The Good Liar is a fun page-turner always trying to twist and turn. I’d basically worked out where it was going before it got there, but it was a good read nonetheless.

The Night Manager by John Le Carré was a book I of course wanted to read ahead of the current BBC/AMC adaptation. I have read some, but by no means all of Le Carré’s work, and I remember my father getting this book as a gift one birthday or Christmas sometime after it came out. It tells the story of Jonathan Pine, the night manager of a Swiss hotel. When arms dealer Richard Roper arrives at his hotel, he recalls a time previously in Egypt where the same man had caused the death of Sophie, a woman he’d fallen in love with. Then he’d tried to report the arms deal to the British authorities, but this had led to the woman’s death. Now “The Worst Man in the World” was back in his life. What follows is an exemplary thriller as Pine is recruited by Leonard Burr, and an operation is launched against Roper – living a lavish lifestyle on a private island with his private yacht.

It’s interesting to see what has been maintained from book to screen, and what has been changed, updated (the novel was published in 1993) or expunged. Because even six hours of drama struggles with nearly 500 pages of story.

I loved the book, and need to catch up with Le Carré even though I fear he’s no longer writing novels. (He did publish a long piece about the transition of this book and his other work from page to screen.)

Wildwood by Roger Deakin is a book I’d long known about but never read. I actually came to it via an evening listening to extracts of radio and music at an In the Dark event with Ian Chambers. One of the excerpts was from The House, a Radio 4 documentary on his home, Walnut Tree Farm, in Suffolk. In an email conversation with Chambers afterwards, I ended up picking up this book to read, and it’s wonderful.

Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees (to give it its full title) is an exploration of trees and woods. There are reminscinces from Deakin’s childhood where he’d taken an especially keen interest in the wildlife surrounding his school with some superb teachers. He talks about trees, woods, forests, those who work in them, and those who work with the wood itself. The first part of the book sees him travelling around the UK visiting various woods and forests – often sleeping out in them. The later part tells of his travels to sometimes quite remote parts of the world, for example exploring wild apple and walnut trees in Kazakhstan and Kurdistan.

Although this wonderful book is now nearly ten years’ old – it was published posthumously in 2007, Deakin having died in 2006 – it still seems very popular. Indeed there does seem to be a renaissance in nature and wildlife writing right now. So perhaps it wasn’t surprising when a fellow-commuter and I both found ourselves, one morning sitting facing one another and reading the same book!

Holloway by Dan Richards, Robert Macfarlane and illustrator Stanley Donwood is really paean to Roger Deakin. Some years earlier, Macfarlane had visited the south-west to find an ancient holloway – an enclosed usually wooded path, where years of use have carved out the ground – following in the footsteps of the protagonist in Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male. Although that book was fiction, the hidden holloway described was seemingly true, and is not marked on maps.

Following Deakins’ death, Mcafarlane and friends take another trip to the same area, and this very brief booklet is the outcome. It’s a lovely book to read following on from Wildwood.

InDesign Type by Nigel French is obviously a bit of a specialist title. Basically I needed something to help me with typography as I tried to lay out a photobook in InDesign – a program I’m not especially familiar with. While I wouldn’t pretend that this title is the best introduction ever to InDesign, it is fantastic at explaining the nuances of typography, fonts and text layout. On a handful of occasions now I’ve lain out type for photobooks, and it has always been that aspect of them that has disappointed me.