Archive for February, 2005

Tottenham Court Road

My husband and I enjoy Tottenham Court Road. You can go into the shops, take a look at what you’re considering buying, talk to the people about it, look at all the connectors and accessories, and then haggle about the price.

We recently bought a projector TV from a shop there, and are really happy with it. Of course, when you have a really high-end, huge picture, all of the other shortcomings in your setup are painfully visible. So, for example, we’ve found out that our DVD player is crap. And those SCART leads? Boy, is there a difference in the quality of picture when using a cheap one vs. a pricey one.

So, we’ve decided we need a DVD upgrade and, while we’re at it, some surround sound. I mean… a projector doesn’t put out audio, does it? And what’s the point in having a beautiful pictures if your sound sucks? Let’s go for the home cinema experience, right? We think so.

We’ve specced out what we want (Panasonic’s SCHT1500) and I had questions about the logistics of wiring everything through the DVD player. How do the inputs work? Can we have a SCART switch with a bunch of stuff on it (cable, PlayStation, GameCube, VCR…) and connect that to the SCART input? And if we do, how do we switch between the SCART components? Can you get SCART switches with remotes? Does it work like USB where the receiver understands that there’s more than input? How is the RGB output? Stuff like that.

Of course, if you know what you’re talking about, and are at all savvy about how this stuff works, chances are you’re going to completely confuse the salesman. We went to the same shop we bought the projector from, and talked to a different guy and geez was he clueless. He was trying to tell me about how AV1 and AV2 worked when I was asking him about a SCART switch – completely misunderstood me. And when we asked about putting everything through the DVD box, he told us we’d need a receiver and could do that. Then went on to show us how it could be done. He just didn’t get what we were asking.

Not that it mattered, really. We knew enough about what we wanted that when he did give us the answer we needed (after coming around to it the long way), we were happy. He told us their price was £570 and we were like, okay. You can get it online for £580 so that was okay.

Then we went away and came back and said no, actually, their best price was £750. We told him we could get it on the web for a lot less and he told us that was a good price and we should buy it there. Uhh… Okay. Thanks a lot for all your help, but goodbye!

The moral of the story? Although you can often get really good prices on Tottenham Court Road, it’s always best to check and see what you can get on the web, where retailers don’t have to pay salespeople or rent and have less overhead. That and, if you know what you’re talking about and have succinct questions, you may just find yourself more knowledgeable than the salesperson helping you. :P

Bricks & Mortar

What price an Englishman’s castle? The flat we thought we’d agreed a sale on fell through just about a week ago. Angry doesn’t even come close to describe how I felt towards the vendor then and indeed today. Some way off in the near future sellers will be forced to use things called sellers packs that will make it compulsory for them to include a survey as to the true state of the property. This is instead of the ludicrous situation where you might have for arguments sake 5 surveys on the same property all getting the same result. This is lunacy, though I’m sure the surveyors would say otherwise as five fees are sure better than one. Anyway, this and the proposed reduced stamp duty are some way off and we need to move.

We’ve been looking in an area of upto a few miles from where we live. The northern slopes of Crystal Palace are truly lovely places to look back down on central London. The new flat we’ve seen and made an offer on sits just next to a nature reserve and from the kitchen window its possible to see BT Tower as well as the Barbican, the Gherkin etc….
We find out tomorrow if we’re lucky with our inital offer, however we’re prepared to up it a bit just in case. Well, that’s my weekly rant in the bag. I hope to get ny bike back this week. More on that next week.

Cheers peeps.




Having been pointed towards the new coffee bar chain Progreso as an example of enlightened coffee retailing by Oxfam’s Ken Smith, I decided to pay them a call and find out about them firsthand.

The Earlham Street branch is actually in the basement of the Thomas Neale’s shopping centre, which is situated at the corner of Earlham Street and Shelton Street. The coffee’s good (with prettiest leaf pattern in the chocolate dusting), the seating spacious and there are stacks of books under the seats courtesy of Oxfam—they ask for a two pound donation if you want to take one home with you. There’s a community noticeboard with staff photos and various Oxfam and community trade initiative info, and wi-fi access courtesy of ReadytoSurf (though no power points and, us usual, exorbitantly expensive at a pound for twenty minutes).

I chatted briefly with the branch manager, Guido Gessaroli, about the ethos behind Progreso. Of course their products are Fairtrade, but Guido explained that the really original aspect of Progreso is the way its ownership is shared between Oxfam, the coffee importer and the coffee growers themselves. What a great idea!

This integration of ownership across the supply chain got me thinking about how blogs could similarly provide a medium for the integration of the voices of Progreso’s various stakeholders. A blog network could allow all the people involved in Progreso to tell their stories in their own words and images—so we customers could get an insight into the human experiences behind the brand. And we could add our own voices through comments and back-linked blog entries. Perhaps I’ll contact Progreso and moot the idea.

After all, what is coffee for if not for inspiring conversations?

User Interfaces

Apparently no matter how simple you make an interface, some people can’t cope with it. Take those touch screen tube ticket machines – don’t get stuck behind someone trying to get tickets for both children and adults. And definitely don’t tell them that if they chose a family card they could have saved 8 minutes and


My husband and I have been discussing the prospect of a projection TV for a long time. By projection TV, I mean a projector and a screen, not a rear-projection one. As this requires several components (for example, it poses the problem of where the sound is coming from), we decided to go to Tottenham Court Road for some expertise and to price it out.

We figured the Sony Store would be a good place to start because they’d know their products, even if we were unlikely to purchase there – chances are you can find a better price elsewhere. It was disappointing. The salesman mumbled so badly we had trouble understanding him and they only had two units, neither of which they were trying very hard to sell us.

So we wandered down the road to a place that had like six or seven units and the guy told us we needed an appointment and should come in tomorrow. We thought that sounded just fine. On our way out, he asked our price range. For everything, we don’t want to pay more than £2000. He was like: oh, that’s quite high. I’m kicking myself, now – we’re not in as good of a bargaining position. Oh well. That’s tomorrow’s problem.

So we wander out of the shop and on a whim decide to walk down Charring Cross Road to Leicester Square and catch a movie.

This, we soon found out, was a Bad Idea. The place was swarming. We noticed the erection of a marquis-like structure going on and groaned inwardly: a premiere. That explains all of the people. Except that we soon realised it wasn’t a premiere. It was the BAFTAs. And there was the red carpet. Oh wait, and is that Simon Pegg? Oh. Yeah.

What a nasty day for a big awards shindig like the BAFTAs. It was gusting and rainy and cold and grey and everything you hate about London weather. Can you imagine being out there in a little bit of nothing dress and some strappy stilettos? EUGH.

And then there were the inexplicable on-lookers, waiting in the rain to see their favourite celebrities, when you could certainly get a better view from the sofa at home, with a nice tea, and maybe a takeaway. The idea of waiting out there with them flitted across my mind (very briefly), then just as quickly flitted away.

It all left me with the question: Why don’t they space these silly awards things so they’re not all in the most miserable month of the year? I mean, in L.A., where they don’t really have weather, it’s one thing, but here in London? Less than pleasant.

Fair trade?

[I originally posted this piece on my personal blog on January 11th 2005; I’m cross-posting it here because of its London focus and in the hope of getting some momentum behind a “bloggers for Fair Trade in coffee shops” meme.]

faircostaSo Costa Coffee coffee shops now offer Fairtrade coffee at the same price as their standard (Unfairtrade?) coffee. This is great news—until a couple of months ago, it cost 20 pence extra per cup. Well done Costa.

However, you still have to ask for it—the barista will offer you a selection of sizes and extra marshmallows, but not Fairtrade.

It’s a bit like when the council official informs Arthur Dent in Hitch Hiker’s Guide that the plans for the demolition of his house had been available for public inspection for months in the room in the basement of the council offices with a sign “Beware of the Tiger” on the door (and then the Vogon guard tells him similarly that the plans for demolition of the Earth having been on show on a planet in a very nearby star-system).

Why don’t they offer you Fairtrade? Well, I’ve just had a very informative chat with Michael Rogers, the manager of the King’s Road, London branch about this, and the answer is pretty much what I expected.

Baristas are assessed from time to time by plain-clothes Costa management. Part of that assessment is on how well the barista sticks to the carefully-constructed script he has been trained to deliver. Michael told me that while baristas were not explicitly instructed not to offer the Fairtrade option, the fact that it is not in the script effectively means they could anticipate that offering Fairtrade would be “noted” if they were assessed.

Michael told me he had asked central management why Costa did not provide Fairtrade coffee only, and was told that it was a question of economics. Well, yes, but isn’t it also a question of leadership from the top and organisational transparency?

If Costa is really behind Fairtrade, then why not add the following line to the barrista’s script: “would you like Fairtrade coffee or coffee produced by exploiting poor people [so our shareholders can make bigger profits] madam/sir”? Then about a week later quietly discontinue selling Unfairtrade coffee amidst customer outrage.

The current situation smacks of Doublethink.

What Costa have done in making Fairtrade coffee the same price is a big step forward (as I suspected, hardly anyone was actually asking for it at the premium price). Let’s help them to take another one by asking them to explain the rationale behind those scripts. In the absence of an email link on the Costa homepage, I have sent a mail to the address Michael gave me of Clair Beer, Retail Development Manager for West End and Expos, asking her to explain the script policy.

Incidentally, Starbucks take a different approach to Fairtrade (and organic) coffee, including it range of “speciality” beans used according to a rota to brew their filter coffee. But they also make a far bigger noise about Fairtrade than seems justified by their actual retail strategy.

AMT Coffee (the coffee points at rail stations and airports etc.) show the way forward. I saw this sign proudly displayed on their kiosk wall: “Due to customer demand, our coffee is now 100% Fairtrade. If you’re going to do anything, do it 100%.”

Let’s peep through Costa and Starbucks’ corporate Emperors’ New Clothes and gently point out some naked truths. Let’s take a look at these coffee chains’ real Trade practices and help them to make them really Fair. And oh yeah—how about organic? : )

[UPDATE: February 2nd 2005. I received this helpful and positive email from Ken Smith of Oxfam]

Check out this link and add it to your related blog posts (including the rel=”tag” bit) to take part in the Costa and Fair Trade discussion:

“We are holding customers in the booking hall”

Work has started on the down escalator at Vauxhall tube and the gnomes of TfL have implemented a sort of one-way system during peak times. This evening, we were treated to a variety of explanations and apologies over the Tannoy, but the announcement that caught my attention (and over-active imagination) was “We are holding customers in the booking hall”.

I was most disappointed not to be presented with an orange jumpsuit a la Guantanamo — or should I be looking forward to a hug on Monday (Valentine’s Day) from a member of LU staff?

Has the backlash begun?

First B&Q get the kind of publicity you could only dream off more than paying back whatever they put up front to fund the round the world trip. Was the IKEA opening timed to try and steal a little bit of B&Q’s thunder? Nah, probably not. However, it looks like someone in the papers is not happy, read on……here.

However, here is a good piece that highlights how much IKEA has become apart of our lives.

Be There or Be Square…….

On a more positive note than earlier, the meet up for this month has finally been arranged. We dont now what the hell we are doing but it would be great if some of you nice reader people turned up.

So we are going to be at
Pitcher and Piano
42 Kingsway Holborn
London, WC2B 6EY
Wednsday night at 7.00pm

or you could just join our meetup group as I am sure we will be doing it plenty in the future.

see you there.


Brrrrrr: The leaves are off the trees, it

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