No Comfort for planet as Unilever adds unnecessary plastic

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On the right is a bottle of Comfort fabric softener I bought recently. On the left is the empty one which it replaced. The old bottle, when finished, could be rinsed out and tossed straight into the green recycling bin. Top marks. However, the new one, although made of recyclable PET plastic, has a plastic film cover, which can’t be recycled. 

Many people don’t know this so they toss them in the recycling anyway. But some recyclers haven’t got a mechanism to process these bottles, and so they get thrown into landfill or incinerated. The most notorious of these items is Lucozade, although this is soon to be rectified according to this report. About time too.

So what am I supposed to do about my Comfort bottle? The answer is on the bottle, in a script typeface supposed to encourage user interaction.

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“Unzip here to undress the bottle for recycling.” I’ll ignore the twee language for the moment (part of the trend towards infantilism too common amongst today’s copywriters). Many punters won’t read the instruction, and many more will just not bother. Net result, fewer bottles recycled. In my view, anything that makes the act of recycling harder is going to reduce the numbers sent forward. This should mean companies should work to remove aluminium foil linings on cardboard pizza boxes, plastic film on PET bottles and plastic lamination on magazine covers (to name just three). And don’t get me started on those Pringle’s Crisps tubes. A plastic lid, an aluminium and cardboard tube with a steel collar and a foil sealer. The whole thing is a “recycling nightmare”, according to this 2020 BBC report on trials of new packaging. Some 90% is paper, but “around 10% is a polyal (plastic) barrier that seals the interior to protect the food against oxygen and moisture which would damage the taste.” And it may well still have a plastic lid. More plastic rubbish for easy dumping on our beaches or parks.

So what possessed a big company like Unilever to take the backward step on its Comfort bottles? Especially one which promotes its work for sustainability with a special page on its website. 

I should be interested to find out more. 

Unilever statement


The runaway comma

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For several years after moving to Dublin I would often drive through the district of Phibsborough, past a pet shop which proudly displayed its name as “Bob,s Pets”. The sign was also duly noted by Lynne Truss, and became known worldwide due to its appearance in her best selling Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Sadly, there don’t seem to be any photographs of the sign online, though I guess there must be some somewhere out there. 

In the meantime, here’s another Dublin example of a misplaced comma replacing an apostrophe, taken recently through my car windscreen while stopped at a traffic light. 

Pics of the real Bob,s Pets sign would be very welcome. Please get in touch. 

Type on the streets: Cooper Black

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There must be something about the Cooper Black typeface that encourages typographic nominative determinism. A mere three short years after my first post on this subject, I have recently spotted another commercial concern by the name of Cooper which uses its namesake typeface.

Step forward, as John Junor used to say, Cooper Insulation of Kells, Co Meath. Above is one of their vans, photographed in Sundrive Road, Dublin, a few hundred yards from my house. And here is the company website, featuring a number of lorries and vans decked out in the corporate colours.

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Choosing a typeface because of its “accidental association” is disapproved of by most eminent typographic writers, notably Robert Bringhurst in The Elements of Typographic Style (Hartley & Marks, second edition 1997). Here the great man writes:

Choose faces whose individual spirit and character is in keeping with the text.
Accidental associations are rarely a good basis for choosing a typeface. Books of poems by the twentieth-century Jewish American poet Marvin Bell, for example, have sometimes been set in Bell type – which is eighteenth-century, English and Presbyterian – solely because of its name. Puns of this kind are a private amusement for typographers. But a typographic page so well designed that it attains a life of its own must be based on something more than an inside joke. (p.99)

However, it must be said that Cooper Black and its associated italic are fine typefaces, and often used in display advertising and logo design. So who’s to say that it doesn’t fit the bill in this case? (See its original promotional ad from 1922 below, found in an article on Medium.) But you can’t help feeling that the designer who chose it for this client didn’t have have a little chuckle to themselves as they did so.

Cooper AmPrinter ad

Guardian Double Campbell raises journalism official secrecy danger

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Those of us of a certain vintage have waited more than 40 years to see the double photographic byline shown above, which appeared on 20 July in the print edition of The Guardian. (The byline can also be seen in the online edition here, although disappointingly the pictures are missing.)

The two Campbells are both Scots, the older (born 1944) from Edinburgh, the younger (born 1952) from Dundee. Their paths crossed in the 1970s when the older was news editor of Time Out, which in those days employed several of its own reporters as well as giving work to a number of freelances. One of these freelances was Campbell the younger, already a specialist in writing about communications and the secret state. It was he who, along with Time Out staffer Crispin Aubrey, went to interview an ex-army corporal John Berry about his service in the Royal Signals. All three were arrested after the interview had finished, and charged with offences under the Official Secrets Act.

The ad hoc group of friends, families and other supporters which came together to defend them became known by their initials, the ABC campaign. It won a significant victory in getting the most serious charges under Section 1 of the act dropped. At their trial, all three were eventually found guilty of Section 2 charges, after the judge indicated he was not considering custodial sentences.

Now Campbell and Campbell are writing together to alert readers to the latest danger posed by this most illiberal of UK governments, whose sights are now set on journalists merely doing their jobs. As the pair point out:

The Home Office now wants harder and more extensive secrecy laws that would have the effect of deterring sources, editors and reporters, making them potentially subject to uncontrolled official bans not approved by a court, and punished much more severely if they do not comply. In noisy political times, a government consultation issued two months ago has had worryingly little attention. Although portrayed as countering hostile activity by state actors, the new laws would, if passed, ensnare journalists and sources whose job is reporting “unauthorised disclosures” that are in the public interest.

These proposals are markedly different from those proposed by the independent Law Commission published last autumn. The commission recommended that “a statutory public interest defence should be created for anyone … including civilians and journalists, that they can rely upon in court”. Journalists and sources should not be convicted if it was in the public interest for the information disclosed to be known by recipients. An independent, statutory whistleblower commissioner “should be established to receive and investigate allegations of wrongdoing or criminality”.

The current “gung-ho, authoritarian approach of the government could allow press freedom to be clamped into silence” warn our Dynamic Duo, unless editors and others worried about press freedom and an open society do not highlight the dangers and call a halt. Well said, chaps.

Born on the same day

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One of my little obsessions is checking the Birthdays list in The Guardian every morning for people born on the same day. It’s the odd juxtaposition of names that I particularly love. In my game, you get points for any pair. Double points are awarded for two pairs born on the same day in different years, and treble points for three pairs. Yesterday, 7 July, was a treble point day. Shelley Duvall and Bob Stewart, born on 7 July 1949. Tony Jacklin, Glenys Kinnock and Professor Sir Ian Wilmut, born on 7 July 1944. And best coincidence of all, Michael Howard and Bill Oddie, born on 7 July 1941. Such a shame that, according to Wikipedia, there is no one to pair up with Ringo Starr, still rocking at 81, and born on 7 July 1940. 

Here are some other interesting recent coincidences from the last few weeks:

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George W Bush and Sylvester Stallone, born 6 July 1946.

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Fabien Barthez and Elon Musk, born 28 June 1971.

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Brian Leveson, Meryl Streep and Elizabeth Warren, born 22 June 1949.

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Kate Hoey, Malcolm Rifkind and Maurice Saatchi, born 21 June 1946.

Soc Dems add a little Holly to the picture

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Pic: David Kenny

To the long list of politicians inserted by Photoshop to events they never attended add Holly Cairns, the SDP TD for Cork West. Above is a leaflet being circulated by Sarah Durcan, the party candidate in the forthcoming Dublin Bay South by-election. 

Count the people behind her: the SDP’s two co-leaders and Labour Party defectors, Roisin Shortall and Catherine Murphy on the left and right. Behind them the party’s four other TDs. But look carefully: third from the left in the back row is Holly Cairns in what looks like a neatly coiffed studio shot, added in later by Photoshop.

And so it is. Because below is another leaflet (an official party leaflet!) using what must be an earlier version of the same photo:

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Pic: Alan Kinsella

Just three TDs standing behind their leaders and no sign of Ms Cairns. What puzzles me is the decision by the party’s communications team to use the doctored photograph after they had themselves issued the original one. A most unprofessional approach.

Meanwhile in the by-election itself, Sarah Durcan looks as though she will end up a long way back in the race. There haven’t been any opinion polls so far, but she’s well behind in Paddy Power’s latest odds. 

Paddy Power

I’ve been out canvassing for Labour’s estimable Ivana Bacik, probably the most impressive by-election candidate I’ve ever met. With under two weeks to go, she could yet end up top of the poll. 

Hat tip to David Kenny, who spotted the picture, and the wonderful Irish Election Literature archive of Alan Kinsella. 

Bob Dylan at 80


Rock and pop stars older than Bob Dylan

Judy Collins b. 1 May 1939
Dion DiMucci b. 18 July 1939
Smokey Robinson b. 19 February 1940
Billy Fury b. 17 April 1940 d. 28 January 1983
Tom Jones b. 7 June 1940
Adam Faith b. 23 June 1940 d. 8 March 2003
Ringo Starr b. 7 July 1940
John Lennon b. 9 October 1940 d. 8 December 1980
Cliff Richard b. 14 October 1940
Joan Baez b. 9 January 1941

Bob Dylan b. 24 May 1941

Rock and pop stars younger than Bob Dylan

Charlie Watts b. 2 June 1941
Cass Elliot b. 19 September 1941 d. 29 July 1974
Paul Simon b. 13 October 1941
Carole King b. 9 February 1942
Aretha Franklin b. 25 March 1942 d. 16 August 2018
Paul McCartney b. 18 June 1942
Jimi Hendrix b. 27 November 1942 d. 18 September 1970
Janis Joplin b. 19 January 1943 d. 4 October 1970
George Harrison b. 25 February 1943 d. 29 November 2001
Bobby Vee b. 30 April 1943 d. 24 October 2016
Mick Jagger b. 26 July 1943

The curse of automatic hyphenation (part 3642)

Sportswashing IMG_3617 960pxAnother good demonstration in today’s Guardian of why sub-editors are still needed. “Sportswashing” is a great word describing an important concept in today’s fast changing world. However, the H&J algorithm in the newspaper’s typesetting program obviously can’t cope with it, and has inserted a hyphen after the letter t. It has thereby created the splendid new compound word of “sport-swashing”, evoking the spectacle of a new Olympic role for Errol Flynn, swinging a sword as he climbs a spiral staircase, taking on all-comers as he does so.

I don’t want to be too critical of the newspaper’s sports writers and subs who produce daily miracles in getting reports of football matches which finished at 10pm into a printed paper which arrives at my newsagent by 7am the next day. The whole production staff deserve huge credit and support for this.

But there should still be time for someone to check the text for hyphenation errors, and insert the odd discretionary hyphen or two.

Grumble from the old sub sitting in the corner over.

Mail Mastermind misses out name

Mail Mastermind

Jonathan Gibson has rightly been praised for his stunning performance in last Monday’s Mastermind final, in which he easily defeated five other competitors to win the trophy. Aged 24, he became the youngest person ever to win the competition. He has boyish charm by the bucket load, and the fact that he is now a student at St Andrews adds to his status in my eyes.

There is, however, a curious omission in the Mail’s report of Gibson’s ascent to the black leather throne: his name. Six hundred words of text, but it’s all about the retirement of the “ferocious” question master, whose style, we are told, is based on that of a wartime Nazi interrogator.

Gibson is referred to in the text, but only as a “student from Glasgow”, while the writer waxes lyrical about the ferocity of John Humphrys whose quizzing style I have always found rather irritating. Numerous references to “I know, it’s the black chair” and a tendency to put on silly voices and accents can be extremely patronising. Not to mention the interminable length of the questions (in the final, a maximum of eleven asked in two minutes!), although this is probably the producers’ fault rather than his.

It’s probably a good thing that Humphrys is moving on. I’m already looking forward to the autumn, and the return of BBC2’s Quizzy Mondays.