Monday, December 11, 2006

A LETTER FROM AFRICA






The following is a letter from Julian Horton emailed to Lynchy recently (including pics of Julian and Fiona on safari), which was to form the basis of an upcoming 'Expats' article on his exploits and creative work in Africa. He also writes about his beloved safari vehicle which he named 'The Beast' and the dangers of driving in Kenya. The finished story will appear in the next issue of CB.

I left Australia in June 2003 to take up a regional cd role with JWT, based in Bangkok. I soon came to realize what the term ‘based in’ meant and after two years of too much airline food and waking up wondering which city I was in, it was time to do something completely different.
And indeed, Africa is something else. In August 2005 I arrived in Nairobi, also known locally as Nairobbery. According to my Lonely Planet guide, it's the most dangerous city in Africa, having taken the title from Johannesburg a couple of years back. Now there's a number one to be proud of.
I work for The ScanGroup: Lowe, McCann, JWT and Grey all under one roof. Yes they’re part of different and competing international networks but hey, this is Africa.
The Group dominates the local industry, both creatively and in billings. You name it and there’s more than a 50% chance we handle it. It’s enough to make even Singo jealous.
There are probably only a handful of Aussie Creatives in Africa, and most of them work for ScanGroup. As well as myself there’s Pat Richer (ex Mojo Sydney), Justin Connolly (ex Clemenger Sydney) and Andrew White (ex ECD of O&M Singapore).
To make it even more incestuous I sit in an office that was once home to a good friend of mine - another Aussie, Damian Linklater.
Outside my 5th floor window eagles circle constantly in wide arcs, riding the currents. The smell of burning plastic wafts in with poisonous regularity. There is almost no garbage collection here, so most rubbish is burnt in backyards and by the side of the road, where it is often feasted upon by bloated-bellied goats.
In the office, people speak English, Swahili and a mixture called Sheng. I’m slowly learning Swahili, swear words first of course.
I’m also learning the meaning of 'Kenyan Time' in which people arrive for meetings seemingly at random. It’s not uncommon for clients to come to the agency an hour or two late for a meeting, or for friends to meet you an hour later than planned.
Things are generally a little ‘looser’ than Australia. From no booze buses (the government introduced them just before Christmas and they lasted 3 weeks) to the fact that television and radio commercials can be any length – if your edit works perfectly at 37 seconds then this is as just acceptable as 30.
Then there’s tribalism. People will often do what will benefit only their own tribe (there are 42 plus tribes in Kenya). Meaning you’ll look to employ a person from your tribe. Or in some cases like account management, a tribe that matches the tribe of the client. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they must be the same tribe – in some cases the account manager must be of a tribe that the client feels comfortable bossing around.
Another complication is skin colour. There are relatively few photographs on the Internet of Africans, so our Mac layouts for presentations tend to feature Europeans, leading to the occasional client asking in a somewhat embarrassed manner if they will, in fact, be African. But it’s not only photographic reference that can be a problem. One of my clients wanted to use mannequins for a promotion, but because they couldn’t find ‘African’ mannequins they ended up buying ‘white’ ones and painting them brown.
There is a myriad of belief systems that need to be taken into account when creating work for Africa. For instance, voodoo is common so it’s important to be careful when talking to less sophisticated markets. As an example, in the Congo, a character in your poster with an oversized nose may lead your audience to believe that drinking your brand of soft drink will give them a giant proboscis.
The Kenyan market, however, is quite sophisticated, and so are the clients, many of whom have studied overseas. Most of the world’s major brands are here, and some you may only recognize by their similarity to big brands: Kevian water, Kobil service stations, and the Silver Hound bus service.
What’s exciting is that most Kenyan clients actually believe in creativity. There is very little of the ‘paralysis by analysis’ that I encountered in Asia. Kenyans have a keen sense of humour and the majority of clients understand the value of being interesting and entertaining in order to communicate a message and a brand personality.
The most powerful medium is print. Newspapers are expensive, but the population devours them, mainly for the political news which is a topic of daily conversation. Because of the cost, ‘papers are generally shared. It’s estimated that on average every newspaper sold is read by more than ten people. It’s considered quite prestigious to have your own copy, and some people actually write their name on the front, as if they were books.
Radio is the other mass medium. The majority of the population don’t have electricity, much less television. People flock to the bars for the nightly television news at 7 because news, particularly of the political kind, is a national obsession. Corruption, political and otherwise, is always in the news.
And it’s a day to day reality. I visited an orphanage for HIV/Aids affected children, only to discover that almost all the client funding had been stolen by an intermediary. Instead of many thousands of dollars the orphanage received a couple of rolls of chicken wire, a bag of chook feed and some fertilizer.
Life outside the office has a certain edge to it too. I'm living on a property near the Ngong Hills, right near Karen Blixon's farm where Out Of Africa was set. I’m in the guest cottage of an amazing couple, Simon and Wiggy, who have been in Africa for 15 and 20 years respectively, doing extraordinary things like living with the pygmies in the Congo, or working as a cameraman in the midst of the bloodshed in Rwanda and Sudan. At the time of writing, Simon is building his own airplane.
With his guidance I’ve bought myself THE car. A custom built professional safari vehicle that took the likes of Onassis on Safari in its heyday. It's a huge, converted 1972 Landcruiser known simply as ‘The Beast’. Solid steel, built to go anywhere. Not only is it perfect for safari but I get a lot of leeway in the chaotic traffic around the city too.
In The Beast I’ve traveled widely in Kenya, mostly with Pat on camping adventures. I say adventure because the camp sites are not in any way partitioned off from the animals, and it’s not uncommon to hear a lion’s roar or be visited by buffalo or elephants in night. Some of the experiences I’ll treasure include seeing millions of flamingoes like distant pink candy floss as we approached Lake Nakuru, sitting on the roof of The Beast less than five metres from a tank-like white rhino, leaping onto the roof (dragging the esky of course) when a hippo* came to the camp site, seeing a cheetah chase down an Impala, getting head butted by a giraffe, being chased by a bull elephant that was sporting half an erection…the list goes on and on.
Safari aside, everyday life can be trying. Take the roads. They’re full of potholes, people drive like maniacs, and car jacking is a constant threat. Because of the latter there are frequent police checkpoints, with ‘fines’ able to be paid ‘on the spot’ without paperwork for real or imagined traffic infringements. Because I live way out of town, it’s also not uncommon to have to stop for crossing herds of cows and sheep. Then there’s driving at night with almost no street lights - statistically the chances of having an accident at night are 400 times as high as in Europe.
Poverty is endemic. Unemployment is around 60% and occasionally the frustration of the impoverished will flare up in violent incidents. Crime is expected, so security is everywhere. Everybody I know lives behind fences, either high and spiked or electrified, with security guards and dogs.
I used to jog a lot around Sydney harbour, a beautiful and relaxing experience. Here I jog near my home, along dirt roads and down bush tracks. Several months ago, another runner in the area was being stalked by a leopard as he ran. He was lucky, it wasn’t hungry. A few weeks later I saw a leopard myself as I drove along the same dirt road where I run, maybe 200 metres from my house. This can be a little unsettling, considering that leopards are lethal and strong enough to drag a zebra backwards up a tree to their lair.
I’ve become a better cd living here. And a tougher person. Overcoming obstacles is part and parcel of surviving. No electricity for weeks at a time. No water for days on end. I ‘irrigate’ my garden at night with the real possibility of leopards lurking in the trees. I’ve camped out in a flimsy tent in the wild, and woken up face to face with a huge monkey inside my house. Not to mention the office, where the obstacles to getting work done can be mind boggling.
Sitting in your first world office this probably all sounds so absurd as to be unbelievable. And there are moments where I have to check to make sure I’m not dreaming. But I certainly know I’m alive.

* Hippos, far from being the goofy, grinning ballet dancers that Walt Disney might have you believe, are bad tempered and aggressive - the biggest killers of humans in Africa.

Kenya – a factual snapshot
Population: 34 million
Official languages: Swahili and English.
Number of tribes: 42 +
Average life expectancy: 44 years

13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a bloody legend Jules.

I'll miss ya mate!!!

4:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The boy could write.

Poignant tribute.

Vale Horto and Fiona


xxxx

8:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a lovely way to start the day. Reminds me what's good about this blog.

9:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops, I posted the 9.40 comment, without reading the one underneath.

He was a great writer. What a loss.

9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good onya Horto. Good onya.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Julian, wherever you are nobody can say you didn't live life to the fullest.

You started up internet companies, competed in triathlons, ran marathons, made films, wrote books, travelled the world, married a beautiful wife and have Jess as your legacy.

Oh, and you also wrote some ads. Great ones at that.

You've been taken from us way too early but if there's one positive, you lived a life of several.

I look forward to having another beer with you one day, mate.

12:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's tragic. Never met him but he sounds like a really great fella.

1:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Julian and Fiona crammed a lot of living into lives that were, tagically, much too short.

Really lovely people who will be missed by many.

Deepest sympathies to daughter Jessica on her loss.

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Short lived but well lived. Julian packed more into his life than most of us dream of.

6:11 PM  
Anonymous Kim Bulloch said...

I was so shocked to learn of Julian and Fiona's tragic accident!
I worked with him briefly way back in the 90's and he was a darling then!
What an amazing life you led Julian. A veritable adventure!
You will be greatly missed by many! :-(

6:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Julian mate - you are definately in heaven which shits me because
I will definately be going to straight to hell which means I'll never see you again unless I get up there on good behaviour.
I always loved you Jules and will miss you forever.
M!$H@

11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I still can't spell Jules.
M!$H@

11:49 AM  
Anonymous Karen Selby said...

Dear Michael,

Hope you are well. I doubt if you remember me, it's Karen Selby. I worked with Julian Horton for 3 or 4 years, at the beginning of our careers. I won't be able to come to the funeral as I am living in Cairo and it's impossible, but Julian was one of the most important people of my life.
Instead I've written a bit about him, to pay my respects. I hope you like it.

I loved working with him, as you can imagine. He was exceptional, easily the best partner I ever had, and one of my very best friends. I'll miss him a lot.

Best wishes,

Karen Selby

Karen@karenselby.com

For the AWARD course entrance, I had to say why I wanted to get into advertising in 100 words, without mentioning money, so I wrote a jokey piece about God running the first ad campaign. But working with Julian I realised it really wasn’t about the money, or the exotic locations, or even the lunches. It wasn’t even the point when you knew you’d cracked the ad. It was the getting there. The sheer enjoyment of the ride your brain takes when it's running with another, has no parallel.

Working with Julian was a bit like that ad for SBS, where two brains are kicking up their heels in an old time music hall. Quite simply, being with Julian was the biggest high you could get outside of Hunter S Thompson's attache case.

I first met Julian at George Patts where he’d worked his way up from the despatch dept. I was his first Art Director. In a very serious voice he told me that his aim was threefold. To make great ads, earn some wedge and to have as much fun as possible.

Later, when we worked at DMB&B (a stressful and open plan sort of place) he shocked me one day by saying that it was only US that was laughing. I’d never noticed that. I guess I just took it for granted that everyone else was sitting there having a hoot.

The thing is, not only was he an outstandingly kind, thoughtful, honest and generous person, but he had such an amazingly inventive mind. He really was a scream and I absolutely loved working with him. He was just SO VERY ENTERTAINING (this is also a generous thing in itself). He loved to make a fool of himself and he was simply brilliant at selling creative work or giving any sort of presentation.

When we worked at DDB we had an office that was at the end of the corridor. We'd also painted it an intensely off putting shade of orange, including the ceiling. God knows why. But still, all day people would drop by and never leave. I said to Julian, in one of my madder moments, that it must've been because of the ionizer. It was obvious it was his personality that was charging the atmosphere.

At Weekes Morris Osborne we had a Pricilla Christmas Party. (There had been a choice of themes, but all the boy's hands shot up in a flash at the chance to get into a frock). On the day of the party, anticipation (and probably some dread) hung in the air like static. One of the guys even got a professional make up job, and I think a couple of boys got a bit too much in touch with their feminine sides and each others tonsils. It was a memorable night. But Julian stole the show anyway. He decided to ditch his dress altogether and just turned up in Fiona's underwear. When I arrived, he was holding forth like some sort of cross dressing vicar on his holiday and looking quite spectacularly hilarious (those legs!).

Another Christmas he wore giant plastic ears that he'd painted gold, thus resembling the unmistakeable 'Golden Ears of Hollywood'. He was pretty good at taking the piss out of other people too. At the Hollywood bash we were all peeved that the powers that be had also invited THE CLIENTS. Julian brought a joke camera along. He asked all the clients to pose for a group shot, getting them to mince around at length for the camera, before giving their ‘good sides’ a thorough drenching.

Chris Swift said in this morning's email that even now, 10 years after we all worked together, Julian's silly stories and funny monikers are still a part of our lives. This is so true. Last night the dinner guests were screaming when I told them my personal favourite from Julian's collection of ‘Poo Stories’. I should probably have waited til after we'd eaten the sausages, but anyway, there was Julian, on his way to a holiday cottage in the Blue Mountains. It was with great relief that he turned off the main road, as he'd suddenly acquired an urgent case of the runny bottoms. This, according to him, after eating a supposedly dodgy bacon butty, manufactured by our very own favourite client. (In other words, he was hungover.)

He drove with sweaty palms down the long and windy path that led, finally, to the house. But sprinting to the door, the key gripped like a pistol in his hand, he found one last snag. The guest key refused to work despite any amount of frenzied jiggling around in the lock! Suddenly it was too late and Fiona had to chuck him the loo roll. It was at this point that he looked up from his (disad)vantage point on the doormat and saw to his horror that there was smoke coming out of the chimney. He'd got the wrong house.

The really brilliant thing about this story though, is that Julian and Fiona were the last people to stay at that cottage. The woman who owned it had been forced to move because the neighbours were total c***s.

Perhaps scatalogia is disrespectful when someone has died. I don't know. I wish he was here to ask. We used to talk about everything when we worked together. There were things we hadn’t told anyone else, but you could talk about ANYTHING with Horto. He was so intelligent, interesting and open minded. We talked about fate and destiny a lot and spiritual matters, he had his serious side.

He was outstandingly kind and considerate and would do anything to help. He’d be the one to give his time and advice when some student came in with a terrible portfolio as everyone else was heading to the pub. He was very inspiring like that.

I've felt all sorts of emotions these last two days and I've had a few good grizzles. Julian was one of the very best people I've ever met. He was a brilliant friend. He was always ready to lend a golden ear if I was in a scrape and he was sympathetic when other people would have said ‘She deserved it the old lush!’

Since those days I've worked in some of the best agencies in London and won the odd award (I think one is an odd number). But never, ever, have I had even half as much fun as when I worked with Julian. I got in touch with him last year when I had some bad luck and was feeling down and he immediately cheered me up and offered me a job in Kenya. He was always encouraging of my creative efforts outside of work. Even in his last email he was urging me to write and illustrate a book. The letter seems very poignant now, he was talking all about his safari adventures in The Beast and about how much he was loving life, saying it was ‘just too short’.

On that first day of working together at George Patts it took all of the morning to go through the different departments and be introduced to all the employees. Every single one of them told me how lucky I was to be working with Julian. It was then that I started to get the idea that he was probably pretty amazing. Everywhere he went everyone just loved him to bits. He was a very rare and special person. Incredibly clever, talented, kind, honest, generous, inspiring. Funny. He was a one off and a truly outstanding guy.

They were right I WAS lucky. VERY. Julian, if you can read this from up there, it was an absolute privilege.

Thank you for the very best times.

8:33 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home