Saturday, March 31, 2007

Disturbing news about Life on Mars

I'd heard that John Simm had become an unlikely sex symbol through the Life on Mars series, but much more frightening is the female following for Philip Glenister, who plays DCI Hunt. His character - a "male chauvinist pig" in the parlance of the early 70s - seems to get the ladies quite hot under the collar. In fact, you get the impression that he'd be free to collar them whenever he liked.

Take this blog from Imogen Ridgway on thisislondon.co.uk, for example. The comments from her readers seem to confirm my worst fears:

http://ridgway.thisislondon.co.uk/2007/03/is_it_just_wron.html

Do you have a crush on a sexist seventies lawman? If so, why not share your guilty secret on the Washed and Ready comments facility?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

No matter how many times I look at this piece of promotional material from Wrigley's, I can't quite get my head around it. All I can say is that will do a lot more for students of semiotics than it will for the average consumer of chewing gum.

As Roy Walker famously observed on Catchphrase, you should "just say what you see". So, here's what I see:

We're in a park of some kind. A smartly dressed, middle-aged businessman sits with a younger lady on a bench. We assume that she is his mistress or an airline stewardess he recently encountered on a business trip. In front of them is a green suitcase branded Orbit® Complete. The couple are temporarily distracted by a large lady on their right who seems to be limbering up for a Sumo competition. The headline reads: "Fight Back Against Plaque Attack".

Answers on a postcard please. Or, failing that, an email - washed@philwoodford.com

Take a letter, Miss Turney

I don't often stray into the political arena on Washed and Ready, but the Iranian government must think we're barking mad. They seem to subscribe to the same sophisticated propaganda techniques favoured by their arch enemy, the late Saddam Hussein and his wartime sidekick Comical Ali.

Don't they realise we can smell a rat?

First of all, in an era of email and satellite phones, Able Seamen don't tend to be big letter writers. Young mother Faye Turney has not only been shamelessly paraded on the TV by her Iranian captors, but also made to write more letters home in two days than the entire ship's company has probably written in the past month. She's been transformed into the Henry James of the high seas. Why do I suspect that she might not be setting pen to paper of her own free will?

Then there's the content.

"I am fed three meals a day and I’m in constant supply of fluids."

Are we listening here to the colloquial patter of a young British sailor? Or the suggested reassurance of some dodgy doctor who's on the payroll of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards?

You can just imagine the conversation back at base in Plymouth, can't you? "Christ, I'm parched. You couldn't get me a supply of fluids, could you?"

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What if...

...Sam Tyler had been transported back to 1673? I think the whole Life on Mars series would have turned out quite different, don't you?

DI TYLER:
Where the hell am I?

DCI HUNT:
You were a-horseback, sir, and riding upon the road when you were throwd. I did discover you to-day most melancholic laid to the roadsyde and surrounded by the lewdness and beggary of this miserable hamlet. We discoursed in brief and I suggested an adjournment to an alehouse, where we can drink a while together.

DI TYLER:
Christ. You drink on duty? We never do that in Hyde.

Is it ok to fancy your former girlfriend's mum?

The answer is yes, if you happen to bump into her during 1973. It's important to prevent her from having an abortion and shattering the space-time continuum. Once that job's done, you can suggest a name for your future lover and get on with finding the broken walkie-talkie that allows you to communicate with her in 2007.

Life on Mars does tend to require some suspension of disbelief.

I'm sure quite a lot of bad things went on in police stations back in the early seventies. I'm not entirely convinced, however, that this extended to Detective Chief Inspectors hiring people called "Mr Toolbox" to torture and kill suspected drug dealers on their behalf. That kind of thing would have come out in the papers sometime during the 1990s.

Monday, March 26, 2007

God rest ye merry gentlemen, all creatures great and small...

Interesting story in The Guardian today (http://www.guardian.co.uk/religion/Story/0,,2042995,00.html) about cost-cutting measures at the BBC. Members of the congregation invited last November for the pre-recording of the Songs of Praise Christmas Special were somewhat perplexed to find themselves asked to stay on at the end of the show. After a change of lighting and scenery (and a request to remove winter clothing), the hard-pressed producers announced that the Easter Special was about to begin.

That's the kind of forward time travel that would be music to the ears of DI Sam Tyler in Life on Mars.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Estate agents become too trendy by half

You may have noticed how estate agents - certainly in fashionable parts of London - have been enjoying a makeover in recent years. It started with the upmarket Foxtons chain, but has now extended along the high street. I've nothing against the new logos and flash furniture, but some of them are taking things a little too far.

Mrs W visited an agent recently and asked for a property newspaper or "particulars" of houses they had on their books.

No dice. They just didn't do that kind of old-fashioned stuff any more.

The Mrs was encouraged to use a touch-sensitive plasma screen in the window, which can only display one property at a time. She pointed out that the sun was shining on the screen for most of the day, which made it impossible to read. This didn't seem to trouble the agents unduly. Presumably they know that getting people to squint in the streeet is a far more effective way of selling houses than inviting them in and showing them a printed floorplan. Another great wheeze of this particular firm is to make all their properties "Price on Application" and to give a price range for the potential buyer, which might be, say, £300 - 360k. What the hell does this mean? If I were the buyer, I'd go for the £300k option, thanks very much. In fact, I'd make my offer £299,950, just to show that I'm very shrewd about this kind of thing.

Meanwhile, a mile down the road, there's another agent that's divided its properties into two categories. Some are classed as "Premier" and the details are posted in the window on bright yellow paper. Others fall in to a non-premier category. They're in a separate window in plain old black and white.

You'd be delighted to find your own gaff in the black-and-white section, wouldn't you?

The idea was made worse by some kind of arbitrary cut-off point between the two worlds, which looked like it might be £400k. Trouble is, round where I live, a £400k house is no guarantee that you won't need a rottweiler for company when you walk out the front door. When the local council first built some of the premier properties back in the 1950s, I think they would have been rather surprised at the way things would develop.

Friday, March 23, 2007

When no moos is definitely good moos

I’d just finished lunch with my old friend Russ the other day when a cow accosted us in the middle of the Tottenham Court Road. Well, I say a cow. Actually, it was a bloke dressed as a cow who was handing out leaflets for the optician 20/20 Vision. As we approached him, Russ pointed out to me that no matter how bad things get, we can always thank our lucky stars that we’re not the 20/20 cow man. As if to confirm the point, the bovine leaflet distributor greeted us with a rather lacklustre moo.

Somehow, I think this kind of promotional work is greatly improved if you’re playing the part of a named individual. Russ and I used to work with someone, for instance, who had once dressed up as the larger-than-life burgermeister Mr Wimpy. This kind of role at least allows you to get into character.

But a cow is just an anonymous cow.

A N Udder.

And there’s something even more distressing if your cow costume has no relationship whatsoever to the product or service you’re promoting. If you’re a cow advertising butter, you can maybe milk it a little. But a cow promoting spectacles? No. It just doesn’t work. Cows know about grasses, not glasses.

I’ve just reminded myself of the pantomime cow that once paraded around my table in a bierkeller in Lucerne, Switzerland. Oh no it didn’t, I hear you say. Oh yes it most certainly did. Maybe I’ve written about it before on Washed and Ready. The lolloping beast appeared out of nowhere and started wandering aimlessly around the place, while other performers threw flags and yodelled on the stage. Mrs W thought it might all be part and parcel of an authentic Swiss-style evening out, but I suspected there might have been a passing nod to the tourist market.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Waitrose Wholemeal Hot Cross Buns with juicy Vostizza currants

The bakers crafting our hot cross buns have been baking for us for over 20 years. With each fresh batch they carefully hand-pipe a cross onto the top of each bun and then hand-glaze them with a soft bristle brush.

The spicy, fragrant dough is baked in batches to ensure perfect flavour and texture. The result is a soft and delicious, hand-finished bun with a spicy sweetness and citrus tang. A perfect treat for any time of day served warm and toasted with melting organic butter.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

If you're in a coma, don't trip on LSD

Sam Tyler really is a fool to himself. There he is, slap bang in the middle of a coma in 1973, and what does he decide to go and do? He only swigs out of a Tizer bottle containing some hippy space dust, doesn't he? As a result, the tripping, time-travelling tec can only watch his colleagues solve crimes on an old black and white television set. But the good news is that if he talks to the box - or, in the case of the love interest WDC, strokes it - he's still able to influence events.

A word of advice, Sam. If you've been taken to hospital in a coma and are hallucinating, don't under any circumstances get yourself taken to another hospital within the hallucination.

Being unconscious once is forgiveable. But twice is beginning to look careless.

More love from Russia

Alena, a 28-year-old lady from Cheboksary in Russia, writes with a tear-jerking tale. She intended to get hitched to a bloke called Mark in the UK, but he's now back with his ex. Although her plans seem to lie in ruins, her uncle's persuaded her not to give up quite so easily. You may already have guessed where this is leading:

I well know English and practically I have visa your country. My uncle speaks, that it really solves many problems. Approximately in 7 days the visa will be ready, and I should go to Moscow behind reception of the visa. I write to you because in my heart there is an empty seat. I do not search rich or poor. I search careful and responsible man which wants to enjoy a life together. Is this person you? I think, that I ask not much. I have told to you a little about my life. I have told not all about myself, but it will be easier to me to write about myself if you will ask questions which interest you. I have told to you my history, and now I shall look forward to hearing from you with impatience. Write to me! I shall send you more photo in the following letter. I wait you answer. Alena.

P.S. I shall answer with pleasure if you write to me.





PS...it's so not me

I recently picked up a leaflet about Gap's new "personal style" service offered in selected UK stores. "From boyfit to boot cut and corduroy to denim," they write, "we know what's hot and what's not each season."

Err... I'm not sure about boyfit, which seems to be an of-the-moment-craze for young women, but don't Gap always sell boot cut, corduroy and denim, regardless of the season?

If I take advantage of their totally free service, there won't be any pressure to purchase, but I'll benefit from advice on "putting together looks for work, the weekend and going out", along with tips on finding my perfect pair of jeans. Other bonuses include "trend updates" and "insider fashion news", as well as access to a VIP fitting room and express shopping queue.

Maybe I should give it a go? I doubt I'll end up dazzling anyone in London. But just wait until I hit the streets of San Francisco...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Is Ken for the high jump?

I read during the week that London Mayor Ken Livingstone reckons he'll be "bored out of his skull" by the Olympics, as he doesn't enjoy sport. The remarks raised a few eyebrows, as Ken went out of his way to attract the Games to the capital in 2012.

I have a hunch that London voters may be bored out of their skull by Mr Livingstone when he stands for re-election in 2008. Let's hope he faces some decent opposition.

How to spot a terrorist

You may have seen the recent police ads that run with the headline "Terrorism: if you suspect it, report it." Completely agree with the sentiment, guys, but I admit to being a little confused by some of your advice.

"Do you know someone," asks the advertisement, "who travels but is vague about where they are going?" Mmmm. My dad once drove down the wrong side of a dual carriageway in Brentford, but I think he was just fooled by a nearby turn-off to an arts centre. Frequently when I'm on the tube, a High Barnet train is diverted to the Edgware branch of the Northern Line, which does suggest some lack of awareness of destination on the part of the staff.

The ad continues to scare the bejesus out of the reader.

Anonymous, pay-as-you-go phones are, apparently, 'typical' equipment of the terrorist. Unfortunately, they're also the typical equipment of half the population of the UK. I sense some of the kind of cause-and-effect confusion that tends to dominate undergraduate philosophy classes here. The fact that al-qaeda prefer the flexibility of pay-as-you-go tariffs doesn't actually mean that pay-as-you-go users are likely to be members of al-qaeda.

The best question, however, is: "Do you know someone who visits terrorist-related websites?" From this, we can only presume there are people out there who know their friends to be would-be bombers, but have somehow managed to put it out of their minds or invent some innocent explanation for their mate's surfing habits. Now, confronted by the ad, they're scratching their heads. Maybe there was something odd about all that streaming of speeches from Osama bin Laden. Come to think of it, that last phone bill had an awful lot of calls to remote mountain regions of Afghanistan.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What if...

... Sam Tyler had woken up in 1873 rather than 1973? That could be a whole new series.

DI Tyler (waking up from his accident):
"Sorry, I don't know where I am. I was listening to David Bowie on my iPod and then... I just don't remember anything else."

DCI Hunt:
"Pray let me, Sir, specify the jurisdiction and full extent of your office. You are by legal oath assigned to protect the inhabitants of the Manchester metropolis and to report to the Magistracy any nefarious activity in the vicinity of this police house. Regrettably, owing to an incident involving a collision with a horse-drawn omnibus, you are now disadvantageously circumstanced. But I still expect you to go out and nick some villains, you little scrotum."

Orange juice and soap

Frobisher's orange juice is - according to the blurb on the bottle - "gently pasteurised". Does this mean that the pasteurisation process can frequently be quite brutal? If so, I'll double check my milk.

Palmolive Milk & Honey Liquid Handwash, meanwhile, "protects the skin from excessive dryness...leaving it feeling nourished and touchably soft..."

So soft you could actually touch it? It's hard to believe, but it says it right there on the bottle.

I think we're dealing with a copywriter who's so soft I could happily touch him too. With a baseball bat.

Sweet Sherry Pie on Wheels

I saw a report on the BBC a couple of days ago about the sporting phenomenon of female "roller derby", which is apparently migrating from the US to the UK. Essentially, ladies roller skate around a track in a team and try to knock their opponents to the ground. Pretty much anything goes and broken wrists and ankles are accepted as a recreational hazard.

The correspondent implied that it was the new way for ordinary moms in America to let off steam, although the preponderance of outlandish tattoos and piercings suggested that the participants would perhaps be more at home on the set of Jerry Springer than they would at a Tupperware party.

It definitely has a girlpower attitude all of its own. As demonstrated by Sweet Sherry Pie, a Joysey dame who hangs with the Gotham Girls: http://www.gothamgirlsrollerderby.com/month/

Monday, March 12, 2007

Wags and thespians

The Metro newspaper in London is a must-read for all twenty-something commuters and sometimes old folk like me are allowed to sneak a peek too.

I enjoyed today's description of Coleen McLouglin as an "Uber-Wag" and would like to shake the hand of the wag who came up with the phrase.

Highlight of the day, however, has to be the one about the woman with a phobia of actors in period costume. Jill Robinson apparently becomes nauseous when she sees luvvies acting out historical scenes. Particularly if food is involved.

If there's a psychoanalytic symposium coming up soon in Vienna, I'd allow at least a morning.

Coming to your TV in April...

...a Celebrity Wife Swap episode in which much-loved conjurer Paul Daniels ends up living with Vanessa Feltz.

Now that's magic.

His ongoing mission to seek out estate agents

Tony Alleyne is what you might call a true Trekkie.

Not content with watching the crew of the Enterprise on TV or DVD, he actually converted his flat in Leicestershire to look like the spaceship. Now on sale for a cool half mill, his gaff comes complete with a transporter room, which must prove convenient for lazy estate agents.

Internal viewing highly recommended.

http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,2007110614,00.html

Saturday, March 10, 2007

No return

Congratulations to Jessica Starmer, the BA pilot who's just won the right to work part time. She's cutting her hours by 50%, so I'm guessing that means she'll be doing the one-way flights.

I have a fascination with the human body. Can I go to medical school?

In recent days, there's been a fair amount of media commentary on the application forms of university students. Apparently, they have become eerily similar. According to a study commissioned by UCAS, applicants are cutting and pasting model answers from the web. You will be shocked to learn that no fewer than 370 would-be medical students claimed, for instance, to have "a fascination with the human body". This, to my mind, is no bad thing for a medical student. Perhaps even a trait that one might expect to be shared among people hoping to become GPs and hospital consultants.

Things get a little more suspicious when we learn that 234 people set fire to their pyjamas as a child, but it's too easy to jump to conclusions about plagiarism. We may have uncovered an interesting correlation between university attendance and a propensity to play with matches while young. Or, alternatively, the figures may be suggestive of a worrying decline in manufacturing standards in pyjamas during the mid 1990s. The jury is still out. But expected to return in about a quarter of an hour.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

That great department store in the sky

I'm not going to get into the politics or political correctness of Are you being served? or the character played by John Inman. All I want to say is that I grew up with the show as a kid in the 1970s, long before I understood the significance of Mrs Slocombe's pussy. (The programme always seemed like good family entertainment, because my grandmother used to roar with laughter. But I don't think she understood the significance of Mrs Slocombe's pussy either.)

There have been a great many first-class British sitcoms, but Are you being served? would definitely rank in my Top Five. The ensemble acting of straight man Frank Thornton, Mollie Sugden, John Inman and the others has a timeless appeal, even if the setting - Grace Bros Department Store - seems today to be an extraordinary anachronism. New generations of fans are watching the show in the US and around the world and it's attracted a cult following.

A particularly memorable episode was when Captain Peacock finally received the coveted keys to the Executive Dining Room, meaning that he no longer had to take his lunch with the staff in the dowdy canteen. On arrival, he was confronted with exactly the same menu of rissoles and semolina that he'd endured the previous day. But in the Executive Dining Room, they were translated into French.

Arthur English's regular walk-on role as the blue-collar Mr Harmond represented classic sitcom class war. He talked with the kind of genuine cockney accent that you just don't hear these days, except maybe in an old people's home in Clacton. And we mustn't forget that Wendy Richard - set to become the long-suffering Pauline Fowler on Eastenders - cut her thespian teeth in the ladies department.

John Inman's death is genuinely sad. If there's a silver lining, it can only be the additional panto opportunities for the likes of Frank Bruno and Michael Barrymore.

I really hope you enjoy your time in the ultimate department store, John. And I am unanimous in that.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Scams and spam (cont'd)

We're all familiar with the so-called 419 scams that promise us great riches for helping to launder some preposterous fortune. Some of the originators try quite hard with the email, but Mr Conde Sanko doesn't appear to be that bothered. First of all, he addresses me as "Dear Sincerely" - a mistake which may be designed to present the image of a hapless naif, but actually confirms fairly early on that he's someone I wouldn't trust with the disposal of $11 million.

"I got your e-mail contact through my search as a reliable person," he continues, before informing me that he wants to invest in my "country/firm". I like the idea that UK plc might benefit from the investment strategy proposed in the email. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I'm empowered to negotiate on behalf of the government.

Meanwhile, a strange message arrives from Friends Reunited. The subject header is: "Greg, Discover the Heinkel Family History". It's a plug for their sister site Genes Reunited, through which you can trace your long-lost second cousin. twice removed. Although Greg is one step on from Sincerely, we're still not scoring highly on the salutation stakes. And I already know the Heinkels very well. They made bombers for the Luftwaffe during World War II. As a kid in the 70s, I didn't know much about fancy websites and misplaced email. But I did read a lot of comics where Nazis got blasted.

Sausages? Or crisps?

" Delivering a meaty pork sausage bursting with the classic taste of cheese and onion."

I've always preferred prawn cocktail pork sausages myself.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Red or yellow? If only Sam could remember...

My name is Phil Woodford. I turned on BBC1 by accident and ended up in 1973. Am I mad? In a coma? Or just addicted to finding filler material for my blog?

Tonight's ep of Life on Mars was set against the backdrop of the IRA terror campaign on mainland Britain in the early seventies. Sam claims to be a dab hand at defusing bombs when the official disposal unit's delayed, although he does tend to get a bit confused between the red wires and the yellow wires. Apparently, if you could remember your red from your yellow in those days, job was a good 'un. Another device disarmed. Quick trip down the boozer for a celebratory pint of best bitter with a whisky chaser. Wasn't it nice of the terrorists to make it all so simple? I never realised the coded warnings were actually colour coded.

As bombs start exploding, DCI Gene Hunt wants to round up anyone with an Irish accent and give them a good kicking. Our hero Sam, however, somehow suspects that the explosions are really the work of debt-ridden local businessman looking to create the perfect cover for a bank job. Stands to reason when you think about it.

Even in 1973, I suspect someone other than DCI Hunt might have taken responsibility for the investigation of bomb explosions in a major British city. In the real-life case of the Birmingham Six (which dates from the same time period), both Special Branch and the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad featured prominently, if I remember correctly. But we're on Mars and the local plod are left to their own devices, with the battle-axe lady desk officer threatening to strip search her Irish prisoners and a traumatised DS Carling wandering around the city with a revolver and a grudge.

I know I probably sound very pedantic, but I think the suspension of disbelief required in this series is not necessarily confined to temporal anomalies. In fact, I find the test card girl jumping out of the old telly rather more believable than the recreation of the local nick. Let's be fair though. The set design, costumes, motors and decor are all worth the licence fee. Which I reckon to be £7. Or cheaper if your box is black and white.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The moon's a balloon

I have to admit that I don't quite understand lunar eclipses. I was watching tonight's event - which I felt wasn't really that spectacular - and was scratching my head as to why the earth doesn't always get between the sun and the moon. We're a lot a bigger the moon, after all. One of life's mysteries.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Let's bluesky some ideas for the perfect hit

One of the more bizarre aspects of the recent court case involving Carol Ann Hunter of Tommee Tippee was the fact that she'd drawn up a business plan for the proposed hit on her former partner and his lover. According to authoritative freebie thelondonpaper, the babycare tycoon had constructed a document with headings such as Background, Goals, Strategy, Deliverables, Briefing and Timeline.

I'm running a course on business writing at the moment and will definitely try to work this into the lectures. Material of this kind doesn't come along every day.

What worries me is that hitmen are now expected to have an MBA as well as a shooter. No doubt their prices will be going up very soon.

Red apples

Supermarket shopping in Tesco today, I noticed apples shipped in from China.

I've heard of mandarin oranges, but this is ridiculous. What food miles are involved, for God's sake? Maybe apples are just things that we're incapable of manufacturing any more in the UK.