Wednesday, January 30, 2008

St Peter better watch out...

... because Beadle's about.

Those of us old enough to remember his first outing on Game for a Laugh will know that wherever Jeremy is right now, he'll still be "watching us... watching you... watching us... watching you..."

One I meant to bring you earlier

At the end of last year, there was a supplement about Hepatitis C in one of the national broadsheets. An ad on the back warned drug users about the dangers of "sharing notes" when snorting coke.

Perhaps I'm being naive, but I would have thought that if you can afford to powder your nose through an Ayrton Senna, you're probably wealthy enough not to have to share with somebody else. Unless perhaps you went to a particularly upmarket media party and everyone was taking their charlie through fifties.

"Sorry mate, but I've only got a twenty on me. Can I share yours?"

What's the best way to raise a chickpea?


Packaging copy here that must surely rank as some of the worst I've read in a very long time.

"Organic chickpeas raised in Turkey... So they grow in the radiant Middle-Eastern sun... So it's not only bouzoukis that will be playing on your taste buds."

When they raise these chickpeas, I do hope they ensure they're given plenty of stimulation and not just stuck in front of the telly all day.

And there's absolutely no need to mention bouzoukis.

I know Turkish belly dancers often have some very eye-catching assets, but this is a family blog. There's clearly some attempt at a joke in this final segment of the copy, but I don't have a well enough developed sense of houmous to get it.

When we turn to the back of the packet, the text takes an even more bizarre turn.

"Of the ingredients that can be organic, 100% are organic. Salt and Water cannot be organic."

It's too late at night for me to begin to pick this nonsense apart in detail. The first line makes a weasel seem like a very straight talking kind of fellow. And given that salt and water are naturally occurring substances, surely they have a greater claim to organic status than most ingredients?

The good news is that the product is suitable for vegetarians, vegans and coeliacs. The bad news is that it gets a red traffic light for fat and salt.

Excuse me while I go away and blow my head off with a bouzouki.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What do we want? When do we want it?

It's worth being a member of the Federation of Small Businesses just to receive the various communications they send out. The latest invites me to a mass lobby of Parliament on 13th March, but fails to give any indication of what I'm supposed to be lobbying about. Probably it's their usual bugbears - red tape, employment protection for workers, health and safety legislation and... er... red tape.

The email from their regional official says: "Whilst you may have local issues to be raised with MP's, a little nearer the time we will advise you of the major national issues which the FSB is pursuing and which you could also raise during your meetings."

Thank God for that. My MP must be quaking at the thought of it all.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Worth every penny

£1,000 per head dinners are apparently being snapped up by City workers at a posh restaurant called Vivat Bacchus. One of the items on the menu is "hand-sliced Joselito gran reserva ham". Note the hand slicing. If that meat had been carved by machine, you could definitely knock fifty quid off the bill.

After my own heart

If I were ever to employ a guest writer on Washed and Ready to Eat, I could do worse than to call on Ms Pal Carter of Ilford, Essex. Writing to the FT today, she comments on the plans to run broadband cables through the sewer network and asks whether it means there will even more s**t on the telly.

You beat me to it, me old Pal. And I take my hat off to you.

Count to sixty and I'll tell you if you have HIV

I saw an ad today on the tube for a service called samedaydoctor™, which suggested you could get an HIV test done in 60 seconds.

Surely the service should be renamed "sameminute" doctor?

While I appreciate that a wait for a result can be awful, I'm not sure anyone would really want to get a diagnosis of HIV in a shorter time than it takes to buy a cappuccino in the Pret. Do you think they maybe wait another minute or two before telling you the news?

I had a look on the website and an HIV test is £110. That's £110 a minute.

Even a plumber would be envious.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Getting your priorities right

Whatever you think of the Israel-Palestine conflict, you have to admire the get-up-and-go of the Gazan population. I was just watching a report on Deutsche Welle, the German news channel, about the big holes that militants have blown in the wall that separates the coastal enclave from Egypt. Thousands have streamed across the border and the DW-TV reporter was listing the things they were purchasing. Along with the stuff you'd expect, such as animals and fuel, we were told they were trying to pick up office supplies.

Office supplies?

"What was that noise, dear?"

"Oh, just a few people blowing up the Egyptian border. Do you want me to nip across and see if I can get anything?"

"Well, I think we're ok for most things. But you've been trying to get hold of stapler for months, haven't you? Why don't you treat yourself?"

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Didn't get a lot in class, but...

...why do some people get whisked into rehab while others get banged up in prison? One of life's little mysteries, I guess.

Valuable sponsorship opportunities

Mrs W was watching some absolute garbage on ITV1 tonight. The show was called Ladette to Lady and featured some common urchins who'd been sent to a posh finishing school. As per the usual reality TV format, one of the ladettes is shown the door each week, except the choice is made by a panel of severe looking headmistress types rather than by her peers. It's like Big Brother meets Strictly Come Dancing.

I won't dwell on the detail, but the girls are a little rough around the edges. Checking out the associated website, I was astonished to see a long list of prestigious sponsors. The paintings on display at Eggleston Hall - some country pile chosen for the social experiment - were delivered courtesy of Durham County Council. This seems bizarre enough, but at least you probably get to see the pictures. I'd be less confident that viewers would notice the fish utensils, sponsored by The Wheatsheaf Hotel in Swinton, Berwickshire. We'd all be too busy commenting on the fact that the finger bowls for make-up and flower arranging come from Lakeland.

Special thanks must go to The Little Shoe Shop, who kindly supplied the small shoes for daily wear and tests. And an honourable mention in dispatches to Optima Company for the picnic rugs.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Brace yourself for some serious 80s madness

I was searching for a plot synopsis of the forthcoming sequel to Life on Mars and uncovered this report on a blog called Unreality TV: http://primetime.unrealitytv.co.uk/ashes-to-ashes-on-bbc-one/

The term unreality doesn't quite do justice to the basic premise behind Ashes to Ashes, which must surely rank as the barmiest programme ever to make it to mainstream telly, with the exception, perhaps, of Gok Wan's How to look good naked.

Imagine an old-style 1970s copper from Manchester. Let's call him Gene. In 1973, he's forced against his better judgement to work alongside a soft-hearted liberal intellectual, who claims he's from Hyde but is actually stuck in a coma in 2006 and frequently hallucinates that he's sharing his bedsit with the kid off the old BBC test card.

Eight years later, Gene has transferred to the smoke, along with his male chauvinist muckers from up north. As Red Ken Livingstone seizes control of the Greater London Council and riots break out in Brixton, Gene finds himself in the company of a rather more attractive time traveller. She's a forensic scientist who's been shot in the head. Although this unfortunate injury rather inhibits her ability to hold down a job in 2008, it's seen as a great qualification in the increasingly politically correct world of 1981. Gene takes a shine to the glamorous lady shrink from the future and the rest, as they say, is history.

We only have to wait until early February to see the drama and sexual chemistry unfold on our screens, but my mind is racing much further ahead. Surely there must be another sequel to come?

It's 1999. Gene Hunt is nearing retirement. Dotcom entrepreneurs are operating out of the cells at his former London nick and villains are being put up in four-star hotels because the prisons are so full. Disillusioned by the limp-wristed twists and turns of the Cool Britannia era, the macho man drowns his sorrows in a bar, where a bunch of young men are discussing the implications of the Y2K bug. Meanwhile, a Police and Community Support Officer trips over a loose paving stone in 2010 and wakes up in a pre-millennial daze.

When you see it on your screens, remember where you read it first. This is one franchise that can afford to pay me a decent consultancy fee.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Washed and Ready readers laid bare

Like all obsessive bloggers, I run a stats program to see who's reading my ramblings. I can find out things like where you live, what you had for breakfast and your current golf handicap. If it all sounds a bit too much like Big Brother for your liking, you're free to go and read someone else's site.

As you might expect, just over two-thirds of Washed and Ready fanatics are based in the UK. After that, the US and Germany clock up about 9% of the readership apiece. Howdy y'all and guten tag respectively.

One of the weirdest features on the stats is the one that allows you to see the search terms that have led people to the site. In other words, you can read the phrases that people typed into Google that produced a Washed and Ready blog entry as one of the top returns. Among the latest is "could russell grant find madeleine mccann".

Mmm. The person who entered this search term seems to treat Google as some kind of oracle and was probably expecting a considered reply. "Soothsayer and roly-poly 80s TV personality Russell Grant is indeed capable of locating any missing person, but is very tied up right now with his daily predictions for MSN."

Other recent search terms that led people to these very pages included "allergy to piriton" and "norman wisdom where he now lives in a nursing home".

Strangely, there are no listings for searches such as "excellent value for money", "sexy blogger" or "intellectual tour de force".

Friday, January 18, 2008

Mossy tiles and Americans

The older mini-W, who's eight, is currently getting her fix of Enid Blyton. She's reading me one of the Famous Five books, which I devoured as a kid, although I have to admit that I was more of a Secret Seven kind of a guy.

Listening again to Blyton's stories after a number of years, the obvious things are undoubtedly true. She was a very good writer. The books are very dated from a conceptual point of view. The language is old-fashioned. This much we know already, so it comes as little surprise. Enid Blyton was giving her secret password to St Peter at around the time I was born, so I wouldn't expect the stories to have a particularly modern feel.

A couple of other things have, however, struck me quite strongly.

The first is the slow-burn nature of the narrative. We're half way through Chapter Six of Five on Finniston Farm and - as the mini-W puts it - "the adventure hasn't begun yet". She's right. There's an optimistic assumption by Blyton that her young readers will have the same tolerance level for scene-setting and character development as an adult.

The second thing I'm observing is very particular anachronisms that go beyond the ginger beer and long country walks of the post-war middle class. In the Finniston Farm book, there are a couple of American characters who are treated as complete stereotypes - loud, brash, rude and materially obsessed.

The children note that a number of old Dorset tiles have been stripped from the roofs of farm buildings. Julian - the older boy - explains the phenomenon to his comrades as follows: "Old tiles like that, brilliant with lichen, can fetch quite a bit of money - especially from Americans. There's many a barn out in America covered with old tiles from this country, moss and all..." Perhaps the Americans staying on this particular farm with the children haven't personally taken the tiles down. But the assumption is they've probably put in a bid for the remaining ones.

What a precise and bizarre piece of social history. It almost makes me want to get on a plane to America to investigate. I'd head out to Ohio and see some barn covered in mossy looking Dorset stone. Perhaps I'd challenge the owner about this plundering of British heritage and he would confess, sheepishly, that he offered cash for them in Maiden Newton back in 1959.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

US political analysis

One of Mrs W's main concerns about a Hillary Clinton victory in the US presidential election is the prospect of Bill Clinton hanging around the White House at a loose end.

I tend to agree. Bill's loose end has always been a bit of an issue. Let's hope that his Mrs can find him something useful to do. Sorting out all that stuff in the Middle East, perhaps. Or tackling nuclear proliferation.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Louis Theroux in San Quentin

If ever you need reminding that truth is stranger than fiction, a burst of Louis Theroux serves as the perfect prompt. He's met some truly bizarre folk on his travels over the years and given us all a great deal of entertainment, but his recently broadcast visit to the San Quentin State Prison in California was particularly special.

I'd always assumed that fictional portrayals of US jails are ever-so-slightly exaggerated, but boy, was I like way wrong. San Quentin is populated by hundreds of 17-stone bruisers complete with gang tattoos and orange jumpsuits, who work out in overcrowded exercise yards under the watchful gaze of snipers. Back on the wing, some unusually close relationships had developed between cellmates. Theroux even managed to find a reformed Nazi gang member who'd taken a fancy to a Jewish guy with a penchant for mascara. It's hard to imagine the same kind of thing happening at Pentonville, but maybe I live a sheltered life.

I remember going round Brixton Prison in south London once and feeling relatively safe in the company of a warder. San Quentin was the kind of place where I would want a team of minders - each with an M16 and a blackbelt in karate. One would be ten paces in front of me, one ten paces behind and I'd have two flankers as well, just in case. I know Clint Eastwood managed to take down the big guy in the yard during Escape from Alcatraz, but that was pretend.

This spam is pure gold dust

Someone rejoicing in the name of "Lucky Joseph" has written to me from a Japanese Yahoo address. He describes himself as "small-scale gold minner" (sic) and is offering a quantity of alluvial gold dust at a knockdown price.

Forgive me, Joseph, my old son, but I've spent all my spare cash on alluvial fairy dust that I picked up on ebay.

Going downhill in the world's rugby capital

You know how areas are always described as being "up and coming"? Yuppies are moving in, or there's some government regeneration scheme, or perhaps the Olympics are in town. It's smiles all round as the cappuccinos start to flow.

You don't hear so much about the places that are "down and going" though, do you? Twickenham is undoubtedly one of those places. I spent a lot of my childhood in that particular neighbourhood - about a mile from the world-famous rugby ground, which I could see and hear from my bedroom window. When I was a kid, I'm sure Twickers was quite posh. Not a place for the stupid, idle, filthy rich, but somewhere that was basically a fairly safe, middle-class, unassuming kind of manor.

Now, living maybe a couple of miles from where I grew up, I frequently pass through Twickenham and can't quite fathom out what's happened. The town centre is dowdy and a tad on the threatening side, with more than its fair share of ASBO-type yoof hanging round bus stops. Everything looks run down and unsavoury, although it's a little hard to pinpoint exactly what's wrong.

Some of the trappings of civilisation - a Waterstone's and a Caffe Nero - seem to undermine my case. But the Waterstone's is a former Ottakers and you'd be hard-pressed to swing a cat in it. The Caffe Nero replaced a bra shop that had been part of the fabric for donkey's, although I'd never personally had a reason to patronise it. Perhaps people prefer coffee to bras, but it's another bit of character and soul that's been lost.

Down the road there's a Waitrose, but it's off the beaten track towards the railway station and still suffers from being a Somerfield conversion rather than a start-from-scratch affair. It may also qualify as the only Waitrose in the country to sit on the edge of a "designated dispersal zone", where the police have powers to remove anyone who's looking dodgy and probably shoot them round the back of the nick.

Next time you come for the rugby, my advice is this: turn right out of the railway station and keep walking towards the stadium.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Foiled again

Troubling news from the Vatican (http://www.oecumene.radiovaticana.org/en1/Articolo.asp?c=178784), where officials are planning to introduce new rules that will make it harder for people to qualify as a saint. I have to say I'm rather annoyed. Under the old regime, I was in with a chance, but then they have to go and move the goalposts.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The line has to be drawn somewhere

I've held back from commenting on the Madeleine McCann story over the past several months, as I think more than enough junk has been written on the subject. Few people have any informed opinion and the circumstances are very tragic. The news today, however, that the family is considering a movie deal (http://film.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,2237217,00.html) really beggars belief. While I'm sure the intentions may be good and all the proceeds would be used to top up the dwindling campaign funds, the McCanns are receiving monumentally bad advice from a PR perspective.

The potential Hollywood treatment of this story is running through my head as we speak.

We start in Liverpool - home of the Beatles - where a young Kate McCann is planning her career as a medic. Gerry, meanwhile, is still in bonny Scotland - a land of braveheart warriors, bagpipes and the late James Montgomery Doohan of Star Trek fame. Fast forward a few years and we find ourselves in a tapas restaurant.

No. It's all just too awful to contemplate. Particularly as Hollywood would surely demand the happy ending that has sadly failed to emerge in real life. The way things stand at the moment, the movie would have to conclude with the meeting about a possible movie deal.

Plumbing new depths

Although I reluctantly accept that we probably do need plumbers in this world, I didn't take kindly to a leaflet that arrived through my door this morning encouraging people to join the profession. The copy describes the career as being "lucrative" and continues: "Typical call out rates £60-90 per hour - power flushing at £400/day, the opportunities are endless."

The opportunities are indeed endless if you're prepared to unblock a granny's toilet and then tell her that she's got to cough up her life savings. But it's not something that decent human beings do. We all know it's only one step away from telling her there's a slate on her roof that needs fixing.

Further confirmation of earnings is provided on the back of the leaflet via snippets from national newspapers, dating from 2003 and 2004. In a Guardian article, one plumber claims to make £173,160, which he points out is more than the Prime Minister. Tradesmen making this kind of money out of other people's misery don't, of course, have the round-the-clock protection enjoyed by the Prime Minister, but I suspect they're just as liable to be assassinated.

The good news is that no formal qualification or experience is required to get on a training scheme and you can learn your skills through "unique 3D interactive virtual reality software". Yes, it's plumbing by distance learning.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Go on. Take a looky wook.

Making time for Russell Brand has been a bit more difficult since the start of the new year, but I've now finished his booky wook and can report that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Regular readers may be shocked that a sober, reflective and upstanding citizen such as myself actually stooped to purchasing the best-selling slebtrash memoir of 2007. Perhaps I'd better explain.

One of the author's canny observations, noted while spending time in an American sex addiction clinic, was that you could get away with any confession provided it was prefaced with the words "to my shame". Well, to my shame, I actually think Mr Brand is rather funny. I know I shouldn't find anything amusing about the antics of a self-confessed narcissistic, womanising drug addict, but perhaps there's a little bit of Russell in all of us. Maybe it's only my reputation as a respected copywriter, lecturer and trainer that stands between me and what the presenter of Big Brother's Little Brother might describe as a crippling dependency on the ol' Persian rugs. If I hadn't once been a parliamentary candidate for New Labour, I too might have decided to make a TV show in which I shared a bath with a tramp who was oozing pus from a leg wound.

Childhood seems to have played a large part in Brand's descent into both comedy and tragedy. I was disappointed to discover that he wasn't, as I'd always presumed, the love child of Russell Grant and Jo Brand. He does, however, tell cheerful tales of being sexually molested by babysitters and private tutors and being exposed to pornography at an age when most of his contemporaries were watching repeats of Trumpton. This can't be good for your long-term prospects. The Essex comic also exhibits characteristics shared by many addicts: an insatiable desire for experimentation and the belief that it's good to try anything once.

If I have a criticism of My Booky Wook, it would be the lack of detail about the post-dope, post-crack, post-smack, post-nookie Brand. Whereas many autobiographies gloss over or sanitise the pain of the distant past, this one neglects to tell us anything much about the present. That said, it's well worth a looky wook. Particularly if you can pick it up, like me, with a voucher at half the recommended retail price. The author writes well, albeit in an idiosyncratic and rather self-conscious style. And he takes you by hand and leads you through the streets of celebrity-obsessed, drug-addled London.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Estate agent jargon update

An estate agent called me this morning to tell me about a "highly motivated vendor". This is their lingo for someone who's desperate to sell.

With house prices set to drop in the coming year, however, this particular purchaser isn't in a comparable state of high motivation.

Funny things, markets.

Nice booky wook

I'm about two thirds of the way through Russell Brand's autobiography and will give a full report to readers in due course.

It's well written - the Essex TV presenter rightly eschewed his publisher's offer a ghost writer - and contains one or two genuine lol moments.