Thursday, February 28, 2008

Quake rocks London but no famous actor dies

Standard poster registers 8.2 on the Headline Scale. The earthquake, on the other hand...

I remember someone writing in Campaign - the advertising trade journal - about the Evening Standard's news hoardings. They claimed they were some of the very best ads around. The example quoted was a poster reading FAMOUS ACTOR DIES. Shocked and alarmed, believing that someone such as Jack Nicholson or Tom Cruise has popped their celebrity clogs, you shell out 50p for the paper. Imagine your annoyance when you discover that the actor in question is some bit-part thespian who's recently made a comeback on the Vancouver rep scene.

In principle, the teasing trick works very well. INTEREST RATE SHOCK demands to be read. Never mind that the shock is the fact that interest rates have stayed the same. The ploy does, however, rely on the commuter's ignorance. When I see a poster saying QUAKE HITS LONDON, I am walking down a London street that appears - quite remarkably - to be in the very same condition it was yesterday. No tectonic activity detected. No need for Professor Richter to be roused from his slumber.

What would happen if an earthquake really did hit London? What would the Standard say then? QUAKE HITS LONDON - OFFICIAL, perhaps? I'm suggesting WORST EVER QUAKE HELL as one to keep up their sleeves.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Shopping made easy

On the Ocado website, there's a page where you can view all their latest special offers. Currently, 22 items are displayed and there's a button at the top that says "Add everything". This saves a customer from having to worry about the prices or the exact nature of the products they're about to purchase.

If I clicked "Add everything", I'd no doubt be guaranteeing myself some remarkable savings. The trouble is, I don't necessarily want Sure Active Response for Women Cotton Fresh Spray, Pampers 60 x 60 cm change mats, half a dozen one-litre bottles of Badoit mineral water and eight blueberry flavoured Actimel bottles.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Lendall Bridge in York over the River Ouse. Washed and Ready to Eat's Phil Woodford paid a flying visit to the historic city on Friday 22nd February.

My beef with Holiday Inn

I freely admit that although I’m now in my late thirties, I don’t yet know everything. I am always learning new things about my chosen profession of advertising and marketing and will probably never understand much about quantum mechanics or gardening. That said, I am fairly confident that I can tell the difference between lamb and beef. Through a combination of taste bud sensors, various neural connections and numerous dining experiences over the years, I could probably tell you the difference in a couple of chews.

Well, last night at the Holiday Inn in York, I ordered lamb. When it arrived, I asked for mint sauce, but I couldn’t quite wait for my waitress to return before starting to tuck in. Within two chews, I knew I was eating beef. An internal battle then started to rage between my natural reticence to complain and my understandable disappointment at the error.

The waitress arrived with the mint sauce and I explained the sorry story. She insisted that I had lamb on my plate. The chef was supposedly consulted. He confirmed that I was dining on finest l’agneau auberge des vacances. It was one of those bizarre complaint situations where someone is telling you that black is white and white is black. Or that beef is lamb and that beef is lamb. You begin to doubt your own senses. I smothered the very average beef in mint sauce and swallowed my pride.

I then felt motivated to fill out the questionnaire at the end of my overnight stay.

Why can’t they just ask simple questions like “Was everything alright?” or “Anything we could improve?” Instead, we get stuff like this: “How did your check-in experience with us compare with your best check-in experience?”

Excuse me? How did my check-in experience yesterday compare with my best check-in experience ever ever ever? You mean that time in Cardiff back in 2003 when they brought in a colliery band to serenade me as I picked up my key? What kind of a damn fool question is this?

On reflection, there was one rather interesting check-in experience I had in the early nineties. This was before I met Mrs W, so it’s ok. I received a postcard from a lady in Rome who claimed that we’d been in contact with one another on a visit I’d made to the city. Although I had indeed been to the Italian capital, I had no recollection of the correspondent. I wrote back to her and it transpired that she’d been a hotel receptionist who had encountered me at check-in. I thought it was all a bit odd, but put it to the back of my mind. The next thing I knew, she was on the phone saying she’d just arrived at Heathrow Airport. We met at a pub on the Chalk Farm Road and, believe me, this girl talked for Italy. I couldn’t get a word in edgeways. As you’d expect, I made ‘mi scusi’ noises and decided to scapa.

Is there really a market for this kind of thing?

In Hampton Hill – quite a nice part of south-west London, not far from Washed and Ready to Eat HQ – there’s a big shop and cafĂ© that styles itself Farmers’ City Market. This isn’t your normal farmers’ market, when a few people drive in from the country to fleece unsuspecting townies for a day and then head home at sunset. It’s a permanent fixture on the high street. They claim to combine “the best of a farmers’ market with the convenience of a supermarket.”

I was flicking through a promotional leaflet and was stopped in my tracks by some of the copy.

“We only sell varietal meat from farmers we know personally and trust.”

What exactly is varietal meat? I’ve asked for pork medallions and lamb chops in a butcher’s before, but I’ve never requested anything called varietal.

“We sell a range of products for your pantry…”

I know this is a posh part of London, but I don’t know anyone with a pantry. For the information of the store owners and their copywriter, we no longer have a larder or scullery either.

“Our bread is organic and made by an artisanal baker in Twickenham.”

An artisanal baker? Much better than the ordinary kind. I just hate to encounter a baker who doesn't know his artisan from his elbow.

The message finishes with the plea that we should “buy real food grown and produced by real people.” I wholeheartedly agree. I hate the pretend food that real people sometimes try to sell me. But it can sometimes be just as galling to be sold real food by people who turn out to be pretend.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Surreal spam

"You are there..." reads the subject header.

"Yes, but Stavros is somewhere else," continues the email. "Your friend has just witnessed the greatest art form ever created by a human man. That is why you have just received an email from the creator of this art. Who is this amazing man you ask? It is Stavros. Stavros is the genius behind Position Art. What is Position Art you ask? It is never what, it is always where. That is Position Art, the art form that answers the life-long question of where. Please do not be so foolish as to miss out on where you will find this art. It's on the Internets, and to go there you have to click over there where it says click here."

That last sentence is very special indeed. Generally I find that when something's on the Internets, I do need to click over there where it says click here. Or otherwise I end up not going anywhere at all. It's a big problem.

It takes a lot of bottle...

... to appear on the telly defending the use of bottled water.

Following the announcement by government minister Phil Woolas that he was banning mineral water from his offices, there was an extraordinary debate on BBC News 24 last night between a Green member of the London Assembly and a representative of some body that represents bottled water producers. The water bloke produced some of the most ridiculous arguments I think I've ever heard in a five-minute studio discussion.

He was saying stuff like "With mineral water, you have the choice between still or sparkling. You don't get that with tap water, do you?"

To his credit, anchor Jon Sopel did try to cut through the c**p. But it was painful to watch. The trade representative was so bubbly with enthusiasm for his product that he might have been mistaken for a bottle of San Pellegrino.

Knowing Phil Woolas from his days as NUS President back in the 1980s, I suspect he thinks mineral water is for soft southern jessies.

Should I try it?

On the VAT notes that get sent out from HM Revenue & Customs, there's a piece of copy that reads: "If you would like to speak to someone in Welsh, please phone..."

Do you think there's a requirement for me to speak Welsh in order to call the helpline? What if I just liked the idea of someone talking Welsh to me and I had a few minutes to spare? Would that be an abuse of the service?

There's another way of reading this leaflet, of course. Perhaps I've been trying to learn Welsh for a long time, but it's all proved too complicated. I'd like to speak to someone in the language, but unfortunately I can't. This line is for people just like me. Maybe they can provide me with an additional crash course?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

How Mrs W found me in bed

I was having 40 winks in the early evening yesterday. Mrs W claims that I had fallen asleep with my hand over one side of my face, propping open an eyelid. She encountered me with one eye closed and the other glazed eye open, staring towards the ceiling.

At first she assumed me to be dead and was looking for my insurance policy, but then heard a contented snore.

She lovingly closed the open eyelid.

How exactly is it possible to sleep with one eye open? Would it be possible for a human to sleep with both eyes open, do you think? Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it, so I suppose it's just about conceivable.

Friday, February 15, 2008

If only I weren't so busy...

SRO Audiences write to me with details of a new series from Warp Films for MTV. The programme makers are looking for extras and I feel this could be the big break I've been waiting for.

There are two options. I can go to a location in Shoreditch and become a dancer on the floor of a gay nightclub, but there's a requirement for me to be "proper buff". Alternatively, I can schlep out to E9 and cheer on protagonists in a basement fight club.

The email says that I'm not allowed to get involved in any fighting myself, but there's no objection to my making friends at the gay event.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

When the kids are swinging on the gate... Gertcha!

There aren't many excuses for TV producers to show characters doing the conga to the tune of "Gertcha" by Chas & Dave. In fact, it takes a very peculiar set of circumstances. A time travel drama set in London in 1981. A genuine cockernee knees-up in celebration of the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Di. And attendance by detectives who were the pride of the Greater Manchester Constabulary in the early seventies.

I can only anticipate a surge in itunes downloads during the week ahead.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Former glories

I noticed a plaque on Cambridge station today that celebrated a victory in the 1987 "Eastern Region Best Station Competition". The small print revealed, however, that the prize was actually in the 'large station category'. So of the all the large stations in the Eastern Region, Cambridge was judged to be the best. 21 years ago.

This reminded me of a sign I saw a few years back in Adare, County Limerick. It commemorated the town's remarkable triumph in the 1976 National Tidy Towns Competition. Things started getting untidier from 1977 onwards.
The sun starts to dip behind Norwich railway station. Nice piece of Victorian architecture. I have a feeling the last time I visited Norwich was in the mid 1980s. Can that really be true?

But where was Delia?

A foggy start to the day at Carrow Road, home of Norwich City FC. Snapped on my trusty Nokia 6300. No sign of Delia Smith.

Well targeted direct mail


A company called Jeffersons believe I'm just the kind of guy to "celebrate by private jet". While their locations in France and Italy look very alluring indeed, I've checked the prices on the website and I don't think I'll be joining the mile high club any time soon. But it's nice to be asked.

The riddler writes

Pei Yu - one of my spam friends - writes with a riddle.

"What 'magic pill' can help you shed 15 pounds... turn you into a real estate tycoon... help you read faster... make you a better lover... and help you amass a personal fortune? Come on detective. You should know this one!"

Sherlock Woodford is still working on this one Pei, me old mucker. And I don't want to spoil the fun by clicking on your link to find out more.

I'm sure there must be a clue in Pei's unlikely job title, which is 'Success University Independent Distributor'.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

I'm happy, hope you're happy too. Actually, I'm not so sure I am happy, to be honest.

Tonight's first ep of Ashes to Ashes reminded me vividly of life in London, circa 1981. City boys were apparently making millions and snorting coke years before the boom actually took place. Drug barons were frequently staging gun battles with police on the Thames using automatic weapons. And George and Zippy from Rainbow were always on hand to offer advice. Halcyon days indeed.

My predictions for next week: Don Johnson arrives in town to give Gene Hunt a few dress tips. Oasis launch their first single more than ten years before they were formed. And Mr Geoffrey has to call up a first-class brief when Bungle gets nicked for chatting up Lady Di.

Bus announcements

On the 281 bus in south-west London, they've introduced an incredibly irritating soundtrack that involves a posh lady announcing every single stop and reminding you of your ultimate destination: Hounslow Bus Station.

You can tell by the way she says the name "Hounslow Bus Station" that she's never actually been there. If I were to describe the tone, it would be warm and nostalgic. A bit like when you meet someone you haven't seen in ten years. You shake your head wistfully and say: "As I live and breathe. Hounslow Bus Station."

Noisy aircon leads to bloody finger

Bit of an incident in the Novotel the other night. The first room I was allocated was very noisy, due to some terrible clanking sounds coming from the aircon system. I was trying to do some work on my laptop and got a bit p***ed off, so reception sent up a maintenance man to investigate. He agreed there was a problem and that I needed a new room, but in the process of admitting him, I had managed to slam the fire door on my finger. I was then left trying to repack all my stuff for the move while stemming a steady flow of blood with tissues from the Hans Grohe bathroom.

All a little messy.

But every cloud has a silver lining. I’d already scoffed the complimentary biscuits in the noisy room before I left and there was another set waiting for me in the new room.

Doctors and dead neighbours

A couple of great pieces in the g2 section of Monday’s Guardian. In the first, a number of anonymous doctors were asked to spill the beans about the secrets of medical practice. The article included a glossary of jargon. “Rule of five” is apparently a reference to the fact that someone is about to travel to that great infirmary in the sky, where all the angels are…er….angels. It comes from the observation that if you have more than five of your orifices obscured by tubing, you have little chance of survival.

In another spread, a lady called Mary Horsley recalled the thrift that her mother displayed in the years following the Second World War. As well as restricting Mary’s use of Izal toilet paper (a greaseproof product that was still kicking around at my school in the 1970s), her mum used to scrape mould off jam and recycle macaroni in nut roasts. Her crowning glory came after the clearance of the next door property after the death of an elderly neighbour. She found some embroidered name tapes and felt they shouldn’t be wasted, so she looked for someone in the phone directory with the same surname and initials and gave them a call. It’s hard to picture that conversation, isn’t it? “You don’t know me but my neighbour’s just died and I was wondering…”

A right pear

Here’s one I’ve just posted to www.overheardinlondon.co.uk This conversation really happened the other night in the Novotel St Pancras, close to the new Eurostar terminal.

I’d pressed for the lift on the fourth floor and was looking to go down to the lobby. Two elderly Scottish ladies emerged and then realised that they hadn’t reached the ground, so got back in with me. We got talking.

PHIL: “They call this the panoramic lift.”

LADY 1: “Yes, we’re up on the twelfth floor.”

PHIL: “The views must be pretty good from up there.”

LADY 2: “Oh, yes. You can see St Paul’s. And that…er… what do you call it… the avocado?”

PHIL: “The Gherkin?”

LADY 2: “Ah, yes, that’s it. The Gherkin.”

We reached the ground floor and went our separate ways. I hope they didn’t have any problems ordering dinner.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

What's a cyber doll, daddy?

This was the question my eldest daughter forced me to confront the other day at a local NHS walk-in centre. She's an advanced reader for her age and was studying various posters that were on display as we waited for a prescription to be filled by a pharmacist.

When the cyber doll question arose, I feared the worst, but discovered it's actually some kind of pretend baby that's handed out to teenage girls so they can get a taste of what motherhood is like.

The mini-W follows in a fine tradition. When I was six, I was reading 70s-style health posters in the waiting room of our local surgery and asked my mum - in a loud voice, apparently - what a smear test was. Precocious little whatname, wasn't I?

I won't mention the time when I was expelled from the All England Tennis Club at Wimbledon for repeating the umpire's scores. I was 18 months old and one of the players demanded my removal.