Friday, May 30, 2008

Deutsche fella gets high marks

Mrs W is a fan of a weird show called Euromaxx, which airs on the German TV channel Deutsche Welle (Virgin Media 830).

If you want a handle on Euromaxx, think Eurotrash meets the South Bank Show and you're kind of 25% of the way to understanding what it's about. Cultural trivia and strange arty stuff from Limerick to Lublin. The lead story on their website today is fairly typical: a Berlin gallery is displaying a grand piano made out of a Porsche Carrera.

Anyway, the Mrs wrote to one of the presenters - a guy called Robin Merrill - about an item she'd seen a few weeks ago and she actually got a personal reply by email. So hats off to DW-TV and Herr Robin. It's hard to imagine the same personal touch from some celebrity in the UK. Unless, of course, it's Gordon Brown trying to convince you that he's a really, really nice guy.

There's another Euromaxx presenter, who's a pretty young lady with very impressive teeth. I think I might try getting in touch with her. Mrs W couldn't possibly object, could she?

There's so much more where this came from


How mushroom do you have for hand-crafted art in your garden? You'll certainly be "intrigued to study" this fake fungus. Click to enlarge.

Many treats lie in store for WARTE readers over the next week or two. I have in my hands the June 2008 edition of the House of Bath catalogue. It is packed full of must-have furnishings, functional home products and assorted objets d'art.

I'm starting you off with fake mushrooms that you can put out in your back garden. Alongside the real ones.

Coming soon: the panama hat bird house.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

This foraging, Arfur... it's a nice little earner.

You'll never guess who popped up on my breakfast TV screen yesterday morning. It was none other than Gary Webster, late substitute for Dennis Waterman in TV series Minder. Gaz seems still to be dining out on his role as Ray Daley in the ever-popular comedy drama. He had made a report on managing finances, which was introduced with a burst of Waterman's classic 80s theme tune I could be so good for you and black-and-white still photography reminiscent of the original credits.

Webster met a man who described himself as a "forager". Every day, this bloke would go out and pick fresh leaves from the countryside and make them into a tasty salad for lunch. He'd top them off with a couple of snails from the garden and reckoned he was saving about twenty quid a week. I can assure readers that this particular salad tray would not be washed and ready to eat.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Duck's off

Some true Fawlty Towers moments last night at the Holiday Inn London-Shepperton, where I'd taken Mrs W and the mini-Ws for an overnight stay. Service was ridiculously slow and numerous things - ready-salted crisps, pepperoni and spaghetti, for example - were unavailable in the bar and restaurant. My youngest daughter and I were slightly bemused by our main courses, which only seemed to bear a passing resemblance to what we'd actually requested. Whether this was due to misintepretation of our order or lack of ingredients wasn't really clear.

It was, however, the dessert that took the cheese and biscuits.

Mrs W asked for cheesecake and was told that, sadly, it wasn't in stock. Gritting her teeth, she chose bread and butter pudding instead.

We waited.

And we waited some more.

And then we waited just that little bit longer.

The smaller mini-W had only asked for a banana and we had the strong impression that someone must be flying to Costa Rica to pick it. Eventually it arrived, along with a banana split for her older sister. But nothing for me and the Mrs.

Five minutes later, my cheese platter emerged. But all Mrs W got was an apology. Bread and butter pudding was now off. The good news - every cloud having a silver lining and all that - was that the cheesecake had now been located! The waitress would bring it in just a tick.

All's well that ends well, you might think. Except that when the cheesecake finally made it to the table, it was accompanied by a warning: it might not, in fact, be fully defrosted. Mrs W declared it to be rock solid and sent it back to Basil in the kitchen. Negotations over refunds are still ongoing.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A veritable miracle of science, sir. With a webcam.

I love the steampunk art installation that's currently connecting the UK with New York (see http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/europe/05/22/scope.project/?imw=Y&iref=mpstoryemail). The idea is that you're looking down a massive telescope which can see all the way across the Atlantic. The location of the British end of the contraption gives us a clue that a webcam and broadband connection might be involved. Rather than being based in the Scilly Isles, it's near Tower Bridge in London. On a clear day, you might be able to see Southend.

Read the news story, get the t-shirt...

Hats off to CNN who have a new service in beta at the moment: t-shirts based on individual news headlines.

Today, you can purchase a shirt bearing the legend "Wild baboons tear through city streets" or "Goldfish trained to herd other fish". A tagline on the shirt reads "I just saw it on CNN.com" and provides passers-by with a date and time stamp. Now, that's my kind of merchandise.

They're quite selective about which stories they fashion into apparel though. "China quake: Millions of tents needed" is deemed a little too sensitive for streetwear.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Teaching in the green room

I'm teaching a regular class for Birkbeck College at the LSE on a Monday night and I like to get into the lecture room a little bit early to set up. On a couple of occasions, I've been kept waiting because the space is being used as a hospitality suite for a guest speaker who's due to address a large audience in the School's main theatre. I questioned a member of staff about it tonight and he confirmed the use of the space as a "green room", although the usual green-room trappings - PR flunkies, copious amounts of alcohol etc - seem to be absent.

As the LSE attracts a number of high-profile speakers, my hope is that sometime in the next few weeks, I'll barge into the room to find Bill Clinton or former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan making a few last-minute notes. "Oi!", I'll shout. "What do you think you're up to, mate? I've got a class to teach in here. Now sling your hook before I get one of the porters to throw you out."

This evening, it was a Canadian professor of philosophy who'd come to give a lecture in memory of the 19th century sociologist Auguste Comte. I waited patiently outside.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Altogether now...

I am happy to report that great Friday night entertainment is not a thing of the past.

Earlier this evening, I caught a few minutes of An audience without Jeremy Beadle - a touching tribute to the late, much-loved British prankster. Chris Tarrant counted down the public's favourite set-ups from Beadle's About and then led the audience in a rendition of the theme tune, accompanied on piano forte by the bloke who'd composed the music.

When British culture is reviewed once a week on Newsnight Review, this is the kind of important stuff that Kirsty Wark mistakenly tends to overlook.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

High premium for geriatric comedy

Interesting story in The Times about the problems of insuring the elderly cast of Last of the Summer Wine. Frank Thornton - best known for playing the part of Captain Peacock in Are you being served?, when he was a sprightly fifty-something - now can't get cover for working outdoors. As a result, all his scenes are shot in a studio.

Surely the biggest risk with Last of the Summer Wine is the audience watching a whole series of the p**spoor sitcom without laughing?

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/tv_and_radio/article3905028.ece

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

How do I get a ticket?

I keep reading in the press about this "postcode lottery". I'd very much like to enter, as I've never liked my postcode much and would love to win an alternative. NW3 perhaps.

Nelson Mandela's 90th

The big man of the anti-apartheid movement enters his tenth decade this year. Ageing rockers such as Queen, Elton John and Annie Lennox have been drafted in for Mr Mandela's celebrations, which does seem to make some kind of sense. Their careers were all peaking during the 80s, when the campaign to release the South African icon was at its most intense. Unfortunately, it seems that in order to add some street cred to the affair, Mandela's advisors feel the need to invite a younger generation of stars including our beloved Amy Winehouse.

At first glance, one might think that Amy isn't too great a role model for the youngsters of Johannesburg and Cape Town. But I mustn't be too cynical though. She has, after all, been dragged off the streets of NW1 by agents of the police state and forced - against her will - to stay in rehabilitation facilities. As a result, she'll clearly empathise strongly with the former President.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

I'm thinking twice before I type this

News that computer keyboards are often filthier than toilets (http://www.reuters.com/article/lifestyleMolt/idUSSP5334520080502) does beg a rather obvious question. What exactly are people doing on their PCs?

Friday, May 02, 2008

The scrambling of the Suffolk Police chopper

High drama on my train just outside Ipswich this evening. After an apparent assault on a guard, a plain clothes copper headed up the train to offer assistance. The poor bloke returned five minutes later with a bloody nose. We then had to wait half an hour while the Suffolk Constabulary's chopper was launched.

My friend Hoffy, who's a regular on this service and blogs at www.hofflimits.com, assures me that this kind of incident is very rare indeed on National Express East Anglia. I'm glad to hear it. Because if it's this rough in Ipswich, God knows what it's like in Diss.