Sunday, September 28, 2008

At long last...

You've been very patient. I promised you some pictures from last month's Austrian holiday, but they've been a while coming.

We won't dwell on the disastrous results of today's Austrian general election. With the far-right parties mustering 30% of the vote between them, this may be the last visit I choose to make in a while. It's a shame that in 2008, a large number of people don't seem to have got over 1938.
Tasty Austrian-style food. Venison, noodles and sprouts in a rich onion gravy.
Horse and von trap: Life in Salzburg continues at a relaxed, traditional kind of pace.
Mozart promotes an important birthday. See www.40whitehats.co.uk
Off on the Sound of Music trail. Rival tour buses compete for the tourist trade created by the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical.
Family entertainment, Austrian style.
Anyone crossing a street with a young child must wear a hat.
Shelling out: thousands of painted eggs for sale in a shop in Salzburg's historic Jewish quarter.





Barking mad: a taxidermist is brought in to add spice to a window display in St Johann im Pongau.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman

I can't help thinking that the sad death of Paul Newman is not only a loss to the movie industry, but also a shocking blow to the manufacturers and promoters of novelty salad dressings.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

An idea that just doesn't fly

As a desperate ploy to get people to pay attention to the safety demonstrations on aircraft, cabin crew frequently say that the instructions on their plane may be different to those that you're used to hearing elsewhere.

Really?

Have you ever encountered an airline which has invented its own, unique brace position? Or produced a peculiar alternative to the toggle device that inflates the average lifejacket?

My hunch - and it's no more than a hunch - is that there are probably legal and regulatory requirements which pretty much standardise the whole safety procedure. BA, for instance, couldn't unilaterally decide that they would dispense with oxygen masks or require passengers to pull them out of a headrest rather than wait for them to drop down from the ceiling.

So when you're next told that your aircraft may be different, why don't you stand up and ask the stewardess exactly how? You'd have my full support.

Monday, September 22, 2008

They know where you are

I'm writing this blog entry from Holland and it's very clear that everybody in the whole world (well, everyone at Facebook, Blogger, MySpace and similar sites) realises that I am here. I know they know because I'm confronted by Dutch log-ins and Dutch ads even though my knowledge of the language stretches to an embarrassing "yes", "no", "thank you" and a few other odds and sods. All this tracking stuff is getting a tad too sophisticated, isn't it?

I shouldn't really be writing about Holland when I haven't even updated WARTE readers on my trip to Austria last month, but I'll throw in a couple of observations.

Amsterdam is still pretty much exactly as it ever was, except with knobs on. Coffee shops, bicycles and canals, along with an all-pervasive smell of wacky baccy - at least in the square mile around the central station. Ladies are still plying their trade in shop windows and everyone speaks excellent English. Not the ladies plying their trade, you understand, as I didn't stop to speak to them. Everyone else.

I had a really good tomato soup in one of the side streets in town. The kind of tomato soup that you only ever get in continental Europe, made out of delicious things like tomato. And fresh basil.

Travelling this morning by taxi between Amersfoort and Leusden, I was astonished to see whole loads of school kids in their mid-teens riding in convoy at the side of the road. When I say convoy, I mean 60 or 70 of them at a time. English teenagers would only gather in a group this large if they were planning on steaming a bus and robbing all the passengers of their watches and mp3 players. There was something wholesome and uplifting about seeing the Dutch children heading off cheerfully to their studies. They looked for all the world like characters from an Enid Blyton story, setting off on a happy adventure together. My driver said that some of them pedal 10km to get to school, so they must be pretty fit too.

Anyway, enough already. It's beddy-byes time in the Netherlands and I have a full day's work tomorrow. Austrian pictures and commentary coming soon. Promise.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Can we break the news to him gently?

I had the misfortune to catch Scott Mills presenting the midweek lottery show a couple of nights ago.

Let me rephrase that slightly. It wasn't Scott himself who was the misfortune. He's a bright lad and gave me a lot of coverage when I organised my 35th birthday party back in 2003. It was his choice of guest that presented me with one of the worst examples of car-crash TV I've seen in a very long time.

Sir Cliff Richard - who, believe me, has clearly stopped popping the Peter Pan pills - sang a truly God-awful valedictory song called Thank you for a lifetime, which he'd penned to celebrate his half century in the music business. I have absolutely nothing against novelty records, excessive kitsch or even a little bit of self-indulgence from ageing pop stars. My tolerance level for this kind of stuff is a good deal higher than most people's. But Cliff has produced such a turkey that I found myself involuntarily closing my eyes and grimacing in the privacy of my own front room. If you want a sense of what I endured and have three or four minutes to spare, check out the tune on youtube.

ITV1 can still make me happy

I can count the times I tune into ITV1 on the fingers of one finger. I'm not much of a fan of X Factor or Coronation Street. But Al Murray's Happy Hour, sponsored by getminted.com, is first-class family entertainment of a Friday night, ladies and gentlemen. It gives me a reason to get up in the morning, beyond having a full bladder. And if it's in the papers, it must be true.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Bang! And the dirt is gone!

While I would be first to defend Cillit Bang's cleaning power, I was bit disconcerted to watch an ad this lunchtime in which it was described as leaving a "fresh smell". Whenever the stuff is used at Woodford Towers, Mrs W and I open all the windows and dust off our Second World War gas masks.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

What itunes says about me

Latest news from the iTunes "Just for you" service. I should buy Razorlight, Kaiser Chiefs and Snow Patrol. But also Racey, 10cc and Irene Cara.

I wonder which selection suits me best?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Authentic-style descriptions

I've just watched a commercial about a battery-operated toothbrush which is supposed to get your teeth "dentist clean". It reminds me of promotional material I used to write for collectables back in the early 90s, when I first became a professonal writer. Porcelain plates were "heirloom quality". Not actual heirlooms, of course. But definitely heirloom quality.

That American presidential contest in full

The US Presidential election is shaping up to be a real humdinger.

I have to say, hand on heart, that I was a Hillary Clinton fan. Not because she's a likeable politician or someone who lights my emotional candle, but because I thought she'd have the guts and balls to really stick it to the Republicans. She'd get down and dirty, which is what you need when you're in a street fight. I like Obama, but that's not necessarily a good thing. I remember once choosing a solicitor because I liked her, but she was pretty crap. I ended up advising her on things that were wrong with a property contract. Perhaps I should have sent her a bill?

My confidence in Obama has been growing steadily as the campaign has progressed. I have my fingers crossed that he won't buckle under the relentless onslaught that's coming in the next couple of months. But having seen the Republican Convention, I admit my anxiety is rising. McCain-Palin must be one of the barmiest tickets ever produced in modern American politics. The introduction of the moose-munching Alaskan Governor is the equivalent of a hand grenade being thrown into the race.

Let's just imagine that the eccentric Vietnam vet and self-styled 'maverick' makes it into the White House on 4th November at the grand old age of 72. Moose features - who seemed such a good idea during the Convention season - will suddenly become a bit of a problem. I expect she won't shut up. And her forthright views on guns, evolution and God knows what else will cause McCain no end of trouble, as she becomes a magnet for every rightwing crackpot across the States. It will make an interesting spectacle and no doubt cause no end of amusement. Until such time as McCain's ticker gives out. And then we're in a whole new ball game.

So, for everyone's sake, Mr Obama, please give it everything you got. The whole nine yards. Because this Londoner is worried that we may soon be looking back fondly on the George W Bush era.

The housing market in perspective

There's a very amusing double-page spread in my local property rag. Space has been given to a number of the estate agents to offer their considered opinions of the way the market is going in the area. Not surprisingly, many of them are full of bravado and puff.

"It is simply a matter of time before we see a recovery," blusters one, although I note he doesn't specify exactly how much time. Another contributor seems to deal only in properties worth several million quid and, unsurprisingly, reports this market as being largely unaffected by the credit crunch.

Some agents are, however, clearly at a loss to know what to say. One of them has invited a TV programme into a house which they describe as "an eccentric four-bedroom family home". Another tells the readers frankly that if they're selling and have found a buyer, they should jump into rented accommodation quickly. The biscuit is awarded, however, to the firm which sidesteps the market turmoil entirely. "Keeping spirits high," they write, "we recently held a company softball night in Marble Hill Park."

That's the spirit. And they've included a very fetching picture of the lady estate agents in their softball gear. I predict a deluge of calls from interested male buyers early next week.

Monday, September 01, 2008

My worrying absence

I appreciate that August wasn't exactly a bumper month for fans of WARTE. Many apologies. I've been prioritising my birthday madness (see www.p40b.com) and spending time on my hols. Austria produces some excellent material for a blog of this kind, so watch this space for an update soon.

In the meantime, I thought I'd mention that I tried out the new website developed at UCL in London which allows you to trace the geographical origins of your surname. I was disconcerted to discover that there are more Woodfords in Australia than anywhere else, which can only mean one thing: criminal ancestry. It's worrying to discover stuff like this at the age of 39, when you've quite happily been sailing through life assuming your lineage to be pure as the driven snow.