Monday, December 28, 2009

Who do you think you are kidding?

The older mini-W was keen on buying a goat for Christmas - one of the 'living gifts' that charities invite you to send to the developing world. Delighted at her early sense of social responsibility, I said that if she saved up enough pocket money to buy one of the trusty ruminants, I would get one too. It was a kind of BOGOF deal with a benevolent twist.

Little did I know that I was about to enter a world of extreme kitsch. On the Oxfam website, our goat 'couple' is pictured dressed for a wedding. Mrs Goat is wearing a veil, while the groom proudly boasts a top hat. All that's missing is the Best Goat making his after-dinner speech.

'Go on,' the excitable copywriter urges us. 'Do it for the kids!'

It's good to know that the animals we're sending are happily married, as co-habiting goats are probably frowned upon in many parts of the developing world. Two goats of the same sex would be absolutely out of the question, even if there had been some kind of civil ceremony.

The mini-W has an idea that the living gifts are being flown out to Africa. In my own fevered imagination, I wondered whether they might be taking the honeymoon suite on a cruise ship. The reality - that they're probably found in Africa anyway and are simply given to communities that need them - was causing some confusion among the younger generation at Woodford Towers, so I decided to let the subject drop. Until Mrs W happened to chip in with an idea for a TV sketch.

She envisaged a scenario in which the gift vouchers go to Africa by mistake and the goats end up at the door of the well-meaning donor in Hampstead. Nice idea and copyright Mrs W, all rights reserved. Of course, in that kind of mix-up, it wouldn't matter if the goats weren't married. They'd be made welcome regardless of their marital status, gender or sexuality.

Nothing like the taste of hedgerow...

I have my doubts about the decision by M&S to name one of its jam products 'Hedgerow Conserve'. While the berries that come from the typical English hedgerow may be very tasty, I'm not sure I want to be reminded of the hedgerow itself. After all, I don't add Orchard Sauce to my roast pork, do I? Or wolf down Field Yogurt, for that matter. Where does it all end? Abatoir Nuggets?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My work-related travel during 2009


View Where I've worked in 2009 in a larger map

One of the things I've enjoyed the most about self-employment over the past few years is the opportunity to travel more with my work. I've covered a fair bit of ground within the UK during 2009 and also managed a couple of short trips to Milan and Paris. Thanks to everyone who's made me feel welcome. I look forward to new friendships and business partnerships in 2010.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas wrapped up

I've noticed that furniture store DFS doesn't just sponsor individual yuletide programmes on ITV. It sponsors the whole of Christmas. Maybe there's an appropriate sponsor signed up for Easter too? Pontins perhaps? Or Mr Kipling.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Spirits moving with the times

I've long wondered why spirits communicate through mediums. It seems a remarkably inefficient and old-fashioned method of contacting the living.

Just imagine that you found yourself in the afterlife and were able to move freely through time and space, unencumbered by the restrictions of corporeal form. If you wanted to make a guest appearance in a haunted house or historic National Trust property, I guess that would be your prerogative. No one would be surprised if you decided to move some furniture around or maybe wander up and down a staircase. But when it comes to conveying a meaningful message to an earthbound former acquaintance, it seems that you're stuck. It's a case of join the queue at the Living TV studios and hope that Colin Fry doesn't get held up in a traffic jam.

Very often, if you do make contact, you only come through faintly. It must be a little like shouting through a brick wall with a sock in your mouth. Odd snatches of conversation make their way through, but they're pretty indistinct.

I can't understand why there haven't been more protests in the spirit world, particularly from those who have passed in recent years. "Look, mate. This medium thing. I know it's the way you've always contacted earth, but it's too much like hard work. Six months ago I was using an iPhone 3GS."

It seems to me there should be a mobile app for this kind of instant messaging between the living and the dead. Spiritworld v2.34 or something. Ghosts could search us and we could search them. "Leonardo da Vinci would like to be your friend. Do you know Leonardo?"

My old friend Hoffy says that someone called Barry Sheene is following him on Twitter, an honour Barry only bestows on Hoff and BBC Question Time. This could potentially be the first evidence of heavenly microblogging. On the other hand, it may be just the evidence you need to confirm that you shouldn't be on Twitter.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sold a pup

Copy on an M&S poster: 'We believe in sustainable fishing. Hook, line and sinker.'

Err... doesn't this mean that they have been told a lie about sustainable fishing and have been gullible enough to believe it? Or am I just a little too much of a perfectionist when it comes to this kind of thing?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tales from the gym...

Overheard a middle-aged guy talking to his personal trainer about India. The customer was planning a trip to the sub-continent on the advice of his brother, who'd spent four months trekking around.

"Once you get over the begging, it's fine," he said, relaying the frank advice he'd obviously been given.

Personally, I wouldn't get over the begging, which is one of the reasons I'm not inclined to go. Who has the more morally dubious position, do you suppose? The first-world tourist who swans around a poverty-stricken part of the world and blots out what he sees? Or the one who stays at home because he doesn't want to see it in the first place?

Meanwhile, a number of ladies were in the pool for an aqua aerobics class. They were working out to Shalamar and Odyssey, although I judged by their ages that Bill Haley & The Comets might have been more appropriate. I swam on the other side of the pool, the only man brave enough to intrude - even remotely - on their space.

I actually admire those who participate in these classes, because you're in a public area on full view, rather than behind closed doors in a studio. But I wonder what would happen if I volunteered to join the group? Presumably they couldn't refuse? But I seem to be the wrong gender. And perhaps they'd tell me to apply again in twenty years.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Just a thought...

Do you think strippergram businesses are affected by the recession? Or do people just downgrade from a Police Constable to, say, a Police and Community Support Officer?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Thanks, Lucy...

Lucy is O2's online avatar. You can send her a question and she'll do her best to respond in real time. I asked whether the network was down, as people were getting a 'fault' message when they dialled my iPhone. Here's her instantaneous reply:

"You are allocated an anniversary date the first time you top-up your Online Pay & Go account with £10 or more. This anniversary date is when your free 300 text messages or 75 media messages starts, and your 300 minutes of WAP allowance starts.

If you wish to keep the same anniversary date, you need to top-up your account with a minimum of £10 each month at least 48 hours before your anniversary date..."


The shame of it. I'm not even on pay and go. I have a proper contract and everything. But I like the concept of having an anniversary with O2. Provided, of course, that people are actually able to ring me between one annual celebration and the next.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Hey you...

Yes, you. The copywriter for those Orange posters telling me I'm covered by the UK's biggest 3G network. You're a smug b*****d.

Fancy a drink this Christmas? Sell your house...

A local estate agent is offering a crate if wine to anyone who puts their house on the market during the Yuletide festivities. You can just imagine those conversations, can't you?

'We need another load of booze for the party, love. I'm just nipping down the offy.'

'Wait a second, sweetheart. It says here we can get a crate of plonk for free. We only need to sell our house.'

'Hey, that sounds too good to be true. Let me have a look...'

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gatecrashers follow in a fine tradition

The news that an American couple managed to gatecrash a state dinner at the White House brought to mind a book I read a couple of months ago.

K Blows Top is a very amusing account by journalist Peter Carlson of a visit made to the US in the late 1950s by barmy Soviet dictator Nikita Krushchev. At the height of the Cold War, 'K' and his wife toured the Land of the Free for nearly two weeks and got involved in all kinds of outlandish escapades under the full glare of the media.

One incident involved a guy called Jack Christensen from Mason City, Iowa, who is described in the book as a 'swimming pool operator'. He decided to invite himself to a farm in Coon Rapids that Krushchev was visiting. Not only did Christensen somehow worm his way past an extensive security cordon, but he actually got chatting with the leader of the USSR. Photos of the two men were taken beside some harvesting equipment before K was led away towards a pig pen. The emboldened gatecrasher decided to follow and grabbed a five-year-old girl who was a relation of the farm owner's business partner. He handed the kid to Krushchev as a prop for another impromptu papping session.

By the time lunch was being served in a grand marquee, security guards were vouching for Christensen. After all, wasn't he the guy who'd been photographed with Krushchev earlier on? Once inside, the interloper started chatting to Governor Adlai Stevenson, who'd been defeated by Eisenhower in previous presidential elections.

He had to be rumbled at some point, I guess. According to Carlson, the moment came when the owner of the farm actually challenged Christensen and asked him who the hell he was. The game was finally up and he made a quick exit while everyone was munching on barbecued steak.

However much the media pundits may tut-tut about threats to security and so on, we can only tip our hats to people with the chutzpah to pull off this kind of stunt. All the minders and bodyguards in the world are no defence against someone with a winning smile, sense of self-belief and a reckless commitment to winning their Warhol window of fame.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Santa doesn't want to feel grotto

I enjoyed this American news report about the campaign by Santas in department stores to get H1N1 jabs as a matter of priority. Of course, in the UK, they'd be offered the vaccine on the National Elf.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Who cuts President Van Rompuy's hair?

I ask the question because the Belgian politican's barnet is in such a state that I find it hard to believe any salon professional has been involved. It looks like it's cut by his wife. Europe will certainly rue the day that it appointed this non-entity as its first-ever President. Not only has Van Rompuy failed to stop the traffic in any foreign capital during his illustrious career, but he's also failed to stop at a hairdresser's.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

faqs set by ur olds

The recent announcement by the Assessment Qualifications Alliance that 10% of English GCSE marks are to be awarded for comprehension of text messaging lingo has attracted a fair amount of commentary. To many, the move represents the ultimate in dumbing down.

I can actually see both sides of the coin here. Like many old-skool writas, I'm often shocked by poor standards of literacy and tut-tut about anything that undermines standards. On the other hand, there's no doubt that these truncated forms of English are here to stay and play an important part in modern communication. So perhaps I ought to be giving the AQA exam innovation an enthusiastic smiley emoticon and multiple exclamation marks.

How the hell is it going to work in practice though? Exams are usually set by middle-aged people who know a lot about a particular subject. They are then taken by young urchins who don't know jack. If the exam is about SMS language, however, the people setting the questions are likely to be at a severe disadvantage. Their textbook texting will probably lag several years behind the word on the street. In fact, the examiner will start to look very much like your father on the day he decided to have a bop at the local discotheque.

There's another potential issue, which is to do with where we finally decide to draw a line in the sand. If Twitter or other similar microblogging platforms become ubiquitous over time, for instance, will we conclude that school pupils need to be tested on the relevant linguistic conventions?

"OK, class. We looked last time at the basic tweet. Today, I want to concentrate on how to RT and give props to the original poster."

It could never happen? I wouldn't be so sure. Who, ten years ago, would have predicted that text messaging would feature in exams? If you had suggested the idea, everyone would have been like lmao and wtf.

Songs of Praise

Mrs W told me this morning that she's often 'singing my praises'. Although I was delighted, I confessed to being a little surprised too. It's not something she's ever practised with me at home.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Now that's what I call bad luck

Mrs W and I were catching up with a BBC programme about the Berlin Wall last night.

One of the interviewees was a starry-eyed East German communist who escaped to the West with her son simply because she wanted to pursue a love affair with the boy's father, who lived on the other side of the divide. When she arrived in the land of milk and honey, it turned out that the bloke had another wife and family on the go over there.

This was a rather unfortunate turn of events.

The obvious thing was to head straight back to her ideological homeland in the East, but that would have involved a major stretch in a Stasi prison. Her son would have been dumped in a state-run home. So she stayed put. For 22 years.

I have to admit that I fell asleep towards the end of the programme, as I'd had a glass of medicinal vino, but the Mrs filled me in on the final twist. The displaced communist finally plucked up courage to pop back home, but by now it was the late 1980s and Glasnost was sweeping the Soviet Union. As soon as she arrived, the Wall came down.

That's timing for you, eh?

Just gone

There are few pleasures in life to compare with the feeling you get when you learn that an estate agent has just closed down.

There's one local to me that specialised in 'new build' properties - a rather problematic market over the past couple of years. For a long time, I puzzled over their slogan, which was 'Just Here'. While the writer presumably intended this line to stress the ties of the business to the local community, I always interpreted it as 'Just about surviving'.

Well, today, I discovered that Just Here has become Just Gone. In its place will be a brand, spanking new dental practice. And the news certainly put a smile on my face.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Buzz marketing at its best



If you haven't seen this ingenious piece of guerrilla activity, it's well worth a view. I suspect that animal rights activists may take a dim view. Along with hygiene freaks.

Smells like teen spirit

In a hotel the other day, I noticed that the milk substitute provided was called 'Tastes just like real milk' or something similiar. It seems this form of nomenclature has really taken off, inspired no doubt by the high-profile success of 'I can't believe it's not butter'.

It's difficult to imagine the concept extending beyond the realms of food though, isn't it? What if I were to package my copywriting services in a similar way? 'As good as real writing' doesn't have quite the same ring to it. Coming soon: 'I'm astonished he's not a proper dentist'.

It reminds me of that great copywriter's weasel word, 'style'. If you're selling a briefcase made of plastic, that's a genuine leather-style case. In fact, it looks and feels for all the world like authentic leather.

Friday, November 06, 2009

That warm feeling from Windows

I detest the current ad campaign for Windows 7. Posters on the tube show smug, self-satisfied and entirely unbelievable members of the general public explaining how the new software was their invention. They had a word with Microsoft and the computing giant listened.

One piece of copy reads:

I said 'you should improve security'. They improved security. Being the boss is great.

Alongside is a picture of a man in a state of blissful reverie. He looks as if his daughter has just graduated from college on the same day Arsenal signed his teenage son on a two-year contract. PC man stares wistfully into the distance, a contented smile on his face. His computer is more secure now than it was previously. And life has never felt better.

You'd just love him to wake up from his dream and discover he was still running Vista.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Rubbish is Portuguese-English translation in just one place: London Waterloo

I've heard of shampoo and conditioner...

...but the idea of combined shampoo and shower gel is an invention of budget hotels. It doesn't exist in the supermarket. Or in any place with more than three stars on the front door.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

What saccharine 70s hit proved too much even for me?

I was in the Lake District recently and the local radio station was doing one of its retro 'guess the year' hours. You'd think that the hit parade of a bygone era would be a good guide to the tastes and mood of a generation, but I soon realised that you could learn absolutely nothing from the eclectic mix of tunes. We went from Bryan Ferry to Wings, before arriving at 'Somebody to love' by Queen. At which point, things took a decided turn for the worse. The DJ introduced a track so awful that even I, with my well-known taste for kitsch, found myself recoiling. I won't spoil the surprise by naming it. Just sit yourself down comfortably and boot up Spotify.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Liquid clothing may soon be all the rage


I'd heard of ships in bottles and messages in bottles, but until recently the idea of gloves in bottles had never made it onto the Woodford radar. According to the flier, they are great for housework and DIY, but also a hit with medical and construction workers.

If you look closely at the copy, you'll see that Gloves In A Bottle is 'not just for hands'. It 'works on any skin'. This surely raises all kinds of exciting possibilities. Like shirts in a bottle. Or trousers, perhaps.

Get me some towels and hot water. And plenty of coffee.

Mrs W and I are partial to a bit of Lavazza and I recently bought a new cafetiere, which came in a pretty duck-egg blue. Within just a few uses, it was clear that coffee grind was getting caught between the glass beaker and the metal frame that surrounded it. Try as I might, I could not separate glass from metal and was worried that I was going to break the thing.

A quick web search for my exotic, continental "LaCafetiere" revealed that the company responsible was based in north Wales, not far from Prestatyn. I was immediately on the phone. And my high horse.

Amazingly, at the other end of the line was an American guy who took me seriously and talked me through the process of detaching my beaker for cleaning. The best way to imagine this conversation - which I played on speakerphone to Mrs W - is to think of an emergency services operator talking a terrified dad-to-be through the home delivery of his first child.

First of all, we needed to establish exactly which cafetiere I'd bought. This was done through a kind of flow-diagram elimination of different models. Would I say that the glass beaker extended to approximately two-thirds of the height of the total contraption? Could I see a slim vertical window extending down the side of the metal frame, allowing me to view the content of the pot?

Once we knew I had a Rainbow, he put me at my ease by telling me this was definitely one of the stiffest ranges and it could occasionally prove problematic. (In other words, I wasn't a few grinds short of an espresso and wasting his time with a damn fool question.) The solution involved a towel, co-ordinated thumb movements and a bit of patience.

Mrs W and her Lavazza are doing well.

Whatever you do, don't laugh...


It will be all white on the night... Capital Dental comes up trumps for patient Mark Jones

Sorry to share this picture with you on a family blog, but it's taken from a leaflet pushed through the door at Woodford Towers to promote the services of a company called Capital Dental. The cosmetic specialists in Hampton, Middlesex provide a case study of a lucky patient called Mark Jones. "I had always been concerned about the appearance of my teeth," he says in a piece of testimonial blurb. So concerned, in fact, that according to the copy, he never smiled.

What? Never?

Apparently so. "If something had really made me smile," Mark continues, "I always covered my mouth."

Friends, presumably, would have come to recognise this rather endearing - if idiosyncratic and self-conscious - habit. Let's hope he was never given any laughing gas at the dentist's. Anyway, a few porcelain veneers later, all is well.

"Just look at my before and after pictures," reflects Mark. "I am a new person, full of self confidence."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Just an observation...

The Cambridge Primary Review has recommended that kids shouldn't start any formal learning until they're six years old. Travelling on local bus routes in London, my concern is that they still haven't started at the age of 14.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Down with da yoof

If you want a tragic example of adults misjudging a message to young people, you'll find it right here: www.wandsworthclc.org/bestreetwize/index.htm

It's worth cringing your way through the whole thing.

From Walton with love...

These days, many of us are keen to reduce our air travel for ecological reasons and so-called 'staycations' are all the rage due to the recession. That's why it's good to know you don't have to travel far to get a taste of the exotic during the forthcoming festive season.

One ad in my local paper runs with the headline 'Bring the kids to the North Pole this Christmas' and tells me that I'll be 'magically transported' to Santa's home. The bargain price of £25 seems a little too good to be true. After all, it costs me £15 return to get into central London during rush hour and they're saying that I can get to Lapland and back for just a tenner more?

Closer inspection reveals the catch. Santa's temporary home is, in fact, the Hook Road Arena in Epsom. The good news is that I'm guaranteed a white Christmas, as well as lots of other authentic stuff that you'd normally only find in the Arctic. Like a funfair, snow tubing and a traditional European market.

As if this weren't exciting enough, another company has taken over Syon Park in Isleworth and invites me to 'tantalize' (sic) my senses in the 'vibrant and energetic city of Marrakech'. In an explosion of kitsch completely inappropriate to the genuinely historic setting, I am promised fountains, ornate bronze sculptures, scented oil lamps and - God help us - a 'twinkling starlit ceiling'. As you'd expect, visitors will be entertained by belly dancers, acrobats and fire jugglers. The Camel Rodeo and dodgems may, however, come as something of a surprise - particularly to those of you who've actually been to north Africa.

Morocco not to your taste? Then why not make your way to Walton-on-Thames in Surrey and take shelter in the Russian Forests? A Cossack encampment 'complete with snow-clad pine trees' is the setting for 007 themed parties. Sword dancers will duel while diners paying £34.50 + VAT join a company of Bond girls in a recreation of a Tsar's Palace.

There's definitely money to be made in all of this, so I'm laying some plans for next year. I have a feeling that Battersea Power Station might well be the right setting for my 'Mysteries of the Pharoahs Christmas Celebration'. Now, what kind of dodgems did the ancient Egyptians prefer?

www.northpoleuk.com
www.BestPartiesEver.com

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Oh, how we laughed...

One of the surprising things about classic British sitcom The Good Life is how the basic premise has stood the test of time. Tom jumps off the corporate treadmill and tries to create a little oasis of self-sufficiency in snooty Surbiton. He and his sexy wife, Barbara, battle against prejudice, lack of funds and the challenges thrown at them by Mother Nature, but they believe in a better way of life and are determined to succeed. In many respects, as we confront runaway climate change in 2009, the ideas of the scriptwriters seem remarkably prescient.

Incidental aspects of the show are rather more dated though. I caught five minutes of one episode recently, in which a telephone engineer was working in the Good household. Margo arrives to see him removing an old-fashioned handset and asks if he's from the GPO. 'No,' he replies. 'I'm an eccentric millionaire who receives so many calls that I have to carry a phone around with me!' Cue canned laughter.

In an ironic, 21st century twist, I have decided to post this blog from my iPhone. As an aspiring millionaire, I carry it around with me for show.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

All good gifts around us are sent from... Waitrose

Mrs W got a good snapshot of the modern-day harvest festival when she attended a local church service in our south-west London enclave. All the usual trappings were there - including the boxes of food assembled for distribution to the needy of the parish. Her feeling was that the recipients might struggle to identify many of the contents, however. In place of the traditional fare (tinned peaches, Green Giant and some Ambrosia creamed rice), the well-meaning Waitrose shoppers in the congregation had brought along exotic hand-woven pasta and Whole Earth baked beans.

I can just picture the bemused elderly couple opening their package.

'Stan, what's this?'

'I don't know love. But if the writing's foreign, best throw it in the bin.'

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Telling pork pies

I can't help having a sneaking admiration for Neil Stansfield. The bloke's starting a two-stretch for a fraud which has a chutzpah factor of 10.

His scam was to buy bog-standard food from Tesco, take it out of its wrapper and repackage it as 'Swaddles Organic'. It was then ready for resale by mail order or to upmarket retailers such as Fortnum & Mason at a premium price.

By the time the business had been going for five years, Stansfield was turning over £2.5m. If anyone doubts the power of branding, this tale should be a real wake-up call. If the grub comes out of a fancy wrapper and costs a packet, we quickly believe that it tastes superior to that stuff we buy down the road at the supermarket.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Room with a view



I stayed the other day at the MacDonald Hotel in Manchester. On arrival, the receptionist handed me a card which read: 'You have been upgraded. Please enjoy the view with our compliments...'

Excited, I headed for my posh room on the sixth floor and drew back the curtains. Above, you can see the moment recorded for posterity on my iPhone.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Just what the doctor ordered

The news that patients in England may soon be able to choose their own family doctor, regardless of location, is generally something to be applauded. But how many people would have chosen to travel to visit that nice Dr Shipman, I wonder? He had a marvellous bedside manner with the old folk.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I'm having a hygiene freak moment

As a parent, I'm often under great pressure from my kids to allow them to playwith animals. On holiday in Austria last year, they spent a lot of time in a small farmyard in the grounds of our hotel. There were rabbits, guinea pigs, horses and goats. The place stank to high heaven, but I comforted myself with the thought that the mini-Ws would be forced to wash their hands afterwards.

The recent outbreak of E.Coli at a farm in Surrey shows my optimism to be rather naive. Kids don't wash their hands. And when they do, the activity tends to be perfunctory. Rather than having signs advising cleanliness, we should have warnings that say 'look but don't touch'. After all, what's the point of binning your swine flu tissue if you're then going to cuddle a goat that's covered in its own poop?

Sunday, September 13, 2009



The social problems of north London... an RSPCA shopfront near Highgate tube.

The taste of pure pretention

Just looking at an excerpt in The Observer from food writer Nigel Slater's latest book. He talks about the lists he keeps in notebooks and the backs of envelopes. Some refer to 'books to read or read again', while others cover 'plants to secure for the garden'. One that he thankfully hasn't yet committed to paper is his list of favourite smells. This includes old books, a 'freshly snapped runner bean' and 'a fleeting whiff of white narcissi on a freezing winter's day'.

Personally, I couldn't read a page of this self-indulgent stuff without a fleeting whiff of one of my least favourite smells: the contents of my stomach freshly regurgitated into the nearest wastepaper basket.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Do they have a screw loose?

The Howard League for Penal Reform thinks that prison officers should have degrees. Criminology and sociology are believed to be suitable subjects.

As someone who actually has a sociology degree, I can tell the Howard League that it would be as much use in a prison as a GCSE in tourism. It's one thing to know something about the dynamics of incarceration and to be able to speculate on whether deviance is functional for society. It's quite another to face down some badass son-of-a-b***h on a landing when he's coming at you with a makeshift blade. No textbook will save you then. Unless you're using it as some kind of shield.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Excuse my healthy scepticism

I was approached recently by Professor Dame Sally C Davies and Professor Rory Collins, who wrote on behalf of the Department of Health to ask me to participate in a programme called UK Biobank. Their ambitious aim is to sign up half a million Brits aged between 40 and 69 and monitor their health over a number of years.

Creeping in at the very bottom of the age range, I perhaps have the most to gain from this long-term project, as potentially they'll be able to identify trends that will help in the fight against disabling and life-threatening illnesses. Nevertheless, I've told them to get lost.

They want three tablespoons of my blood, as well as saliva and urine, but that's not the only way in which they're taking the p**s. I'm expected to attend a two-hour appointment at a centre which is inaccessible by public transport from where I live. The idea is I then agree to wear a wrist monitor for a week and give permission for them to analyse my confidential medical records ad infinitum.

Do I benefit personally from this medical attention? The answer, astonishingly, is no. If they discovered from their tests that I had 24 hours to live, I'd be sent home none the wiser as they're concerned about causing me 'undue alarm'. All I get is my travel expenses and the satisfaction of knowing that I'm helping the advance of medical science.

A 'breach of confidentiality' is thankfully considered to be 'very low'. But information and samples will be made available to researchers who are working outside the UK and commercial interests involved in finding new treatments.

And while all of these issues cause me concern, there's something else nagging away at the back of mind. Although it's 20 years since I studied social research methods and I'm now old enough to be included on the Biobank invite list, my memory is sharp enough to realise that the sponsors will never achieve a representative sample of the population. Who, after all, will be prepared or able to give up two hours of their time for intrusive medical tests in an inconvenient location? The testing centre will be full of the idle rich, retired hypochondriacs and a handful of people looking to screw an extra few quid out of the travel expenses.

I'm interested in the statistical jiggery-pokery that will be needed to ensure the validity of the sampling. In fact, I feel a couple of Freedom of Information requests coming on.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Some good news from Afghanistan

The Afghan elections have attracted a lot of international media scrutiny. One of the bonuses for female observers is the re-emergence of former Foreign Minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah. Now one of the presidential candidates, he has aged a little and sports a grey beard. But as Mrs W observes, he's still so good looking, they named him twice.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pulling a fast one?

Apparently they're checking the gender of that South African athlete because of her astonishing recent performances.

Shouldn't they also do some tests on Usain Bolt? My theory is that he's a closet East German shotputter.

Proposal from widower to widow

I couldn't resist another quick snippet from Ronald Pelham's book of stock letters written in the late 1940s. Here's another common-or-garden situation. You're a widower and you want to acquire a second wife by post. She's a widow and thus in the market.

MY DEAR MRS. MARLOWE
Since my friendship with you and the great pleasure I have had in it, the loneliness of my life and the anticipation of an even more lonely future have seemed to me unendurable. That your life is a lonely and anxious one, too, I have guessed from the confidences with which you have honoured me.
Can we not help to brighten each other's lives and lighten each other's burdens?


I'll spare you the rest, as I'm sure you get the picture.

How many times, I wonder, was this letter sent in the post-war era with only a few modest adjustments? Like changing the lady's name at the top, perhaps?

Pelham is conscious of the fact that his readers may, in fact, include the female recipients. He therefore kindly offers them two possible reply routes. One heralds the ringing of church bells. The other tells the bloke where he can get off.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Two blasts from the past

It's always fun to flick through the ephemera of yesteryear. Two gems have come to my attention recently and I wanted to share them with WARTE readers.

I'm already tweeting 'How to be a good hostess' at www.twitter.com/spillershostess. It's a small, ring-bound book produced as a promotional vehicle for Spillers Flour in what I judge to be the tail-end of the 1950s. The foreword is by actress Anna Neagle , who praises the 'gay and lively' ideas contained in the publication and is full of advice for aspiring hostesses. 'Don't think that only a married woman, helped by her family, can earn a good-hostess reputation,' she writes. 'Bachelor girls can do wonderfully well at it too...'

The advice on teenage 'get-togethers' makes particularly interesting reading. Mum is supposed to take her daughter aside and tell her that she and Daddy will be out for the evening, but back at 11. 'See all the washing up's done and the place tidy...' The book's author says the kids can have the run of the place from 6pm. 'Best plan is to move out as much furniture as you can from the party room, to leave the biggest space for dancing. Move out chairs and tables too, for young people seem to prefer eating from their laps, sitting on the floor.'

If I've whetted your appetite, you need to head to Twitter for more, I'm afraid.

What I can promise here on WARTE is some regular updates from another intriguing publication: Ronald Pelham's 1949 classic 'How shall I word it?' The cover of this slim hardback features a troubled post-war housewife. Stuck at a table with pen in hand, she is poised to enter into correspondence, but inspiration seems to have deserted her. Perhaps her problem is that she's intending to write to nobility and is unfamiliar with the appropriate etiquette? Now, with the help of Pelham, she can confidently address the eldest son of an Earl ("My Lord...") or ask for advice from an Archdeacon ("Venerable Sir...")

Pelham is at his funniest with a selection of stock letters that are supposedly adaptable to all likely circumstances. I'll start you off with a segment entitled 'From a mother to her daughter's school-mistress, asking her to allow a pupil to visit her':

DEAR MISS SWANN,
Will you allow Gertrude Waring to come to us for her Christmas holidays? Muriel tells me that the child cannot go home as her parents are abroad, and she is most anxious to have her with us. I need hardly say that every care will be taken of her, and I think the bracing air here is sure to do her good.


I need hardly say that this was in the days before criminal record checks.

Who says copywriters are unnecessary?

I'm just contemplating one of the worst corporate straplines I've seen in a very long time. P&H Sweets sets our pulses racing with the slogan 'Always delivering retail snacking solutions'.

Let's be charitable and concede that they're targeting retailers with their message rather than consumers. Even so, their line fails on so many levels. Are they distinguishing themselves from rivals who only sometimes offer retail snacking solutions? Or those who offer a completely different kind of snacking solution? The non-retail kind that we'd never buy in a shop.

Let's be honest. Even the guys in my local Londis would be surprised to hear they were selling snacking solutions. They are likely to be under the common misapprehension that their shelves are full of sweets and chocolates.

It's one for tomorrow's copywriting course, that's for sure. Where I always deliver first-class corporate training solutions.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Swimming against the tide

The folks at Waitrose know how to rustle up a fancy sandwich. Take their limited edition Poached Salmon offering, for instance, complete with pea purée, mint and tartare sauce. Never has so much pretention found itself stuffed between two slices of bread.

But listen to the blurb on the packet. They get their salmon from 'the cold, clear waters around Scotland where fish can swim against the tide, becoming lean and full of flavour.' God forbid they'd select bland, flabby salmon that neglect nature's exercise regime in favour of an easy ride with the prevailing current.

I dread to think what other horse manure this over-excited copywriter is planning to write about alternative sandwiches in the range. But I never eat chicken unless I know the bird has a personal trainer and flaps at least three miles a day.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Cleaning up their act

The Iraqi government has recently announced that it intends to introduce a ban on smoking in public places. At last I'm able to give Baghdad serious consideration as a holiday destination.

Friday, August 07, 2009

An entertaining day out

Oxford University offers an interesting range of one-day courses, which seem to be open to the general public. For just £46, for instance, you might choose to sign up for a day school on 10th October, entitled 'Space, Time and the Universe'. Quite how accessible the event is, however, remains open to question.

The agenda provides a few clues.

10.00 am Special Relativity

11.15am General Relativity

1.00pm Space-time and black holes

2.15pm Space-time and the universe

Imagine the coffee breaks.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pity the fool

Amid the controversy over David Cameron's use of swearwords on the radio, you may have missed the revelation about his favourite character from the A-Team. The posh Tory leader apparently identifies most with Mr T.

And there was me thinking he modelled himself on the smooth-talking con artist, Face.

I can't get enough already

If you're looking for a pick-me-up, you could do worse than visit www.oldjewstellingjokes.com

Here's a sample of what you're in for...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Our swinest hour? Unfortunately not...

The British government is a great believer in straightforward questions and answers when it comes to swine flu. So here are a few of my own, based on empirical observations in a number of clinical settings. (As well as watching the telly and looking at Twitter.)

Q. Is it possible to distinguish between the symptoms of swine flu and any other kind of flu or nasty respiratory virus?

A. Not really. They can all give you a high temperature, a cough and some aches and pains. The only way of knowing whether someone's got swine flu is to take a swab and send it to a path lab.

Q. Are we therefore swabbing anyone we suspect of having swine flu?

A. No. That's too difficult, time-consuming and expensive. And it means that people who may be infected need to come to the surgery.

Q. So how do we know if someone has swine flu or not?

A. We don't. But if they tell us on the phone that they have a high temperature and a cough, we'll say it's likely they have it.

Q. And if it's likely they have swine flu, do they get the anti-viral drug Tamiflu?

A. It depends where they live. Some areas are handing it out liberally. Others are much more cautious.

Q. But shouldn't everyone have the same access to Tamiflu?

A. It probably doesn't make much difference, because the drug only shortens the duration of the illness by about a day and it takes at least a day of battling with the NHS bureaucracy to get hold of the pills. And the vast majority of people with swine flu get it in a mild form, so probably don't need anti-viral drugs.

Q. Isn't there a danger that the bug will become resistant to Tamiflu?

A. The World Health Organization is already monitoring instances of resistance around the world. But we continue to recommend it for anyone who phones up with a cough and a high temperature.

I'm sure this page will need updating. So check back regularly at Washed and Ready to Eat for the latest H1N1 news.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Everything's 4-star, except the hotel...

Earlier this year, budget hotel chain Premier Inn claimed in its UK newspaper advertisements that it offered "everything you'd expect from a 4* hotel".

Having worked in the ad industry, I know there's inevitably a certain amount of poetic licence in the promotion of products and services. Sometimes, however, boundaries get crossed. I protested to the Advertising Standards Authority about the misleading nature of the claim and was pleased to see this week that the watchdog ruled against the Whitbread-owned business, saying that the ads breached three sections of the relevant codes of practice.

As I frequently tell my students, however, the British regulatory system tends to be rather toothless. The ads won't appear again with the same form of words. But the campaign is now over and some months have elapsed since the original insertions. Is there any way we could create a system that works faster and carries more clout?

What colour is your breakfast?

Staying recently at the Hilton in Cardiff, I was a little bemused by the luxury chain's colour-coded breakfast guide.

In order that residents can watch what they eat, every item of food on the menu is given a badge reminiscent of the playing pieces in Trivial Pursuit. Low fat and low cholesterol foods are marked in subtle blues. High fibre is green. But what of the stuff that isn't so good for you? The traditional English fry-up, perhaps? Or the high-fat cheeses that sit on the continental counter?

Well, watch out for the red and yellow symbols. Although the colours spell danger, the names don't. Red stands for 'hi-energy'. According to the corporate blurb, it's just the kind of stuff you might need if you want to go on a day's sightseeing. If you're feeling particularly decadent, you can go the whole hog and follow the yellow 'indulgence' trail. This seems to give you carte blanche - or carte jaune, perhaps - to eat anything you want, although it's reassuring to know that the grub will always be of the 'freshest and finest quality'.

If you're confused, you should see the actual restaurant. It's possible for a particular food to be a combination of colours. Quite a few managed to be both 'hi-energy' and 'indulgence' at the same time. But I guess if you've given yourself permission to have a yellow day, it doesn't much matter that your breakfast items are also a high-calorie red.

The hospitality spin doctors have surely done a fine job here. But what would the hospital doctors make of it, I wonder? I’m trying to picture that conversation.

“So, Mr Woodford, these high energy foods you mentioned. What exactly are we talking about?"

"Oh, just the usual, Doc. Bacon, sausage, fried egg. That kind of thing. That's what makes this whole episode so strange. I've been very careful to avoid indulgence."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Does a strict recruitment policy add up?

The Telegraph reports that a small haberdashery chain in Eastern England rejects 90% of job applicants because they're unable to do simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

Presumably the remaining 10% are rejected for not knowing what haberdashery is.

I know my place

One of the mini-Ws has been studying advertising and persuasive writing at school and recently took in a jpeg of a slogan I wrote for a supermarket chain. It was proudly shown to the class of primary school kids, complete with explanation and rationale. A classmate then had a chance to do her own 'show and tell'. She opened up a box and produced a dead dragonfly.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Thoughts from Penny pretty worthless

Nicholas Penny, Director of London's National Gallery, has claimed that Trafalgar Square is being 'trashed' and has become 'bloody awful'. It seems the great unwashed are playing music, drinking, climbing on plinths and so on and this is upsetting the equilibrium in what he describes as his 'temple of art'.

It's this kind of elitist snobbery that drives countless people away from high culture. 20 years ago, the great British public rioted in that 'bloody awful' square to protest against a poll tax that penalised the poor. Sports fans gathered there more recently to hear the news that London was to host the 2012 Olympics. Lord Nelson gazes down on an iconic stage that has played a massive part in the vibrant culture and history of the capital. And I'm not sure he pays much attention to the prima donnas and intellectuals who snipe from the sidelines.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

We only bring you the very best in sustainable poison...



Lovely project from two students I taught at Kingston University. They've explored the idea of 'greenwashing' by creating eco-friendly packaging for products such as weedkiller and rat poison. The stuff looks so harmless, you could imagine sprinkling it on your cereal.

More information at http://eleanorsdesignbox.blogspot.com

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Jacko, eat your heart out...

The term ‘character’ is perhaps a little overused, but – believe me – Hugh Symons was a character. Not many people, after all, get to star in GQ magazine at the age of 80. And even fewer octogenarians are selected for inclusion because they happen still to be playing football.

Hughie died recently after a period in a major London teaching hospital. He had once been a consultant there, but unfortunately – as old age and memory loss took its toll – he wouldn’t have recalled the fact. And the staff who treated him were none the wiser either.

If we turned back the clock a few decades, however, Hughie was actually a rheumatology specialist and in charge of physical medicine. Leading football players of the day would come to him with their knocks and injuries, which would have put him into seventh heaven, as Hughie himself had been a very useful player in his time. He signed for Wimbledon in an age when they’d pay you a shilling and cover your bus fare if you turned up for training. In the end, the football became a hobby rather than a profession. But a very serious hobby that took up a whole load of free time.

My father played with Hughie in a Sunday side known as London Hospitals. Each year, this unlikely band of medics and a few of their relatives and friends secured a season’s worth of friendlies based largely on Hugh’s personal contacts and organisational skills. The games would lead them to places like Gunnersbury Park, where they’d take on the staff of the District Line. Any ball that didn’t end up in the net had to be rescued from nearby tracks by one of the players, who’d need to be careful to avoid the live rail.

As a teenager, I frequently substituted for regular team members who got lost en route or forgot to set their alarm clock of a Sunday morning. I remember attractive home games at Cobham on a ground which later became a training centre for Chelsea FC, as well as rather less attractive away games in the shadow of Wormwood Scrubs. These friendly fixtures would have a ref, but no linesmen to give any guidance on fouls and offsides. Brawls were not unknown.

At the heart of the action was Hughie, who at this point – in the early 1980s – would have been well into his sixties. He lacked pace, as you might expect, but was still skilful enough to make some telling passes and score the occasional goal.

Why on earth would a group of young men turn out on a Sunday to play football with a guy who was old enough to be their father? Quite simply, because he was a legend on this particular circuit. And without his contacts and constant phone calls, there wouldn’t have been any games. No one else could be bothered with the logistics and hard graft.

Every so often, you’d get a newspaper article or regional TV news item about Hughie, who was also known as ‘Tank’ because of his formidable presence on the pitch. The angle was always the same: an extraordinary old guy who still played football at a time in his life when you’d expect him to have hung up his boots and sat himself in an armchair with a copy of Saga Magazine. There was more to Hughie than the stories suggested though. Not just the medical career, but also a spell in the Middle East with the armed forces after the war, a keen interest in ornithology and a fascination with politics. Hughie had stood as a Liberal parliamentary candidate in the early 50s, but had more in common with the old-style leftists of the Labour Party such as Tony Benn than any modern-day Lib Dem like Vince Cable or Nick Clegg. He was happy to voice strong opinions on topical issues, particularly after a couple of glasses of medicinal white wine and maybe the occasional vodka chaser or two.

I feel we gave Hugh a decent send-off at the South London Crematorium in Streatham last week. Amid all the hullabaloo surrounding the death of Michael Jackson, it’s always good to remind ourselves that we don’t have to turn on the television or surf the web to find exceptional and inspirational characters. I trust a football is being gently knocked against the Pearly Gates as I write.

Where does it all end?

Casualty 1909 is an interesting idea. But there must surely be more mileage in this particular medical TV franchise. I'm thinking Casualty 1609, perhaps.

"Fear not, for our physic works! The yellow bile is much decreased."

"Ok, I'll let Charlie know before he finishes his shift..."

Signor Felicetti knows we all like a bit of rough

From a packet of Marks & Spencer pasta:

Authentic Italian pasta, made & air dried in the Italian Alps by the Felicetti family, using select Italian wheat & a bronze die for a rough texture that picks up every drop of sauce.

If only I could meet the Felicettis and shake every member of the family firmly by the hand. As the warm Alpine breeze gradually bronzed our faces the same colour as their renowned pasta die (sic), I would congratulate them heartily. Slapping old Alfredo Felicetti on the back and taking another quick sip from my Valpolicella, maybe I'd even propose a toast.

"You have solved one of the biggest culinary challenges ever encountered by man. For years, my enjoyment of pasta has been spoilt by its smooth and uniform texture. At the end of every meal, I would find sauce residue on my plate and ask myself why - with all the expertise and collective wisdom accumulated over generations by the Italian mountain men - has no one thought to produce some truly rough penne that mops up every single drop. You, Signor, and your beloved wife and daughters, have revolutionised pasta production in such a way that meal times will never be the same again. I salute you. And promise you a shelf in the Simply Food store at Marble Arch."

For more food blurb, follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/foodman

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

They all did very well

Another staff member from the Grace Bros department store has sadly rung up the till for the very last time. Veteran actress Mollie Sugden, who played the formidable Mrs Slocombe, will now be joining her younger colleague Miss Brahms at the ultimate bra and knicker counter in the sky.

It's a sad day for someone like me, who spent an innocent childhood in the 1970s waiting to hear the latest news about Mrs Slocombe's pussy. On the other hand, the show lives on and has been enjoyed by new generations of TV shoppers on both sides of the Atlantic.

One of the remarkable things about Are You Being Served? was that there were only three basic sets. The majority of the action took place on the shopfloor, which was ably policed by Frank Thornton's straight man, Captain Peacock. Important meetings were held in the office of 'old jug-ears', Mr Rumbold. Beyond that, we only really got to see the canteen, where the staff seemed to take a collective lunch break to scoff rissoles. What happened to sales during this period? Presumably the floor was closed to customers between 1 and 2 - an example of the quaint practices that made Grace Bros seem somewhat anachronistic even in the age of Barry Sheen and Harold Wilson.

Are any of the show's original cast still hanging in there? Trevor Bannister is unbelievably now in his early 70s and only a few years younger than Nicholas Smith, who played Mr Rumbold. I hope they both stick it out for a few years yet. As long as one or two of the store's staff are still able to measure an inside leg, there's an outside chance of Grace Bros once again opening its famous elevator doors.

They all did very well - the late Mollie Sugden included. And I am unanimous in that.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tip of the iceberg

Mrs W has brought back a lettuce from Waitrose which is still growing.

Where will it all end? Tomatoes on the vine? All seems very unnatural to me.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Don't mention the war

Basil Fawlty's famous advice to his hotel staff came to mind while reading the autobiography of actor Rodney Bewes. The Yorkshireman, who starred as one of the Geordie Likely Lads in the popular 60s/70s British sitcom, recalls a request from a local POW camp after World War II for his family to entertain a German prisoner at Christmas. His mum volunteered to take two of the Wehrmacht's finest, who turned out to be called Fritz and Kurt. Conversation proved a tad awkward as Grandad Bewes had lost part of his ankle in the Somme during the 1914-18 conflict. The actor makes the telling observation that there is no other country in the world that would have entertained the crazy 'host a POW for Xmas' idea. Only in Britain, eh?

Hey Jacko sweetheart get ur free overnight meds

The press is full of the bizarre cocktail of prescription drugs taken by tragic pop star Michael Jackson. Anti-depressants and painkillers such as Xanax, Paxil and Vicodin dominate the moonwalking pill-popper's list of meds. It seems to me fairly obvious what happened. Jacko was targeted relentlessly by spammers. 'Gee, Bubbles, those kind folks have sent me another email...'

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Making bed your final station stop

I was discussing with my old friend Hoffy (www.hofflimits.com) how the motion of a train makes both of us want to fall asleep. I don't mean that we sleep together. Hoffy lives in Essex and I frequent the slightly posher commuter routes into Waterloo. No, I'm talking about an independent desire on each of our parts to nod off on what the industry endearingly still describes as 'rolling stock'.

The Hoffmeister can't understand why he sometimes lies awake at home at midnight, unable to sleep, but finds it easy as pie to achieve blissful slumber on the 18.05 to Colchester. He wonders whether he should get a bed which simulates the movement of a train carriage.

It's an interesting idea. I'm sure there's a market for such a device in those supplements that also advertise the beds that tilt you up and down. I'd go further though. First of all, Hoffy needs to delay his departure to bed by approximately 20 mins for no good reason. He then needs to cram himself in with his Mrs on one side and a couple of strangers on the other.

Once settled, he could press a button for a prerecorded announcement. 'This bed is now open for the sale of teas, coffees, freshly made sandwiches and other light refreshments.'

Blocking the toilet before bed and leaving the bathroom door open would, however, be taking things too far.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

It's time for a man-to-man chat

Until a visit to my local pharmacy yesterday, I'd never heard of the Men's Health Forum. It's a registered charity that seems to be working alongside the NHS to issue a number of challenges to British blokes. Ten challenges, to be precise.

I've picked up a leaflet and a handy pocket-sized card that I guess I'm supposed to carry around with me. It warns me that one man under 75 dies every five minutes and is full of matey, patronising advice on how I can avoid a similar fate.

Among the pearls of wisdom is the notion that I should eat more fruit and veg. Not only does this reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, but it helps 'keep you regular'. Keep me regular? If I want that kind of advice, I can go to my mum, thanks very much.

"Chlamydia isn't a Greek island," continues the wag responsible for drafting the copy, as he 'challenges' me to a check-up. As soon as I've sorted out my constipation, I need to get myself down the clap clinic.

The whole approach is starting to make me a little angry, but I shouldn't forget about Challenge Number 5. "Stressed out? Walk away from tense situations before you blow up."

What kind of bulls**t advice is this? Most stress comes from personal and work relationships that we're often unable to walk away from. That's why they're stressful in the first place. (There's also, incidentally, some good scientific evidence that it's better to express your emotions rather than bottle them up, but that's a whole other discussion.)

And so it goes on. "Get your blood pressure checked in the next two weeks... show a doctor that thing on your body that's bothering you... if you get a backache, don't let it become a pain in the arse..."

One thing's for sure. There's only one pain in the arse here. And that's the idiot who's commissioned this confused, nannyish load of gobbledegook in the first place. My challenge to them is to look in the mirror and see if they are showing any signs of wasting taxpayers' money. There are no symptoms in the early stages, but it can become quite a serious problem in the longer term.

Monday, June 22, 2009

After 30 years, it's time to call in the binmen...

If there's one thing guaranteed to stand the test of time, it's surely academic research and theorising. Fashions may change and Twitter may replace the telly, but the published thoughts of learned professors are there as a matter of permanent record.

Or are they?

Each Monday evening, I teach a class for Birkbeck College at the London School of Economics. I've been allocated a teaching room on the Accountancy floor and sitting in the corridor is a big box of books.

I haven't had time for a real rummage, but the kind of titles we're talking about include the 1979 proceedings of the University of Alabama's Accountancy Research Convocation. No doubt the controversial papers caused quite a stir at the time. Today, they sit underneath a Post-it note which simply reads: 'Rubbish. Please remove.'

Did it really have to end like this? Haven't the LSE academics considered eBay?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Interesting marketing ploy

A local plumber has put a leaflet through my door which highlights his key selling points. Alongside his promise of free estimates and 'prompt, courteous service', he tells me that he holds £2m in public liability insurance. Is this supposed to give me peace of mind? Just how much damage can one plumber do?

On second thoughts, he is English. So perhaps it's better to be safe than sorry.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A gag worth conserving

A nice neighbour of ours produced some homemade 'Obamalade' earlier this year to commemorate the inauguration of south-west London's favourite ever US President. It was very tasty, but I feel we need a bit more political balance. I'm considering putting a note through the door requesting some Ahmadinejam.

A gift for teachers

Explaining the concept of irony must be quite difficult for school teachers. Once in a while, however, an example comes along that will provide years of service in class.

Conservative Shadow Chancellor George Osborne was revealed yesterday to have charged the British public £47 for DVDs of one his own speeches. The title of his historic oration? Value For Taxpayers' Money.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

When advertising goes wrong

There is surely no business more confused about its advertising messages than Britain's favourite price comparison website, confused.com. One of their current posters on the tube in London captures the supposed views of a happy customer with the following quote: 'I couldn't believe the choice. There's loads of big brands.'

I've personally never felt quite that committed and enthusiastic about the process of purchasing insurance products, but maybe I'm in a minority. Perhaps millions of people have a little extra spring in their step because they've managed to trouser a couple of quid comparing Admiral with Direct Line. It's the substance of the message rather than the general tone that I find hopelessly misguided though.

The idea of confused.com is that we're all confused, right? We're sick of the bewildering choices we're forced to make. And we're cynical about the claims of all the big brands. We therefore head for a comparison site that makes the choices for us and judges products purely on value rather than the marketing or branding budget that's been thrown at them.

Why would anyone who visited confused.com be pleased by the level of 'choice'? And why would they celebrate the presence of the big brands, whose dominance of the marketplace is one of the main reasons for the emergence of the price comparison sites in the first place?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

They're no longer obeying orders

The General responsible for inspecting the German Army has concluded that the country's soldiers are ill-disciplined, lack responsibility and are reluctant to serve their country. If only it had been that way in 1939, eh?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

TV just continues to improve

News of two great new telly shows reached me last week, courtesy of SRO Audiences.

The first programme stars the ever-popular (sic) Gloria Hunniford, who has been charged with investigating the power of angels in our lives.

I'll let SRO take up the story:

The series uses dramatic reconstructions to tell stories of real life angelic experiences; each is uplifting and inspiring acting as the perfect tonic for today’s turbulent times. A panel of experts, including angel expert Glennyce Eckersley, discuss the evidence in a bid to discover if there really are ‘Angels All Around Us’.

How exactly does a person become an 'angel expert', do you think? Is it just through the sheer quantity of angels they've encountered over the years?

I'd like to be able to explain the second show to you, but the blurb has left me none the wiser. In a nutshell, Knowitalls is a quiz without questions, presented by Giles Brandreth.

A quiz without questions?

SRO are quick to explain. It's apparently "where the players (sic) breadth of knowledge is tested to the limit because for the first time, 2 teams of 3 are battling it out to impress real experts on their specialist subjects."

Could one of these real experts be an angel expert, I wonder? If so, I bet they'd be hard to impress.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Wakey wakey

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania claim that watching TV before bed leads to poor sleep. One of their suggested reasons is that the telly is replacing the vigorous exercise that might tire us out.

Leaving aside the bizarre idea that people would be exercising late at night if they weren't monitoring Big Brother, the theory has another big hole in it. A couple of days ago, researchers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington DC reported that exercise doesn't, in fact, tire us out. It actually keeps us awake.

I would put the two groups of boffins in touch with each other, but I'm feeling a little sleepy at the moment. Another day.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

British journalism at its best

How about this for a tasteless intro from Daily Mail hack David Gardner?

'For years, he starred on TV as Lieutenant Colombo, the shabby detective whose apparent absent-mindedness hid a razor-sharp brain. But now Peter Falk can no longer remember his most popular role.'

While the fact that the veteran actor has Alzheimer's is a legitimate story, I can't help feeling the connection back to his character's ostensible memory loss is taking the p**s.
Daily Mail columnist Allison Pearson claims that she is rarely moved to throw her copy of the paper across the kitchen, but that she was driven to this uncivilised act recently by a story of a mother who had given birth at the age of 66. While not having a particularly strong opinion about the aged mum, I can empathise with the desire to hurl a copy of the Mail across the room. It's a reaction produced by the masthead rather than any individual headline.

New threat

Never mind the swine flu. What about this Tamiflu that everyone's talking about? In some of the schools they've closed, it seems that all the pupils have got it.

Enough crisp gags already

As a copywriter, I always have a pun in my pocket, although it doesn't necessarily mean that people are pleased to see me. In the workshops I run, I always stress that plays on words can be great for getting an idea across, but shouldn't be a substitute for an idea.

Walkers - the giant crisp brand, fronted by former England footballer Gary Lineker - is currently promoting a 'limited edition' multipack. It allows me to collect points which will provide me with 'fantastic savings' on attractions such as top sporting events and music festivals. In honour of these savings, the flavours have been renamed as follows: Sour Cream & Drive (with an accompanying photo of a golf ball); Roast Beef & Horseracing (picture of a jockey) and Mango-karting Chutney (snap of a mini race track).

This stuff is so desperate that I am inclined to join in the fun.

Another golf flavour would be Tees & Onion, perhaps. Or maybe Worcester Course. And for the music festivals, how about Prawn Rocktail?

Ok. There's an element of sour grapes here. I was promised a party pack for suggesting the duck and plum sauce flavour in their competition last year, but nothing ever arrived. Or should that be duck and scrum?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The new world of instant justice

I just love the idea of the new 'cyber courts' that are being piloted in the UK. People arrested in shopping malls will receive instant justice through video links to magistrates. The saving to the taxpayer is predicted to be a whopping £10m a year - enough to cover the expenses claims of at least a few of our underpaid MPs.

But why not go the whole hog? If justice were dispensed on the microblogging site Twitter, I'm sure the savings would become even more significant. Prosecution case in 140 characters. Defence in 140 characters. Judgement in a one-word tweet: #guilty or #notguilty. It's an idea that @jackstraw needs to consider seriously.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sorry, Archbishop, you're wrong on this one...

Proving once again just how in touch with public opinion he is, the Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday warned against the 'systematic humiliation' of MPs.

His line seems to be that after the recent expenses revelations, we've kind of got the point. No need to carry on beating MPs over the head, because if we do, democracy will suffer.

What a load of old cobblers.

Every individual elector has the right to know whether his or her own MP has put in claims for moats, duck houses, bookshelves etc or 'flipped' their primary residence to claim excessive expenses. The Telegraph's coverage is not merely an exercise in establishing the general principle of greed and dubious moral standards. It is a chance to hold elected representatives to account for their dodgy decisions and ethics.

I'm no theologian, but I would have thought that Christianity was quite strong on the idea of people taking responsibility for their actions. And if, as a result the revelations, democracy emerges tarnished in the eyes of the public, so be it. The anger that people feel will hopefully be translated into radical reform.

A comedy moment in real life

Sitting in the hairdressing salon yesterday, I found myself staring at a reflection of myself. From the waist up, everything was much as I expected. From the waist down, things were a little disconcerting. It took me a few seconds to work out that the part of the mirror which stretched upwards from the floor was, in fact, an open space. And through this gap, I was actually viewing someone else's legs.

It was much like one of those flip-over books for kids, where you mix and match the top half of one character with the bottom half of another.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Just how influential can a dentist be?

According to the latest revelations in The Telegraph, Tory MP Sir Paul Beresford is distracted three days a week from his parliamentary duties by the call of dentistry. The former leader of the flagship Thatcherite council in Wandsworth, south London, is of course devoted to his constituents. But he's equally devoted to his patients and seemingly can't choose between them. Service to the Crown doesn't get in the way of servicing crowns.

The paper reports that Sir Paul was named last year as the 34th most "influential" dentist in the UK. Which does beg the question: who are the 33 dentists who've forced their way above him in the list? Are they also knights and parliamentarians, do you think?

One thing's for sure. With The Telegraph, we don't just get the truth exposed. We get the tooth as well.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sweetfire® Baby Beetroot

"Grown in dark, rich fertile soils and harvested early for size and sweetness. We hand select and infuse with Sweetfire® Marinade for a lightly spiced flavour."

More to follow at www.twitter.com/foodman

Monday, May 11, 2009

Appghanistan

The Daily Telegraph reports that the US military is making use of iPhones in Afghanistan , much to the envy of the British fighting forces. Capable of holding thousands of tasty apps, the designer eau de cologne can apparently figure out the direction that snipers are firing from and also help to translate conversation with local tribesmen.

It occurs to me that there are numerous other potential uses of the technology. Imagine, for instance, that you hear a tune playing on a radio on the outskirts of Kabul. Sounds familiar, but you can't quite place it. With a wave of your hand, you can Shazam the details back to some server in Santa Barbara and produce an instant tag.

Bored on a long patrol? Answer the question "What are you doing?" via Twitterrific. #usmarinecorps #hellinhelmand RT @dogtag2301 sure cant wait to get out of this f***in warzone.

And if you wanted to know whether the Bakerloo Line was running to time in London, the information would be right at your fingertips courtesy of TubeStatus.

I think it's only fair that some of the military use has an eventual knock-on effect for civilians. I'm looking out on the app store for programs that disarm improvised explosive devices and administer electric shocks to prisoners.

Thursday, May 07, 2009



Government warning: this filthy swine would get short shrift in my lift.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The best in period drama. Period.

The award-winning drama Mad Men, set in a New York ad agency in the early 1960s, is great on social history. There's been plenty of commentary about the role of women in the office, the obsessive smoking and boozing of nearly all the characters and the beautiful period costumes and furnishings. For me, though, it's the incidental asides that are the most shocking.

I think I may have blogged before about a scene in which creative director Don Draper takes his family on a picnic. He and wife Betty think nothing of abandoning all their rubbish on the ground. After all, America's a big country, eh? If people don't like the litter, they can go picnic somewhere else.

In another episode from Season 2, which I've just watched on the BBC iPlayer, account man Pete Campbell returns from a convention in Los Angeles and tells colleagues about his experiences. There's this very odd moment in which you realise they're talking about the west coast of America as if it's a foreign country. It's much more than straightforward east-west cultural differences. It's a reflection of the fact that, by and large, people were not making three-hour plane trips across the States at the time. No one else had been there.

Ageing art man Salvatore said that he'd like to meet the people for himself. Pete admitted he was glad to be home. I guess NYC must have seemed kind of reassuring.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

You said it

I love the search terms that lead people to the pages of Washed and Ready to Eat. So much, in fact, that I've turned them into poetry. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Touch of the flu

Good news that Britain's first suspected pig flu case turned out to be a false alarm. Most probably the bloke was told to go home, take plenty of fluids and pop a couple of paracetamol. Unless, of course, he waited a few hours to be triaged and decided to give up before anyone actually saw him.

Friday, April 24, 2009

You're 'avin a giraffe

More scary than the deepening recession and the threat of pandemic pig flu from Mexico is the news that councillors in Essex are setting up their own bank. I'm sure it's a good thing in principle for people to have access to loans that are unavailable elsewhere during the credit crunch. But the Bank of Essex? Do me a favour, me old son. The brand lacks a little of the gravitas and stability that I'm seeking in the current climate.

I can picture the Romford branch in my mind already. 'You want a loan, Mr Woodford? Got a geezer out the back who'll see you right. Only you don't want to miss any of them payments if you know what I mean. We had a customer last week who took liberties. He went for a little ride on the roller coaster at Clacton. Anyway, while your 'ere, I couldn't interest you in a Rolex, could I?'

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

On our Jack

There's only a small and exclusive band of people who've had their names adopted as cockney rhyming slang. Former trade union leader Jack Jones, who died yesterday at the age of 96, was a member of this elite group.

Now that he's gone, we're truly on our Jack Jones.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Green shoots

Once in a while, I allow Washed and Ready to Eat a serious moment. Regular fans needn't worry. The usual rubbish will resume shortly.

It just seems to me that there's a desperate attempt to talk up the UK housing market right now. A few spurious figures showing an upward blip and some quite serious people appear on the TV telling us that the market has "bottomed out". I'm not so convinced. If you take a look at the graph from the last major recession in the early 90s, there were a number of little upward spikes during the long downward cycle. In other words, a couple of Halifax surveys don't make a summer.

Of course, mortgage finance is becoming more available again and this helps fuel speculation over the 'green shoots'. But we are also in a severe recession, which was precipitated by the credit crunch but exists independently from it. And house prices don't rise in a recession.

Over the next year, unemployment figures will continue to climb - possibly breaking through the three million barrier. As people become unemployed, they will lack the finance and the confidence to commit to new properties. Some will default on the mortgage payments for their existing homes. As a result, the number of repossessions will continue to rise, despite various attempts by the government to provide homeowners with some protection.

If there's an economist out there who can explain to me how prices can go up - or even stabilise - in a climate like this, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the Comments page. As things stand, I see a lot of desperate estate agents clutching at rather large straws. And politicians who want to tell you that an upturn in the housing market is the precursor of an upturn in the general economy. The reality, of course, is completely the other way about.

Monday, April 20, 2009

How busy is busy?

Passing a phone box in Aldwych this evening, I saw a card advertising the services of a 'busy blonde student'. I think the writer probably meant busty. Unless, of course, the word 'busy' is supposed to have positive connotations for the target audience. The lady concerned is busy because she is much in demand, perhaps? My immediate reaction was that she'd be too busy to fit in any other than her regular customers. Or maybe busy with her studies, bless her. Exam season is coming up, after all.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Snap decision

An Austrian wrote to The Guardian today saying that he was forced by police officers to delete pictures of double decker buses on a recent visit to London. Leaving aside the absurdity of this action and the implications for civil liberties, things don't bode well for train spotters, do they?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Are you sitting comfortably?

One of the mini-Ws was looking at a tribute to two loving pensioners on a park bench. 'Did they die here?' she asked.

This conjured up images of elderly people wandering the streets until they found a seat without an existing commemorative plaque. Having located one, they could sit down and wait for nature to take its course.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A weight off our minds

Rowlands Pharmacy have been sponsoring a meal replacement programme called 'Celebrity Slim'. It seems to be the kind of thing where you lose weight by abandoning regular meals in favour of sachets.

On the tube, they advertise the success of the product by telling us the total collective weight loss of all the participants. Eight tons to date. That's a lot of weight evaporating in one go.

It got me thinking that if enough people joined the programme, maybe we could counter global warming by raising the UK another couple of inches above sea level.

Which benefit, I wonder?

A lady from the National Association of Pension Funds tonight said on the BBC News that pensions were the second most popular employee benefit after salaries.

I've always thought salaries to be a very over-rated benefit. In the days before I was self-employed, I always waived my right to a regular wage in favour of gym membership and luncheon vouchers.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Harsh, but fair...

If you haven't read it, I highly recommend Stephen King's book on writing, which in Ronseal fashion is called On Writing. Penned when the horror writer was recovering from a serious accident, it contains a lot of sound advice and some amusing autobiographical stuff too. Rather shamefully, I've only just read it myself, even though it was published at the turn of the century and has been on my radar for a long time.

King is particularly brutal when describing the kind of love-in that tends to happen in writing classes for budding novelists. 'Babbling idiots' explain how much they like their classmates' work, although they often can't articulate their feelings and are - according to the author - 'maddeningly vague'.

King's take on all this well-meaning waffle? He says that if you're studying writing and you have a feeling you can't describe, "you might just be, I don't know, kind of like, my sense of it is, maybe in the wrong f***ing class." Ouch.

While academic research shouldn't be sneezed at...

... I can't help feeling a little dubious about suggestions that sex is a cure for hayfever. If this were true, surely we'd see a huge increase in hayfever symptoms after people got married?

Friday, April 03, 2009

Forget banana skins



You're in grape peril: supermarket Waitrose warns of the dangers posed by fruit.

Am I being slow?

This is a family blog, so if anyone under the age of 25 is reading, please switch to another website now.

I couldn't help but notice an ad on the tube in London for a product called Stud 100. This 'desensitizing' spray is designed to give men 'enhanced performance at the touch of a button'. When you're desensitized, you see, you're unlikely to be premature. A quick spray and - hey presto - a problem which I understand plagues some other unfortunate blokes is solved instantaneously.

The spray is also designed for people who have a problem with 'over-rapid' performance. This confused me a bit more. I've heard of premature, but over-rapid? This sounds positively dangerous. And exactly how rapid is over-rapid? My worry would be that you wouldn't have time to get the spray out.

Virtual vows

A friend on Facebook has updated his status to say that he is attending a virtual wedding today. Is this a case of "...for Gawd's sake get me to the website on time"?

Monday, March 30, 2009

The sky's the limit as Washed and Ready to Eat makes aviation history

Having spent 40 years on this planet with a relatively modest carbon footprint from flying, I never imagined that I would be a part of a landmark event in aviation. But on Sunday night, returning from Milan Malpensa (MXP) to London Heathrow (LHR), I unwittingly became involved in a milestone flight of such significance that I was awarded a free gift. Let me tell you more.

LH1880 was the inaugural flight (or the ‘volo inaugurale’ to quote my memento) of Lufthansa’s service from the fashion capital of southern Europe to the fashion capital of the north. Passenger numbers for this special occasion were, if I’m honest, a tad disappointing. On a plane that could easily hold 150 people, we struggled to break into double figures. In fact, I think there were probably only two travellers for every one crew member. Nevertheless, it was a jolly affair and I was handed a key ring by an excited Italian steward to commemorate the occasion.

The German carrier has a real identity and branding crisis at the moment. On the one hand, they are Lufthansa, a member of some sinister sounding organisation called the Star Alliance, which I think may be fighting the One World Alliance connected with British Airways. On the other, they are Lufthansa Italia when they fly from Milan. Except that… er… the service is actually provided by bmi, the British airline that Lufthansa bought out a few months ago. Confused? Well, imagine sitting on a bmi plane with seatbacks showing the Italian flag and then being served Italian food in Lufthansa packaging. This is the branding equivalent of both engines failing at the same time.

I was asked whether I’d mind sitting by the emergency exit. When I agreed, I was handed some card that told me I was responsible for removing it in the event of disaster. The instructions explained that the door was unhinged and very heavy. Nevertheless, I needed to catch it as it fell towards me and then throw it out of the plane before climbing onto the wing. All I can say is you wouldn’t want anyone unhinged sitting next to this unhinged door. Otherwise it could be laters for all concerned.

My English coffee drinking quirks exposed

While eating at a Milanese osteria on Sunday with Italian clients, I politely declined a lunchtime liqueur to wash down my risotto. I pointed out that I needed to work in the afternoon and the consumption of alcohol tended to affect my performance in a somewhat adverse way. (My performance is always adversely affected when I’m snoring loudly.)

It was at this point that I committed a bit of a faux pas. I suggested that I might have a cappuccino.

Apparently, this is a complete no-no after lunch in Italia. The milky coffees are for breakfast time. Cue much embarrassment on Philippo’s part. It’s one thing they didn’t teach me in the HSBC advertising campaigns, but hey, you live and learn.

In Spain, it’s the opposite, if I remember right. My old friend Tony who used to live out there said that breakfast was usually a double espresso with a Cognac chaser. But, come to think of it, that might just have been Tony.

Passports, brothels etc

Just spent a very enjoyable few days working in Milan with some lovely people. One question puzzles me though. Why exactly do hotels in continental Europe still ask you to surrender your passport at reception? It was only for five minutes or so, but it's still a little disconcerting. In the UK, they'd be more interested in seeing your Mastercard.

20 years ago, I seem to remember that French and Italian hotels held on to your passport for the duration of your stay and you had to rely on trust that you weren’t entering a brothel where you’d be expected to earn your document’s return.

On one occasion in Vienna, I have a feeling I did enter a brothel, which could explain why my memory of the next few years is a bit hazy.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Now you can listen to your favourite blog too...

Audio blogging has arrived at Washed and Ready to Eat. Find out more by listening to this mp3.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tales from the NHS frontline

Let's name and shame. We're talking here about St Helier Hospital in south London - an eyesore of a building and a place you certainly wouldn't want to go if you had a sore eye.

My father-in-law was there this week for a painful procedure on a tear duct, which is done under local anaesthetic. His situation is complicated by the fact that he's profoundly deaf and has a cochlear implant -a kind of bionic ear that costs twenty or thirty grand to purchase and fit. It's sensitive equipment which can be easily upset by the use of certain surgical implements.

Dad-in-law arrives on the operating table and asks the surgeon whether he's read any of the blurb that's been supplied about the rather expensive cochlear device. It turns out he hasn't, so he disappears for a few minutes, leaving his patient somewhat bewildered and annoyed. On his return, the doc says he can't foresee any particular problems but it's agreed that it's probably best to cover up the implant with a bandage.

At the end of the op, a nurse comes along and removes the bandage and chucks it in the surgical waste. Suddenly my father-in-law's world goes eerily quiet and there's a realisation that this medical professional has just thrown the equivalent of her annual salary in the bin along with a load of swabs and assorted detritus. If I'm being completely fair, I suppose that most of the money is actually related to the electrodes implanted inside the head. But she has managed to chuck away the part which allows that technology to work. There follows a lot of rummaging. One cochlear receiver is retrieved and handed directly back to the patient. It's not even given a clean, although the hospital's PR machine is keen to trumpet its success at cutting MRSA and prioritising infection control.

Believe me, I am not someone who believes in bashing the NHS. I have an excellent local surgery in south-west London, where the standard of care and professionalism is first-class. But I do believe in speaking out when something's not right. Particularly when elderly or disabled people are involved, along with a big wedge of taxpayers' money.

My only previous experience of St Helier was taking my younger daughter there a couple of years ago with painful foot after some amateur dance show at my in-laws' house. The casualty doctors said she'd broken a bone and plastered her up. Two days later, we saw a specialist who said the cast could come off because there was actually no break shown on the x-ray at all.

Doctors in A&E who are plastering unbroken legs? If I exhibited a similar level of incompetence in my own world of self-employment, I wouldn't get any work. My clients would go elsewhere. This is a luxury that many clients of the NHS unfortunately don't have.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My thoughts on Twitter (in slightly more than 140 characters)

Let's get the confessions out of the way first. I am on Twitter. I've even started posting tweets from my iPhone via an application called Twitterific. Sad bastard, aren't I?

If it gives me one ounce of extra street cred, I did become one of the twitterati before the microblogging site became the talk of all the magazines and chat shows. But I have to be honest. My tweets were limited. The strange thing about things like Twitter and Facebook is that there's no actual point in posting anything until they reach a critical mass of some kind. And by the time they reach that critical mass and everyone's talking about them, they're no longer cool and you look as if you're jumping on a cyber bandwagon.

One of the things that really distinguishes Twitter is the number of celebrities who choose to hang out there. Readers who remember the turn-of-the-century John Sessions comedy Stella Street will be able to see close parallels. The TV show was set in a mythical avenue in Surbiton - the heart of London suburbia. Unlikely slebs such as Mick Jagger and Jack Nicholson rubbed shoulders at the local corner store, while bumping into even more unlikely ones including football pundit Jimmy Hill and DJ Tony Blackburn.

On Twitter, I can follow the latest thoughts of actress Demi Moore and country music legend Willie Nelson. But news from the bloke who plays Ian Beale on Eastenders is never far behind. The other day, he informed us that he was off on the school run. Twenty years in Britain's top soap and the geezer still don't have a nanny.

Believe it or not, one of the most tweet-happy, up-for-it microbloggers is none other than former TV heartthrob Philip Schofield. The silvertopped ladies' man is posting left, right and centre. How exactly does he have the time, when he's joint host of a daytime TV show? The answer is that he actually tweets during the show itself. Like half the British population, he's posting and social networking when he should be working.

Rest assured that I'll keep WARTE readers fully up to date with the latest goings-on in the twitterverse. This will save you from having to go there yourselves.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Gentlemen, we have a slight problem...

Interesting online recruitment advertisement for Scandinavian e-casino Mr Green: http://jobs.mrgreen.com/uk.html Gentleman wanted, although ladies are welcome to apply. Must be over 25. No jeans, no trainers?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A couple of these signs have been placed on retail outlets in the Bentalls centre in Kingston, south-west London.

There are two ways of reading them.

The first is that units are ceasing to trade for health and safety reasons. An outbreak of Ebola, perhaps? Or liquid asbestos dripping from the ceiling.

The second is that the posting of mail contravenes health and safety regulations. Although this seems the more likely of the two explanations, I find myself at a loss when it comes to suggesting the potential danger. All ideas welcome via the comment button.

My inner chav never came out

I'm sorry I missed Chav Night on 25th February at McClusky's . The worst-dressed person at the nightclub in Kingston-upon-Thames won a £100 bar tab.

I've also missed Cops & Robbers. But Army Night sounds like fun.

I'm hooked

This is the kind of post I could put in a Twitter tweet. The iPhone 3G is quite simply one of the sexiest products I've ever had the pleasure of owning. Nuff said. End of.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Democratic overload

I'm all in favour of democracy, but isn't this Safer Neighbourhoods campaign taking things to extremes? We're encouraged to text our views on priorities for local policing and are given a choice of potential problems to tackle. Do we live in fear of "The Groups", for instance? Is "The Dark Alley" top of our list? Or should we worry more about "The Journey"?

I can't help feeling that this exercise is a little bit of a gimmick. What if I'm frightened of the groups who hide in dark alleys on my journey home? I'd have to vote three times at great personal expense. And all my votes would cancel each other out.