Thursday, February 26, 2009

Another star of Grace Bros finally free

As regular readers know, I only do obituaries in exceptional circumstances. Like many people, I watched Wendy Richard play Pauline Fowler in Eastenders - particularly in the early days, when I was more of an avid fan of the schmaltzy London soap. If I'm honest though, my fondest memories are of her role in one of Britain's greatest 70s sitcoms, Are you being served?

Her character Miss Brahms was the cockney eye candy of Grace Brothers, who fell under the watchful eye of Mrs Slocombe on the ladies' counter. If knickers were down in a sale, you could rely on these two ladies to bring it to the attention of any passing customer.

In a sad twist of fate, the actress Mollie Sugden - who's now approaching 87 - has managed to outlive her glamorous junior assistant. It seems somehow unfair, but then retail has always been a tough old business. As Wendy wends her way to the very top floor of the celestial department store, she and John Inman will no doubt recall the immortal words of Young Mr Grace: "I think you've all done very well!"

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Does Facebook rot our brain?

If Oxford neuroscientist Baroness Greenfield is to be believed, social networking sites such as Facebook and Bebo are causing long-term health and social problems. According to recent press reports, she believes that they're particularly bad news for young kids whose online experiences "are devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance."

This statement strikes me as absolutely ludicrous. Has it escaped the media boffin's attention that the vast majority of our experiences in life are also devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance? We go to the park. We fill out a form. We chat idly with the person opposite us in an office. If I were looking for a cohesive narrative, I'd pop down to Waterstone's. I don't expect to get such an experience from a social network any more than I would from the purchase of a train ticket.

Some of her other observations border on the plain weird.

She's worried, for instance, that social networks make it harder for us to adapt to real-life situations which are supposedly more 'perilous' and involve our sniffing out the pheromones of the people we encounter. I think this is an objection that will soon be overcome by interactive scratch-and-sniff technology. Twitter today, Sniffer tomorrow.

In the future, she argues, we may become alienated from everyday conversation and interaction with other people in much the same way that we've become divorced from the process of butchering meat. Mmm. You frequently hear people say that they regret their lack of involvement with the abbatoir, don't you?

On balance, if I had to put money on the table, I'd say that social networks won't lead to the end of civilisation as we know it. After all, radio didn't. TV didn't. The Internet didn't. Human beings are rather adaptable creatures, by and large. But perhaps this isn't something that's taught in neuroscience classes.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Your starter for ten...

The tabloid columnists have been in their element this week. What has happened to society when an uneducated wretch such as Jade Goody is venerated as a modern-day saint, while the brainy Gail Trimble – star of the Corpus Christi team on University Challenge – is ridiculed and derided?

Let me put my cards on the table. I’m not sure I could comfortably spend more than five or ten minutes with either Jade or Gail. I do, however, understand why the reality TV star evokes more interest and sympathy from the public than the scarily clever Oxford student.

The great British public likes an underdog. The Bermondsey girl came from nothing and needed her TV exposure to make something of her life, while Ms Trimble went to a private school in south-west London, pursued her intellectual interests at university and would no doubt build some kind of highly successful career regardless of her brush with Jeremy Paxman.

There is, of course, another rather obvious difference between the two young women. One is confronting terminal cancer, while the other’s biggest challenge appears to be a decision about whether to accept the offer of a photoshoot with Nuts.

Supporters of Gail point to a load of sexist drivel that’s been written about her in the blogosphere. I’m sure there are indeed a number of men who just can’t cope with the idea of a very clever woman and they need to go away and get a life. That said, we can’t pretend that Gail is just your typical, run-of-the-mill brainy person. She answered more questions correctly on University Challenge than all her Oxbridge team mates combined. She also appears to come from that frightening social milieu that used to dominate the TV show Ask the Family back in the 1970s. Hearing her speak, one imagines that an evening’s entertainment in the Trimble household would be a challenge to see who could best set the Periodic Table to music during piano practice.

Although I was fortunate enough to go to a university that was ranked in the world’s Top 20 a few years ago, I would be hard-pressed to answer more than about a dozen questions on a typical University Challenge show. It is not a programme for averagely bright people or for people whose knowledge is ‘general’ in any meaningful sense of the word. To participate, you need to be as comfortable with Greek mythology and English literature as you are with organic chemistry. You need to know about the Beatles, Beethoven and probably Little Boots as well. I’m afraid we Brits will never, ever grow to like people whose knowledge is so encyclopaedic. It seems abnormal and we find it oppressive. Although we laugh and groan at the girl who thought ‘East Angular’ was a foreign country, we empathise more with her. And I’m not sure this is quite the indictment of our culture that it’s made out to be in the media.

Out of this world

Jack Dee does a funny sketch about the bizarre demands placed on parents by schools. Next week, the mini-Ws are supposed to celebrate World Book Day by dressing up as aliens. I sometimes wonder whether the teachers are living on the same planet as the hard-pressed mums and dads.

My oldest daughter will be going as Mork from the 70s sitcom Mork & Mindy. It’s the episode where he dressed up in ordinary clothes to fool the neighbours in the apartment block. My younger daughter will be a Klingon warrior who has been transformed by 23rd century technology into a perfect replica of a 21st century human schoolchild. Complete with uniform.

Confused

There was a piece on the Radio 4 Today programme the other day about Alzheimer’s disease and a sufferer was talking about his experiences. Mrs W pointed out that he sounded more lucid and coherent than we often do. Sadly, I could only concur. That’s the thing about Radio 4. Even the interviewees who are suffering from dementia seem to be brighter than the average person in the street. They may lose the plot, but they wouldn't lose their invitation to next week’s award ceremony in New York. Or that letter from their publisher promising them another £50k advance.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Cute

I'm working in Italy at the end of next month and purchased some air tickets via lastminute.com. When the confirmation came through, I was given the option of adding the departure and arrival times into Microsoft Outlook. Neat idea. But the originators of the application are milking it for all it's worth. When I look at the diary entry it tells me that I am flying to Milan "thanks to lastminute.com".

I wonder if you can set up those meeting request emails in a similar way? "Congratulations. You are attending a meeting at 10.30 am to collect your P45. Brought to you by the Head of HR..."

Why the Golden Mile survived

The relatively light bombing of Blackpool in World War II has always been something of a mystery to historians, as the seaside town played quite an important role in aircraft production. Recent press reports, however, shed new light on the special treatment from the Luftwaffe. German dictator Adolf Hitler apparently wanted to save Blackpool as a centre for R&R after his troops had occupied the UK. The iconic Tower and the Golden Mile therefore had to remain untouched. Kitsch, I suppose, is a German word originally so the Nazis may well have held a secret regard for kiss-me-quick hats and those irritating coin-toppling machines.

My personal hunch is that the Fuhrer had heard about those blokes who dress up as Arab sheikhs and provide a running commentary on races between mechanical camels. If you haven't had this particular pleasure on the Pleasure Beach, groups of tourists roll balls frenetically into holes with different numerical values. Their desert steeds are then propelled along a track at a speed determined by their score. The knowledge that the British had this kind of entertainment on tap would have given Wehrmacht officers the right hump. I reckon they would have bypassed London entirely and headed straight for the north west.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

No drain, but plenty of unncessary drama.

John West NO DRAIN tuna doesn't have any liquid in the can. The TV commercial tells me that I can now enjoy the great taste of John West without 'the annoying, fiddly bits'. These are dramatised in the literal sense by people hopping around their kitchens splashing olive oil and brine all over themselves. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, the ad then takes a bizarre and unncessary twist. The creative agency has decided that the annoying fiddly bits also need to be demonstrated metaphorically. Cue a couple of blokes who've come to play a violin in the home of an attractive female customer.
They're shown the door before they can finish their catchy tuna. After all, we did say WITHOUT the annoying, fiddly bits.

Oh, how we laughed. Another great commercial in the can.

Friday, February 20, 2009

I could have been there...

This National Express poster tells me that I could have been at Paul's house party for just a quid. Judging by the accompanying picture, I'd happily have paid £100 not to be there.
Calm waters: the Quay at Sandwich, Kent - visited by Washed and Ready to Eat a week ago.

Falmouth in February? It wasn't sunbathing weather when Washed and Ready to Eat's camera headed down to the Cornish coast recently.




Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The lifestyle of simian slebs

I was intrigued by the story of the 15-year-old celebrity chimp called Travis who was shot after mauling a lady in the USA. The monkey's claim to fame was his previous appearance in ads and TV shows and the glamour appeared to have gone to his head. A combination of his remarkable success and the symptoms of Lyme disease made him somewhat unpredictable and - in the words of the local Police Captain - 'rambunctious'. So rambunctious, in fact, that Travis was dosed up on the anti-depressant Xanax.

This was sad news indeed for an ape who drank wine from a stemmed glass and was known to surf the internet.

I've been wondering what websites he favoured. Banana Republic perhaps? Or Iwannabelikeyoutube?

Monday, February 09, 2009

"Pastrami on rye and hold the mayo, why don't you?"

Even regular readers of WARTE may be unaware that I write semi-serious blogs elsewhere. I was pleased to get a mention in the latest edition of The Guardian for a piece I wrote some time ago about the larger-than-life Hong Kong tailor Raja Daswani and his eccentric advertising.

The author of the article in today's paper, Jonathan Margolis, made the mistake of assuming that I was based in New York and kindly emailed to apologise. No offence was taken. In fact, it makes me sound much more glamorous that I actually am. Although I'm writing this blog in a windswept and rather wet Falmouth, most of my time is spent hopping between lectures and training sessions on the London tube, clutching a copy of The Metro and worrying about some piece of copy that I promised someone I'd write. Now I have the potential to reinvent myself as a go-getting socialite of NYC, flitting between sophisticated Sex and the City style parties and my holiday home in the Hamptons.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Eventful day

At what point did weathermen at the Met Office and the BBC decide that snow should be describe as a 'snow event'?

Let's hope this absurd piece of jargon isn't taken to its logical conclusion. Rain and wind events in the autumn. And a long warm summer with numerous sun events. Only disrupted by the very occasional thunderstorm event.

Butler! Where's them buses?

A bit of snow in London and they cancel every single bus service. Mrs W encountered a Czech woman at a bus stop this morning who'd been waiting for an hour. She seemed astonished when informed that the great British worker had deemed the conditions too perilous to leave the depot.

Back in the 80s, the Mrs spent a year in a town called Jena in the former German Democratic (sic) Republic. (That's the Communist East for WARTE readers whose memories don't stretch back quite that far.) Every morning, at 4am, she left for her shift in a local hospital with snow up to her knees. She'd join hundreds of commuters heading for a nearby factory, who all travelled on buses. Packed to the rafters. In the early hours of the morning.

If only we had a time machine available for the managers of London Buses, eh? They could pick up a few tips from the transport commissars, couldn't they?

Where's Gordon Ramsay when you need him?

Basil Fawlty seemed to have arrived at my local Farmers City Market this morning with the mini-Ws. Service in the café was ridiculously slow and the waitress managed to lose our order. My favourite bit, however, was when I asked for the poached eggs featured on the menu. After consultation with the kitchen, I was told that they didn't have any poached eggs. Just fried and scrambled.

I seem to remember a similar conversation at another eaterie in the past. Someone needs to take the staff to one side and explain that an egg is actually just an egg. You can then choose to do varous things with the egg. And if you don't have the facilites or necessary technical expertise to poach one, then don't put it on the bl**din' menu.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

London's "significant snow event"

Met men say there's more on the way: south-east England awakes to a blanket of snow. 2nd Feb 2009. Click to enlarge.
Table for two? Breakfast in the garden at Woodford Towers.
The last time this happened in London, John Major had just taken over from Maggie Thatcher.
Scraping the frost off the windscreen may take a little longer this morning. Click to enlarge.