Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Don't get me started

When I log on to the wireless network at my gym, they kindly offer me some suggested websites to 'get me started'. Coincidentally, the first happens to be the corporate website for the health and fitness chain.

I like the idea that I've come to the gym with my laptop, connected to their wireless network, but I'm a complete novice at this thing called the internet.

Err... what is it that I'm supposed to do now?

If only someone could suggest one of those - what do you call them - web pages? Just to set me off in the right direction.

After a few weeks, I'll be able to move on to other sites. With supervision, of course.

"There's something I wanted to mention, Doc.."

"Don't make excuses," reads the banner ad from pharmaceutical giant Lilly on my webmail program. "Talk to your doctor about erectile dysfunction."

I'm unclear whether I actually need to be suffering from the condition, or whether I should just have a chat with my GP anyway.

They still have such a long way to go with their targeted marketing, eh?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Seasons greetings to Lib Dem MPs


"It's alright, Santa. Nick Clegg says you can promise whatever you want, but you don't actually have to deliver it."

Monday, December 06, 2010

Roocycle

I've been pondering the Windows Live Hotmail ad that shows emails being sorted automatically into different folders. There's some girl called Kate and she's already sent us 15 separate messages with photos of her antics in Australia. When a 16th arrives - handily labelled with a kangaroo-related subject header - Hotmail makes the error of adding it to the 'Kate's's Aussie Photos' folder. My argument would be that there's a perfectly good, pre-existing folder called 'Recycle Bin'. And they'd be doing everyone a favour by diverting this young lady's emails directly there. There will be 43 more messages to follow, believe me, so we have to put a stop to her Antipodean deluge before it gets out of hand.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Complete and utter incontinence

I was watching a few minutes of Colditz on Yesterday yesterday and discovered that the programme is sponsored - along with other 'classic' series - by Tena Pants Discreet. Idents showed middle-aged ladies wandering round a museum and sharing lame jokes with one another.

The juxtaposition of brave British POWs with incontinence products seems a little odd. It got me thinking of another potential tie-up: Tena and Tenko - the ever-popular women's prison camp drama. In fact, what about Tena-ko week? The episodes could be broadcast back-to-back.

"Captured by the Japanese, the women held out for years. Now, at last, relief has arrived."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Glycolic peel, lingerie, prep schools and orthodontists. It could only be Richmond.

Some years in the future, when a historian is trawling through the ephemeral remains of our early 21st century civilisation, a copy of The Richmond Magazine will surely surface. Delivered door-to-door in the south-west London borough, the glossy publication provides a unique insight into the lives and preoccupations of Britain's wealthy, intellectual elite. Those of us a couple of rungs down the social pecking order, who through a quirk of global positioning are fortunate enough to live within the circulation zone, are merely able to bathe vicariously in the warm glow created by the mag's contents.

Take the December 2010 edition, for example. The offers available to local residents are really quite special. Bodyvie Clinics aren't content with serving champagne and mince pies to clients in the festive season. They also offer a free, 30-minute glycolic peel with all wrinkle reduction and dermal filler treatments.

Rejuvenated by the experience, readers might feel inclined to visit one of fashionable lingerie establishments advertised elsewhere the magazine. Whether it's Via of Teddington, Leia of The Quadrant (opposite Ted Baker) or Sheen Uncovered on the Upper Richmond Road, the ladies of the borough are clearly spoilt for choice. And they don't seem content with lunching as their primary form of entertainment.

A truly bizarre ad has been placed by a firm called Thames Orthodontics. Five women and a man grin toothily towards the camera and challenge us to identify the person among them who is wearing an invisible brace. It's no idle guessing game. If we correctly identify the braced member of staff, we're entitled to a 10% discount on an upper and lower invisible orthodontic treatment with lingual braces. (I'd long been considering orthodontic treatment of this type, but was saying to Mrs W that it was a little on the expensive side. In my heart of hearts, I knew a discount would be forthcoming and am glad that my patience has been vindicated. Unfortunately, I can't tell which of the people is wearing the brace, but feel that if I had the opportunity to slap them mildly a few times, it would quickly become apparent.)

And then, amid the other ads (private prep schools, £1.65m semi-detached houses in Kew, art galleries and period hardwood doors), there's some editorial content. A local divorce lawyer tells you that it may no longer be legal to do private detective work on your partner's finance. Another comments on the recent landmark ruling by the UK Supreme Court on pre-nups. The Bishop of Oxford, who has retired to Barnes, explains why he has started to learn the piano in his mid seventies. The editor, meanwhile, has handed over his 'blog' to a deer called Rudolphus Richmondicus, who pleads for readers to adopt him. Someone needs to tell the editor that a blog is something which appears on the web. I'm not quite sure what they should tell the deer.

I know I ought to be glad to live within shouting distance of this privileged world, but there's something about the magazine that makes me want to jump on the train at Richmond Station and head out towards Dalston. Your teeth can be rearranged in that part of London too, but it doesn't cost so much.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dead ringer

In the Woodford Archive, I have a copy of The Sunday Express magazine from the week of Lady Di's wedding in 1981. Alongside ads for the new Lancia Trevi and John Player Special King Size, there's an important announcement from a company called R J Wiltshire. I know it's an important announcement because there's a large headline which reads 'Important Announcement: RJW Commission Leading Hatton Garden manufacturing jeweller to re-create the splendour of... THE ROYAL RING'.

There's a lovely piece of copy which tells us that although a sapphire and real diamonds have been used in this 'ultimate accolade', they are 'not to the same priceless regal proportions' as the original. Despite this disappointment, I can't help being impressed with the 'very special rodium plate finish to the mount'. Rodium, I am reliably informed, is 'a member of the platinum family, so you can see that no expense has been spared in the reproduction of this timeless creation'. I wonder if The Platinum Family got invites to the service at Westminster Abbey?

Watch this space for similar important announcements in 2011.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

If this ad had MY name on it, I'd be in hiding...



As a copywriter, my heart sinks when I see fellow professionals biting off a little more than they can chew. This embarrassing messaging thread between two m8s rings about as true as Nick Clegg's pledges on student tuition fees. When we get towards the end of the correspondence and Rachel's saying "...that new kitchen has MY name on it...", I'm thinking of those cheesy radio commercials where characters repeat telephone numbers to each other.

The only thing missing from the excruciating exchange is a discussion of how gorgeous the Wickes kitchen planner is. How did the creatives miss that particular trick, I wonder?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Urine trouble now

I can't quite understand why the Samaritans advertise their service above the urinals in the gents at Waterloo station. Clearly people do sadly choose to end it all on the train tracks. But do they always relieve themselves first?

Strange market research rituals

On the 507 bus to Waterloo this afternoon, a guy asked me to complete a short questionnaire about my journey. I was handed a printed piece of paper - maybe 150 gsm - and one of those little pens they give out in betting shops. It was standing room only on the single-decker, so completing the survey while swinging around and guarding three bags wasn't that easy.

I finished as we drew up at the penultimate stop and I handed my form to the guy.

'Are you getting off here?' he asked.

I told him that I intended to travel one further stop to Waterloo.

'Well, hold on to the form, then.'

Meekly, I agreed, but couldn't help thinking that my answers would be the same at this stop - or any stop - on the route.

50 yards further up the road, the bloke came back and asked me for my form. The same form that I had been forbidden to hand in about 30 seconds earlier.

This is market research OCD style. I expect the forms have now been sorted alphabetically by surname. And the information will be entered 20 times before it looks right on the database.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Old Tricks

Mrs W loves Garrow's Law, the BBC's period legal drama. Well, I think she loves the bloke who plays William Garrow, if we're completely honest.

The show is supposed to be authentic in its late 18th century historical detail. Garrow did actually exist and the cases are all there in the archives. Tonight's was about the Zong Massacre - a landmark in the struggle to abolish the Atlantic slave trade.

One thing puzzles me though. If it's all so true to life, why is former Detective Inspector Brian Lane from New Tricks there?

I keep expecting Dennis Waterman to pop up too.

"What say you, Detective Sergeant Standing? Should a man bear witness to injustice and corrupton and stand idly by?"

"Do what? If the geezer's a wrong 'un, I think you need to throw the book at him, as it 'appens..."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

On a recent trip to an NHS walk-in centre with mini-W1's asthma, we were treated to the most extraordinary collection of low-budget public information commercials. Mainly sponsored by the local council and other public bodies, they played without sound but still managed to convey a vivid sense of life in the UK today.

We saw children stupidly leaving bikes outside their houses, inviting the attention of casual tea leaves. Older youths messed about on train tracks, while otherwise well-meaning citizens somehow forgot their bag for picking up dog mess.

One of the weirdest ads - God knows how the concept was ever approved, let alone how a budget was found for it - showed a young man driving dangerously without a seatbelt and almost hitting another vehicle. The message was that although he'd survived this particular piece of recklessness, smoking would kill him. Mini-W1 was understandably mystified by the strong suggestion that driving like a loon was ok, as long as you didn't light up a fag.

Our favourite ad had a 'don't judge a book by its cover' theme. Terrifying hoodies turn out to be goodies - helping granny with her shopping in their spare time. Perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to jump to conclusions? Unfortunately, in the next commercial, a hoodie throws a brick through a car window, sending us into a state of profound confusion.

It's an emotional rollercoaster. And that's before you even see the doctor.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

That's cheating

I saw in the Press Association reports of Claire Rayner's death, the agony aunt had informed her family of what she wanted her last words to be: "Tell David Cameron that if he screws up my beloved NHS I'll come back and bloody haunt him."

Noble sentiments that we can only applaud. If she can fit in George Osborne too, we'll all be eternally grateful.

Note the fact, however, that she told her relatives that these were the words she wanted to be remembered as her last ones. In other words, they weren't actually her last words at all.

This is death by press release. Old Claire never lost her chutzpah.

I want it to be known that my last words are a very polished soliloqy from Shakespeare's Hamlet. Not 'Oh f***, that bus is heading right fo....'

Monday, October 11, 2010

Oh yes they have...

Who says the UK economy is still sluggish? My local theatre in Richmond, south-west London has spared no expense in its panto production this year. Sleeping Beauty will star punmeister Tim Vine and the girl who plays Molly Montgomery in Hollyoaks.

Know of an even more star-studded Christmas show? Email me at phil@philwoodford.com and I'll spill the beans. Or should that be beanstalk?

Taking the p***

Just listening to a college student on a train travelling into central London. She claims to have an NHS card that entitles her by law to use any toilet on demand. Can such a thing really exist? Presumably she has some medical condition that leads her to get caught short a little more frequently than the average person. She confided to her friend that her pass comes in useful on nights out clubbing.

Sunday, October 03, 2010


My parents - Mr and Mrs W Snr - have recently bought a small 1970s house in the London suburbs. They removed the old gas fire which dated from the original build, as it was an aesthetic nightmare and most probably some kind of potential carbon monoxide risk too. The previous owner had, however, very kindly left some leaflets about the product, which is called the New World Highspeed G740. I naively assumed these might be instructions, but they're actually marketing blurb.

After telling us about the heater's high-performance duplex burner and its 'warm comforting glow', the copywriter very quickly starts to lose his grip on reality.

'The Highspeed G740 looks good, too,' he writes. 'It has a mellow teak veneered case, beautifully styled by the designers of G-Plan furniture, with a gently curving front and rounded corners. Its good looks make it the focal point of any room.'

Now, I know the 70s were a bleak period. We had the four-day week and re-runs of It's a Knockout on the telly. All the same, I think even Rigsby from Rising Damp would have questioned the radiator becoming the centre piece of the front room.

Gotta love the mood shot on the leaflet though, eh? Look at the table in the foreground. The open packet of Benson & Hedges alongside a gold lighter. The chic grey and brown coffee cup. Some strange cuboid radio alarm clock. Over on the right, we see the hi-fi turntable, no doubt connected to speakers producing stereo sound. Is that Gladys Knight & The Pips I can hear?

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Toast with the most

Props to my Facebook friend Ann Godridge for this one.

An entrepreneur in the States noticed how people love to find images of religious icons in crisps, cream crackers, vegetables and so on. Usually these items attract some brief press coverage before generating a bidding war on internet auction sites.

Now, thanks to Jesus Toasters, we can all have a slice of the action.

In his own words...

Lord Young, the former Tory Cabinet Minister, has been put in charge of dismantling Britain's health and safety regulations and the compensation culture that accompanies them. He was quoted in the press today as follows:

"Frankly if I want to do something stupid and break my leg or neck, that's up to me. I don't need a council to tell me not to be an idiot. I can be an idiot all by myself."

You can't argue with that.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cereal offenders

Although the minis are at an age when they're more than capable of making their own breakfasts, they don't. They still expect their poor old parents to wait on them hand and foot in the morning, serving up bowls of cereal and slices of toast as if we're hard-pressed proprietors of a Tourist Board endorsed B&B.

Sometimes we try to sneak our own breakfasts before serving the kids. Mrs W calls this the 'oxygen mask principle'. Make sure you've fitted your own mask before offering assistance to anyone else.

Feeling your age?

Wandering around one of the local secondary schools with a view to furthering the education of mini-W1, Mrs W and I were very struck by the curriculum. GCSE Food was not something on offer in our day. Neither, for that matter, was 'Music of the 80s' - a topic offered as part of a GCSE course alongside baroque.

"Ok, class. Open your books at page 24. Today we'll be looking at Howard Jones."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

White on

Mini-W1 was talking to me about paint samples the other day, as she is thinking about decorating her room at the new Woodford Towers we're in the process of buying. She was describing the brilliant, pristine environments associated with dental surgeries and suggested the name 'Clinic White'. I wonder if any paint company already uses this?

Monday, September 06, 2010

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

According to the on-bottle blurb, Domestos offers me 24-hour protection against 'flying toilet rim germs'. I prefer to shoot the little blighters.

'Germs at 10 o'clock high! Scramble!'

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Lapping it up: The Independent likes my take on their recent report on exotic dancing

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

They missed a trick

Saw someone with a Ben Nevis t-shirt at Euston station earlier today. The message was 'Been there, done that...'

While I admire the adventurous spirit and mountaineering prowess of the owner, I can't help feeling that the author of the slogan was a little slow. Surely it should read 'Ben there'?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Time to jack it in?

If the copywriter responsible for putting poetry on the back of Fairy washing powder is in town, here's my message: Non Bio Creek ain't big enough for the two of us. You have until sundown tomorrow to make tracks or I'll be spinning you out and hanging you up to dry.

The latest effort:

Jack and Jill went up the hill,
For nap time after nursery,
Tucked softly in, Mum did begin,
A free Timmy Time book from Fairy.


Jesus H Christ. My nine-year-old could do better than that. Just as well I don't choose my fast-moving consumer goods on the basis of packaging verse.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dental or mental?

I had a truly bizarre dream last night in which I was being paid on a part-time basis to undertake dental work. All procedures took place in a large hall - a bit like some kind of field hospital - where maybe a dozen people were being treated simultaneously by different teams of dentists and assistants. I knew that I was not very well qualified for dentistry, but felt that if they were happy to employ me, I should just go with the flow. The problem was that none of the patients appeared to need straightforward work on their gnashers. Most had life-threatening conditions that really required urgent medical intervention by an ER crash team.

The chief dentist was expecting me to extract fluid from someone's lungs, say, and would guide me through the process. (I think this relates back to a film called Ladder 49 which I'd started to watch before I went to bed. In the movie, a rookie firefighter is coaxed through his early shifts by his station captain, John Travolta.)

I did eat blue cheese at dinner.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fight the battle or concede defeat. But for God's sake, don't enter into talks.

Difficult to know whether to laugh or cry over the proposal from the Taliban for a joint commission with NATO to investigate civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Would this be the same Taliban which recently stoned a couple to death for alleged adultery? The same bunch of fundamentalist extremists who deny education to girls, stop people listening to music and who previously acted as minders for Osama bin Laden?

Unbelievably, The Guardian reports that the cynical propaganda ploy is actually being taken seriously by the western military forces in the region. What a pathetic and contemptible concession. Perhaps we should have teamed up with the Nazis in World War II to see whether we'd bombed some of their cities a little bit too hard?

When will we ever learn? We get nowhere by appeasing people who have a complete disregard for human rights.

If we don't think we can beat the Taliban and want to concede defeat, by all means let's bring our troops home. But let's not shame ourselves by sitting around a table with them.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Great thinking, Dr Miriam

Sign in the restaurant at Debenhams, Eastbourne: 'We retain Dr Miriam Stoppard as a nutritional advisor on all our children's meals and every meal comes with a free piece of fruit...'

I wonder how much this retainer is worth? Dr Miriam also seems happy for the kids' meals to contain jam sandwiches on white bread, Quavers and KitKats. But these concessions to children's tastes don't appear to be trumpeted on the poster though. Strange, that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why stop at speed cameras?

I greatly enjoyed the comments of Julie Spence - the outgoing Chief Constable of the Cambridgeshire police force - who claimed that 'speeding is middle class anti-social behaviour'. Too bloody right.

Her intervention was prompted by the current trend towards turning off speed cameras on our roads, which is driven by the desire to save money and a crazy ideological objection to the idea of 'snooping'. One of my favourite journalists, David Aaronovitch of The Times, pulled this nonsense apart the other day in his column. If these cameras are so expensive, how come their opponents have always criticised them for being a money-making venture? The 'cost' is a complete and utter red herring. What the pro-speed lobby actually wants is the ability to break the law with impunity. Supporters believe, in their arrogance, that once they are behind the wheel of their car, they should be free to drive at whatever speed they wish, regardless of the consequence to wider society.

We can spend all day arguing about how many lives are saved by speed cameras or how much more deadly a car is at, say, 40 mph than it is at 30. There is, however, a much more fundamental point, which is that society has the right to regulate the behaviour of its citizens and the state should be able to take reasonable steps to enforce the law. Not draconian and extreme steps. Reasonable steps, such as the gathering of photographic evidence that can aid a prosecution.

If we accept the argument that councils have no right to check whether people are speeding, we have to ask ourselves whether we believe in regulating speeding at all. (Historically, on German Autobahns, for instance, people have been able to drive as fast as they like. Perhaps this is what we secretly crave?)

And if we don't want to regulate speeding, why bother with other rules about Zebra and pedestrian crossings? Aren't they a terrible infringement of the motorist's right to drive? In fact, why have a driving test in the first place? Isn't it disgraceful that the state imposes its own particular view about how people should reverse around a corner or approach a roundabout?

I'm reminded of the barmy chainsmoking Thatcherite, Nicholas Ridley, who while Secretary of State for Transport in the early 1980s was reported to believe that traffic lights impeded the flow of vehicles.

I cannot abide the sanctimonious hypocrisy and bleating of the motoring lobby and the Top Gear junkies who love to regale us with stories of doing 120 down the M1. And, to be fair, I have equal contempt for the cyclists who believe that they are somehow exempt from stopping at junctions or obeying any rules of the road. Both show a complete disregard for others and I personally don't mind if the government sticks a few cameras up to stop them. In fact, I have some good suggestions about where to stick the cameras.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The difference between me and Mrs W

She told me that she's ordered an audiobook of Les Miserables from the local library. I'd go with We Will Rock You or Mamma Mia.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Keep it simple

The State of Kuwait advertised in The Times today for specialists to work in a new department of paediatric surgery. The copy reads: 'Successful candidates will be expected to provide up-to-date service and manage all problems in their field including the complicated ones...'

Being a specialist just gets harder and harder, doesn't it?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Greyline School sounds good. But how much will the uniform cost?

For my 800th post on Washed and Ready to Eat, I return to one of my favourite featured books - Ronald Pelham's How shall I word it? Published in 1948, it provides templated letters designed to help the reader respond to any conceivable situation. Whether you're a butler applying 'for situation', a bridesmaid writing a thank you letter to a bridegroom or a store selling salvage stock after a fire, Mr Pelham knows exactly what you ought to say.

Imagine this scenario. You have received a selection of brochures from scholastic agents providing information about boarding schools. From your cottage in Somerley, you write to the educational establishment of your choice, Greyline School in Heacham.

"MADAM

Your brochure has been sent to me by Messrs. ________________ & _____________, and I am very interested in the school for my daughter, aged nine. Her education so far has been acquired at a private school, but my wife and I feel that the time has now come for her to be taken in hand seriously for her future educational development.

Your brochure does not include a list of clothes that she will need or the cost, nor does it say whether there is a resident qualified nurse.

My wife and I would like to come down and see the school at some convenient week-end, and if you suggest a date we will let you know whether it is a convenient one for us. In your reply would you please state whether a vacancy exists after the summer holidays?

Thanking you,
Yours faithfully,
A. G. Taggart


No, thanking you, Mr Pelham. Once again, you've helped us out of a tricky situation and have paid great attention to detail. It's a little odd that you know about the potential absence of the resident qualified nurse, but can't remember the names of the scholastic agents who sent you the brochures. All the same, we're very grateful for your advice.

Next time on How should I word it?... a shirt and white tablecloth that haven't come back from the laundry.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Winging it

When I stopped off at WHSmith yesterday to buy some chocolate, I was handed a voucher which offered me a free bird bath if I joined the RSPB. This marketing strategy is so flawed that I am temporarily lost for words.

The bird bath looks great at Woodford Towers though.

A lesson in the birds and the bees

I was reading in The Metro about a village called Firhall in the highlands of Scotland which seems to ban children. According to hack Ross McGuinness, residents of the creepy hamlet - which also tells people not to start their cars before 7am or hang out their washing - is like 'Britain 30 years ago'.

What a load of horses**t.

Younger WARTE readers will have to take my word for the fact that people did start cars and hang out washing in 1980. And if there weren't any kids back then, we can only assume the good burghers of Firhall were delivered in adult form to their Stepford-style community by a stork.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Bath time

According to London's Metro, drought conditions are likely to hit the UK next year for the first time since 1976. Experts warn that we'll have to share baths. As I was a kid during the last water crisis, I can't remember the rules. Do you get to choose who you share with? Or are you just told?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Now, where did I leave my teeth?

When the Woodfords are on the move in the motor, Radio Jackie is our station of choice. The Sound of South-West London not only plays a fine selection of tunes - ranging from the contemporary to the classic - but it also has some of the most entertaining commercials around.

Mini-W1 had me in stitches the other day when she picked up on the rather unfortunate script for a local dental surgery. There's a monologue in which a character tells us what a terrible state his teeth were in until he decided to 'put them in the hands of Sutton Orthodontic Practice'. One can only hope that the patient cleaned them and wrapped them up before delivery. (The double meaning reminds me of the old ad for the £9.99 shoes that used to appear in catalogues and magazines. 'We dare you to wear them out!')

An ad the kids can almost recite verbatim is for a place called Lynwood Aquatics. If we're to believe the spiel, this self-styled Aladdin's cave is the biggest centre of its kind in the south of England and perfect for the 'fish fan' in your life. All 'hard goods' - your guess is as good as mine - are fully guaranteed. They stress in the commercial that it's 'Lynwood with a y' in case you might confuse it with another marine-related Aladdin's cave off Hook Rise South, near Tolworth.

Whenever I think tiles, I now think Versatile of Chessington. This is because I have been hypnotised by a tagline which is whispered in the manner of the Garnier 'Take Care' slogan. Think tiles. Think Versatile. While the Garnier line is known throughout the UK and continental Europe as a reassuring reinforcement of the health benefits of a major brand, Versatile's message might, on a good day, travel as far as New Addington. Think crap ad. Think Radio Jackie.

Perhaps my favourite is one that begins with a character delivering the following memorable line: 'I have very high standards, which is why it's taken me so long to find a natural stone paving company.' I know the feeling, mate. Unfortunately, your high standards didn't extend to radio production budgets. Never mind. Your patio has come up a treat.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fancy a massage? Have an ice cream instead.

Ever since parlours disappeared from homes, they've only really been associated with massages, tattoos and poodles. As a respectable kind of guy without a dog, I don't have much reason to frequent these establishments. So imagine my delight at the opening of a new outlet close to Woodford Towers selling posh Italian ice cream. If I'm not mistaken, this will qualify officially as a parlour too. And Mrs W won't mind if I pay the occasional visit.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mais oui, je travaille a Tescoses.

I don't know whether you've noticed, but staff on the Tesco check-out are required to wear large badges which tell you when they joined the company and some interesting fact about themselves. This might be that they like football, for instance, or enjoy gardening.

Yesterday, as I packed up my family shop, I read that the lady on the till spoke French. This didn't strike me as hugely surprising, as she had a French name. My first instinct was that English would be more useful in the outer reaches of south-west London, but I've been reflecting. Most of the customers at my local store probably buy the Finest range, where the items are prepared au jus or à gratin.

"Sebastian! Run down to the lady at the check-out, there's a good boy. Ask her if the bouillon in the bisque is vegetarian, would you?"

Why have they given us a door-knocker, Mum?

Thumbing through the Christmas edition of Good Housekeeping for 1954 - or the Christmas 'number' as the publishers quaintly describe it - I chanced upon an article by Julia Coppard, who has some fine suggestions for yuletide gifts.

The author identifies a number of categories of potential recipient, starting with the elderly. Grandmother might want a lorgnette or a 'lacy woolen stole in a gay colour', but you'd be on very safe ground if you gave her a canary in a 'fancy cage of gilt or wicker'. Granddad meanwhile would be delighted to receive some red or yellow 'cad's braces' or a sun-ray lamp.

Having dealt with the older generation, Miss Coppard really starts to get into her stride. Abyssinian kittens for people who live alone. Russian tea glasses for a hostess. Or how about giving a teen-age (sic) boy a subscription to jazz club or a course of lessons in ballroom dancing, if he's 'approaching the social stage'.

Housewives might welcome a weekly char for six months, while a tough little boy could benefit from boxing tuition.

My favourites are the old door-knocker or box of Cox's Orange Pippins for a family. Or maybe the old snuff box for a 'gay young man'.

1954 was certainly another world and there are plenty of other treasures in my bumper festive edition of Good Housekeeping. Naturally, I'll keep WARTE readers posted as I explore further.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Open up Oxbridge? Why not close it down?

There seems to a growing tide of opinion in favour of granting more egalitarian entry to those bastions of educational privilege, Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The latest person to throw his weight behind the idea is the historian, David Kynaston, who's written some interesting books on Britain in the period after Workd War II.

These well-meaning individuals recognise that large swathes of the political, financial and media elite are Oxbridge educated and know that it's virtually impossible for ordinary folk to get there. Their misguided solution is to 'open up' the elitist university colleges to the masses through quotas. I say misguided because this obsession with Oxford and Cambridge perpetuates the idea that they are the only places where it's possible to get a decent education and entrenches the very privilege that we're seeking to eliminate. Much better, imho, to reconstruct these antiquated institutions entirely or set a quota for the number of Oxbridge graduates that an employer can take on.

I suspect the only reason this is never suggested by the critics is that they too are products of the very system they criticise.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Get your head around this

A story that deserved a little more coverage last week was the discovery of 60 human heads at an airport in Arkansas. The grisly cargo was contained in plastic containers sealed with duct tape and was on its way to neurosurgeons.

Apparently all this is perfectly normal. Heads - and odd bits and bobs like ears - are regularly whizzing their way across the skies, with eager medics anxiously awaiting their arrival.

I don't know about you, but I think it would be nice to let passengers know when their luggage is sharing space in the hold with poorly-packed body parts. Not that I'm squeamish or anything. It's just I might like to do a double check on the carousel when I reach my destination.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Déjà vu all over again

England hardly ever perform well in the opening games of major football tournaments, yet time and time again we delude ourselves that they will. Drawing against the likes of USA and Algeria is just the kind of psychological toughening up we need to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead. Next week, Washed and Ready will sample the atmosphere of a London boozer as our lads take on the soccer stars of Slovenia. My prediction: 2-0 to Gerrard's brave warriors and a ticket to the next round.

Thrills and spills on the tube

The other day, in a spectacularly idle moment as I waited for a tube train, I was looking at a 'licence' posted on the door of a London Underground storage cupboard. It basicallly listed all the stuff the station cleaner was allowed to keep there. Alongside toilet rolls, mops and so on, there was a reference to Titan Sanitiser Body Spill Disinfectant. I must investigate this further. Instinctively, I recoil at the idea that special 'body spill' products are needed. But I guess there are times when Dettol just won't cut it.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Cholera, sir? Why, I must inject you subcutaneously with turpentine.

I’ve just finished a book about the cholera outbreaks in nineteenth century London. Always good to have a light beach read on the go in the summer months. The overwhelming conclusion I’d draw is that I’d never have wanted to visit any medical practitioner prior to about 1970. Ok, maybe that’s pushing it a bit. Once Louis Pasteur discovered milk back in the 1860s, things improved a little. So maybe we should say 1870. Prior to this era though, everything was complete quackery and likely to do far more harm than good.

One astonishing fact to come out of this particular book was that you were much better off in London’s Homeopathic Hospital in the 1850s than you were in the nearby Middlesex. During the cholera outbreak in Soho, the mortality rate with the homeopaths was 16%, while it climbed to a frightening 53% with the regular medics. The author – a journalist called Sandra Hempel – is no cheerleader for alternative medicine and makes clear that the discrepancy had nothing to do with the efficacy of homeopathy. The fact was that the medical establishment actively killed its patients – usually through blood-letting and associated infections – while the homeopaths just left the unfortunate cholera victims alone and prescribed stuff that wouldn’t do them any harm. (For the scientific pedants out there, I’d also concede that the worst cases may have ended up at the main infirmary, but at the end of the day, cholera is cholera.)

Fast forward to the 1860s and the remedies on offer at the Whitechapel 'orspital in East London included steam inhalation, castor oil, saline lemonade and a substance called podophyllin, which is now used to treat gential warts. When all else failed, patients were injected with opium. All died. If you had the energy, you could have schlepped over to Guy’s where nitrous oxide was prescribed or made a trip to Southampton where they favoured arsenic and injections of turpentine.

It really makes you grateful, doesn’t it, for the common sense of our modern family doctors. “I think you have a touch of the cholera. I’d go home, drink plenty of fluids and take paracetamol. If you’re not better in a week, come back and see us.”

The Medical Detective: John Snow, Cholera and the Mystery of the Broad Street Pump by Sandra Hempel is published by Granta Books.

Interesting installation outside the LCC, Elephant & Castle.

Friday, June 04, 2010

How to lose the plot with lost luggage

Time to return to one of WARTE's featured books - Ronald Pelham's 1948 classic, How shall I word it?

Regular readers will recall that Mr Pelham provides standard correspondence for all situations, however unlikely or specific. What, for instance, would you do if you discovered you'd left your large portmanteau on a train? Well, naturally you'd write to the Superintendent of the Lost-Luggage Department.

SIR,

I travelled yesterday from ____________ to London by the 12.30 train, and on arrival at the terminus found that a large portmanteau of mine was missing.

I saw all my luggage labelled at _______________, and gave it in charge of a porter who undertook to see it placed in the luggage van. I must, therefore, complain of negligence on his part. The portmanteau, which bears my full name and address, contains property of great value, and I must ask you to make immediate inquiries into the matter.


It's interesting that although the station of departure is left blank in Pelham's book, the author is 100% certain of his reader's destination. The negligence of the porter in this instance sounds simply frightful. One wonders whether he might be bent as the proverbial nine-bob bit and flogging the passenger's property down the local boozer.

Next time on WARTE: you're a tailor seeking business between seasons and want to impress your customer with a special offer in a letter. But how do you word it?

Where's Esther Rantzen when you need her?

Stayed with Mrs W and the minis in the Hallmark Hotel, Bournemouth for a few days earlier this week. The website says four-star but, believe me, the actual establishment is struggling to manage a three. The changing facilities by the swimming pool were on a par with the local council baths, service in the restaurant and bar was agonisingly slow and the shower unit in my room needed chucking on the skip that sat outside in the car park.

My complaint is not necessarily that I have some God-given right to live in the lap of luxury. More that they were charging four-star prices on the basis of a cosmetic makeover in the reception and bar. When I challenged staff about the status, I was told they were 'self-certifying'. I was like 'do wot?' Self-certifying? What are they talking about? Does this mean that anyone has the right to describe themselves as a four-star or five-star hotel, regardless of the standard of facilities or service they provide? Last year, I took Premier Inn to the Advertising Standards Authority for their similar claims and won. Unfortunately, the case took a few months, by which time they'd stopped running the ads concerned.

Without wishing to get all nanny state about it, shouldn't there be some proper legal framework that stops people making claims about their hotels that simply aren't true? And shouldn't there be some objective criteria - publicly available to everyone - that allows us to distinguish between one grade another? It would certainly be good for UK plc and its tourist industry.

WARTE has jumped on the consumer rights bandwagon. And will probably jump right off again very soon.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

No such thing as a free lunch?

News reaches me from the antipodes of a man who has developed an ingenious method of feeding himself for free. He's simply been turning up at funerals - several a week according to Radio New Zealand - and filling up doggy bags with the grub generously provided at the wake. Although his behaviour is recognised to be anti-social and a little extreme, the 'grim eater' is apparently not unique. According to the RNZ reporter, 'funeral directors say serial funeral-goers and fake mourners are not uncommon'. I have images of Steve Coogan's beautifully observed character Alan Partridge in a Castrol GTX jacket.

The story has got me wondering how easy it would be to blag breakfast at a top hotel. Just stroll in, smile at the staff and help yourself to the buffet. (One thing I've observed over the years is that the trashier the hotel, the more officious they are in checking you off their list and making sure you're bona fide. The posher the gaff, the less they worry. It's an insult to their wealthy guests to be conducting too many inquiries into a diner's legitimacy.)

Anyway, must dash. Just getting dressed up for a wedding reception. Even though I don't know the bride and groom, I don't want to keep them waiting.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

News from ze front...

... or the seafront. I note that one of Bournemouth's new attractions is the Boscombe regeneration project. Designer 'beach pods' (upmarket huts) have been created on something called 'The Overstrand'.

Come again?

Perhaps the Germans made it further than the Channel Islands during the war? 'Ve have secured Bournemuss, Herr Major. Zair vas some resistance, but our brave troops are now an dem oberstrand, erecting bitch pods.'

In other resort news, I note the town is being used for the ultimate experiment in market economics. A ticket to ride the clifftop lift is cheaper if you're coming down and dearer if you're going up.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Giving copywriters everywhere a bad name

There's a range of bread at Sainsbury's described as 'artisan inspired'. Copywriter inspired, more like. What an absolute load of marketing b*****ks. It goes well with the 'deli style' coleslaw sold in the same store. This carefully crafted, authentic style blog is literature inspired. Although you'd be forgiven for not realising.

How to become a health freak

Just stand next to the guy who was ahead of me in the queue at Sainsbury's. Eight Pukka Pies, a four-pack of Heinz baked beans and a loaf of Kingsmills white sliced. What would Jamie Oliver make of it?

Monday, May 24, 2010

When one name isn't enough

You may have heard the news reports about the turmoil in Kingston, Jamaica, resulting from the government's attempts to pin down a notorious drug lord on behalf of the US. I was struck by the number of self-styled monikers this guy has given himself. He is, depending on the channel you listen to, known on the street as 'Dudas', 'The Big Man' and 'The President' - worshipped by many impoverished Kingston residents as a benefactor to slum dwellers.

It's his real name that seems most appropriate, however. If you were a drug baron called Christopher Coke, wouldn't you leave it at that? It's certainly not a name to be sniffed at.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Confusing: I poke fun at the Liberal Democrats in today's Independent

Sunday, May 09, 2010

From the archives of the Central Office of Information

It's time for a new featured book on Washed and Ready. I've managed to get hold of a copy of Wendy Hall's 1962 classic This is Britain - Everyday Life, which used to grace the shelves of the Library & Information Centre of the Central Office of Information. The last person to borrow it, 21 years ago, was a lady called Margit, who worked in the typing pool. She was anxious to discover exactly what made the British tick, but hopefully took seriously the warning of the author that 'no two of Britain's fifty million people behave in exactly the same way'.

In the opening chapter, Ms Hall tells us that we can gain entrance to some 500 historic houses for the princely sum of 2s.6d a time. 'The English are snobs,' she writes, 'and they love to be able to tell their friends that they have visited the home of the Duke of Blankshire...' The good thing is that we're not envious of the blanking Duke. The average Englishman, according to the author, is 'quite content with his six-roomed castle in a suburb'.

So what goes on inside the typical six-roomed castle? We're given a glimpse of Police Constable Tarrant's home. He sits on one side of his living room happily repairing a wireless set, while his wife reads to their young boy. It's an idyllic picture, to be sure. But when we turn the page, we're greeted by the austere world of the typical stockbroker. 'The head of the house,' reveals the commentator, 'likes his home furnished in the traditional way, and scorns the modern style which younger people favour.'

Overseas readers can rest assured that little has changed over the past half century.

Next time on WARTE: DIY and gardening, circa 1962.

What do you think?

Just had an idea for a comedy sketch which tickled me. Someone is sent to an open prison for white-collar crime - non-payment of a TV licence or repeatedly crossing red lights. The place is a bit like a holiday camp and the screws are easy-going. You can pretty much wander in and out as you please.

Our new villain, however, has made up his mind that he's going to a proper prison. Knowing that he's about to be sent down at a forthcoming court appearance, he starts packing a bag. Bandana. Cosh. Supply of Class A drugs.

En route to court, he stops off at a tattoo parlour to get a six-inch skull and crossbones engraved on his back.

I'll work on this one and come back to you.

TV researchers take note. Fine for it to appear on the next Armstrong & Miller Show, but I expect hard cash in an envelope.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Finger on the pulse

I'd be the first to defend the right of the older generation to stand for public office, although my local UKIP parliamentary candidate in south-west London seems to be fighting the 1959 general election rather than the one scheduled for 6th May 2010.

Brian Gilbert, 78, tells us that he 'hopped from job to job' until 1956, having trained as an air radio fitter in the RAF after the war. The former serviceman reveals that he then 'commenced a career in punched cards and computers' with IBM. What he's been up to in the intervening half century doesn't appear to be deemed that relevant to his political ambitions.

The lively septuagenerian gets letters published in The Daily Telegraph with extraordinary regularity, if the 42 he posts on his website are anything to go by. Some poor civil servant at the Ministry of Justice has also been forced to reply to correspondence that he sent to the Queen about constitutional matters and a troubling legal case called Thoburn v City of Sunderland.

On an election leaflet I received through the post, Brian lists his top 'local' issue as leaving the EU. And checking his website, he seems very focused on the erosion of our traditional British rights. His reference points for a lot of what's happening in 2010 appear to be the Magna Carta of 1215 and the 1689 Bill of Rights. Things have got so bad that 'if you appeal against a parking fine by the Council you have to travel to Central London where your appeal is listened to by a Solicitor employed by the London Councils'. It's certainly a slippery slope. The road to hell is paved with fixed-penalty notices and signposted Central London.

So many 'bad laws' have been passed in recent years that Brian suggests a blanket Repeal Bill to get rid of them all. This would cover everything from quantitative easing to 'oppressive' regulations on recycling and Home Information Packs. Friendly UKIP members are taken with Brian's suggestion for a catch-all piece of legislation that would rip up everything Labour's introduced. They've kindly suggested that, while we're at it, we could scrap the Human Rights Act, Race Relations Act and the law that abolished the death penalty for treason.

Why do I have hunch that the local incumbent, Dr Vince Cable MP, isn't unduly worried by Brian's campaign? The UKIP man is, however, making me wonder whether I should poke my head round the door of a public meeting. There could be some fun and games.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Jack? You'll find him in the potting shed.

I discovered tonight that Kiefer Sutherland - better known as Federal Agent Jack Bauer from 24 - is already a grandfather. If the terrorists knew this, they wouldn't take him half as seriously. But at least the President would always know where to locate him. Chances are you'd find him on his allotment.

A law unto herself

I was surprised this week to read about the death of law student Laura Main. The 28-year-old posthumously hit the headlines after a misadventure verdict was delivered by the Coroner in Westminster. While studying to be a solicitor, Ms Main was pursuing a double life as an escort with an agency called Bunnies and DJing under the assumed name of 'Lady Asbo'. She died after taking a cocktail of alcohol, valium, GHB and meow meow, while celebrating Christmas with fellow call girls.

Perhaps I'm a little old-fashioned and easily shocked. But I don't think I'll ever see conveyancing in quite the same light again.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The retirement of Jack Bauer

I admit that I gave up on 24 after about Season 4. It was all too stressful and didn't agree with my blood pressure medication. According to recent reports, it's now become too stressful for the TV executives too, who are pulling the plug on the show after they finish shooting the current batch of episodes.

24 was to the noughties what The X Files was to the 90s - a seminal series, which managed to create its own vivid parallel universe. To conspiracy theorists, both shows revealed supposed truths about the actions of sinister government agencies. But 24 was more shocking and brutal because its subject matter was terror rather than the paranormal and extraterrestrial. It will be remembered for its social and political context - the climate of fear existing post 9/11 - as much as for its relentless pace and amphetamine-driven plotlines.

The question now is whether Jack Bauer can ever truly retire. I'm picturing an old folks' home in southern California in about 2040. An aged CTU agent is served dinner in his chair and excess soup is mopped from his chin by a member if staff. Suddenly a call comes through. It's the President.

One last mission. He will be back by this time tomorrow night. Godammit! Where's his razor? He starts barking orders at his carers. 'Get my phone on a charger. And bring the SUV round the back...'

Friday, March 26, 2010

Inside knowledge

I've been building up a fascinating picture of the penal system across Europe this week, thanks to a couple of stories reported in the press.

In the Netherlands, prisoners are being offered support from psychics who are able to put them in touch with dead relatives. One such practitioner, clairvoyant Paul van Bree, not only reassures the lags with confirmation of the afterlife, but also helps the authorities to gain an insight into the criminal mind and determine the nature of the rehabilitation programme. It's not made clear whether van Bree is capable of seeing - Minority Report style - future offences that might be committed by the inmates. He describes himself as a 'paragnost' rather than a precog.

If this scheme were introduced in British prisons, the psychics could do all kinds of helpful stuff. Like help the inmates predict the schedule for Sky One or anticipate the next PS3 games to arrive at the jail.

In reality, the soothsayers are more likely to be in demand in Sweden. At Malmo's Kirsebirg Prison, warders are under attack from a jailbird who uses his flatulence as a weapon against them. Rather than confront the Scandinavian screws with some homemade knife fashioned out of a sharpened water bottle, the dangerous convict breaks wind instead. My thinking is that the jailers need some kind of advance warning of these attacks.

'I've got this picture of a menu. It's next Wednesday's dinner. It's hazy, but I can see the words lentils and beans.'

'Thank you. That's all I need to know. Anders, get me the cook on the line now...'

Delia Blumenthal at Waitrose

I admit to being a little bemused by the current Waitrose advertising campaign which brings together Heston Blumenthal and Delia Smith. It's exotic snail porridge for breakfast, followed by boiled egg and soldiers. The big question for me is exactly why these two giants of the culinary world have been thrown together and what they have to do with John Lewis' flagship food store. Maybe all will be revealed in due course.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Benchmarking London's best drinking spots

A week ago, while in north London for an aikido seminar, I went at lunchtime to grab a coffee with friends from my local club. It was busy and we couldn't find ourselves a table in a café, so opted for a takeaway from Starbucks and headed into the street.

The bench we found could only have been designed with serious winos in mind. It was facing a roundabout and the only thing that stopped us eyeballing the drivers was some well positioned foliage. Glancing upwards, we could see the towering spire of a local church. How many people had sat on this very bench and experienced a moment of epiphany? Photographic evidence below.

Tramping the streets: aikido club members find an attractive spot to rest their feet

Hobo junction: roundabout is attractive vista for down-and-outs

Divine intervention? The uplifting view for tramps at the roundabout in Muswell Hill.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Dutch King is in his altogether...

I went the other night to a workshop at the mini-Ws' school which was designed to inform parents about the modern techniques used in teaching maths. Imagine my horror when it became clear it was a practical session. Kids were waiting in various classrooms with games and exercises related to addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

I was feeling particularly tired that evening and hoped to ease myself in with a bit of simple adding up, but was plunged straight into long division. Thankfully one of the mums accompanying me on the tour did the heavy lifting. I threw dice for her to establish randomly the sums that she was due to divide. She seemed to get the hang of the technique and I was thankfully never asked to have a go myself. I was awarded a star by the child in charge of the table, presumably for my assured shaking of the dice.

In the substraction room, I encountered a lady who'd come along from the local teacher training college, who was very enthusiastic about a technique imported from the Netherlands within the past ten years. It allowed children to find the difference between two numbers and it consisted of a line drawn across a page. Not a line with numbers on it though. This was the revolutionary thing about the Dutch strategy. Lines with numbers were old hat. Here, we had a line without any numbers. Just a plain old line that you could hang washing on. You placed one number at one end of it and a second number at the other end. You then leapfrogged your way down this empty line in convenient stages, finding your way to round figures and making a note of how many units you'd covered along the way. By adding up the numbers in your 'leaps', you'd worked out the difference between the two figures you started with.

I was just trying to imagine the conference at which the revolutionary Dutch tool was first unveiled. 'Isn't it grand? Isn't it fine? Look at the cut, the style, the line!'

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Girls together

I don't know if you ever have moments when you feel you've been plunged head first, against your will, into the middle of a Mike Leigh movie? (For American readers, I do mean Mike Leigh rather than Spike Lee. It may take a wikipedia visit to make sense of my ramblings.)

Anyway, last week I found myself eavesdropping on a group of women who had got together for lunch. The location was a pretty upmarket spot in south-west London, but their plates of burgers and chips were liberally sprinkled with salt of the earth. Three of the ladies were maybe late 40s, while another couple were younger - perhaps early 30s.

What can we learn from the girls' lunch talk? That it's easy to move pretty effortlessly from domestic violence to Primark and then on to chemotherapy. Along the way, we managed to take in driving habits, hygiene standards in catering environments and a bloke whose appearance who had been markedly transformed for the better by a girlfriend he'd found on the Internet.

'She's three times the size of me,' revealed one of the diners. Given that I judged the speaker to weigh about 25 stone herself, I could only presume that the lady to whom she referred had been found on a website that hired out cranes.

Another member of the group had a hubby who'd been banned from driving because he was over the limit. 'A hundred yards from our house... We'd told 'im...'. There was a general consensus that although he'd been technically on the wrong side of the law, he didn't actually drive drunk. That, presumably, is when you're feeding yourself intravenously with Jack Daniel's as you clutch the steering wheel.

Inevitably the conversation turned to shopping and the destination of choice was a half circuit of the M25 away. 'She loves a bitta Lakeland...'

Mike, you really should have been there. And just pressed record.


Saturday, March 06, 2010

Another tip on dentistry

Further to my earlier blog post about the 'interdental' toothbrush I have at Woodford Towers, I've noticed that the implement is also described as having a 'Pro Tip'. Yes, with this brush, you can adopt exactly the same bathroom routine as a professional. Either that, or it's sold on the personal recommendation of prostitute. One way or the other, I'm proud of my investment.

A change in the weather

I've noticed that the policy on the BBC is for male weather presenters to wear suits when they present the national forecast, but to dress casually for regional broadcasts. God knows what they'd wear if we got down to the level of truly localised bulletins.

Women presenters usually opt for maternity wear. Mrs W has observed the propensity of weathergirls to get themselves in the family way, but hasn't been able to explain the phenomenon to me.

Yes, I do understand how it happens. It's the why that I'm less sure about.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

That's a mouthful

My new Colgate toothbrush is described as having 'interdental' bristles. I'm not very much interdental myself. I can take it or leave it.

I also want to point out that I didn't choose the brush for this unique feature. Hadn't read the packet. It was purely cointerdental.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Who done that?

I know that a British astronaut has been tweeting from the International Space Station, but I hope to God they haven't brought in a British plumber to help with their recent toilet installation.

Sharp intake of breath underneath space suit.

'Nah, mate. Spacewalk is a BIG job. Can't look at it today, but how about early next week? It'll costcha, mind...'

Saturday, February 13, 2010

More writing tips of yesteryear

It's time to return to a classic text I introduced on WARTE last year: Ronald Pelham's How shall I word it? The self-help book, published in 1949, is designed to help the reader compose appropriate letters for any occasion. And I mean any occasion.

Let's say, for instance, that you were in the process of forming the Middle Maxton Cricket Club and needed a local gent to serve as your first President. Pelham believes that obsequious flattery is the best strategy.

'I know you are keen on the game and, before calling a meeting of all interested, I wondered whether you would allow your name to go forward as prospective President. There is no more enthusiastic cricketer in the district that your good self, while as for prowess on the Green - well, I for one shall never forget that sparkling century of yours last season in the Charity Match when you came to the rescue after we had lost seven men for ten runs...'

Hell, if I received a letter like this, I'd allow my own name to go forward. Never mind that I have only the shakiest grasp of the rules and would rather watch paint dry than roll up at The Oval.

Ever mindful that people get themselves into all kinds of scrapes, the author extends his advice beyond the world of amateur sport. On Page 70 and 71, he tackles that tricky situation when you've been summoned to appear in court for a driving offence, but your father is dying and not expected to last the week. The unfortunate scenario gives you reason to excuse yourself from a personal appearance before the beak, but Pelham believes that you also have to defend the case in writing.

'...I plead that the circumstances made it impossible for me to see the lights. I was in a stream of traffic, on the right of a lorry loaded high with goods. As I moved slowly forward beside it, the lights must have changed to red.'

Would such a letter cut any ice, do you think? Possibly. But only if you happened to have a dying father and had recently been nicked for jumping lights which had been obscured by a heavily-laden lorry.

'After twelve years of driving I have a clean licence and therefore ask for leniency.'

Next time on WARTE: Mr Pelham's suggestions for tackling a noisy neighbour who's playing a radio too loud, while you're working nights.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

How much should I bid?

Every so often, an extraordinary freebie called The Richmond Magazine drops through my letterbox at Woodford Towers. This glossy publication is full of ads for private schools and modest semi-detached properties in Kew that are going for £3.25 million.

The February edition caught my eye because of a chance to win breakfast with Texan supermodel and Richmond resident Jerry Hall. Although Jerry's a bit old for me - and, of course, I'm happily married to Mrs W - I thought a spot of brekkie with a former A-list sleb would be something to blog about in the future. It turns out that it's just something for me to blog about today, because entrants don't actually 'win' this competition. They have to submit sealed bids, with the money going to worthy local causes such as The Richmond Magazine Adopt a Deer Appeal.

Somehow, I don't think I'm likely to be able to compete with the deep-filled pockets of the Richmond glitterati. A shame, because 'celebrated inventor' Trevor Bayliss OBE is due to drop in to the breakfast too, along with One Show reporter and former CBBC presenter Angelica Bell. One day.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Saving sounds so attractive, doesn't it?

How about this for an exciting proposition in a leaflet from the bankers at Britannia?

'If you save just £1 a day, in a year you would have £365 to spend on the little things in life that keep you smiling.'

It sounds almost too good to be true. Are they really saying that if I set aside a quid a day, I'd have seven quid after a week? And perhaps as much as £31 after a good month?

It's very tempting, but the world of financial services is highly competitive. Britannia are not the only people making this particular offer. I've recently been contacted by Piggy Bank and a new start-up called 'Under the Mattress'. They're offering me exactly the same impressive rate of return.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Let your animal instincts get the better of you

I'm grateful once again to my old friend the Hoffmeister (www.hofflimits.co.uk) for pointing me to some important regional news.

Colchester Zoo is capitalising on Valentine's Day by offering a unique setting for marriage proposals. The detail of the scheme is so nuts that I can only assume it was dreamt up in the orangutan enclosure or after a failed full frontal labotomy of a PR consultant.

According to the promotional blurb, your partner won't be able to say no if you pop the question alongside their favourite cuddly animal. You therefore book a feeding or 'training' session with a keeper and ask suitably earnest questions about the dietary habits of sealions or giraffes. When the moment is right, it's suggested you then step in with your engagement ring as the Zoo produces a red rose and a glass of bubbly. The 30-minute 'experience' needs to be pre-booked, which is a real shame, I feel. If I were going to propose to someone alongside a gorilla, I'd want it to be spontaneous, wouldn't you?

If you're already happily married or don't yet feel ready to commit, there's a separate package available. 'Woo at the Zoo' - a concept borrowed from the US - allows you to 'cosy up with your nearest and dearest' during a 'special romantically themed event'. I can't do this one justice without reproducing some of the copy from the Zoo's website:

Enjoy an animal courtship themed show and learn the different ways that animals can attract each other in the animal kingdom in the 'Woo at the Zoo' theatre display in the Wild About Animals Theatre at 14.30!

Come and enjoy a range of unique Valentine Animal Enrichment Feeds with a talk by the Keepers taking place throughout the week including Chimps enjoying strawberries and ‘chimp champagne’ or Tigers in a ‘Tug of Love’.


At 2.45pm, we can join the wolves in a session entitled 'They call it puppy love'. A quarter of an hour later, we are hurried along to the tiger area for Amur 'Amour'.

If you don't hear much from me over the next few days, it's because I'm just loading a tranquiliser gun and pointing it directly at my temple.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Nice little earner

At the London summit this week on Afghanistan, £87m was set aside by world leaders to employ Taliban fighters in more productive activities. So if you're struggling in the UK recession and lacking in any financial support from the government, it might be a good idea to hop on a plane to Helmand. Taliban pay at the moment isn't great by Western standards, but you're given a free AK-47 and free run of local caves. Just wait for some civil servant to turn up with a chequebook.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Are you blind, referee?

Sky is set to broadcast a football match in 3D for the first time in UK pubs. I know that referees are frequently told they need glasses, but now I guess it's going to become more important than ever.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Trust no one.

I'm grateful to my Facebook friend Ann Godridge for a tip about a New Scientist article covering the history of communication with extra-terrestrial beings.

Assuming the little green men to be interested in the humdrum carry-on that passes for daily life on Earth, we've been sending various messages out into space. Some of the communication has been the kind of thing you probably remember being reported on Blue Peter as a kid. Pictures, music, scientific proofs etc. I guess a whole load of noughts and ones too, because that's the kind of lingo those space people talk.

Other messages have, on the other hand, been a little more eccentric.

According to NS reporter Michael Marshall, there was once a research affiliate at MIT who had a rather unusual approach to intergalactic chat. As this is a family blog, I must spare you the detail, but the fellow in question thought it important for Mr Spock to hear sounds that revealed, shall we say, a rather intimate and carnal portrait of womankind. He started broadcasting them from Millstone Hill Radar (Earth) to Epsilon Eridani and Tau Ceti (Outer Space) in the mid-1980s. When the US Air Force got wind of the transmissions, they quickly shut down the project, but not before some rather embarrassing material - provided, bizarrely, by ballet dancers - had escaped the Earth's atmosphere.

It's difficult to know where to start with this extraordinary revelation. It sounds like the kind of experiment that a young David Duchovny might have been involved with. The presence of Special Agent Fox Mulder would certainly have explained some of the sounds that the dancers were making. And when a group of heavily-armed military personnel stepped in to stop the fun, it would be proof positive that they knew something we didn't. After all, why bother to close the project unless they thought that our sexy signals might be misinterpreted by ET?

The truth is out there. And it seems that often it's stranger than fiction.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Here today, swan tomorrow...

The news that two married swans have decided to divorce and find new partners has caused a stir at a wildlife sanctuary in Gloucestershire, England. It's certainly a worrying signal of avian moral decline. You would have thought they could have stayed together for the sake of the signets.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

New TV channel makes me a little seasick

My TV remote has never ventured quite as far as Channel 888 on Sky, but if it did, I'd be settling down for a night of entertainment courtesy of Ocean Finance. Unbelievably, the high-profile broker - which is known for its seemingly unlimited advertising budget on daytime cable telly - now finally has a channel of its own. And on the associated website, you're able to get a flavour of the thrills that lie in store.

Today's 20-minute clip features some stilted dialogue between a roving reporter and one of Ocean's mortgage advisors. After an interminable minute of animated type and music, the excitable pair get talking about right-to-buy schemes for council and housing association tenants. Here's a sample.

INTERVIEWER:
"Chris, what would you say is the most important document for right-to-buy customers?"

MORTGAGE MAN:
"It's got to be the Section 125 paperwork or 'offer to sell' as it's known in Scotland."

INTERVIEWER:
"Which is...?"

Good question. There's no flies on this bloke. And here's the answer:

MORTGAGE MAN:
"The Section 125 is the offer notice documentation that's sent to you by your local council or housing association after you apply to purchase your property from them."

You know what? I'm hooked. From now on, you can forget Jack Bauer on Sky One. Just give me back-to-back Ocean.

"Previously on Right to Buy Paperwork..."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Prisons may soon open wide for dentists

The news today that officials intend to target white-collar tax evaders will be welcomed by anyone with a sense of social justice. After all, it's not only plumbers and roofers who are potentially on the fiddle.

Doctors and dentists are apparently top of the hitlist being drawn up by Revenue & Customs. Initially, there will be a bizarre amnesty in which medics are encouraged to fess up to any untaxed cash they have hidden under an operating table. If they come forward before the end of March, they can cough up and get away with a relatively small fine. Woe betide anyone who fails to comply, however. Serial evaders might end up doing a seven in the Scrubs.

This sounds pretty tough, to be honest. Harold Shipman only got 15 life sentences, after all, and he'd bumped off a couple of hundred old ladies. But issues of fairness aside, what will life be like in clink after a round-up of dental surgeons, gynaecologists and shrinks?

Out in the yard, there's a commotion. Big Rick has produced a blade and taken a hostage. It's Doc. His regular surgery during exercise initially proved to be a big hit with the inmates, but now he's started running late and fobbing people off with paracetamol. Rick's been told that the next available appointment is on Wednesday week and he ain't pleased.

Meanwhile, back on the wing, a bent screw is slipping illegal contraband into the cell of a prominent dermatologist. The 12ft x 6ft space is set up to look like a Harley Street consulting room, so that the consultant feels right at home. "I've got everything you asked for, guv. Apart from them Eumovate-branded post-it notes. Like gold dust, they are. But give me another week..."

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Just floating an idea...


Milking it: leaflet celebrates continuous tradition of home deliveries

I’ve been studying a promotional leaflet from a company called milk&more. It shows a street in which there are four milkmen – each celebrating a different era from the profession’s proud history. To the left, in scratchy sepia, we see a Victorian tradesman, complete with churn. To his right, there’s a wartime milko and also a chirpy chappie from the 1970s, who looks as if he might qualify for a lead role in a low-budget erotic movie. In glorious colour on the far right of the leaflet, we meet the modern-day delivery man, who is dressed in green and holding a milk&more branded crate. As you’d expect, this has more than just milk in it. There’s bread, Weetabix, Tropicana and all kinds.

Today’s milkman has no hat, whereas all his predecessors believed professional headgear to be an important part of their image. This seems to me to be a depressing decline in standards over the years, but I’ll let it go.

The thing that’s really confusing me is the copy which suggests the 1940s milkman continued his deliveries despite the disruption of the Second World War. Can this really be true? As ARP wardens pushed and cajoled the public into the relative safety of shelters and tube stations, Mr Milk was going his own sweet way. Never mind the 1,000lb bombs exploding all around, courtesy of the German Luftwaffe. He’d defy the blackout, clutching a torch and pulling a wheelbarrow full of bottles. Cor luvaduck! Old Ethel wants three pintas today rather than her usual two and that’s the truth and no mistake.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure milk was rationed during World War II and quite hard to come by unless you were pregnant or had young kids. Didn’t most people actually have to put up with some powdered muck that you mixed with water? I’m sure there’s a social historian among the Washed and Ready readers who can shed some light on this matter.

One thing we can all agree on though: you couldn’t get Tropicana or Innocent Smoothies during the Blitz for love nor money. Jerry had a lot to answer for.