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Showing posts from 2008

Recycled waist

Time now to reflect on a bizarre story which broke just before Christmas. An inquiry has been launched into claims by a cosmetic surgeon in California that he's been using the fat extracted from his patients in liposuction procedures as fuel for his Ford Explorer. I'm sure there are some difficult ethical issues to grapple with here, but at first glance, it seems as if Dr Alan Bittner has hit upon a win-win idea. The United States has the biggest obesity problem in the world and simultaneously makes one of the largest contributions to climate change through its use of fossil fuels. Biodiesel from fat therefore kills two birds with one stone. (Or at least allows some very rich birds, who are about 25 stone, to say they're helping to kill off global warming.) Unfortunately, some US states have a very specific law which prohibits people from powering vehicles with medical waste from humans. Quite how legislators were ever this farsighted is difficult to fathom, but it cle

A 'do not disturb' message from someone disturbed

First of all, I'd like to wish all readers of Washed and Ready a very happy Xmas. It's been another fun-packed year on one of the web's most eccentric and eclectic blogs and I'm grateful for your support. Staying with my family and in-laws in a fairly decent hotel outside London for the Yuletide festivities, I was surprised to find a poison pen letter outside the door of my room. It warned - in broken English and quite a few capitals - that the writer had been disturbed by last night's noise and if there were any repeat, the situation would be reported to the hotel reception. Not having been in the hotel the previous night, I think I could claim to have a reasonable alibi. But I didn't like the cut of this anonymous nutter's jib. I therefore reported the threatened reporting to reception. And I've just put the chain on the door.

Mrs W and the Dormouse

Mrs W has had a nasty chest infection and is starting her second load of antibiotics. When the doctor listened to her through a stethoscope today, she asked the Mrs to say "ninety nine". Why ninety nine? Who knows? But it's an age-old tradition. I was reminded of the classic children's poem by A A Milne, The Dormouse and the Doctor . A Doctor came hurrying round, and he said "Tut-tut, I am sorry to find you in bed. Just say 'Ninety-nine' while I look at your chest.... Don't you find that chrysanthemums answer the best?" I checked the date on the book and it was first published in 1924. So humans and dormice alike have been saying "ninety nine" for at least 84 years. (For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, A A Milne's poetry is better than his Winnie the Pooh stories by a factor of about ninety nine, so it's worth a trip to the bookshop - particularly if you have young kids.) The real question is whether Mrs

Breaker 19, I think we got ourselves a throwback...

When Mrs W and I recently filled up the Woodford Peugeot at a local station, I noticed a sign that warned against the use of CB radios near the pumps. Can it really be true that in these days of satnavs, mobiles and wireless internet, there are people who choose to keep in touch by CB? I feel like phoning up some of these big oil companies and asking them what century they're living in. But how would the conversation go? "Hey there Good Buddy, got your ears on? Parked up my four-wheeler the other day and saw your sign. Says the smokeys will be after me if I power up my CB. Ain't no Kojak with a Kodak gonna stop me hitting the airwaves. We down, we gone."

Winner, winner, chicken dinner...

Some interesting spam this week from people telling me about one of the "oldest and most trusted Online Casinos". I don't know about you, but whenever I play roulette on the web, the pedigree and history of the site is always at the forefront of my mind. I check back in the archives and if I find that it wasn't on Google before, say, World War II, I start to get very suspicious.

A tissue of lies

Next time someone sneezes, you shouldn't automatically accept their assurances that they're suffering from a cold. According to an ENT specialist at Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital , sneezing can often be brought on by sexual fantasy. This stands to reason. I've noticed a lot of women sneezing when I get on the train. Particularly in the past month or so.

They wanted to have their cake and eat it

American couple Heath and Deborah Campbell might just have gotten away with naming their kid Adolf Hitler (see ), had they not made the mistake of going to their local ShopRite in New Jersey and asking for his name to be plastered over a birthday cake. For some reason, the staff thought the request somewhat inappropriate. Why the unusal moniker? "No one else in the world would have that name," commented dad, when asked to justify the burden he had placed upon his three-year-old boy. Umm... I think if pops digs just a little further, he may find that someone did once share that name. But he was involved in genocide in Europe about 65 years ago, so there may not have been that much coverage in the Bayonne Bugle . Hold on a second though. What's this? Adolf's siblings have unconventional names too? Say heil to JoyceLynn Aryan Nation and Honszlynn Himler Jeannie. According to press reports,

Reach for the Skyport

Glancing over someone's shoulder on the 285 bus yesterday, I was fascinated to read the latest news in Skyport - the racy tabloid distributed to workers at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. The best story was about a man on a bmi flight, whose bladder was so full of beer that he stood up and relieved himself on his seat as the plane was coming in to land at LHR. He created a bit of a mess, as you can imagine, but seemed unperturbed. The report revealed that the miscreant had sat right back down again in his self-created pool. That's one landing on water that I'm really glad I didn't see. A judge's comments on his behaviour were summarised in the pithy headline "Urine trouble now". In football news, Immigration beat BA Flight Deck 4-0. Good result that. A regular feature column called Fly Past (geddit?) examines aircraft of yesteryear. In this edition, we were treated to a tour of the elegant Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, which graced our skies after World War I

Any theme will do

I saw the mini-Ws' school production of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat last night and it was a great hour of foot-tapping entertainment. The kids did very well in terms of performance, but it did strike me again just how fabulous the writing of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice really is. Generally, life in the early 1970s was pretty bleak. It was Life on Mars and That's Life and, if you were very lucky, The Good Life . The Webber and Rice rock opera phenomenon was different. The roots of shows such as Joseph and Jesus Christ Superstar actually stretch back to the end of the swinging sixties, but they were tailor-made to inject some belated hippy joie de vivre into that dismal period dominated by Ted Heath, Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan. The music is exuberant, accessible and borrows from a range of different genres. The lyrics are genuinely funny and are based on that unshakeable 60s principle that no subject is too worthy or important to avoid humorous

A great idea... every time

Have you tried the new, re-usable shopping bags at Tesco? They're much better than the wafer-thin regular ones, which always split open as you're heading for the door. And the good news is that the sturdy, eco-friendly carriers are only 9p each. I pick up a couple of them every time I go to the store.

The blunder of Woolies

I popped down to my local Woolies in south-west London this morning, just as it threw open its doors, and captured the excitement on my trusty Nokia. Inside, there were a lot of disappointed punters. It seems the failing retailer can't even get its closing-down sale right. Where were the 50% discounts? 10% and 20% certainly. But according to regulars, nothing much seemed to have changed from yesterday or the day before. I hope soon to post some reflections on this great icon of the British high street. Woolworths: did it have to end in tears? Coming soon to Washed and Ready to Eat .

Estate agents in a state

We're used to Christmas sales in the high street. In the dim distant, they used to start on Boxing Day, didn't they? Today, with the credit crunch on top of us and a major recession looming ahead, the retail reductions are already in full swing. Knock-down toys, cheap electronic goods, two packs of mince pies for the price of one, thousands of pounds off a local house, bargain basement decorations... er.... hold on a second. Let's rewind. The one before last. Thousands of pounds off a local house? Yep, that's right. You've got it in one. Not to be outdone by the likes of MFI or the bean-counters who've taken responsibility for Woolies, Countrywide plc are holding an "end of year property sale" later this week. Their local subsidiary has written to me at Woodford Towers and given me the details. "A genuine Sale (sic) of this magnitude," gushes the letter, "has not been seen in the UK property market." I'll take their

Manuelgate: the aftermath

Elderly comic actor Andrew Sachs is said to be shocked by the award handed to Russell Brand at last weekend's comedy Oscar show (see ). "It baffles me as to why he is so popular," comments a bemused Manuel. "There's no style or structure to his work. He speaks off the top of his head." Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of Brand's poorly judged phone calls to the veteran star of Fawlty Towers , I'm not sure that the absence of style or structure is necessarily a barrier to good comedy. If every comedian followed a script in which he endlessly repeated phrases such as "Que?", the world would certainly be a safer place. But not automatically a funnier one. Jonathan Ross (in style of John Cleese): "There is too much butter on those trays ." Russell Brand: "Que? Eh? What you talkin' about?" Jonathan Ross: "The

Dutch courage

According to The Telegraph (see ), Amsterdam is planning a crackdown on the sex trade and "coffee" shop culture in the city. While Dutch burghers may succeed in reducing the amount of vice, I somehow think they're on a hiding to nothing when it comes to wacky baccy. If my last visit in September was anything to go by, there's more being smoked there than at any time in living memory. A kind of all-pervasive haze of marijuana hung over the centre of town. You can't solve this kind of narcotic pollution through a few more police cars. It would take the equivalent of a Kyoto Treaty.

Britain as you've never seen it before

A report tonight on Mrs W's favourite German TV channel, Deutsche Welle, examined how the economic crisis was hitting mince pie sales in the UK. I learned - for the very first time - that in Britain we believe in eating 12 mince pies every Christmas - one for each month of the forthcoming year. It's a way of ensuring good luck. Mr Kipling clearly needs to double the size of his exceedingly good packs. After all, you frequently hear people tell you they're four mince pies short of their target on Christmas Eve and aiming for a superstitious binge just before Midnight. The editors at Deutsche Welle should know about another common British superstition. We're only allowed to open our presents and tuck in to our turkey when we've exposed a foreign TV channel for talking absolute cobblers in one of their festive broadcasts.

Is it me? Or is it my phone?

Two very posh girls on the train this evening, both of whom work for a publishing company. A mobile goes off in a handbag. "I'm ringing!" exclaims one of the ladies, as she rummages for the eau de cologne. It's at this kind of moment when I wish my grasp of Greek rhetoric was a bit better. Metonymy, I think. The lady has substituted herself for the phone. I was picturing her back at home, with her ready-made Tesco Finest meal pinging in the oven. "I'm done!"

One for the diary

News reaches of me of an event organised by the Greater London region of the Federation of Small Businesses. A "festive one hour" (sic) has been arranged tomorrow at the Memorial Roundabout, Orpington High Street. I think limiting things to an hour is probably a good idea. We wouldn't want the yuletide excitement to get out of hand. The big draw is the attendance of John Wright. Yes, that's what I said too. The John Wright who coached the Indian cricket team a few years ago? Johnny Wright, the Northern Ireland 'B' international, who once played for Norwich City? Ian Wright's long-lost brother, perhaps? No. We're talking about the Hon. National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, who'll be switching on the Christmas lights. Orpington has never seen the like of it. The event is apparently being filmed and the press will be in attendance.

Kings and Queens of Denial

Of all the ideas derived from psychoanalysis, the notion of someone being "in denial" is perhaps the one that's wormed its way the deepest into popular culture. (I won't probe too deeply into why I chose the word "wormed" in that previous sentence. Or why I chose probe for the subsequent one.) Anyway, there's no one better at denial than estate agents. A recent door-drop at Woodford Towers from a local property pusher refers to the 'many hungry buyers' who are 'on the hunt' for cottages in our south-west London enclave. I'm like yyrw. Which is like yeah yeah right whateva for those of you who aren't up with the lingo. We're then encouraged to call their "busy" office where a lady called Ann will pick up the phone. Unless, of course, she's just too snowed under. If it rings and rings, it would probably be that she's dealing with a flood of hungry buyers who've decided to besiege her desk. It absolut

AQ calling

The Sky News coverage of the Mumbai attacks is, as you might expect, a little over-excitable. One of their correspondents, who was speculating on the likely involvement of al-Qaeda, started referring to the terror network as AQ. I didn't realise Osama's barmy army had become quite so cool. It almost sounds like a rebrand. Perhaps an expensive new logo will soon be unveiled? According to the Sky man, if a homegrown Indian organisation turns out to be behind the bloodshed, it will be an example of the "AQ franchise" at work. Franchising? Do you think the locals buy in? A couple of million Rupees up front and they're sent a full kit of grenades, AK-47s and anything else they need to sell terror door to door in their local area. Unfortunately, it's probably not too far from the truth. They even throw in an introductory training course if you're able to make your way to a cave near the Afghan/Pakistan border.

The wonder of Woolies

When I heard that Woolworths was for sale at the bargain price of just £1, I was tempted to pop down to my local store and outbid the restructuring specialist rumoured to take over the legendary high-street chain. I reckoned £1.50 might do it, but I was prepared to go up to two quid. Unfortunately, there's some small print. You have to be prepared to take on around £300m in debt. Given the current credit crunch - and what with Christmas coming up and everything -that's more than I want to take on at the moment.

Partridge, eat your heart out...

Disingenuous is a pretty difficult word to define, but a trip to a Travelodge would certainly help the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. Apparently the budget hotel chain's customers don’t want “synthetic” smelling toiletries in their room, as they’d prefer to use their own. Yeah. And I’d like to bring my own bed linen along too. In fact, I’ll make sure I pack my own portable TV and kettle for good measure. I don’t want readers to think the credit crunch has hit so hard that I’m habitually posing as Alan Partridge, but when I travel my accommodation is often organised by other people, so mistakes can happen. I've brought shower gel from another hotel I stayed in the other day. And I'm shortly going to retire to my comfortable bed. Complete with an incontinence undersheet. I kid you not.

He's in the panto! Oh no he isn't!

Here's a riddle for you. How can you star in a panto without actually being in a panto? It's easy if your name is Stephen Fry and you're performing as a video projection on a mirror in Snow White at the Theatre Royal, Norwich. Unfortunately, this virtual role means that Stephen won't have the pleasure of meeting at first hand Nick Aldis (TV's The Big O) or Caitlin Stasey of Neighbours fame.

Does St Peter have a peaked cap?

It's been reported today that veteran comic actor Reg Varney has sadly passed away, aged 92. Best known for his role as Stan Butler in the classic British sitcom On the Buses , the star has taken his very last journey between the gasworks and the cemetery gates. For Stan's sake, we can only hope that St Peter doesn't resemble his former nemesis, Blakey. "No, Butler. You ain't comin' in. You 'aven't finished your shift, 'ave you? You 'eard me, mate. Sling your 'ook!"

Improbable plots of yesteryear

Before retiring to bed at Woodford Towers last night, I idled away a bit of time watching an episode of The New Avengers , which I think may have been on BBC3 or BBC4. I couldn't help thinking the plot was a little far-fetched and would be interested in readers' opinions. Synopsis: In April 1945, a plane departs Nazi Germany, carrying Adolf Hitler and a bodyguard of around 40 or 50 elite stormtroopers. The aircraft crashes on a remote island off the UK and everyone survives apart from the Fuhrer, who goes into a coma. His Nazi pals manage to preserve him cryogenically and kill time for about 20 years or so, posing as monks and spending their days producing fish extracts. Being short of ammunition, they keep their Luger and Schmeisser firearms for show and subdue the local population through the use of poisoned fish hooks, which they cast from rods. Eventually, they hear of a brilliant German doctor who is able to bring animals back from the dead by means of injections. When

Sleb price tags revealed

In these strange times, when capitalist governments are busy nationalising banks and so on, it's probably a tad unfashionable to believe that the market is the best judge of a person's intrinsic value. But take a look at the fees being paid to the wannabes and has-beens lined up for the latest I'm a celebrity series on ITV1: Nicola McLean £7.5k Carly Zucker £10k Robert Kilroy-Silk £15k George Takei £20k Esther Rantzen £25k Martina Navratilova £30k Source: Daily Telegraph I can't comment on Nicola McLean, as I'm not sure I know who she is. All I can say is that it would take more than seven-and-a-half large to convince me to spend time in a jungle with Robert Kilroy-Silk. Carly Zucker is set to marry footballer Joe Cole and I'd like to think that he could stand her 10 grand out of his weekly paycheck. Her engagement ring supposedly cost five times as much. Which does beg the question as to whether any of these celebs really need a financial incentive at all

Piracy on the high seas

Me timbers were shivered when I heard the Royal Navy had shot three Somali and Yemeni pirates. Pirates are only armed with cutlasses and primitive firearms, whereas Royal Marine Commandos carry SA80 assault rifles and other automatic weapons. That's not a fair fight in anyone's book.

i is callin dis geeza called seeza

Roman charges may apply: Centurion awaits your call in fluent Latin I admit to being stopped in my tracks at the post office by this “teach yourself Latin” CD. While I’m sure that the parents of children in local private schools might like their precious sons and daughters to brush up on their amos , amases and amats , the emphasis of this particular product is on conversational Latin. This is demonstrated very clearly by the picture of the Roman soldier on the cover, chatting happily from the battlefield over his eau de cologne. “Tell Caesar we’ve had a spot of bother with the Carthaginians again, would you? I may not be able to make that meeting on Wednesday.” If you look closely, you’ll see that the Roman in question has a rather ancient looking mobile. Probably produced by the God of Communication, Mercury One-2-One, sometime around AD 1996. Want to chat? If so, you’ll need to learn the lingo. For texting, for instance, you should substitute the words “to”, “too” or “two” with the

Yep, she really said it...

Former Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin was recently asked whether she'd consider running for the White House in four years' time. Her answer has been quoted in the press as follows: "I'm like, OK, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I'm like, don't let me miss the open door. Show me where the open door is. And if there is an open door in 2012 or four years later, and if it is something that is going to be good for my family, for my state, for my nation, an opportunity for me, then I'll plough through that door." The moose-munching Bible basher certainly added some colour to the 2008 contest, so I can't say I'm completely opposed to her getting involved again in the future. But I'm like, God, can you like make sure that the ultimate door to the White House remains, like, closed.

Gated development

Proud rail officials are handing out leaflets at London’s Waterloo station telling passengers of the many advantages of the new ticket barriers. After months of installation and years of planning, the dream has finally become a reality. I think the barriers were first proposed sometime between the end of the Second World War and the official launch of the futuristic Oyster Card at the Festival of Britain in 1951. And now we’re finally there. The machines all sit proudly in bubble wrap, waiting to be unveiled at an unspecified point in December. Quite why they can’t work immediately isn’t really explained. According to the leaflet, the station has been ‘gated’ – a hideous piece of rail jargon which could easily have been translated into plain English. And there’s a boast too. This is the longest ‘gate line’ in Europe. Don’t it just make you proud to be British? It’s a record breaker… dah-da-da-da-da-daaah! Why don’t we get Norris McWhirter and Roy Castle down there for the grand opening

Panto? Oh no, I'm not...

It's that time of year that puts a spring in every resting thespian's step. Panto season is upon us and one person you'd definitely expect to be slapping on the grease paint is Melvyn Hayes. Best known for his role as Bombardier Gloria Beaumont in BBC TV's popular 1970s sitcom It ain't half hot mum , Hayes has chosen in many previous years to tread the seasonal boards. In 2007-8, however, a whole army of fans was disappointed. On his website at , the cockney funnyman - who once starred alongside Cliff Richard in The Young Ones - talks openly about his decision. "I did have several offers," he says. "The last was to direct one in Stoke-on-Trent. I asked the producer if he'd like to spend xmas in Stoke. He said (after a long pause), 'No, not really.'" At which point, the Bombardier replied: 'Well, that makes two of us.' Good for you, Melvyn. It might not be politically correct, but you're speaking

Too clever to be president?

I know many readers - particularly those on the other side of the Atlantic - were looking for WARTE to take a clearly defined position on the outcome of the US presidential election. Would this highly influential blog lend its support to the learned, pragmatic, yet inspirational Barack Obama? Or would it instead opt for the eccentric, geriatric Vietnam vet and self-styled maverick, John McCain, and his Girl Wonder - the moose-munching Governor Palin who believes that humanity once shared the earth with the dinosaurs. In the end, I decided not to interfere in what must be a decision for American citizens alone. But let's put it this way. They managed to get it right on this occasion. The absence of my personal endorsement didn't seem to make a fundamental difference to the result. One of the most surprising aspects of this election has been the victory of a candidate who is a fairly unashamed intellectual. In recent times, the Americans have opted for Republican Presidents with

With age comes wisdom. Most of the time.

The older mini-W has seen some stuff about the American election on the TV and has concluded that she wants John McCain to win because he's "more experienced". In a state of obvious shock, Mrs W had to explain that you can be old and experienced and still not know your a** from your elbow. My worry is that this revelation may come back to haunt us. After all, our own age and experience are our only claim to authority over the mini-Ws. Without the aura of wisdom that comes with advancing years, Woodford Towers may descend into Lord of the Flies .

Your favourite blogger now 40

Analyse this: friends of Washed and Ready to Eat's Phil Woodford gather at London's Freud Museum to celebrate his 40th birthday at the start of November. Although Woodford still reserves the right to comment on issues that affect young people, he'll also be also dealing sensitively with the priorities, aspirations and concerns of the middle aged.

The best wurst

We all want to know that our sausages come from the right kind of places, don't we? Well, these ones come from Harrogate. Or at least 97% of them do. The rest must come from somewhere else. The important thing is that the meat is sourced from farms that are "personally approved by Debbie & Andrew". And if Debbie & Andrew approve of them, that's surely all any of us need to know. Even if we've only become acquainted with them via their new recyclable cardboard sleeve made from renewable FSC approved paper sources. According to the gushing blurb, penned by the eponymous stars of the sausage brand: "Our weekly family tasting sessions with the children help us ensure we continue making the tastiest, loveliest, most perfect of sausages." Just as long as you're not tasting my sausages, Debbie & Andrew. I'll be looking out for teeth marks.

How many pancakes?

According to the packaging on my pancakes, Jonathan Warburton's youngest son "eats three of these tasty treats in one sitting". I don't know exactly how old the heir to the British bread empire is, but I suspect he may be defying medical advice by eating 1.62g of salt at a go. For a five-year-old, this would be more than 50% of the recommended daily intake. And I haven't even delved into the sugar and saturated fat. Nevertheless, his dad reckons there's no "greater endorsement" of the family product. Warburtons Pancakes. Can be eaten hot or cold. Delicious served as a dessert with ice cream and chocolate sauce or summer fruits, whipped cream and raspberry coulis.

We plan to lure one of your best Earth footballers...

I was intrigued by the spat between former Man Utd player Gabriel Heinze and Sir Alex Ferguson. The veteran manager claims that Real Madrid were only interested in Heinze as a way of luring Ronaldo. Heinze's bizarre response was to accuse Ferguson of coming up with "an absolute work of science fiction". Not sure you really mean science fiction, Gabriel, my old son. Unless Fergie was claiming you'd been abducted by aliens and travelled via a wormhole to Spain.

They didn't get away with it

I won't use this page to offer support for Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, as what they did to Andrew Sachs would be pretty hard to defend. It does strike me, however, that part of the hullabaloo stems from the sacred status of Fawlty Towers in British popular culture. Undeniably the funniest sitcom ever written on this side of the Atlantic, its leading characters - Basil, Sybil and Manuel - have an almost mythical status. Is the problem really that Ross and Brand have made crude phone calls and said stupid and nasty things? Or is it that they've said them to the bloke who happened to play Manuel in Fawlty Towers ? I reckon a good proportion of the complainants have a picture of Manuel in their minds rather than Andrew Sachs. That poor little man. He got enough stick from Basil thirty years ago, didn't he? Doesn't even speak the Queen's English. And now he's being hounded again. Leave him alone. He's from Barcelona. Before anyone gets carried awa

Toilet germs

There's a big message on Parozone bleach bottles which says "Kills Toilet Germs 100%". First question: what exactly is a 'toilet' germ? How does a germ know that it is only supposed to occupy one room in a house? Second question: do rival bleaches kill the germs with less than 100% efficiency? The germs are dead, but not 100% dead. A bit like in that movie The Hitcher when Rutger Hauer has to be killed about three times at the end before he's confirmed as toast. I think (Jeyes may care to take note here) that the writer actually means "Kills 100% of all toilet germs". This means something rather different from the current formulation, but we don't want to open up a philosophy class here on Washed and Ready .

Skiing with the Nazis

Flicking through a tourist brochure for Bavaria that ran as an insert in last weekend's newspapers, I was a little surprised to see that the Nazis have made a bit of a comeback. The Zugspitze, we are told, sits above the twin towns of Garmisch and Partenkirchen. "It was Hitler," continues writer Arnie Wilson, "who linked them in preparation for the 1936 Winter Olympics - the first to include alpine skiing as well as the traditional Nordic events favoured by the Norwegians." Now that we're in 2008, it's clearly acceptable to drop Hitler into the conversation as if he were just a regular celebrity. No need to qualify the reference with any mention of genocide or the destruction of large swathes of western Europe and the former Soviet Union. To the right of the column, we're shown a Nazi poster for the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics in which an Aryan athlete gazes skywards as he breathes in the rich Alpine air. The caption tells us that the resort

Welcome to the body farm

I was a little disappointed with the first instalment of Stephen Fry's trip round the USA, but the second episode last night (9pm, BBC1) was pretty compelling. Britain's favourite upmarket funnyman spent time with banjo pickers in Tennessee and waltzed around a Florida dancefloor with New York's ageing Jewish diaspora. The most bizarre moment, however, came when he visited a so-called "body farm", where an earnest young lady spent her days monitoring the decomposition of human corpses in a walled garden. There were about 120 dead bodies in all and it seemed they didn't exactly smell too pleasant. From what we could gather, it had something to do with criminal forensic science. Mrs W was wondering whether similar body farms exist in the UK. If you know of any, please email and we can maybe post a map of places to avoid.

Am I really that stupid?

Ignorance can be bliss. But probably not in the middle of the world's worst financial crisis since 1929. One of the features of the ongoing credit crunch that alarms me the most is the sheer complexity of the derivatives and other instruments traded on global markets. Whenever I try to get to grips with credit default swaps and suchlike, I always end up losing the plot somewhere along the line. There was a great idiot's guide in the FT this weekend, with a journalist using analogies to do with haystacks and managing the potential risks of fire. But I felt as thick as Farmer Barleymow as I searched for a tiny needle of understanding. Twenty years ago, I was fortunate enough to study at one of the top social science institutions in the world. But I might as well have spent three years stacking shelves at Asda for all the good it's doing me now. Watching programmes like Newsnight and listening to Today on Radio 4, I gain a small degree of comfort from the fact that even the

I have to say wtf?

Someone told me yesterday that it's now common practice in bars and pubs for people to say "brb" when they nip off to the toilet. For the uninitiated, this expression is text messaging lingo for "be right back". It struck me that life could become a lot simpler if we were able to conduct all our conversation in text. We could, for instance, simply say "lol" or "rofl" rather than actually going to the effort of laughing. All suggestions welcome here on the Washed and Ready to Eat comments board. On the other hand, you may just shrug your shoulders and say yyrw.

Credit crunch swept under the carpet

The credit crunch is becoming a useful opening gambit for all kinds of businesses in their communications with consumers. This morning, for instance, a local carpet firm dropped a leaflet through my door telling me that I can beat the crunch through their unique service. With free gripper rods and door bars on offer, there's no doubt that I'll soon be able to forget about the turbulence on the world financial markets. House prices collapsing? Unable to get a loan? Don't worry, mate. We'll dispose of your existing carpets free of charge.

No nukes is good nukes

I was amused to read the 1970s BBC script, released by the National Archive in Kew yesterday, which was designed for use as an announcement in the event of a nuclear attack. In keeping with the prevailing view of the time that an 'all clear' would eventually sound, listeners were advised to stay in their homes, conserve water and fuel and await further instructions. "Lavatories" (don't you just love the twee, middle-class period character of the language?) were not to be used. The recently nuked populace was encouraged to make "alternative toilet arrangements". In an emergency, one can imagine people perhaps being willing to build pits and latrines in their back gardens, but remember, they were also being told not to go out of the house because of the radioactive fallout. So exactly what the alternative toilet arrangements were supposed to be, God only knows. The end of the announcement is particularly confusing: "We shall repeat this broadca

At long last...

You've been very patient. I promised you some pictures from last month's Austrian holiday, but they've been a while coming. We won't dwell on the disastrous results of today's Austrian general election. With the far-right parties mustering 30% of the vote between them, this may be the last visit I choose to make in a while. It's a shame that in 2008, a large number of people don't seem to have got over 1938.
Tasty Austrian-style food. Venison, noodles and sprouts in a rich onion gravy.
Horse and von trap: Life in Salzburg continues at a relaxed, traditional kind of pace.
Mozart promotes an important birthday. See
Off on the Sound of Music trail. Rival tour buses compete for the tourist trade created by the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical.
Family entertainment, Austrian style.
Anyone crossing a street with a young child must wear a hat.
Shelling out: thousands of painted eggs for sale in a shop in Salzburg's historic Jewish quarter.
Barking mad: a taxidermist is brought in to add spice to a window display in St Johann im Pongau.

Paul Newman

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

An idea that just doesn't fly

As a desperate ploy to get people to pay attention to the safety demonstrations on aircraft, cabin crew frequently say that the instructions on their plane may be different to those that you're used to hearing elsewhere. Really? Have you ever encountered an airline which has invented its own, unique brace position? Or produced a peculiar alternative to the toggle device that inflates the average lifejacket? My hunch - and it's no more than a hunch - is that there are probably legal and regulatory requirements which pretty much standardise the whole safety procedure. BA, for instance, couldn't unilaterally decide that they would dispense with oxygen masks or require passengers to pull them out of a headrest rather than wait for them to drop down from the ceiling. So when you're next told that your aircraft may be different, why don't you stand up and ask the stewardess exactly how? You'd have my full support.

They know where you are

I'm writing this blog entry from Holland and it's very clear that everybody in the whole world (well, everyone at Facebook, Blogger, MySpace and similar sites) realises that I am here. I know they know because I'm confronted by Dutch log-ins and Dutch ads even though my knowledge of the language stretches to an embarrassing "yes", "no", "thank you" and a few other odds and sods. All this tracking stuff is getting a tad too sophisticated, isn't it? I shouldn't really be writing about Holland when I haven't even updated WARTE readers on my trip to Austria last month, but I'll throw in a couple of observations. Amsterdam is still pretty much exactly as it ever was, except with knobs on. Coffee shops, bicycles and canals, along with an all-pervasive smell of wacky baccy - at least in the square mile around the central station. Ladies are still plying their trade in shop windows and everyone speaks excellent English. Not the l

Can we break the news to him gently?

I had the misfortune to catch Scott Mills presenting the midweek lottery show a couple of nights ago. Let me rephrase that slightly. It wasn't Scott himself who was the misfortune. He's a bright lad and gave me a lot of coverage when I organised my 35th birthday party back in 2003. It was his choice of guest that presented me with one of the worst examples of car-crash TV I've seen in a very long time. Sir Cliff Richard - who, believe me, has clearly stopped popping the Peter Pan pills - sang a truly God-awful valedictory song called Thank you for a lifetime , which he'd penned to celebrate his half century in the music business. I have absolutely nothing against novelty records, excessive kitsch or even a little bit of self-indulgence from ageing pop stars. My tolerance level for this kind of stuff is a good deal higher than most people's. But Cliff has produced such a turkey that I found myself involuntarily closing my eyes and grimacing in the privacy of my

ITV1 can still make me happy

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

Bang! And the dirt is gone!

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

Authentic-style descriptions

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

That American presidential contest in full

The US Presidential election is shaping up to be a real humdinger. I have to say, hand on heart, that I was a Hillary Clinton fan. Not because she's a likeable politician or someone who lights my emotional candle, but because I thought she'd have the guts and balls to really stick it to the Republicans. She'd get down and dirty, which is what you need when you're in a street fight. I like Obama, but that's not necessarily a good thing. I remember once choosing a solicitor because I liked her, but she was pretty crap. I ended up advising her on things that were wrong with a property contract. Perhaps I should have sent her a bill? My confidence in Obama has been growing steadily as the campaign has progressed. I have my fingers crossed that he won't buckle under the relentless onslaught that's coming in the next couple of months. But having seen the Republican Convention, I admit my anxiety is rising. McCain-Palin must be one of the barmiest ticke

The housing market in perspective

There's a very amusing double-page spread in my local property rag. Space has been given to a number of the estate agents to offer their considered opinions of the way the market is going in the area. Not surprisingly, many of them are full of bravado and puff. "It is simply a matter of time before we see a recovery," blusters one, although I note he doesn't specify exactly how much time. Another contributor seems to deal only in properties worth several million quid and, unsurprisingly, reports this market as being largely unaffected by the credit crunch. Some agents are, however, clearly at a loss to know what to say. One of them has invited a TV programme into a house which they describe as "an eccentric four-bedroom family home". Another tells the readers frankly that if they're selling and have found a buyer, they should jump into rented accommodation quickly. The biscuit is awarded, however, to the firm which sidesteps the market turmoil ent

My worrying absence

I appreciate that August wasn't exactly a bumper month for fans of WARTE. Many apologies. I've been prioritising my birthday madness (see ) and spending time on my hols. Austria produces some excellent material for a blog of this kind, so watch this space for an update soon. In the meantime, I thought I'd mention that I tried out the new website developed at UCL in London which allows you to trace the geographical origins of your surname. I was disconcerted to discover that there are more Woodfords in Australia than anywhere else, which can only mean one thing: criminal ancestry. It's worrying to discover stuff like this at the age of 39, when you've quite happily been sailing through life assuming your lineage to be pure as the driven snow.

My suggestions for 2012

I'm just watching a replay of the Olympic opening ceremony and trying to imagine the equivalent event in London in four years' time. The culmination in 2012 will obviously have to be a performance by Chas & Dave, although it would be good if we could sneak in a rendition of "Candle in the Wind" by Elton John - perhaps with a modified lyric for the occasion. I also have images of a dance troupe of Pearly Kings and Queens reprising one of the landmark songs from Oliver . We may as well throw in a few fireworks too.

Girl power reaches Eastbourne

Forget the opening ceremony to the Olympics. The Spice Girls tribute night is arriving at the bandstand in Eastbourne. Given that most of the famous pop group's fans must be in their mid-twenties, it's difficult to see how the event is going to be much of a crowd-puller. The bandstand is usually crammed with mobility vehicles and audiences that remember the original girl power of the Andrews Sisters.

Don't panic

Not too many signs of the credit crunch having arrived in Richmond-upon-Thames. The latest edition of an extraordinary freebie called The Richmond Magazine demonstrates the preoccupations of the great and the good in this prosperous part of south-west London. A "French Special" issue, it highlights the joys of owning a second home across the Channel, delves into French fashion and shows the positive role that wine can play as part of your investment portfolio. To give you some context, a two-bedroom apartment in Willow Avenue, SW13 is still going for £875,000. Probably would have been about a mill this time last year.

Spam update

I'd be the first to admit that Washed and Ready to Eat has been a tad neglected of late. This is mainly due to my birthday madness (see ), but I shouldn't allow myself any excuses. It's time to update loyal readers on the latest spam filling the inbox at Woodford Towers. Aleksey Ivanov has written to me twice this month to warn me about a major German car manufacturer. I won't mention its name, as I suspect the author's observations might be construed as defamatory, but the essence of the message is "Achtung!" A Russian mate of Aleksey's (who was transporting his mother and her wheelchair around) discovered something wrong with the brakes on a particular model of motor and Aleksey now sees it as his moral duty to warn the world. He is contacting the manufacturer, "mass media agencies" and auto-dealers around the world. Oh, and me as well. "...Recently thanks to GOD," my Russian correspondent writes, "they di

Guitar man

I just saw this great Commodores vid on VH1 Classic and was concerned by the sheer weirdness of the dude playing the guitar on the right of the screen about a minute in. First of all, he's holding his instrument vertically, which I think we can safely say isn't normal. And his facial expressions are something else as well. Not sure the grainy reproduction on youtube does them justice, but you may get some of the vibe. Nice song though.

Graphic design goes to the dogs

Any graphic designer who clicks to enlarge this picture of Wimbledon dog track in south London will surely marvel at the sophistication of the logo. The perfect complement to the highly attractive stadium. I suspect punters are not deterred by the aesthetics, however. As long as the four dog makes it past the line by a nose, they're happy bunnies. Or should that be hares?

Some clues in the hunt for bin Laden

The discovery that barmy former psychiatrist Radovan Karadzic was happily earning a living as an alternative therapist in Belgrade is perhaps rather unfortunate news for advocates of complementary medicine. It should, however, help us to think more laterally about the search for that other notorious fugitive, Osama bin Laden. Has anyone thought of looking for a rather gentle, clean-shaven old bloke who spends his spare time as a marriage guidance counsellor in Kabul?

And it's goodnight from the Express...

Reading the Daily Express yesterday at my health club was an invigorating experience. A double-page spread was given over to a call for the return of National Service and the paper provided commentary from a number of celebrities who'd done their own square-bashing back in the 50s and 60s. One of the ex-squaddies was none other than Ronnie Corbett of Two Ronnies fame. Just as well a war didn't kick off when he was in uniform. You can imagine how he would have put the fear of God into the enemy, can't you? Were there really no height restrictions? Given that you could get an exemption for flat feet or by pretending that you couldn't see the optician's board, it all seems a little bit odd. I'm now imagining Ron's capture and interrogation by a KGB official. "We need to know the details of your service in the British forces, Mr Corbett." "Service? Well, it's strange you should mention that. Because the standard of service in the BBC

Half baked ideas

Feasting on new basil and parmesan Bruschettine from Bertolli, I notice that the tasty crouton-style snacks are "hand baked in Italy". That hand baking must be difficult work. Especially when the oven gets hot.

Crazy ideas signal the end of an era

When governments are in terminal decline, policy proposals start becoming increasingly bizarre. Remember John Major's much-derided suggestion of a "cones hotline", for instance, back in the 1990s? People could ring up if they saw traffic cones on the road that had no business being there. Wikipedia helpfully reminds of the phone number , although I somehow doubt there's anyone at the other end now. Unless, of course, former Prime Minister Major has time on his hands between cricket matches. Yesterday's suggestion from Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith that young offenders should go on guided tours of accident and emergency departments is one of the barmiest things I have heard in recent years. So barmy, in fact, that it's been pretty much dropped within 24 hours. How exactly would it have worked? My first observation would be that my local A&E department is full of young offenders anyway, so they don't need to be on a government programme to obs

Oh, Strongbow...

Before I forget, I caught a documentary the other day late at night on the BBC. The programme featured a man with 20 children, most of whom seemed to live in his small house along with a new partner. One of his grandchildren was there too. I opted out after about a quarter of an hour, but had already learned more about life in modern Britain than I probably wanted to know. Two things particularly stick in my mind. The first was the star giving a rendition of his own song, "Oh, Strongbow", which he'd set to the tune of "Mandy" by Barry Manilow. The second was the extensive family tree which he'd had tattooed on his back. Bizarrely, one of his estranged relatives - a daughter perhaps? - had seen it on display at some open-air event and had managed to work out that she was a blood relation. Who needs those genealogy websites, eh?

Staggering sign

This afternoon, I passed the entrance to the car park for the Hampton Court Flower Show. Motorists were being greeted by official looking signs which stated: "Please stagger your journey home." How exactly does an individual driver stagger his or her journey? While it might be a good idea if the owners didn't all return to their vehicles simultaneously, I doubt they're in much of a position to know when the other visitors have had enough of the flowers. I wonder what a psychology professor would make of it all? Or a philosopher?

Why not go the whole hog?

When I took some of my birthday hats down to the post office earlier in the week, the guy needed to check the weight and size of the packages. He produced an extraordinary device that had a letterbox-size hole in the middle of it and then proceeded to try to stuff my hats through it. The aim was obviously to simulate the actual task facing a postie, but how realistic was the experiment? I think it's time the Royal Mail added a draught excluder to their pretend letter box. Or maybe erected a full-size front door in front of the counter. You'd be able to post your own package through to the counter assistant. And if it didn't fit, you'd be forced to ring the doorbell.

Doing time

The new prison-based sitcom on the BBC - The Visit - will inevitably draw comparisons with the classic Porridge featuring Ronnie Barker. Indeed, it's rather difficult to imagine how the concept was pitched to TV bosses in the first place. "We have this great idea for a new comedy. It's set in a prison." "Really? That's a highly original idea. I'm surprised no one's suggested it before." Perhaps the executives are too young to remember the 1970s? Or maybe they didn't have the guts to tell the writers to naff orf.

The credit crunch, canaries and carbon monoxide

The older mini-W usually manages to provide an interesting take on events. She surfs property websites for houses and comments on the floor plans in a way that most eight-year-olds don't. Mrs W is to blame for this obsession and has trained her well. Last night, mini asked me why prices were dropping and I talked to her about the credit crunch. (I didn't go into inter-bank lending rates and so on, but gave her the essence of the thing: too much lending of lots of money to people who couldn't pay it back.) When she heard that banks were not lending so readily any more, she nodded sagely and said she could see why the prices were falling, as people were no longer able to get the money to buy. No flies on her. Next week, we'll do a session on interest rates and whether the long-term trend will be upwards due to inflationary pressures in the economy. It was actually a separate discussion about carbon monoxide though that really made me laugh. I was explaining that yo

Hats the way to do it

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about headgear recently. Find out why at

What's the worst time to get stuck in a lift?

I ask this question because my father-in-law managed it yesterday on arrival at St George's Hospital in Tooting, south London. He was there for an operation to implant a cochlear device that acts as a bionic ear. It's the first time this major teaching hospital has performed the procedure on an adult and Mrs W's dad has been told he'll therefore be a bit of a celebrity. Well, a celebrity in Tooting at least. Anyway, imagine the scenario. You're completely deaf and - for various reasons, too difficult to explain here - you're arriving at the hospital unaccompanied. You walk into the lift, which promptly gets stuck between floors. You ring the alarm bell, which connects you with the outside world. And you wait for the instructions or rescue plans to be delivered over the intercom. There is, of course, just one small problem. You can't hear the intercom. So I think it's fair to say that this must have been a pretty scary experience all round. In a

Can't talk now. I'm at the LMAP Conference. Again...

If you're sick of people emailing or instant messaging you (see previous post), one option is to fill your diary with stuff that implies you're out of the office. I was talking to someone today who says it's a common practice at his workplace. A colleague will set Outlook to show that he's at the "LMAP Conference" all day. LMAP apparently stands for "leave me alone please".

Is the world moving too fast?

Not long ago, people were talking about how email had transformed communication. Everything, they argued, had reached a relentless pace. No time for considered correspondence any more. We were forced to act NOW. Just bish bosh and send. Since then, things have moved on. I was talking to a lady on one of my copywriting courses recently who said that her company communicated primarily by realtime instant messaging. When she wanted a break, she used email to slow things down. So just how instant can the world become? Perhaps your company insists on realtime messaging over your mobile while you're driving? Or maybe you've been sacked via Twitter? Let me know by emailing the address above. It may be slow, but it gets to me.

Those questions you never wanted answered

You'll find an awful lot of frequently asked questions on the web. But how frequently are they really asked? I've set up a website to celebrate those rather obscure queries that are only of interest to someone else. Welcome to Phil Woodford's Infrequently Asked Questions .

My 500th post

Although this blog had an earlier incarnation (see ), Washed and Ready to Eat has officially been entertaining readers worldwide for some two years. Thanks very much for staying with the programme. For my 500th entry, I wanted to share with you the warning message on the back of my new notebook power adaptor: (1) This device may not cause harmful interference (2) This device must accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undersirde (sic) operation.

Sign of the times

Can't help but smile at the emails from the estate agents these days. I'm bombarded with news of properties that have been "amended" on the databases of the local firms in south-west London. (Amended is an estate agent euphemism for price slash.) One property went yesterday from being something over half a million quid to the magical figure of £499,950, which is under a stamp duty threshold. Even better news this morning, however. The same property has been re amended. It's now £469,950. Give it a few weeks at this rate of decline and I'll be getting my credit card out.

Do what, Arfur? You ain't been checking my 'ampsteads online, 'ave yer?

Reviewing site statistics is very much part of every popular blogger's life. That's why I only do it once in a blue moon. One interesting trend I've observed is that Washed and Ready to Eat is steadily becoming more international. There was a time when 80% of the visitors hailed from the UK, but now it's only just over half. Over 20% of WARTE fans are based in the USA (howdy-doody y'all) and even Germany clocks up a respectable 8%. The reason I'm really interested in the stats program, however, is the function that allows you to see the search terms which have led people to your site. Recently someone typed "Dennis Waterman's teeth" into Google and ended up right here. It's hard to imagine exactly what was going through their head. But they're very welcome. And worryingly, I suspect they'll feel right at home.

Please take all your personal belongings with you when you leave the train...

The Independent on Sunday is reporting that a second batch of high-security paperwork has been discovered on a train heading for London Waterloo. I travel on that line regularly and all I've ever seen are discarded copies of The Metro , a throng of bored commuters and a handful of disaffected hoodies. But Washed and Ready to Eat has a reputation for breaking important stories, so I'm going to keep my eyes peeled for anything marked TOP SECRET in big red letters. And you'll hear about it on these pages at least five minutes before I sell to a national.

They don't understand

Art is weird, isn't it? People find it so confusing. Walking through the London College of Communication today, I noticed a homemade poster featuring the lyric of Rehab by troubled songstress Amy Winehouse. The words had been transl8d into txt msg lingo. I started to chuckle, because some pedant had scrawled corrections over the text. I think they were missing the point just a little.

A stairway for doggies on their way to heaven

One step at a time: this ageing pooch needs a helping hand to get up on his master's bed. Thanks to House of Bath, there's no more paws-ing on the journey. Click to enlarge. Spare a thought, if you will, for the faithful hound who's no longer quite as sprightly as he used to be. Once, back in 1998, you could rely on him to jump onto your bed in a single bound. Today, riddled with arthritis and only a short tug of the lead away from that ultimate celestial kennel, Rover needs a bit of extra help. House of Bath obliges with an easy-to-assemble staircase which comes with a machine-washable cover. The alternative option is to dismantle your bed and put the mattress on the floor.

Chamorro, Chamorro, we love ya, Chamorro...

What distinguishes regular medical and psychological experts from their celebrity counterparts? Apart from the obvious - the former group is rich, while the latter group is probably a tad richer - the main difference is in the form of address. Sleb medics and shrinks attach the title "Doctor" to their first name, whereas real quacks connect the prefix with a surname. At a local surgery, therefore, you see Dr Smith or Dr Jones. On the telly, you meet Dr Rosemary or Dr Gillian. Big Brother's resident psychologist is Dr Tomas, a rather good-looking lecturer from Goldsmiths College in London. We'll forgive him for using his first name, as his surname - Chamorro-Premuzic - is unlikely to trip off the tongue anywhere east of Buenos Aires or west of Zagreb. His early analysis of the BB9 household suggests that he is able to slip out of the conventions of academic discourse with relative ease. Luke, for example, is described as a "geek" (which Dr Tomas admits

This one's for the birds

Wherever I go, people shout "Hello! Where did you get that hat?" (My answer is always House of Bath.) Click to enlarge. I've seen some bizarre kitsch in my time, but it would have taken a real tit to come up with this idea. If you're patient and very well behaved, I have some more House of Bath treats in the pipeline. Like the staircase that allows elderly dogs to get up on your bed. But only if you're good.

Sartorial faux pas

Picking up the older mini-W from school earlier today, I asked her whether she liked my new jeans, purchased in a central London Gap store a few hours earlier. "No," she replied. "You still have the label on." My panic was immediate and my reflexes were quick. The offending item was removed just a split second before a mother came up and started making conversation. It was actually one of those transparent, sticky strips that reveals your waist and inside leg measurements. They'd hidden the b****rd thing just out of my line of sight round the back of my right thigh.

Deutsche fella gets high marks

Mrs W is a fan of a weird show called Euromaxx , which airs on the German TV channel Deutsche Welle (Virgin Media 830). If you want a handle on Euromaxx , think Eurotrash meets the South Bank Show and you're kind of 25% of the way to understanding what it's about. Cultural trivia and strange arty stuff from Limerick to Lublin. The lead story on their website today is fairly typical: a Berlin gallery is displaying a grand piano made out of a Porsche Carrera. Anyway, the Mrs wrote to one of the presenters - a guy called Robin Merrill - about an item she'd seen a few weeks ago and she actually got a personal reply by email. So hats off to DW-TV and Herr Robin. It's hard to imagine the same personal touch from some celebrity in the UK. Unless, of course, it's Gordon Brown trying to convince you that he's a really, really nice guy. There's another Euromaxx presenter, who's a pretty young lady with very impressive teeth. I think I might try getting in

There's so much more where this came from

How mushroom do you have for hand-crafted art in your garden? You'll certainly be "intrigued to study" this fake fungus. Click to enlarge. Many treats lie in store for WARTE readers over the next week or two. I have in my hands the June 2008 edition of the House of Bath catalogue. It is packed full of must-have furnishings, functional home products and assorted objets d'art. I'm starting you off with fake mushrooms that you can put out in your back garden. Alongside the real ones. Coming soon: the panama hat bird house.

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

You'll never guess who popped up on my breakfast TV screen yesterday morning. It was none other than Gary Webster, late substitute for Dennis Waterman in TV series Minder . Gaz seems still to be dining out on his role as Ray Daley in the ever-popular comedy drama. He had made a report on managing finances, which was introduced with a burst of Waterman's classic 80s theme tune I could be so good for you and black-and-white still photography reminiscent of the original credits. Webster met a man who described himself as a "forager". Every day, this bloke would go out and pick fresh leaves from the countryside and make them into a tasty salad for lunch. He'd top them off with a couple of snails from the garden and reckoned he was saving about twenty quid a week. I can assure readers that this particular salad tray would not be washed and ready to eat.

Duck's off

Some true Fawlty Towers moments last night at the Holiday Inn London-Shepperton, where I'd taken Mrs W and the mini-Ws for an overnight stay. Service was ridiculously slow and numerous things - ready-salted crisps, pepperoni and spaghetti, for example - were unavailable in the bar and restaurant. My youngest daughter and I were slightly bemused by our main courses, which only seemed to bear a passing resemblance to what we'd actually requested. Whether this was due to misintepretation of our order or lack of ingredients wasn't really clear. It was, however, the dessert that took the cheese and biscuits. Mrs W asked for cheesecake and was told that, sadly, it wasn't in stock. Gritting her teeth, she chose bread and butter pudding instead. We waited. And we waited some more. And then we waited just that little bit longer. The smaller mini-W had only asked for a banana and we had the strong impression that someone must be flying to Costa Rica to pick it. Eventually it arri

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

I love the steampunk art installation that's currently connecting the UK with New York (see ). The idea is that you're looking down a massive telescope which can see all the way across the Atlantic. The location of the British end of the contraption gives us a clue that a webcam and broadband connection might be involved. Rather than being based in the Scilly Isles, it's near Tower Bridge in London. On a clear day, you might be able to see Southend.

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

Hats off to CNN who have a new service in beta at the moment: t-shirts based on individual news headlines. Today, you can purchase a shirt bearing the legend "Wild baboons tear through city streets" or "Goldfish trained to herd other fish". A tagline on the shirt reads "I just saw it on" and provides passers-by with a date and time stamp. Now, that's my kind of merchandise. They're quite selective about which stories they fashion into apparel though. "China quake: Millions of tents needed" is deemed a little too sensitive for streetwear.

Teaching in the green room

I'm teaching a regular class for Birkbeck College at the LSE on a Monday night and I like to get into the lecture room a little bit early to set up. On a couple of occasions, I've been kept waiting because the space is being used as a hospitality suite for a guest speaker who's due to address a large audience in the School's main theatre. I questioned a member of staff about it tonight and he confirmed the use of the space as a "green room", although the usual green-room trappings - PR flunkies, copious amounts of alcohol etc - seem to be absent. As the LSE attracts a number of high-profile speakers, my hope is that sometime in the next few weeks, I'll barge into the room to find Bill Clinton or former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan making a few last-minute notes. "Oi!", I'll shout. "What do you think you're up to, mate? I've got a class to teach in here. Now sling your hook before I get one of the porters to throw you out.

Altogether now...

I am happy to report that great Friday night entertainment is not a thing of the past. Earlier this evening, I caught a few minutes of An audience without Jeremy Beadle - a touching tribute to the late, much-loved British prankster. Chris Tarrant counted down the public's favourite set-ups from Beadle's About and then led the audience in a rendition of the theme tune, accompanied on piano forte by the bloke who'd composed the music. When British culture is reviewed once a week on Newsnight Review , this is the kind of important stuff that Kirsty Wark mistakenly tends to overlook.

High premium for geriatric comedy

Interesting story in The Times about the problems of insuring the elderly cast of Last of the Summer Wine . Frank Thornton - best known for playing the part of Captain Peacock in Are you being served? , when he was a sprightly fifty-something - now can't get cover for working outdoors. As a result, all his scenes are shot in a studio. Surely the biggest risk with Last of the Summer Wine is the audience watching a whole series of the p**spoor sitcom without laughing?

Nelson Mandela's 90th

The big man of the anti-apartheid movement enters his tenth decade this year. Ageing rockers such as Queen, Elton John and Annie Lennox have been drafted in for Mr Mandela's celebrations, which does seem to make some kind of sense. Their careers were all peaking during the 80s, when the campaign to release the South African icon was at its most intense. Unfortunately, it seems that in order to add some street cred to the affair, Mandela's advisors feel the need to invite a younger generation of stars including our beloved Amy Winehouse. At first glance, one might think that Amy isn't too great a role model for the youngsters of Johannesburg and Cape Town. But I mustn't be too cynical though. She has, after all, been dragged off the streets of NW1 by agents of the police state and forced - against her will - to stay in rehabilitation facilities. As a result, she'll clearly empathise strongly with the former President.

The scrambling of the Suffolk Police chopper

High drama on my train just outside Ipswich this evening. After an apparent assault on a guard, a plain clothes copper headed up the train to offer assistance. The poor bloke returned five minutes later with a bloody nose. We then had to wait half an hour while the Suffolk Constabulary's chopper was launched. My friend Hoffy, who's a regular on this service and blogs at , assures me that this kind of incident is very rare indeed on National Express East Anglia. I'm glad to hear it. Because if it's this rough in Ipswich, God knows what it's like in Diss.

Self-delusion in print: viewing highly recommended

I've just received a note through my door from an estate agent, which describes the market in my particular pocket of south-west London as "looking buoyant". The buoyancy they're talking about is, I think, the type normally exhibited by a corpse that's bloated with water and heading towards a rocky shoreline. Prices are down 10% on last summer's high and Mrs W reports seeing local agents nodding off at their desks. But they still have a great line in patter, don't they? The figures, incidentally, that you read in the papers are lagging wildly behind the reality on the ground. "Growth" in the Greater London housing market is not static or in the + 1 or 2% bracket. It's in serious negative territory since the start of 2008. Watch this space. The times, they are a changing. And what was it that Dylan said? "The first ones now will later be last"? Perhaps that was a message to the likes of Foxtons.

Confused about

I was talking to my friend Simon recently about all the price comparison sites that are out there now. We're so confused by them that we're looking for a site that compares them. In fact, I'd never look at a price comparison site until I'd checked it against a number of different criteria and made sure it had a good rating. While I'm on the subject, there was a lady on the telly the other day from a ridiculous site called The idea is that you search for the gas station within a 10-mile radius that's selling the cheapest fuel. "Where are you off to, love?" "Oh, I'm just off to get some petrol. May be a while. It's a 20-mile round trip. But I've found this station that's a penny a litre cheaper. Or at least it was half an hour ago."

Allo, Allo, Allo, you vil tell me immediately vot is going on hier

I don't know where to start with the story about the classic British comedy Allo Allo being dubbed into German. The BBC, on the other hand, had a very clear idea. "Leesen vay carefully," began the reporter on the 10 O'Clock news. "I shall say zees urnly wurnce...." Although the cultural and political ramifications are probably big enough, I'm still trying to get my head around the idea of posh English airmen, who speak make-believe broken French, being translated into German. Aren't the viewers in Berlin and Frankfurt in danger of losing something? Not on the scale of 1945, perhaps, but losing something nevertheless.