Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Paddington to Bodmin Parkway

Travelling down to Cornwall on the train, I found myself sitting next to a large Aussie guy, who was proudly wearing a hat sponsored by Fosters and the yellow shirt of his nation’s rugby team. I dozed for a while, as is my habit on long journeys, and woke to find myself slumped over him, much to the amusement of other passengers. I don’t think I can have been in this compromising position for long, as he was watching a bootlegged version of the Tom Cruise movie Valkyrie on his laptop and wouldn’t have tolerated too much disturbance of the film. Unless, of course, he’d become so engrossed that he thought he was in a cinema in downtown Melbourne, getting cosy with his favourite sheila in the back row.

Meanwhile, a British teenager was talking to her mum.

GIRL: "I've gone off the idea of facial piercings now."

MUM: "Thank God for that."

GIRL: "I'm only thinking that I wouldn't want them at my wedding. I will have my belly button done though."

Tell 'em about the honey, mummy...

Honeybuns Plain Flapjack (www.honeybuns.co.uk). Oatso tasty. Just a plain flapjack with a hint of vanilla.

Warning: this cake is an indulgent treat. If you eat more calories than your burn, you will gain weight.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Let's hope these findings are premature...

It's taken until 2009 to prove something that any upstanding member of the establishment could have told us back in 1889: excessive how's-your-father or indulgent self-abuse is bad for your health. A new study from Nottingham University suggests that men with active sex lives or prone to onanistic extremes in their 20s and 30s are more likely to develop prostate cancer.

This finding - which is perhaps easier to accept at the age of 40 than the age of 14 - raises all kinds of difficult issues.

Let's say we discovered that nookie was as dangerous - and as life-shortening - as smoking. Thankfully, both activities are already banned in public places. But we might have to consider further measures. Warning teenagers in schools, for instance, of the dangers of what tabloid newspapers euphemistically describe as "solo sex". Placing prominent health warnings on copies of Zoo and FHM.

I can see the agony columns of magazines changing radically in the future. Some bloke will write in worrying that he only enjoys relations with his girlfriend once a month. Instead of receiving advice on how to "spice up" activity in the bedroom, he'll be told that he's probably got the balance just about right. In fact, he should maybe consider cutting it out altogether.

It can only be a matter of time before patches are produced. Or we're carrying around chewing gum that reduces our testosterone levels. It will be distributed free at the beach volleyball during the 2012 Olympics.

Hats off to birthday fans worldwide

Kind people around the world are still celebrating my 40th birthday by photographing themselves in branded merchandise. This latest snap is from Helen in the Antipodes. Full story at www.40whitehats.co.uk

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Please don't go

News that Poles are abandoning the UK in favour of their homeland fills me with a sense of dread. It's only since the arrival of Eastern European migrants that any actual work has been done in this country.

I'd rather do a trawl of Battersea Dogs Home than look up a British plumber in the Yellow Pages. At least the canine residents would be loyal. And they'd have just as many qualifications to unblock your pipes.

In the future, I'll be flying tradesmen in from Bratislava and Warsaw. Given that their British counterparts would charge three times as much and do half-as-good a job, it would be money well spent. In fact, you could probably afford to put them up in a Travelodge.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Pure financial poison

I'm intrigued by this "Toxic Bank" that everyone's talking about. Do you think we'll be able to open accounts there?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Politicians are all the same

I have to say that I'm very disappointed in the performance of President Obama so far. He doesn't seem to have had any impact on the economic crisis at all. It's very disappointing really. These politicians come in promising change, but it's the same old, same old.

Oil vey

I was bemused to find "Gentile" olive oil from Bertolli on the Ocado website. I don't think foods should be ethnically segregated and I'm sure Nigella frequently slaps a bit of extra virgin in her recipes.

It reminds me of a bizarre, true-life incident back in the 1980s. My grandmother had died and my father was trying to make the funeral arrangements, but couldn't get hold of the elusive rabbi who was due to conduct the ceremony. Eventually, he tracked down a number and called very late at night. Unfortunately, it was the wrong number.

"Is that Rabbi Goldberg?" asked my father tentatively.

"No," came the sleepy and slightly irritated reply. "It's just some horrible gentile."

Monday, January 19, 2009

A trip back in time

Having stupidly left my mobile at home today, I found myself searching for old-fashioned payphones at Waterloo station.

There they were. Close to the old Eurostar platforms. Tumbleweed blowing freely between each of the kiosks.

I was shocked to discover that it now costs 40p to make a local call on one of these machines.

40p? I can patronise the pissoir across the concourse for 10p less than that.

The lessons of QPR for Barack Obama

I was talking to my father about the pressures facing Barack Obama as he enters the White House tomorrow. Dad recalled a football match at Queens Park Rangers in the early 1970s, when veteran star Stan Bowles made his first appearance for the club. It was a time when the west London team was hoping for a return to the top flight from the old League Division Two and expectations were high.

As soon as Bowles made his way out on the pitch, a wag in the crowd summarised the thoughts of thousands: "You've got ten minutes to settle in, Stan!"

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Numberline Express

Mini-W 1 has just been doing her maths homework. (That's math to all WARTE followers in North America and numeracy for all British readers under the age of 25).

Imagine a train which starts at a town called Noughton. The stations on the northern stretch of its route range from 1 to 20. The stations to the south are numbered from -1 to -20. On Tuesday it stops at every third station. On Wednesday it stops at every fourth station. And so on and so forth. Mini-W is then asked whether a range of statements are always true, sometimes true or never true.

I've no idea of the correct answers. But one thing's for certain. I wouldn't want to be a commuter on this particular line. Imagine that job interview:

"Well, I wouldn't be able to work on Fridays, I'm afraid. Minus Three station is closed that day and the bus from Minus Two is only doing alternate even numbers."

Friday, January 16, 2009

That crash landing in the Hudson River

Two thoughts.

The first is that anyone who's lived with the name Chesley B. 'Sully' Sullenberger for several decades is automatically a hero.

The second is that this must be the first time in aviation history that the safety briefing given by the stewardesses had some relevance to the situation people found themselves in. Do you think the passengers actually got to use their whistles and those toggle things for topping up their life jackets?

Monday, January 12, 2009

A tax-related daydream

Having just posted a pretty large cheque to HM Revenue & Customs, I started thinking about what my cash would actually be used for. One of the long-standing obsessions of policy wonks and politicos is the idea of so-called "hypothecated" taxation, where a particular portion of our contributions is earmarked for specific things. In other words, we might be asked to pay an extra penny in the pound, but would know that it was ringfenced for schools and it couldn't be spent on anything else. Under this kind of system, people get an idea of where their money's gone. As a result - so the argument goes - they feel better about paying it.

I wonder whether we could go further?

What if everyone got a personalised statement of where their individual money had been spent? A bit like when charities tell you that your donation has paid for two donkeys to be rescued from a meat trader and transported to a sanctuary.

Dear Mr Woodford

Thank you very much for your kind contribution to HM Government. You will be pleased to hear that your tax has been making a real difference. So far, it's bought 25 Christmas dinners for soldiers serving in Helmand Province, funded a personnel survey at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and paid for the distribution of 260 bottles of Dettol to NHS wards with the MRSA superbug. If you have any ideas what to do with the remaining £2.54, please let us know.

Yours sincerely...

Top of the morning and top of the pops

What can I say to these guys, apart from "fair play to you"? The Limerick-based Corrigan Brothers have scored a big internet hit with this tribute to the ultimate Irishman. An invitation to the White House has apparently been issued.

Search less and save the planet

The news that Google searches may potentially damage the environment raises the prospect of e-rationing. I can foresee a time in the not-too-distant future when we'll be restricted to one request a day. You'll need to find a local plumber in an emergency and very much regret your earlier Googling of Paris Hilton.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

It's total war. Until 11.

I don't want to get too heavily involved in the Israel-Palestine issue here on Washed and Ready. I was, however, rather taken with the idea of the Israelis stopping the fighting in Gaza between 11 and 2, every other day.

There can't be many precedents for part-time war. The only thing that springs to mind is the famous football match between German and British troops on the frontline during the 1914-1918 conflict, but I'm not sure the kick-off was ever sanctioned by the top brass.

Other suggestions for half-hearted war: every second magazine filled with blanks; dress down Fridays, where troops don't wear their usual armour; duvet days for special forces. There's real potential here.

Oral B: Power to the People

With Oral B toothpaste, your gnashers are left "dentist clean". I'm wondering whether there's perhaps a sliding scale of cleanliness, ranging from, say, "tramp clean" at one extreme to dentist level at the other. Somewhere in between, you'd have the kind of cleanliness achieved by the mini-Ws during their morning and evening routine.

Monday, January 05, 2009

One for the stalls

I enjoyed the story about the horse that found its way into a cinema near Gateshead. But what film was the animal planning to see? Fiddler on the Hoof, perhaps? The Neigh-tricks? Rein Man?

If I were him, I'd have stayed home during the credit crunch. There's always a good repeat on the telly. An old episode of Inspector Horse is excellent value for money.

Friday, January 02, 2009


In a desperate effort to assume to the mantle of concerned middle-class parent, I have sat the mini-Ws down every night this week in front of the Royal Institution Christmas lectures. They were delivered by Chris Bishop, a scarily brainy boffin from Microsoft, who wrote his PhD thesis on quantum field theory.

One of the big successes of the week was getting the kids talking about binary. Even the younger of the minis was able to get the basic principle and convert simple numbers from one base to another. Mrs W understands that the messages we send out to aliens are coded in binary, as this is apparently the lingo they can relate to and would be their chosen method of response. It got us thinking at a number of levels about 'first contact' with the little green men and how everything would go.

Mini-W 1 couldn't understand why we didn't just ask the aliens to call us. Maybe send out a number for NASA or something like that. My theory is that if we had to convert every digit of the phone number - including the area code - into binary, then it would just become too long. It probably wouldn't fit on the three-and-a-half-inch floppy disk or whatever it is we've sent out into space.

Mrs W is worried about what happens when the aliens arrive. She doesn't speak binary. What if they colonised us and insisted that everyone had to learn it? Before long, all the roadsigns would be in ones and zeros and you wouldn't be able to order a cappuccino in Starbucks any more.

This brought us on to a broader point. How much use would me and the Mrs be to aliens if they met us? They'd probably want to know about things we don't understand like maths and how bridges stay up and all the latest cutting-edge medical techniques. I could show them how to write a good ad, but that might not be their top priority. We concluded it was probably best if they went to see this bloke Chris Bishop on arrival, as he'd be able to deal with them appropriately. If, however, he was indisposed, we would probably be a better bet than some random person they found reading Heat on the tube.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Dickens in 4D

What the Dickens? It's a theme park with an Oliver Twist. Click to enlarge.

Dickensian England was a pretty brutal place all round. Our modern-day Scrooges and Bill Sykeses are no match for the mean-spirited and violent originals from the nineteenth century. That's why I was delighted to discover that the world of Charles Dickens has been lovingly recreated in a Chatham theme park called Dickens World. According to the leaflet I recently picked up, 'some parts of the attraction are not suitable for children under 1 metre tall or those with a nervous disposition'. It must be truly scary. I'd definitely want to be at least 1m 2cm before consumptively coughing up the entrance fee.

"Be thrilled," the copy thunders in the style of a B-movie trailer, "by the tales of Dickens' foreign adventures in a stunning 4D cinema show in Peggotty's Boathouse."

4D? I've only just got used to putting those special glasses on for 3D. Forgive my ignorance, but isn't 4D the kind of thing that only exists in postgraduate classes in theoretical physics? I expect there must be a wormhole at the back of Dotheboys Hall. As you head towards it, you're confronted by a resting actress who's dressed as Mrs Squeers and threatening you with a bowl of brimstone and treacle.

I feel I owe it to WARTE readers to make the trip at some point in the near future and report back on these very pages. In fact, I'm already picturing the journey...

"Please excuse me, Madam," I ventured hesitantly, "but I wondered if I might prevail upon you to direct me with the upmost urgency to Dickens World? I have a natural incapacity in matters of geography and find myself somewhat disadvantaged."

"You mean that place where they all dress up them costumes? It's down by the cinema, next to the Factory Outlet."


I'm always a sucker for a free event, so I've been seriously considering flying to Tel Aviv for a special course on the Biological Control of Eucalyptus Gall Wasps. It's being heavily promoted in banner advertising on the Jerusalem Post website at the moment and promises to be one of the biggest things in agro-forestry for quite some time. "Registration and tuition are free of charge," according to the promotional blurb. "The organizers will cover the cost of travel during the course, between the hotel and the meeting location and on field trips." All I have to do is get myself to Ben Gurion Airport.

It all sounds too good to be true and, sadly, it is. Looking more closely, the training actually took place in November. If I'd paid for the airfare, I would have ended up getting stung.

I'm simply left reflecting on what might have been. Just take a look at this promise from the people running the session:

"At the end of the course the idea is sending the participants home with parasitoids. Those who wish to take with them back home the package with eucalyptus galling material harbored with the parasitoids are kindly requested to bring with them to Israel the official permit for the importation."