Monday, March 30, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

My English coffee drinking quirks exposed

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

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

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

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

Passports, brothels etc

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

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

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

Monday, March 23, 2009

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

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tales from the NHS frontline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 13, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Gentlemen, we have a slight problem...

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

Sunday, March 08, 2009

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

There are two ways of reading them.

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

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

My inner chav never came out

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

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

I'm hooked

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

Friday, March 06, 2009

Democratic overload

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

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

Washed and Ready to Eat headed to 45 Millbank earlier this week for the launch of the swanky venue as a party and conference centre. Recently renovated by Chelsea College of Art & Design, it's an atmospheric space with good views of the Thames.

Do a right by that pterodactyl...

Travelling on South-West Trains into London Waterloo fairly regularly, I'm struck by the number of ads I encounter for the investment management firm, Artemis. They feature "profit hunters" who seem to spend their life chasing wildlife through exotic jungle locations. It's good to know that these hunters 'keep on going' despite adverse market conditions. I hope they have enough petrol to last them until 2012.
Earlier this week, I spent time with graphic design students at Kingston University, south-west London. Lots of interesting ideas for degree shows and competition entries.