Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tip of the iceberg

Mrs W has brought back a lettuce from Waitrose which is still growing.

Where will it all end? Tomatoes on the vine? All seems very unnatural to me.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Don't mention the war

Basil Fawlty's famous advice to his hotel staff came to mind while reading the autobiography of actor Rodney Bewes. The Yorkshireman, who starred as one of the Geordie Likely Lads in the popular 60s/70s British sitcom, recalls a request from a local POW camp after World War II for his family to entertain a German prisoner at Christmas. His mum volunteered to take two of the Wehrmacht's finest, who turned out to be called Fritz and Kurt. Conversation proved a tad awkward as Grandad Bewes had lost part of his ankle in the Somme during the 1914-18 conflict. The actor makes the telling observation that there is no other country in the world that would have entertained the crazy 'host a POW for Xmas' idea. Only in Britain, eh?

Hey Jacko sweetheart get ur free overnight meds

The press is full of the bizarre cocktail of prescription drugs taken by tragic pop star Michael Jackson. Anti-depressants and painkillers such as Xanax, Paxil and Vicodin dominate the moonwalking pill-popper's list of meds. It seems to me fairly obvious what happened. Jacko was targeted relentlessly by spammers. 'Gee, Bubbles, those kind folks have sent me another email...'

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Making bed your final station stop

I was discussing with my old friend Hoffy (www.hofflimits.com) how the motion of a train makes both of us want to fall asleep. I don't mean that we sleep together. Hoffy lives in Essex and I frequent the slightly posher commuter routes into Waterloo. No, I'm talking about an independent desire on each of our parts to nod off on what the industry endearingly still describes as 'rolling stock'.

The Hoffmeister can't understand why he sometimes lies awake at home at midnight, unable to sleep, but finds it easy as pie to achieve blissful slumber on the 18.05 to Colchester. He wonders whether he should get a bed which simulates the movement of a train carriage.

It's an interesting idea. I'm sure there's a market for such a device in those supplements that also advertise the beds that tilt you up and down. I'd go further though. First of all, Hoffy needs to delay his departure to bed by approximately 20 mins for no good reason. He then needs to cram himself in with his Mrs on one side and a couple of strangers on the other.

Once settled, he could press a button for a prerecorded announcement. 'This bed is now open for the sale of teas, coffees, freshly made sandwiches and other light refreshments.'

Blocking the toilet before bed and leaving the bathroom door open would, however, be taking things too far.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

It's time for a man-to-man chat

Until a visit to my local pharmacy yesterday, I'd never heard of the Men's Health Forum. It's a registered charity that seems to be working alongside the NHS to issue a number of challenges to British blokes. Ten challenges, to be precise.

I've picked up a leaflet and a handy pocket-sized card that I guess I'm supposed to carry around with me. It warns me that one man under 75 dies every five minutes and is full of matey, patronising advice on how I can avoid a similar fate.

Among the pearls of wisdom is the notion that I should eat more fruit and veg. Not only does this reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, but it helps 'keep you regular'. Keep me regular? If I want that kind of advice, I can go to my mum, thanks very much.

"Chlamydia isn't a Greek island," continues the wag responsible for drafting the copy, as he 'challenges' me to a check-up. As soon as I've sorted out my constipation, I need to get myself down the clap clinic.

The whole approach is starting to make me a little angry, but I shouldn't forget about Challenge Number 5. "Stressed out? Walk away from tense situations before you blow up."

What kind of bulls**t advice is this? Most stress comes from personal and work relationships that we're often unable to walk away from. That's why they're stressful in the first place. (There's also, incidentally, some good scientific evidence that it's better to express your emotions rather than bottle them up, but that's a whole other discussion.)

And so it goes on. "Get your blood pressure checked in the next two weeks... show a doctor that thing on your body that's bothering you... if you get a backache, don't let it become a pain in the arse..."

One thing's for sure. There's only one pain in the arse here. And that's the idiot who's commissioned this confused, nannyish load of gobbledegook in the first place. My challenge to them is to look in the mirror and see if they are showing any signs of wasting taxpayers' money. There are no symptoms in the early stages, but it can become quite a serious problem in the longer term.

Monday, June 22, 2009

After 30 years, it's time to call in the binmen...

If there's one thing guaranteed to stand the test of time, it's surely academic research and theorising. Fashions may change and Twitter may replace the telly, but the published thoughts of learned professors are there as a matter of permanent record.

Or are they?

Each Monday evening, I teach a class for Birkbeck College at the London School of Economics. I've been allocated a teaching room on the Accountancy floor and sitting in the corridor is a big box of books.

I haven't had time for a real rummage, but the kind of titles we're talking about include the 1979 proceedings of the University of Alabama's Accountancy Research Convocation. No doubt the controversial papers caused quite a stir at the time. Today, they sit underneath a Post-it note which simply reads: 'Rubbish. Please remove.'

Did it really have to end like this? Haven't the LSE academics considered eBay?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Interesting marketing ploy

A local plumber has put a leaflet through my door which highlights his key selling points. Alongside his promise of free estimates and 'prompt, courteous service', he tells me that he holds £2m in public liability insurance. Is this supposed to give me peace of mind? Just how much damage can one plumber do?

On second thoughts, he is English. So perhaps it's better to be safe than sorry.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A gag worth conserving

A nice neighbour of ours produced some homemade 'Obamalade' earlier this year to commemorate the inauguration of south-west London's favourite ever US President. It was very tasty, but I feel we need a bit more political balance. I'm considering putting a note through the door requesting some Ahmadinejam.

A gift for teachers

Explaining the concept of irony must be quite difficult for school teachers. Once in a while, however, an example comes along that will provide years of service in class.

Conservative Shadow Chancellor George Osborne was revealed yesterday to have charged the British public £47 for DVDs of one his own speeches. The title of his historic oration? Value For Taxpayers' Money.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

When advertising goes wrong

There is surely no business more confused about its advertising messages than Britain's favourite price comparison website, confused.com. One of their current posters on the tube in London captures the supposed views of a happy customer with the following quote: 'I couldn't believe the choice. There's loads of big brands.'

I've personally never felt quite that committed and enthusiastic about the process of purchasing insurance products, but maybe I'm in a minority. Perhaps millions of people have a little extra spring in their step because they've managed to trouser a couple of quid comparing Admiral with Direct Line. It's the substance of the message rather than the general tone that I find hopelessly misguided though.

The idea of confused.com is that we're all confused, right? We're sick of the bewildering choices we're forced to make. And we're cynical about the claims of all the big brands. We therefore head for a comparison site that makes the choices for us and judges products purely on value rather than the marketing or branding budget that's been thrown at them.

Why would anyone who visited confused.com be pleased by the level of 'choice'? And why would they celebrate the presence of the big brands, whose dominance of the marketplace is one of the main reasons for the emergence of the price comparison sites in the first place?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

They're no longer obeying orders

The General responsible for inspecting the German Army has concluded that the country's soldiers are ill-disciplined, lack responsibility and are reluctant to serve their country. If only it had been that way in 1939, eh?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

TV just continues to improve

News of two great new telly shows reached me last week, courtesy of SRO Audiences.

The first programme stars the ever-popular (sic) Gloria Hunniford, who has been charged with investigating the power of angels in our lives.

I'll let SRO take up the story:

The series uses dramatic reconstructions to tell stories of real life angelic experiences; each is uplifting and inspiring acting as the perfect tonic for today’s turbulent times. A panel of experts, including angel expert Glennyce Eckersley, discuss the evidence in a bid to discover if there really are ‘Angels All Around Us’.

How exactly does a person become an 'angel expert', do you think? Is it just through the sheer quantity of angels they've encountered over the years?

I'd like to be able to explain the second show to you, but the blurb has left me none the wiser. In a nutshell, Knowitalls is a quiz without questions, presented by Giles Brandreth.

A quiz without questions?

SRO are quick to explain. It's apparently "where the players (sic) breadth of knowledge is tested to the limit because for the first time, 2 teams of 3 are battling it out to impress real experts on their specialist subjects."

Could one of these real experts be an angel expert, I wonder? If so, I bet they'd be hard to impress.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Wakey wakey

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania claim that watching TV before bed leads to poor sleep. One of their suggested reasons is that the telly is replacing the vigorous exercise that might tire us out.

Leaving aside the bizarre idea that people would be exercising late at night if they weren't monitoring Big Brother, the theory has another big hole in it. A couple of days ago, researchers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington DC reported that exercise doesn't, in fact, tire us out. It actually keeps us awake.

I would put the two groups of boffins in touch with each other, but I'm feeling a little sleepy at the moment. Another day.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

British journalism at its best

How about this for a tasteless intro from Daily Mail hack David Gardner?

'For years, he starred on TV as Lieutenant Colombo, the shabby detective whose apparent absent-mindedness hid a razor-sharp brain. But now Peter Falk can no longer remember his most popular role.'

While the fact that the veteran actor has Alzheimer's is a legitimate story, I can't help feeling the connection back to his character's ostensible memory loss is taking the p**s.
Daily Mail columnist Allison Pearson claims that she is rarely moved to throw her copy of the paper across the kitchen, but that she was driven to this uncivilised act recently by a story of a mother who had given birth at the age of 66. While not having a particularly strong opinion about the aged mum, I can empathise with the desire to hurl a copy of the Mail across the room. It's a reaction produced by the masthead rather than any individual headline.

New threat

Never mind the swine flu. What about this Tamiflu that everyone's talking about? In some of the schools they've closed, it seems that all the pupils have got it.

Enough crisp gags already

As a copywriter, I always have a pun in my pocket, although it doesn't necessarily mean that people are pleased to see me. In the workshops I run, I always stress that plays on words can be great for getting an idea across, but shouldn't be a substitute for an idea.

Walkers - the giant crisp brand, fronted by former England footballer Gary Lineker - is currently promoting a 'limited edition' multipack. It allows me to collect points which will provide me with 'fantastic savings' on attractions such as top sporting events and music festivals. In honour of these savings, the flavours have been renamed as follows: Sour Cream & Drive (with an accompanying photo of a golf ball); Roast Beef & Horseracing (picture of a jockey) and Mango-karting Chutney (snap of a mini race track).

This stuff is so desperate that I am inclined to join in the fun.

Another golf flavour would be Tees & Onion, perhaps. Or maybe Worcester Course. And for the music festivals, how about Prawn Rocktail?

Ok. There's an element of sour grapes here. I was promised a party pack for suggesting the duck and plum sauce flavour in their competition last year, but nothing ever arrived. Or should that be duck and scrum?