Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pity the fool

Amid the controversy over David Cameron's use of swearwords on the radio, you may have missed the revelation about his favourite character from the A-Team. The posh Tory leader apparently identifies most with Mr T.

And there was me thinking he modelled himself on the smooth-talking con artist, Face.

I can't get enough already

If you're looking for a pick-me-up, you could do worse than visit

Here's a sample of what you're in for...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Our swinest hour? Unfortunately not...

The British government is a great believer in straightforward questions and answers when it comes to swine flu. So here are a few of my own, based on empirical observations in a number of clinical settings. (As well as watching the telly and looking at Twitter.)

Q. Is it possible to distinguish between the symptoms of swine flu and any other kind of flu or nasty respiratory virus?

A. Not really. They can all give you a high temperature, a cough and some aches and pains. The only way of knowing whether someone's got swine flu is to take a swab and send it to a path lab.

Q. Are we therefore swabbing anyone we suspect of having swine flu?

A. No. That's too difficult, time-consuming and expensive. And it means that people who may be infected need to come to the surgery.

Q. So how do we know if someone has swine flu or not?

A. We don't. But if they tell us on the phone that they have a high temperature and a cough, we'll say it's likely they have it.

Q. And if it's likely they have swine flu, do they get the anti-viral drug Tamiflu?

A. It depends where they live. Some areas are handing it out liberally. Others are much more cautious.

Q. But shouldn't everyone have the same access to Tamiflu?

A. It probably doesn't make much difference, because the drug only shortens the duration of the illness by about a day and it takes at least a day of battling with the NHS bureaucracy to get hold of the pills. And the vast majority of people with swine flu get it in a mild form, so probably don't need anti-viral drugs.

Q. Isn't there a danger that the bug will become resistant to Tamiflu?

A. The World Health Organization is already monitoring instances of resistance around the world. But we continue to recommend it for anyone who phones up with a cough and a high temperature.

I'm sure this page will need updating. So check back regularly at Washed and Ready to Eat for the latest H1N1 news.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Everything's 4-star, except the hotel...

Earlier this year, budget hotel chain Premier Inn claimed in its UK newspaper advertisements that it offered "everything you'd expect from a 4* hotel".

Having worked in the ad industry, I know there's inevitably a certain amount of poetic licence in the promotion of products and services. Sometimes, however, boundaries get crossed. I protested to the Advertising Standards Authority about the misleading nature of the claim and was pleased to see this week that the watchdog ruled against the Whitbread-owned business, saying that the ads breached three sections of the relevant codes of practice.

As I frequently tell my students, however, the British regulatory system tends to be rather toothless. The ads won't appear again with the same form of words. But the campaign is now over and some months have elapsed since the original insertions. Is there any way we could create a system that works faster and carries more clout?

What colour is your breakfast?

Staying recently at the Hilton in Cardiff, I was a little bemused by the luxury chain's colour-coded breakfast guide.

In order that residents can watch what they eat, every item of food on the menu is given a badge reminiscent of the playing pieces in Trivial Pursuit. Low fat and low cholesterol foods are marked in subtle blues. High fibre is green. But what of the stuff that isn't so good for you? The traditional English fry-up, perhaps? Or the high-fat cheeses that sit on the continental counter?

Well, watch out for the red and yellow symbols. Although the colours spell danger, the names don't. Red stands for 'hi-energy'. According to the corporate blurb, it's just the kind of stuff you might need if you want to go on a day's sightseeing. If you're feeling particularly decadent, you can go the whole hog and follow the yellow 'indulgence' trail. This seems to give you carte blanche - or carte jaune, perhaps - to eat anything you want, although it's reassuring to know that the grub will always be of the 'freshest and finest quality'.

If you're confused, you should see the actual restaurant. It's possible for a particular food to be a combination of colours. Quite a few managed to be both 'hi-energy' and 'indulgence' at the same time. But I guess if you've given yourself permission to have a yellow day, it doesn't much matter that your breakfast items are also a high-calorie red.

The hospitality spin doctors have surely done a fine job here. But what would the hospital doctors make of it, I wonder? I’m trying to picture that conversation.

“So, Mr Woodford, these high energy foods you mentioned. What exactly are we talking about?"

"Oh, just the usual, Doc. Bacon, sausage, fried egg. That kind of thing. That's what makes this whole episode so strange. I've been very careful to avoid indulgence."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Does a strict recruitment policy add up?

The Telegraph reports that a small haberdashery chain in Eastern England rejects 90% of job applicants because they're unable to do simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

Presumably the remaining 10% are rejected for not knowing what haberdashery is.

I know my place

One of the mini-Ws has been studying advertising and persuasive writing at school and recently took in a jpeg of a slogan I wrote for a supermarket chain. It was proudly shown to the class of primary school kids, complete with explanation and rationale. A classmate then had a chance to do her own 'show and tell'. She opened up a box and produced a dead dragonfly.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Thoughts from Penny pretty worthless

Nicholas Penny, Director of London's National Gallery, has claimed that Trafalgar Square is being 'trashed' and has become 'bloody awful'. It seems the great unwashed are playing music, drinking, climbing on plinths and so on and this is upsetting the equilibrium in what he describes as his 'temple of art'.

It's this kind of elitist snobbery that drives countless people away from high culture. 20 years ago, the great British public rioted in that 'bloody awful' square to protest against a poll tax that penalised the poor. Sports fans gathered there more recently to hear the news that London was to host the 2012 Olympics. Lord Nelson gazes down on an iconic stage that has played a massive part in the vibrant culture and history of the capital. And I'm not sure he pays much attention to the prima donnas and intellectuals who snipe from the sidelines.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

We only bring you the very best in sustainable poison...

Lovely project from two students I taught at Kingston University. They've explored the idea of 'greenwashing' by creating eco-friendly packaging for products such as weedkiller and rat poison. The stuff looks so harmless, you could imagine sprinkling it on your cereal.

More information at

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Jacko, eat your heart out...

The term ‘character’ is perhaps a little overused, but – believe me – Hugh Symons was a character. Not many people, after all, get to star in GQ magazine at the age of 80. And even fewer octogenarians are selected for inclusion because they happen still to be playing football.

Hughie died recently after a period in a major London teaching hospital. He had once been a consultant there, but unfortunately – as old age and memory loss took its toll – he wouldn’t have recalled the fact. And the staff who treated him were none the wiser either.

If we turned back the clock a few decades, however, Hughie was actually a rheumatology specialist and in charge of physical medicine. Leading football players of the day would come to him with their knocks and injuries, which would have put him into seventh heaven, as Hughie himself had been a very useful player in his time. He signed for Wimbledon in an age when they’d pay you a shilling and cover your bus fare if you turned up for training. In the end, the football became a hobby rather than a profession. But a very serious hobby that took up a whole load of free time.

My father played with Hughie in a Sunday side known as London Hospitals. Each year, this unlikely band of medics and a few of their relatives and friends secured a season’s worth of friendlies based largely on Hugh’s personal contacts and organisational skills. The games would lead them to places like Gunnersbury Park, where they’d take on the staff of the District Line. Any ball that didn’t end up in the net had to be rescued from nearby tracks by one of the players, who’d need to be careful to avoid the live rail.

As a teenager, I frequently substituted for regular team members who got lost en route or forgot to set their alarm clock of a Sunday morning. I remember attractive home games at Cobham on a ground which later became a training centre for Chelsea FC, as well as rather less attractive away games in the shadow of Wormwood Scrubs. These friendly fixtures would have a ref, but no linesmen to give any guidance on fouls and offsides. Brawls were not unknown.

At the heart of the action was Hughie, who at this point – in the early 1980s – would have been well into his sixties. He lacked pace, as you might expect, but was still skilful enough to make some telling passes and score the occasional goal.

Why on earth would a group of young men turn out on a Sunday to play football with a guy who was old enough to be their father? Quite simply, because he was a legend on this particular circuit. And without his contacts and constant phone calls, there wouldn’t have been any games. No one else could be bothered with the logistics and hard graft.

Every so often, you’d get a newspaper article or regional TV news item about Hughie, who was also known as ‘Tank’ because of his formidable presence on the pitch. The angle was always the same: an extraordinary old guy who still played football at a time in his life when you’d expect him to have hung up his boots and sat himself in an armchair with a copy of Saga Magazine. There was more to Hughie than the stories suggested though. Not just the medical career, but also a spell in the Middle East with the armed forces after the war, a keen interest in ornithology and a fascination with politics. Hughie had stood as a Liberal parliamentary candidate in the early 50s, but had more in common with the old-style leftists of the Labour Party such as Tony Benn than any modern-day Lib Dem like Vince Cable or Nick Clegg. He was happy to voice strong opinions on topical issues, particularly after a couple of glasses of medicinal white wine and maybe the occasional vodka chaser or two.

I feel we gave Hugh a decent send-off at the South London Crematorium in Streatham last week. Amid all the hullabaloo surrounding the death of Michael Jackson, it’s always good to remind ourselves that we don’t have to turn on the television or surf the web to find exceptional and inspirational characters. I trust a football is being gently knocked against the Pearly Gates as I write.

Where does it all end?

Casualty 1909 is an interesting idea. But there must surely be more mileage in this particular medical TV franchise. I'm thinking Casualty 1609, perhaps.

"Fear not, for our physic works! The yellow bile is much decreased."

"Ok, I'll let Charlie know before he finishes his shift..."

Signor Felicetti knows we all like a bit of rough

From a packet of Marks & Spencer pasta:

Authentic Italian pasta, made & air dried in the Italian Alps by the Felicetti family, using select Italian wheat & a bronze die for a rough texture that picks up every drop of sauce.

If only I could meet the Felicettis and shake every member of the family firmly by the hand. As the warm Alpine breeze gradually bronzed our faces the same colour as their renowned pasta die (sic), I would congratulate them heartily. Slapping old Alfredo Felicetti on the back and taking another quick sip from my Valpolicella, maybe I'd even propose a toast.

"You have solved one of the biggest culinary challenges ever encountered by man. For years, my enjoyment of pasta has been spoilt by its smooth and uniform texture. At the end of every meal, I would find sauce residue on my plate and ask myself why - with all the expertise and collective wisdom accumulated over generations by the Italian mountain men - has no one thought to produce some truly rough penne that mops up every single drop. You, Signor, and your beloved wife and daughters, have revolutionised pasta production in such a way that meal times will never be the same again. I salute you. And promise you a shelf in the Simply Food store at Marble Arch."

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

They all did very well

Another staff member from the Grace Bros department store has sadly rung up the till for the very last time. Veteran actress Mollie Sugden, who played the formidable Mrs Slocombe, will now be joining her younger colleague Miss Brahms at the ultimate bra and knicker counter in the sky.

It's a sad day for someone like me, who spent an innocent childhood in the 1970s waiting to hear the latest news about Mrs Slocombe's pussy. On the other hand, the show lives on and has been enjoyed by new generations of TV shoppers on both sides of the Atlantic.

One of the remarkable things about Are You Being Served? was that there were only three basic sets. The majority of the action took place on the shopfloor, which was ably policed by Frank Thornton's straight man, Captain Peacock. Important meetings were held in the office of 'old jug-ears', Mr Rumbold. Beyond that, we only really got to see the canteen, where the staff seemed to take a collective lunch break to scoff rissoles. What happened to sales during this period? Presumably the floor was closed to customers between 1 and 2 - an example of the quaint practices that made Grace Bros seem somewhat anachronistic even in the age of Barry Sheen and Harold Wilson.

Are any of the show's original cast still hanging in there? Trevor Bannister is unbelievably now in his early 70s and only a few years younger than Nicholas Smith, who played Mr Rumbold. I hope they both stick it out for a few years yet. As long as one or two of the store's staff are still able to measure an inside leg, there's an outside chance of Grace Bros once again opening its famous elevator doors.

They all did very well - the late Mollie Sugden included. And I am unanimous in that.