Sunday, February 14, 2010

Who done that?

I know that a British astronaut has been tweeting from the International Space Station, but I hope to God they haven't brought in a British plumber to help with their recent toilet installation.

Sharp intake of breath underneath space suit.

'Nah, mate. Spacewalk is a BIG job. Can't look at it today, but how about early next week? It'll costcha, mind...'

Saturday, February 13, 2010

More writing tips of yesteryear

It's time to return to a classic text I introduced on WARTE last year: Ronald Pelham's How shall I word it? The self-help book, published in 1949, is designed to help the reader compose appropriate letters for any occasion. And I mean any occasion.

Let's say, for instance, that you were in the process of forming the Middle Maxton Cricket Club and needed a local gent to serve as your first President. Pelham believes that obsequious flattery is the best strategy.

'I know you are keen on the game and, before calling a meeting of all interested, I wondered whether you would allow your name to go forward as prospective President. There is no more enthusiastic cricketer in the district that your good self, while as for prowess on the Green - well, I for one shall never forget that sparkling century of yours last season in the Charity Match when you came to the rescue after we had lost seven men for ten runs...'

Hell, if I received a letter like this, I'd allow my own name to go forward. Never mind that I have only the shakiest grasp of the rules and would rather watch paint dry than roll up at The Oval.

Ever mindful that people get themselves into all kinds of scrapes, the author extends his advice beyond the world of amateur sport. On Page 70 and 71, he tackles that tricky situation when you've been summoned to appear in court for a driving offence, but your father is dying and not expected to last the week. The unfortunate scenario gives you reason to excuse yourself from a personal appearance before the beak, but Pelham believes that you also have to defend the case in writing.

'...I plead that the circumstances made it impossible for me to see the lights. I was in a stream of traffic, on the right of a lorry loaded high with goods. As I moved slowly forward beside it, the lights must have changed to red.'

Would such a letter cut any ice, do you think? Possibly. But only if you happened to have a dying father and had recently been nicked for jumping lights which had been obscured by a heavily-laden lorry.

'After twelve years of driving I have a clean licence and therefore ask for leniency.'

Next time on WARTE: Mr Pelham's suggestions for tackling a noisy neighbour who's playing a radio too loud, while you're working nights.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

How much should I bid?

Every so often, an extraordinary freebie called The Richmond Magazine drops through my letterbox at Woodford Towers. This glossy publication is full of ads for private schools and modest semi-detached properties in Kew that are going for £3.25 million.

The February edition caught my eye because of a chance to win breakfast with Texan supermodel and Richmond resident Jerry Hall. Although Jerry's a bit old for me - and, of course, I'm happily married to Mrs W - I thought a spot of brekkie with a former A-list sleb would be something to blog about in the future. It turns out that it's just something for me to blog about today, because entrants don't actually 'win' this competition. They have to submit sealed bids, with the money going to worthy local causes such as The Richmond Magazine Adopt a Deer Appeal.

Somehow, I don't think I'm likely to be able to compete with the deep-filled pockets of the Richmond glitterati. A shame, because 'celebrated inventor' Trevor Bayliss OBE is due to drop in to the breakfast too, along with One Show reporter and former CBBC presenter Angelica Bell. One day.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Saving sounds so attractive, doesn't it?

How about this for an exciting proposition in a leaflet from the bankers at Britannia?

'If you save just £1 a day, in a year you would have £365 to spend on the little things in life that keep you smiling.'

It sounds almost too good to be true. Are they really saying that if I set aside a quid a day, I'd have seven quid after a week? And perhaps as much as £31 after a good month?

It's very tempting, but the world of financial services is highly competitive. Britannia are not the only people making this particular offer. I've recently been contacted by Piggy Bank and a new start-up called 'Under the Mattress'. They're offering me exactly the same impressive rate of return.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Let your animal instincts get the better of you

I'm grateful once again to my old friend the Hoffmeister ( for pointing me to some important regional news.

Colchester Zoo is capitalising on Valentine's Day by offering a unique setting for marriage proposals. The detail of the scheme is so nuts that I can only assume it was dreamt up in the orangutan enclosure or after a failed full frontal labotomy of a PR consultant.

According to the promotional blurb, your partner won't be able to say no if you pop the question alongside their favourite cuddly animal. You therefore book a feeding or 'training' session with a keeper and ask suitably earnest questions about the dietary habits of sealions or giraffes. When the moment is right, it's suggested you then step in with your engagement ring as the Zoo produces a red rose and a glass of bubbly. The 30-minute 'experience' needs to be pre-booked, which is a real shame, I feel. If I were going to propose to someone alongside a gorilla, I'd want it to be spontaneous, wouldn't you?

If you're already happily married or don't yet feel ready to commit, there's a separate package available. 'Woo at the Zoo' - a concept borrowed from the US - allows you to 'cosy up with your nearest and dearest' during a 'special romantically themed event'. I can't do this one justice without reproducing some of the copy from the Zoo's website:

Enjoy an animal courtship themed show and learn the different ways that animals can attract each other in the animal kingdom in the 'Woo at the Zoo' theatre display in the Wild About Animals Theatre at 14.30!

Come and enjoy a range of unique Valentine Animal Enrichment Feeds with a talk by the Keepers taking place throughout the week including Chimps enjoying strawberries and ‘chimp champagne’ or Tigers in a ‘Tug of Love’.

At 2.45pm, we can join the wolves in a session entitled 'They call it puppy love'. A quarter of an hour later, we are hurried along to the tiger area for Amur 'Amour'.

If you don't hear much from me over the next few days, it's because I'm just loading a tranquiliser gun and pointing it directly at my temple.