Thursday, December 26, 2013

Born in a rub-a-dub bare

I have to admit that a generation has passed since I watched Eastenders regularly, but news of the arrival of cockney poster boy Danny Dyer at the Queen Vic certainly warmed my cockles. If a quick skip through BBC iPlayer is any guide, the former movie and reality TV star looks the part. But has anyone stopped to consider the significance and symbolism of his rebirth on prime time TV at Christmas time?

The writers’ intentions couldn’t be clearer. An unstable Messiah figure has now taken up residence at the packed inn. In the coming days, I imagine Pearly Kings will journey to pay homage, perhaps heading to Walford East tube from as far afield as, say, up west.

According to The Daily Star, Dyer is determined to use as much bewildering cockney rhyming slang during filming as he can. This makes absolute sense, as he will no doubt see the local manor as den of iniquity that has abandoned its true cockney roots. By installing himself as the guv’nor of the local battle cruiser, he’s in the perfect position to preach to the nearby residents about a return to a simpler way of life. Jellied eels on the bar, a good old knees-up of an evening and a picture of Eric Bristow up by the dart board.

I can’t see him ever getting crucified by the locals though. Geezer’s too savvy. He’ll have an escape plan up his sleeve. A little B&B in Thurrock perhaps.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Royalty in times of austerity

The Queen apparently doesn't like policemen pilfering her nuts. In fact, the ageing monarch has taken to marking her bowls at Buckingham Palace to ensure that none of the Royal Brazils go missing.

One does sympathise, Your Majesty. When one's worked hard for everything one has, it must be galling to see it snatched away from one. Especially in times of austerity.

Why, only the other day, Princess Michael was telling us just how bad things have got.

"I love easyJet," she said. "It’s the only direct route to Biarritz."

She actually said it. Those very words. Every satirist and would-be parody merchant might as well back their bags now.

Game OVER.

Dementia on the buses

News that bus drivers are to be trained to recognise the signs of dementia is obviously welcome.

I suggest they start at their own depot, as my experience of their colleagues in London is that they seem completely unaware of their surroundings. This can lead to bizarre and unpredictable manoeuvres, as well as angry outbursts towards customers.

Dave and Nigella

The judge in the Grillo fraud case didn't take kindly to David Cameron's intervention the other day in The Spectator on behalf of Nigella Lawson. He told the jury that they should ignore everything the British Prime Minister said.

Don't you think this would be sound advice for the rest of us too?

Monday, December 02, 2013

Thank you for your order. Your drone has just taken off.

News that Amazon is considering using drones to deliver parcels within 30 minutes of an order being placed is certainly welcome. No more sitting around waiting for a drone that might fly past at some unspecified time between 8am and 2pm.

Tracking your order becomes easier. Instead of having to log on to the website, you can just get a pair of binoculars out.

I can see it causing issues in the tribal border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan though. Over-eager Taliban fighters shooting down a drone, only to discover it contained their commander's latest aerobic workout DVD.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Joan of Arc, the aliens and the Eagles

If aliens ever needed somewhere to land their craft in London, I wouldn't rule out Selhurst Park. Although the home of Crystal Palace FC seems an unlikely destination for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form, the little green men seem to take a keen interest in the fate of the struggling Barclays Premier League side. Well, that's if you believe Stephany Cohen at least.

According to a report in the Metro, this keen Eagles fan (who claims to have been Joan of Arc in a previous life) is in regular contact with travellers from outer space. They have assured her that Palace will 'klingon' to top-flight status if Tony Pulis can focus on his defence, which the aliens believe - on rather limited evidence, it has to be said - to be his 'forte'.

I think it's quite conceivable that if there's no sign of improvement in the New Year, the spacemen might start abducting players to their mother ship and giving them a bit of a rollicking.

'Mr Moxey, we are permitting you two of your earth weeks to turn your performance around. The next game is a real six-pointer."

How the other half live

Having met the Fonz at Richmond Waterstones, I wandered down to a store called Whole Foods Market, which is almost beyond parody.

Stretching over two large floors, it seems to position itself as a place where the affluent residents of the south-west London suburb might choose to do their weekly shop. Heinz baked beans and other fairly everyday essentials compete for space with £10 pots of 'Richmond Park Natural Honey' and £20 trays of Maine lobster. Had Henry Winkler been able to join me on my shopping expedition, he would have been pleased to see that the retailer is also quite big on Thanksgiving - presumably catering for the American diaspora that helps fill the seats of Richmond Theatre, where the former Happy Days star is appearing in Peter Pan.

There was a Catherine Tate moment when I heard a young boy by the fish counter ask his dad whether it was possible to have a whole sea bass. I'd have told the cheeky young lad that it would be KFC if he didn't shut up.

Sweet heaven: Richmond customers make a beeline for local honey

Happy daze as I get selfie with Fonz

The Waterstones branch in the leafy London suburb of Richmond has probably played host to its fair share of famous authors. But surely none has caused quite the buzz created by the arrival of Henry Winkler. 

The 68-year-old actor has traded LA in recent years for stints in British panto and in this star-studded sleb-selfie, he really is 'behind me'!

Waiting for the arrival of the Fonz, and clutching one of his kids' books for my young nephew, I saw women actually brushing their hair and doing their make-up. The book store handed out chocolate brazil nuts to those  of us foolish enough to ship up an hour before and form an orderly queue down the street.

What an occasion and what a genuinely nice guy. 

Saturday, what a day: Washed and Ready to Eat's Phil Woodford meets up with Fonzie.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Happiness on a different scale

I do love the full-page ads from EW Technologies in the Metro.

The company treats us to detailed testimonials from customers who have battled with limescale before installing the firm's Gold Series water softening systems.

Peter and Chris Warner are all smiles.

Before EWT came into their lives, appliances were constantly breaking down, while dry, cracked hands meant that bills for moisturiser were soaring. It's a heart-rending story that is no doubt played out across countless homes in the heavily calcified south of England.

Now, after a visit from a polite, professional engineer, the shower door is clean and they're using less shampoo and gel when they pop inside for a wash.

Interestingly, Mr Warner believes that shaving is easier too. 'I get a far closer shave,' he says. 'And when I use any soaps they seem to lather up a lot more.'

It's hard to imagine how things could get any better, but thanks to the free G1 drinking filter supplied by EWT as part of the installation, the couple have been able to put their old jug filters on eBay. Let's hope we can return to them after the auction bonanza is over and see exactly how much they've been able to add to their savings on Radox.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Go on... treat him this Christmas

Stuck for an original gift this festive season? Look no further than the originally named Original Gift Company.

I chanced upon one of their catalogues on a south London commuter train and wanted to give WARTE readers a sense of the sheer breadth of Yuletide surprises on offer.

Unsure what to give your hubby or boyfriend? No need to throw in the towel. This all-in-one kilt set will keep him dry after he's been skinny-dipping in the local loch.

What goes around comes around. So there's no question he deserves this motorised tie rack.

You won't only have a red nose when you pass on this fabulous, Santa-inspired bottle holder. You'll have a red face too.

Bandits at 2 o'clock high. But can we shoot our way out of the goldfish bowl?

Get a grip with these inventive and practical... err... on second thoughts, just get a grip.

He'll have a face like thunder when you present him with this piece of meteorological kitsch.

Don't forget the decorations: collapsible tree is handy for room with low ceiling height.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

If I sponsor an obscure philosophical society and nobody notices, do I exist?

An extraordinary email arrives at Woodford Towers, offering a unique sponsorship opportunity. How would I like to become a patron of the 'world-renowned' Dublin University Metaphysical Society?

It's an interesting offer, to be sure. For the modest investment of just £600 a year, my logo will be 'seen across Dublin' and I'll be able to tell my shareholders that I have a programme in corporate social responsibility.

My largesse will help to fund the attendance of various speakers. People such as Professor Ray Monk, whose forthcoming topic is The Synthetic A Priori and the Analytic A Posteriori: Wittgenstein on Phenomenology. Certainly one to mark in the diary.

There's only one thing that I find puzzling. Why me?

And, come to think of it, why am I here? And does this blog actually exist?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I'm spitting blood about this preposterous ad campaign

The bizarre campaign for the mouthwash Corsodyl ('for people who spit blood when they brush their teeth') has taken an even weirder turn. 

The latest posters show a lady applying make-up to her eyes and seeing a streak of blood run down her cheek. 'You wouldn't ignore this' reads the copy, implying that we should treat bleeding gums with the same seriousness as bleeding eye sockets.

There are few places left for this outlandish train of thought to go. Someone with blood pouring out of their ears? Or maybe struggling with multiple gunshot wounds?

Can this stuff really be researching well? Only if the focus groups are stuffed with bleeding hypochondriacs.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

It's no ordinary writing instrument. But then, you're no ordinary customer.

What should arrive in the mail the other day but a pen inscribed with the name of my company? Apparently I can get fifty of them knocked up for £49.50 and will then receive another fifty FREE! If my maths is correct, that's almost as good as getting 100 of them for £49.50.

The letter that accompanies the sample is truly lol-inducing.

I am informed in the copy that 'this is no ordinary writing instrument'. In fact, 'the gleaming lacquer finish and polished chrome trim make this a pen customers and prospects will treasure and use every day'.

I'm asked to picture just how impressed folks are going to be when I present them with this 'extraordinary ad gift'. They'll not only remember my thoughtfulness and generosity, but 'share their sentiments' with friends who've noticed and admired my 'exceptional executive' present.

See what you make of it below. If demand is strong among fans of WARTE, you might just find a little something extra in your stocking this Christmas.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

All this for 10p less than the Daily Mail...

Forget the Daily Mail. For a serious read, it’s the Daily Express you need to seek out at your local newsagent’s.

The masthead screams 10p, which seems just about acceptable, but the small print dashes our hopes immediately. “10p cheaper than the Daily Mail and ten times better!”

The cover price is, in fact, an exorbitant 80p. In the interest of investigative journalism and a strong desire to understand what makes the typical Express reader tick, Washed and Ready to Eat made a decision to shell out.

Three key themes tend dominate the paper: Princess Diana, prevailing weather conditions and rising house prices. Although one of these topics might temporarily bump the others off the front page, the relegated topics are never completely forgotten. Take the edition published on Saturday 7th September 2013, for instance. The lead story is the conspiracy theory about the death of the Queen of Hearts in Paris back in the 1990s, but we learn that first-time buyers are returning to the market on page 13 and that summer is making a sudden exit on pages 16 and 17.

So we can conclude that Express readers are sentimental, royalist home-owners with a keen interest in meteorology. But what else might a social historian uncover were they to leaf through the pages in, say, 50 years’ time?

Well, the vote of the day yesterday was over Russia’s insult describing the UK as a ‘small nation that nobody pays any attention to’. I’m sure many readers will happily justify a dent in their pension for a 35p text to register their opinion about David Cameron’s response. No doubt, they would embrace the sentiment – if not the language – of Tory MP Henry Smith, who is quoted as saying ‘Putin really is a t****r’. (And if granny is still in any doubt, the Express runs a handy leader column praising David Cameron’s ‘capacity to spring a surprise’ with his defiant battle cry for Britain.)

Meanwhile, readers learn that Princess Anne has been branded a ‘pirate’ by the Argentinians. There’s a feature on ‘hellraiser’ Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills & Nash fame. And columnist Patrick O’Flynn tells us the immigration floodgates are back open and that the Coaltion needs to introduce a ‘work-for-dole’ scheme.

If you really want to get under the skin of the Express reader though, it’s the ads that are most revealing. After all, no one can rail against the influx of immigrants unless they’re equipped with a pair of Regatta Action Trousers. Down from £25 to £15.

It’s just as well the zip-pocketed garment is water repellent, when you read the gushing spiel from the copywriter. “Search in the High Street look through the newspapers... we don’t believe there is a finer value than this, anywhere in Britain today! These NEW Regatta Action Trousers are made from a super tough poly/cotton blend and reinforced at the knees so they’ll last the distance.”

We can’t help but wonder whether some of the paper’s correspondents are wearing a pair of Regattas as they write to William Hartston to satisfy their craving for general knowledge. In his Saturday Briefing, we discover whether it’s possible to freeze fresh eggs, while learning the number of pontiffs that have graced the Vatican and an explanation for the term ‘double carpet’ to describe odds of 33-1 in a horse race. It’s nothing less than an offline search engine, returning new results within a staggering 168 hours.

Anyway, we’ll have to draw our review to a close. I’ve just spotted a personalised music box in the magazine. It plays the melody ‘You Are So Beautiful’ and comes with a ‘silvery’ heart charm which can be engraved with the name of my granddaughter.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Literature just got badass

"Pip rolls up at the ho Haver-sham's crib..." Dr Sparky Sweets interprets another piece of classic literature for a modern audience.

Frustrated by the fog that surrounds much intellectual discourse, this US academic has hit upon a novel way of reinventing classic literature. His 'thug notes' are a genre all of their own. Everyone from Shakespeare to Harper Lee is given the treatment at

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Freedom of information? That's 39.3 hours of hard labour.

Local government gets a bad press. People have a tendency to think of councils as bureaucratic and full of jobsworths. While I'm sure the impression isn't entirely true, the response I received from a London Borough to a recent Freedom of Information request only served to perpetuate the perception.

I won't go into all the details. Essentially though, the information I want does exist, but it's in 183 different files. No one has ever bothered to collate it. And there's the rub. If a government body in the UK claims that it would cost more than £450 to provide an answer to a query, then they're entitled to refuse the request. And that's what this particular authority has done.

They base their decision on one council officer spending more than 18 hours in "determining whether the Council hold the information, and locating, retrieving and extracting the information..." That's 18 hours at £25 per hour.

A pretty good rate for someone working at the local council, wouldn't you think? Especially if their job is to open up old files and look inside for a piece of information and make a note of what it is. I reckon someone on work experience could probably do it. Or the most junior of admin staff. But it seems that for the purpose of rejecting the request, they're entitled to imagine that it's a job for an employee who earns between £40 and £50k a year.

How would they be spending their time? Here's where it gets truly ridiculous.

"Determining whether the information is held – 30 minutes." Hmm. They've already told me the information is held, so that's a little bit odd. Half an hour of whistling and tea-making, I guess.

"Locating the information – 30 hours (based on 10 mins per file)." This presupposes they archive their files in such a random fashion that even though they all serve an identical purpose, it would take 10 minutes to find the next one.

"Retrieving the information – 0 hours." I think they're possibly missing a trick here. There's the time it would take to reach up on a shelf, adjust the neighbouring files and bring the relevant one back to a table situated an average distance of, say, 2 metres away. (I would calculate an hour and half, based on 30 seconds per file.)

"Extracting the information – 9 hours (based on 3 min per file)." This is actually the only element of the response that seems remotely credible. I'm asking them to look in the file to find a specific piece of information, which should be pretty obvious.

Having waded through all this stuff, I can't help reaching the conclusion that by the time someone has constructed an email explaining why they can't locate the information, someone else could have nipped down the corridor, pulled out the files and started flicking through them.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Lost and found

Emergency call from Mrs W this morning. In the process of rescuing a lost cat she'd seen advertised on local posters, she'd managed to get her beautiful white top covered in muddy paw prints. I had to race down to the local station with a spare t-shirt, designed to save her embarrassment at work.

What had happened to the captured feline?

Mrs W took it into the local newsagent near the station and was told that it had already been found.

Which does beg the question: what's the difference between a cat who's lost and a cat who's been found?

Lost cats roam the streets aimlessly looking for prey and getting into scraps. Their distraught owners don't know where they've got to and fear they've been catnapped or run over by a car. When the little moggy is found, the first thing the owners do is let them out to wander the streets aimlessly looking for prey and getting into scraps.

Clearly we need posters announcing the successful recapture of any missing cats. This would serve much the same function as the 'all clear' siren after a World War II air raid.

"Puss-in-Boots has now been found. So if you see her padding around the local vicinity, please don't call us. No reward on offer."

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Would you have them any other way?

I don't know about you, but whenever I order pear crisps, I always insist they're air dried. With prawn cocktail, it matters less. But with pear...

Security not to be sniffed at

Edward Snowden's statement that he might seek asylum in that bastion of democracy, Russia, is decidedly weird. But not as weird as the news reported recently that Putin's government has found a novel way of avoiding the kind of security breach epitomised by Snowden and his pal Julian Assange.

According to Izvestya, the Putin government recently put in an order for 20 Triumph Adler typewriters. A source inside the Russian Federal Guard Service was quoted as saying that these low-tech machines each had their own unique signature and that paper reports were the order of the day from now on.

This quirky - or should I say querty - approach to government communication in the digital age certainly has security advantages. But all those carbon copies may have a dramatic impact on Russia's CO2 emissions.

There may also be other unforeseen consequences. 

'Vasily, hurry up and finish the report on our top-secret operation in Damascus. And stop sniffing that f*****g Tippex!' 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Washed and ready to cheat

Now, I'm as OCD as the next man, but even by my standards, the NHS hand-washing instructions below seem a tad OTT. I'm like HOW many stages?

We're told at the end that the whole process should last 15-30 seconds. That's quite a spectrum. They're saying you can wash your hands for half the length of time that someone else does and yet still fall into the 'clean' category. So why would anyone go for 30 seconds? You'd just cheat and do 15, wouldn't 't you? 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Granny reduced to tears over demise of LSD

A few shillings short: barmy grandmother is reduced to tears at the prospect of losing the ten-bob note

I was still a tot when the UK converted to decimal currency, so don't have a vivid memory of the propaganda campaign that was waged by the government to win people over to the new system.

This video is more than a public information film. It seems to be an excerpt from a full-scale drama in which a family lives out the trauma of 'D-Day' in 1971. (Given that many people at that time had vivid memories of the war, perhaps it wasn't the best choice of name.)

The young lad of the family knows where the future lies and his glamorous older sister is taking everything in her stride. Mum's all of a dither and looks as if she might need a man to help her out when she goes shopping with the new coins. But it's gran who's causing us the most worry. She seems prone to tears at the prospect of decimalisation and we get the impression she might take to her bed for the next month or two.

When the saucy milkman knocks to collect his weekly dues (think of Bob Grant's conductor in On The Buses), everything gets on top of her. Which is what one fears the milkman might like.

A glorious curio from a bygone era.

If anyone knows, incidentally, why some shops were allowed to continue to trade in LSD after the conversion date, please do post a comment.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A tasty treat for a middle-aged family man

I was talking to Mrs W about the strange phenomenon of cat foods specifying the particular type of feline that might eat them. The pack of Science Plan below is designed specifically with sterilised moggies in mind. 

The next step is clearly to extend the idea to humans. Forget traffic lights with salt, sugar and fat. It's food for the single mum. Or an adventurous young professional. Or a father-of-four, post-vasectomy.

Monday, June 17, 2013

That hi-tech G20 summit of 2009...

One of the more bizarre revelations to emerge from Edward Snowden's whistleblowing is the supposed monitoring of communications by British intelligence at the 2009 G20 summit. When foreign officials gathered for the shindig, they were allegedly encouraged to use bogus internet cafes set up by spooks.

I'm struggling to get my head around this.

This is 2009, right? And the politicians and diplomatic entourages of the the world's 20 most prosperous countries rely on internet cafes to send email? I'm tempted to email Mr Snowden myself over a secure server and ask for more detail.

Perhaps the visiting dignitaries were using Alta Vista to surf the web? Next time, they'll bring their own 28k modems with them.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Paws for thought

Mrs W caught our cat trying to hitch a lift on the Tesco delivery van that was parked near Woodford Towers yesterday. We were speculating that if she'd actually managed to get on board, we might never have seen her again. Maybe she'd have ended up a depot miles away. Or jumped off in another neighbourhood and found herself completely lost.

My theory is that we should train her just to get on the Ocado and Abel & Cole vans that are a common sight around our area. At least then we'd know she was going to a good home.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The geek shall inherit the Earth

They say the Lord moves in mysterious ways. This may be why He has decided that Jesus Christ should return to Earth in the form of an IT specialist.

According to reports, Alan John 'AJ' Miller is building quite a following down under with his claims that he is the Messiah rebooted. Intriguingly, the computer expert - whose partner is the reincarnation of Mary Magdalene - can actually remember the crucifixion. Now, I sometimes find it hard to remember people I met a couple of months ago or where I've left my keys, but I guess that whole business with Pontius Pilate is the kind of thing that would stick in the mind.

After JC/AJ died, he had a great time up in heaven, because he was able to have conversations with people such as Socrates. (That's the philosopher who used to hang out in ancient Athens. Not that bloke who used to play for Brazil.)

One key test of Miller's authenticity would definitely be to ask him about the Pearly Gates. You'll remember that author Fay Weldon has seen them recently and has stated that they are double-glazed. If AJ says different, one of them is telling us a porky pie.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Hurry up, darling. Where's the ham and coke?

Butter wouldn't melt... the She Quickie Cookbook has every tip the 60s housewife needs

Every so often, it's good to feature a book on Washed and Ready, although it's fair to say my reviews can sometimes be a little tardy. I'm just catching up with the 1964 She Quickie Cookbook No 2, which is full of great recipe tips for the busy modern woman.

"Tonight there's a wonderful play on T.V., so it's a quick and early supper." Ah, in that case, it must be haddock with eggs. After cutting fins and tails, opening cans of spinach and doing a bit of simmering, stirring and sizzling, we lift the egg and ease it gently on to the fish. "Call husband to table," the copy continues. "Ease out second egg. Stir spinach and arrange around dish as a border. Serve immediately."

Your appetite must be well and truly whetted by now.

"He just 'phoned to say Surprise, he's bringing two home for supper..." No problem. Not when you've got the recipe for devilled lamb's tongues up your sleeve. "Open the can of tongues and heat gently in a pan with the Babycham..."

But what if it's a special occasion? I strongly recommend Ham in 'Coke' sauce.

"You'll never be alone any more once you've had him round to a supper featuring this 15-minute super-savoury... Put ham with 2 cloves into a saucepan. Add the Coca-Cola, leaving a little to mix with the cornflour, and boil for 5 mins."

Next time on WARTE: Kidney Scramble. "Finicky boy friend coming to supper? There'll be no more finicks when he's finished this dish - your only trouble will be stopping him asking for more..."

Monday, May 20, 2013

Heavens above

Writer Fay Weldon has been been talking about her near-death experiences to The Oldie magazine. A former atheist, the 81-year-old author has converted to Christianity in recent years. And who can blame her, given her striking visions of life on the other side?

The pearly gates are, apparently 'garish' in colour, much like a Hindu temple. What's more, they're double-glazed. This could be confirmation that St Peter is particularly concerned with energy efficiency, although my hunch is that it might be more of a sound-proofing exercise, to keep out the hubbub that we create down on this mortal plane. One thing's absolutely certain. It would only be the very finest glass. They'd only fit double glazing once up there, so they'd fit the best, wouldn't they? Everest. Ted Moult passed in 1986 and I'd lay money on that being the date they had the pearly gates done.

And life in the hereafter? What's it like? Majesty beyond conception? 50 miles of elbow room?

Err... not exactly. According to Weldon, who wrote the first-ever episode of the 70s TV show Upstairs Downstairs, there's not much difference above and below stairs. 'Hard work,' she reveals. 'Two steps forward, one step back.'

Friday, May 10, 2013

Neigh-bourhood watch

Riding hats off to a sergeant in the Metropolitan Police, who is quoted in the Evening Standard after an operation to target vagrants in London. Commenting on the use of mounted cops, he says: 'Officers on horses mean increased visibility. They have a different viewpoint and can spot things we don't.'

My old friend Hoffy suggests that giraffes might provide an even better vantage point in the fight against crime.

But animals cost money. In these times of austerity, surely a few step ladders from B&Q would be a more appropriate investment?

Sunday, May 05, 2013

A new take on the London property market

There are some ads that are just made for a semiotics seminar. Take this bewildering appeal below from London estate agent Douglas & Gordon, for instance.

We are treated to an elaborate illustration which speaks more of Bavaria than Barons Court. A chirpy young lad in lederhosen is centre stage alongside the agency's promotional boards. Behind him, some kind of emaciated wolf is sheepishly creeping past a flock of lambs. Does the unfortunate beast perhaps represent a rival agent, drummed out of the neighbourhood by the burghers of the picturesque Teutonic town that lies nearby?

The local populace certainly seems delighted. There appear to be numerous new instructions in the area and the townsfolk waltz gaily towards them, hoardings in hand. It's only a matter of time before every local property is sold, subject to contract. Well, all the ones laid to lawn and with off-street parking at least.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Inside the mind of the UKIP voter

I try very hard to think myself into the heads of UKIP supporters and understand what makes them tick. I really do. After all, about a quarter of the population now seems prepared to vote for this barmy army.

At a political level, all the stuff about disenfranchised protest voters is probably true. Some of the supporters are alienated from all the mainstream parties. Many are natural Tories and just feel that David Cameron is too wishy-washy. But plenty of the Tories who think Cameron's a sell-out still end up voting Conservative. The UKIP voter is a particular breed.

These are folks who like moaning and griping and feeling hard-done-by. There's nothing they enjoy more than being stuck in traffic queues, worrying about which station is going to give them the best-value petrol and which one is going to rip them off. Almost certainly they'd use a pound's worth of fuel to get to a particular Nigel Farage where unleaded was a penny cheaper per litre. They'd moan all day about the cost of living and spend a lot of time on price comparison sites making sure they weren't shafted when they bought insurance. But no expense is spared on their dogs, their Sunday roast and the occasional packet of fags.

They don't care much for metropolitan life full stop. It's not only the immigrants. Just as surely as they're suspicious of Poles and Bulgarians, they have an instinctive mistrust of Starbucks, bus lanes, hipsters and any meal served with 'jus' rather than gravy.

UKIP voters are nostalgic for a bygone world of course. Polls show us that 70% are over 50. It's tempting to see them as people with a romantic, mythical vision. John Major's old ladies bicycling past the cricket on a picturesque village green. The truth is they hanker after a very real and much more brutal world. It's a world of national service, of people with depression pulling themselves together, of smoke-filled pubs and birching on the Isle of Man.

Health and safety? Don't make them laugh.

The congestion charge? What a liberty.

And please don't get them started on speed cameras. Just an excuse for the government to make money.

These malcontents and whingers are easy to dismiss. But they represent a central part of British life. They are the kind of people who always believe themselves to be right, who never have a good word for others and prefer a good, traditional cup of tea to some fancy cappuccino.

You know people like this. I know people like this. Theirs is a world of fear, distrust and dislike. Of common-sense answers and black-and-white, cast-iron certainties. But can they really represent the future of the UK?

Their success is probably self-limiting. I don't say this out of complacency. They can certainly do real electoral damage because older people are more likely to turn out and vote. But their lasting legacy is likely to be the changes they force on the other parties. And possibly the toxic climate they build in the run-up to any referendum on British membership of the EU. The day we vote to detach ourselves from the rest of the world and retreat into our bunker.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Costume time, me hearties!

One has to feel a little sorry for the members of the Women's Institute in North Devon. When the ladies heard that a speaker was coming to address them on the subject of piracy, they entered into the spirit of the occasion by dressing up (

Shiver me timbers, though. If only the landlubbers realised the faux pas they were committing. For their guest wasn't coming to talk about the yo-ho-ho type of pirate. He was planning to recount his treatment at the hands of Somali brigands back in the year of our Lord 2008. Lol.

Luckily, the speaker had a sense of humour. According to reports, he helped judge the best-dressed attendee and revealed that he likes the WI circuit as it helps him to 'flog his book'.

Flogging was a common feature on pirate ships of yore as well, I'm sure.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Jesse's the guvnor when it comes to conspiracies

I’m on the brink of becoming addicted to Jesse Ventura’s Conspiracy Theory – a series produced by TruTV, in which the former wrestler, navy seal and governor of Minnesota investigates some of the kookiest ideas kicking around the darker corners of the web.

So far, I’ve seen the one about how the US government has been experimenting with time travel and another about a so-called ‘death ray’, inspired by ideas ‘stolen’ by the FBI from Serbian physicist Nikola Tesla. This sci-fi weapon was supposedly used to bump off various people involved in Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars programme, but by the end of the show, the eccentric Ventura is convinced that it also zapped the Twin Towers on 9/11. This bizarre assertion leads to a row with his son, who’s worried dad is losing credibility by abandoning whatever previous conspiracy theory he had advocated on the subject. Consistency is clearly important in this particular subculture. You can’t go around thinking that JFK was abducted by aliens, only to change your mind and say that he was shot by Lord Lucan.

It’s not so much the subject matter that makes Conspiracy Theory such gripping TV. It’s the absurd format, which is based around a kind of ‘ops room’ table where Ventura gathers together his trusted advisers and they update each other on investigative progress. Londoner June Sarpong is one of the team, although her CV reveals little in the way of forensic police experience. She presented T4, as well as WAGS Boutique on ITV2 and a programme in which she tried to track down the ghost of Michael Jackson. She has an MBE. There’s Tyrel – Jesse’s son – and also a guy who turns out to be the son of celebrated filmmaker Oliver Stone. When they’re together around the table, the rule is to be deadly earnest about whatever ridiculous idea they’re discussing.

A typical scene would go something like this:

VENTURA Sr: Someone has come to me with information suggesting that the moon doesn’t exist.

VENTURA Jr: What do you mean, the moon doesn’t exist? We can see it, right?

VENTURA Sr: The moon is an illusion. There’s this guy who used to work at Nasa. And he’s told me that we are being brainwashed into believing we see the moon.

SARPONG (looking serious and quizzical): Some kind of mass hypnosis?

VENTURA Sr: Could be. Hypnosis or brainwashing or call it what you will. But there’s something going on here and we need to get the bottom of it. I was sceptical at first. But have you noticed how sometimes the moon is there and other times it’s not?

STONE: I’m not sure I buy it. I mean why would they need to convince us the moon existed?

VENTURA Sr: Listen, my Nasa guy says he can prove it. He’s given me a name. Professor Signedoff Sickalot. If we can find this professor, we could be on to something big.

The next 40 minutes will be taken up with car journeys, knocking on doors and conducting interviews with some of the crankiest cranks ever to be given time in a broadcast medium.

It does have to be said, however, that the bloke who told the Governor about the death ray was dead within 48 hours of spilling the beans. The coroner said it was natural causes. But that’s the verdict that always gets returned in death-ray cases.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Common or garden texts

There are a couple of ads on South West Trains at the moment that are testament to the sheer power of the humble SMS.

'Birds need gardens,' reads one. 'Invite them to yours with a text.'

This bewildering appeal from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds conjures up images of our feathered friends tapping their beaks on a Galaxy S4. When I want to get in touch with a sparrow or blackbird, I always tweet.

Sightsavers take the idea a stage further. 'This eye infection could blind him. Text the antibiotics that could save his sight.'

My phone is now seemingly linked to a 3D printer. We've certainly come a long way from wuu2 lolz.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How long must we wait?

Here are two great ideas I can guarantee won't be taken up by the authorities any time soon.

First, a solution to the labelling of unhealthy foods, which we know to contribute to premature deaths from heart disease and cancer. Forget traffic lights. Why not show the number of cigarettes a food product is equivalent to?

I don't know the facts, obviously. Leave that to a boffin in a research institute. But a cheap, own-brand lasagne, packed full of salt, saturated fat and horse, would be, say, 10 ciggies. A couple of deep-fried Mars bars would be 20. Instantly, we'd see what we were doing to ourselves at a glance.

Here's my other idea, drawing from innovations we've seen online.

You know how when you go on Google Street View now, they show the names of the roads as if they've been painted in large letters by a gang of virtual municipal workers? Why not ACTUALLY paint the names on roads in real life? Then we'd always know where we were.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Woodford Towers deserves a makeover. But save me the tears.

I recently had the misfortune to encounter that terrible BBC show in which members of a family have their home made over by local tradesmen. Because there's zero justice in the world, these homeowners are picked at random to have tens of thousands spent on their property, which is usually some kind of tip beforehand.

The format involves teams of plumbers, electricians, chippies and so on descending on the house and blitzing it - probably doing more actual work in the space of a few days than most of them have managed in the past few years. Inevitably, when the family arrives home, they are bowled over by the transformation that's taken place.

So far, so good. I guess I could cope with all of that. But the next bit is truly unbearable. The family members - having inspected their new-look home - are expected to go to the front of the house where the workmen have gathered. What follows is something akin to a religious ceremony in which tears are shed and thanks are offered. Given the large crowd basking in the glory of the philanthropic endeavour, one starts to wonder how it was possible for everyone to have fitted into the house.

If the BBC approached me to have Woodford Towers done, I'd definitely opt out of that last segment. I'd ask whether I could maybe just wave to the plumbers out of the window. Or perhaps send them a thank you letter in the post.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Shining a light on UK breakfasts

Nothing beats a full English breakfast, right? But if you're serving it up outside the English border, you can't call it an English breakfast.

On my recent business trip to Cardiff, I was offered a Welsh breakfast.

It looked eerily like an English one.

There were some potatoes (a little unusual perhaps) and some slightly undercooked black pudding. But the black pudding is part of the traditional Scottish breakfast I've been served north of the border too.

Come to think of it, what distinguishes it from the Manx and Irish breakfasts I've been offered?

I think it's time for a London breakfast. Enfield eggs, sizzling sausages from Seven Sisters and some back bacon served up the old-fashioned Bayswater way.

While I was in Cardiff, incidentally, I struggled with the lighting in my hotel room. Unable to see my hand in front of my face, I called for assistance. An Italian guy arrived and activated the lights from a switch that I had missed. Even then, I could only just make him out as a blurred figure, as the total wattage in the room was struggling to get into double figures. He gave me a long lecture about how the hotel's design aesthetic was 'contemporary' and things like lights didn't fit with that. 'It's better for this amazing view too,' he said, drawing back the curtains on my 18th-floor bolt hole.

Yes, the view was nice. But would I be able to find my way to the bathroom?

There's a comedy sketch in the light switches you find in hotels. By the bed, you can often get half a dozen which have an undeclared connection with a random selection of 5W bulbs scattered around the room. You turn three lights on, aim for a fourth and discover you've just turned the first three off. Do they design this stuff for amusement?