Busy man

Spotted in the gents' loo at the Birch Service Station on the M62 this morning: a businessman operating two hand-driers simultaneously, one for each hand.

Now there's a man with not enough time (and too much water) on his hands, I thought. I wouldn't mind betting he'd read some self-help book on personal productivity: 200 Killer Hacks to Save Yourself an Hour a Day, or some such nonsense.

To complicate matters, the middle of the three hand-driers wasn't working, so the man had to extend his arms to full-stretch to accomplish his astonishing time-saving feat. He looked for all the world like Jesus hanging on the cross—albeit Jesus in a snazzy business suit. I would have liked to grab a photo, but realised taking pictures of men in gents' loos was the sort of thing likely to get me arrested.

Still, though, what a thoroughly efficient man! There was a chap who understood the true value of his time: so much more precious than that of the fat, bearded bloke standing behind him with dripping hands.

Stockard Channing

Has it been a phenomenal summer of sport on the telly or what? First came all that European soccer, then the tennis, now the Olympic Games. Unbelievable!

All of which explains how Jen and I have finally managed to make massive inroads into our West Wing box-set. We're about half-way through season four at the moment, and we're totally hooked. I mean totally.

If you've never watched The West Wing, you really should. What makes the series so special is that every one of the main characters is both extremely likeable and extremely intelligent. You don't get that very much on the telly. And there are some fantastic jokes too. I'm not kidding, Jen and I have been literally laughing out loud at least once per episode.

One thing about The West Wing has been troubling me, though. The character of the First Lady is played by a very fine actress named Stockard Channing. Yes, that's right, Stockard Channing:


Stockard Channing (L) and Martin Sheen (R) as Mrs and President Bartlet respectively.

I know: where have you heard the name Stockard Channing before? It's been doing my head in.

I Googled her, obviously, and discovered that, in addition to playing First Lady Abbey Bartlet in The West Wing, Stockard Channing is perhaps best known for her role as Betty Rizzo in the film Grease. Which didn't particularly help, as I don't think I've ever seen Grease. Thanks for nothing, Google.

Then, after several days' frustration, it finally dawned on me why I recognised the name. Honestly, you're going to kick yourself…

Stockard Channing is the name of a motorway service station on the M5 just south of Bristol. I stopped there once for a comfort break and a coffee and blueberry muffin.

Holy crap. The poor, poor woman. She must have been teased mercilessly at school. What sort of person names their child after a motorway service station? (Apart from Charlton Heston's dad, I mean.)

Jen and I are pretty devastated that we're already half-way through The West Wing. So much so that we're starting to get a bit jittery about which landmark US TV series we're going to watch next. We already polished off The Sopranos during the last World Cup. We tried the first couple of episodes of The Wire, but couldn't understand a word anyone was saying. Which has left us in something of a quandary. The front-runner at the moment is the highly acclaimed Game of Cards. What do you reckon?

We'll always have Charnock, Richard

An empty restaurant; a romantic table for two by the window; soft music; sweeping, panoramic views towards the setting sun.

Who says I can't show a girl a good time?

Stense at the Charnock Richard Service Station (M6) yesterday.

Stense at the Charnock Richard Service Station (M6) yesterday.

We had planned our tryst with military precision. Stense was heading down the M6 from Scotland. If she let me know as she was passing Killington Lake Services, I could drop everything and bomb down the M65 for an illicit liaison midway between junctions 28 and 27. We only had an hour or so, but we had to seize the opportunity while we could.

It was just like that movie, Ferris Bueller's Day Off Brief Encounter, only relocated 40.4 miles south from Carnforth Station to Charnock Richard Services. Stense, obviously, was reprising Celia Johnson's role, and I was Frankie Howerd.

Who says romance is dead?

Call of nature

Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but, when I were a lad, there used to be something called etiquette (look it up): a general set of rules explaining what constituted socially acceptable behaviour (and, more importantly, what didn't).

Foremost of these rules (for us chaps at least) was the commandment, Thou shalt not engage another gentleman in conversation whilst either of you is having a slash. It just wasn't the done thing—not even for the sort of chaps who make a habit of chatting to other chaps in gentlemen's washrooms.

Yesterday, I was spending a penny in the gents at the Tebay Service Station on the M6, when the chap two urinals along from me suddenly remarked, "Ah! There you are! I've been trying to speak with you for ages!"

I glanced over at him nervously.

"I think you and I need to get together with Phil to thrash out the details," he said. "Have you got his number?"

It was clearly a case of mistaken identity: I had never seen this man before, and I didn't know anyone called Phil who I was likely to want to thrash out details with. "I think you've got the wrong per…" I started to say.

Then I realised the chap was on the phone. That's right, he was making a business call whilst having a burst! Is nothing sacred?

It lends a whole new meaning to the phrase, I'll give you a tinkle.