Bosses at sea and sick as parrots

Have you ever wanted to put your boss in a metal box and send him far out to sea? That is what is happening, even as you read, to the chairman of Magnox Electric and the deputy chief executive of BT. Mark Baker and Alan Rudge are today getting into their boats, Nuclear Electric and Global Teamwork, and heading out from Wellington, New Zealand, towards Sydney.

This is the third leg of the BT Global Challenge, the round-the-world yacht race, and it is also the shortest - 1,230 miles, which will take about a week. A bunch of foolhardy executives decided, therefore, that the Tasman Sea is the place to be. I bet they're regretting it. Not only are they going to be very ill bunnies, they will also (I hope) miss a rare sight - England not doing too badly at cricket.

In researching this story I have also discovered why I can listen to the cricket live at 10 o'clock at night - New Zealand is 13 hours ahead of us, which I thought was impossible. The lady from Magnox also tells me that Nuclear Electric crossed the international date line on Christmas Day, which meant it missed half of it. "One crew member went to sleep for six hours on Christmas Day morning and woke up on Boxing Day."

I AM intrigued by the ability of companies to create "instant oldness". Not so much the Thomas Pinks of this world (est. 1984, going on 1784), more the subtler Kilkenny and Caffreys. Both beers are being slipped into the consciousness with the implicit message that a) they have been around for ever, or b) that they have been drunk in Ireland since 1372 but have only just made it over here. In fact Caffreys was launched by Bass on St Patrick's Day 1994, and Guinness launched Kilkenny a year later. They are both "nitrokeg" beers, and none the better for that.

You can't help but admire the subtlety of the marketing, making people think that something brand new has been around for ever. Another example is Bass's All Bar One chain, a hybrid bar/cafe/something else that almost achieves the same feel. The clue is in the "almost". At first all these products seem pleasant enough. Then you realise they have had a few too many millions spent on market researching them. They are bland, too, but that's not the problem - it's the not-quite-rightness, like someone who doesn't quite have a particular accent, that is so unsettling. I think I prefer things that are just plain wrong.

A slice of beer?

A CORRECTION to one of last week's old advertisements from, among others, Basil Buckland: "My memory says that George went to Lyonch, not Lyons. Also that the surprise was that the peas were not frozen ... just bloody awful!"

I can't resist one more old ad, gathered "during countless bored hours as a schoolboy on the Underground between 1949 and 1955" by Peter Read: "When Arthur saw his brother pack/Into his hiking haversack/A loaf of bread and half a score/Of Barclays Beer - and then two more/"How very curious" he said,/"What can he want with all that bread?"

THOSE jolly people at Benetton have been busy polishing their reputation for being barking mad by publishing a new "shopping for the body" guide in their magazine Colors.

First, buy yourself a body: a bionic arm for pounds 10,000, a silicon ear for pounds 1,600. Then go to Colombia, buy yourself a fake pregnancy belly - a snip for shoplifters in Bogota at only a quid - and an armadillo tail (pounds 5), which you heat and stick in your ear to cure earache. If you are American and belong to NORM, the National Organisation for Restoring Men, you will want a device for uncircumcising yourself - it costs pounds 72. If you are French and want your gums to be pinker, buy Diamant toothpaste, made of crushed red beetles from Peru ... And so on. Get the idea?

Shirts to die for

I HAVE realised my ambition - I can retire now. The chairman of that elegant institution, the John Lewis Partnership, referred to this column in his annual speech. However, he seemed to think I had been indulging in "gentle leg-pulling". I assure him I was in deadly earnest when I said John Lewis would still be selling shirts during the Apocalypse. I hope it will, because I do not intend to meet the Recording Angel without a new shirt, and I am counting on the Partnership to provide it.