Idle Eye 122 : The Cider Inside

According to the internet, I may or may not have alcoholic neuropathy. Not the fully-fledged bumping into walls/khazi-bound variety, you’ll no doubt be pleased to learn, but there is some evidence of a tingly leg thing going on after an exceptionally enjoyable bottle of Pinot. Gruelling news, particularly as I am halfway through the arduous task of reducing a bottle mountain of barely palatable filth, bequeathed to me by my late father, in order to reclaim some kitchen shelf real estate. So, in the greater interest of my failing health and with a small nod to genuine altruism, I have decided to give away one of said bottles to any reader who can be arsed to ask for it. Yes, like a competition.

But which one? You are most certainly not having the 1982 Taylors port, and I wouldn’t wish a 2011 Vina Primera white rioja on anyone with a pulse, not even the ISIS vintners. I did, however, find a dusty old thing lurking at the bottom of the pile which, on closer inspection, turned out to be an ageing bottle of Merrydown cider, its blackened cork still wedged in tenaciously at the neck. A thrilling discovery by anyone’s standards, so much so I proffered this information to Merrydown themselves, along with a photograph and a discreet enquiry as to its age. And quick as a flash, I received an email from an equally excited Emma Vanderplank at customer relations, informing me that according to their archive, it probably dates from 1952. Or 1955. Or 1962. Whichever one, it’s proper old: Small wonder Dad laid it down.

So there’s the provenance, but what of the value? To this end, I delved deep into the guts of several online auction houses specialising in the sale and distribution of historic orchard fruit-based alcoholic beverages, and it turns out our little friend ticks all the boxes (matured in cellar/label still legible/stored outside mandatory fifty mile exclusion zone of anyone with a Somerset postcode etc…) And if I’ve got my sums right, it’s almost certainly worth between six and eight quid, give or take a few pennies (allowing for market variables and fluctuation thereof). Bearing in mind that you pay considerably more for the tat sold in convenience stores that doesn’t even have the patina of age, I would suggest to you this is a gift horse not worth looking into the mouth of. Not even a furtive glance from the other side of the paddock. To say nothing of its accruing potential if you so choose to lay it down for another fifty years. I must be mad, me.

Here’s the deal: I’ll post the photograph on the Idle Eye Facebook page (over there, on the right). You tell me why you want it (in the comments below). The winner will be selected by me, subject to bribes. You give me your address, I send it to you at my not inconsiderable expense, along with a picture of a hamster (UK applicants only – Not this time, Johnny Foreigner). Now, what are you waiting for?

Idle Eye 121 : The Song of a Sceptic

A little while back, I wrote a short piece about food on another blog platform when I was attempting to find my voice. It was deliberately confrontational and probably a touch derivative, the main thrust being that food is, in essence, merely petrol to keep us all alive in order to do far greater things than the act of eating itself. This would have been apposite if written in the 1970s (or indeed earlier), when the greater irony may well have been appreciated by frequenters of those appalling trattorias, nascent curry houses and stick-in-the-mud bastions of public school cuisine. But it wasn’t.

Over the last twenty years or so, we have morphed into a nation of foodies. Suddenly, every man and his dog has developed a palate that subtle, it would leave Abigail and her guests floundering like jetsam at one of her soirées. We demand choice and quality as standard (despite having come through the worst recession since WW2) and, more than ever, we require affirmation that our opinions are justified. Why so?

Because our newly-found appreciation of all things gastronomic is nothing more than the emperor’s new clothes. We food snobs, like wine snobs, know deep down that our honed interest in the ephemeral is pretty low down on the pecking order of things that actually matter. Consequently, in much the same way that our current government operates, we surround ourselves with like-minded sycophants who will be the first to forgive us for thinking that it does. So when the bill payer clicks his/her fingers at a chain restaurant minion and they come running, no-one from either camp dares question the validity of the challenge. Money talks, deafeningly when there isn’t much around, and putting an opinionated Herbert to rights is probably not worth losing your job for.

But it is a wafer-thin confidence, to be annihilated absolutely in the not too distant future by global events, the seething aficionados of packaged goods, and common sense. I predict a time when all celebrity chefs are dragged by the hair from their culinary idylls, thrown into the stocks and pelted to death with every last leaf of kale, lollo rosso and organically-farmed, locally-sourced cucumber that inevitably ended its days in the recycling bin. When coffee houses, like televisions in the 1950s, only offer black and white as an option, and if anyone with a manicured moustache demands anything with more than one syllable, they too will be executed on-site in the manner of Charles I and their remains fed to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s pigs. And when the beasts of Smithfield, at the point of their bloody departure from this world to the restaurants of St John Street, are given the option to turn the tables, they do so on the sole condition that they feast exclusively on their perpetrators.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the future.

Idle Eye 120 : The Lives of Others

Earlier this year, Stewart Lee beautifully articulated his disdain for Twitter by describing it as “a state surveillance agency staffed by gullible volunteers.” By which he meant that his entire successful life could be accurately traced by reading through inane tweets sent in by the public as to his whereabouts at any given time. And that these same people would be equally fascinated by the tittle-tattle others just like them offered up for general consumption.

On Monday, I arrived home after an an eight mile cycle ride (eight miles, Twitter fans) from work. Needing provisions for the evening meal and a following breakfast, I leapt into the car & headed off to Sainsburys, unthinkingly clad only in my cycling kit, in order to purchase a few necessaries (one packet Beanfeast Bolognese, one bag organic carrots, one carton orange juice, one bottle Chilean Pinot Noir). It took less than ten minutes. After which I headed back, only to discover that my inconsequential trip had been monitored and posted for all to see by someone who, shall we say, does not have my best interests at heart. Here’s the tweet verbatim:

“Well, that was an ill-timed Sainsbury’s visit. Still, always fun to see a middle aged man dressed like Kevin Rowland c. 1983 from knees down”

Initially, I was rather flattered that a man of my crumbling stature could still conjure up the ghost of Kevin Rowland in his prime, rather than that of Marley or an extra from any of George A. Romero’s oeuvre. But then I became increasingly baffled as to why this would be of any interest whatsoever to a bunch of followers who have no idea who I am, and had not themselves doubled back on their journey home upon spotting my car (Triumph Herald), in order to claim their visit to said supermarket was “ill-timed”. 140 characters or less, by their very nature, cannot accommodate shades of grey. The whole truth requires the same event to be seen from different angles, no matter how obtuse or inconvenient. And the clandestine observation of my rolled-up jeans, paraded to an early evening set of shoppers as a misguided fashion statement of yesteryear, could legitimately have been interpreted otherwise.

Many years ago, when I was learning the finer points of filmmaking at Sheffield City Polytechnic, I watched Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter for the first time. The scene that most stayed with me was that of the demonic preacher (played by Robert Mitchum), standing outside and staring ominously up at the home he was soon to infiltrate, an evil omnipresence in hard contrast black and white. Perhaps if Mr Laughton had been born a tad later he would have set his unsettling movie online, the perpetrator being well versed in the dark art of social media and all its blunt power. And perhaps, just perhaps, my sartorial faux pas would have been less compelling to those who really should know better.