This week, it’s the contentious subject of foodstuffs. Practical solution to the endemic crime of celebrity chefs also included at no extra cost, along with convincing dystopian alternative for those who prefer their lunch to take three minutes and come from a pot.
It’s harder than you think, being your own boss. Try it sometime and see for yourselves. Traditionally I have been pathetic at organising my day, which is why I usually get other people to do it for me and hopefully throw in a few quid at the same time. But right now, I’m out of the plane without a chute and unless I sort something out pretty quick, I’ll be land pizza before you know it. There are, however, little tricks you can employ to create the illusion of structure, some of which I shall outline below for anyone in the same predicament:
1) The old ‘leaving the flat’ ruse is a bit of fun – Get dressed in a hurry, swig down a mouthful of instant coffee (leaving the rest) and, if you’re feeling bold, give yourself a quick peck on the cheek. Then walk around the block a couple of times and come back in, panting and complaining bitterly about the inefficiency of whichever rail network you weren’t on.
2) Create a few formal breaks. These will prevent you from atrophying at the computer and provide the added bonus of allowing you to catch up with all the latest gossip. It’s important to stay in the loop.
3) The Reward System, albeit rather primitive, is a great incentiviser. That call you made to Virgin Media Customer Services took a while, right? Have a sweetie. Made it through thirty emails about erectile dysfunction and/or PPI? Have another sweetie. Anything whatsoever to do with the Inland Revenue or TfL? Crack open a bottle of single vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir. Actually, make that two.
4) Stay focused. Tempting though it may be to stray with another episode of Inside Health and discover you’ve probably got shingles/leg ulcers/something irritable going on with your bowel, you’ll only spend the rest of the day on the med sites and give yourself PTSD to boot.
5) Draw the curtains. Because the people you can see outside are almost certainly having more fun than you, will be rich in Vitamin D and couldn’t give a monkey’s that your delete key has packed up again. For them, life is one big picnic. For you, it’s an eternal game of chess. Against Magnus Carlsen.
6) Nothing of interest will come through your letterbox and no-one of interest will ring the doorbell. Ever. Hold your nerve.
7) Facebook and Twitter are not your friends. They are the Trojan horses of the internet, willingly invited into the workplace where they bed in and beckon, stealing your time and reason. Like Mata Hari. With cats and babies.
After these, you’ll need an endpoint. Something to neurotransmit a strong signal to the brain, telling it to pack in the chores and loosen up a little. Sex, recreational drugs, alcohol and repetitive pop tunes have always been popular with the young, but if, like me, you find yourself in your twilight years, The Archers seems to work okay. In conjunction with the above.
I hate tea. Quite why it has been adopted as the nation’s drink of choice is totally beyond me, seeing as pretty much anything else that’s liquid and stays down would be infinitely preferable. Let’s not beat about the bush: In its raw state, it looks (and tastes) as if it has been strained though your grandmother’s underpants. Then you add milk (as if that’s going to help), and when it’s made, perfectly normal people from right across the class spectrum make weird, contented sighs over the duration of its consumption as if to say that life, up until this point, has been a bit much. “Best drink of the day”, they go. Utter balls! Stick around with me & I’ll show you a belter come 6pm.
Three drinks that are better than tea. Fact!
- New Zealand Marlborough Pinot Noir
- Your own sick
- Someone else’s sick
You know, the bit that gets me is when they say “Ooh, I’m dying for a cuppa.” I could understand it if they were after a triple shot of wormwood-laden absinthe with a vermouth chaser, but tea? Really? It’s just so…lame! So, why exactly have we embraced this muck to our collective bosom? Well, as with most things, it’s a long story which I shall attempt to condense for you here. If you want proper facts, there’s always Wikipedia:
- Chinese accidentally discover it ages ago
- Portuguese nick it from Chinese
- Dutch nick it from Portuguese
- Brits nick it from Dutch
- It’s British. No argument. Like curry
The rest is history. There’s a bit of faffing about with taxes and the East India Company, but for the most part we stuck our flag right there in the middle of the pot and pretended to like the stuff. I blame that Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II, who made it fashionable and got hooked on it, dozy mare. A bit like Diana and marital infidelity, and look how that’s taken off. Only problem was, the proles had gotten a taste for it as well, and curiously, it was offered as an alternative to the demon grog at temperance meetings. Now, I’ve never attended a temperance meeting (probably not for me), but I’d imagine that tea really isn’t going to cut the mustard when you’re bug-eyed, frothing at the gills & threatening violence to anyone in the vicinity without an almost full bottle of pinot to hand. But what do I know?
And so to the present. I concede I must kowtow to the social mores of our time if I wish to succeed in my chosen field, but I shall do so on my own terms. A short cup of coffee, brutally strong and infused with one of those flavoured syrups, is more than enough to see off the competition. Preferably in sync with a couple of fags. And to those who see this as a crass invasion of tradition, hear ye:
“We do not have to accept the world as we find it” – Ed Miliband
I thought long and hard about using this title. Really, I did. Because the point of this week’s whimsy is all about having the tinnitus, working opposite a Chelsea hospital and the lunacy of having a coma-inducing klaxon attached to vehicles designated specifically for our care. However, I had another look and thought better of it. If you haven’t already spotted the reason why, let me elucidate: The Sound of Sirens could so easily be misconstrued as a weak attempt at impersonating a Chinese person having a go at one of the songs of Simon and Garfunkel. Particularly if I followed it with “Harrow Duck Nest Marrow Fren”, which obviously I would have avoided. Yes, I know: It has nothing to do with the subject matter and you probably wouldn’t have made the connection if I hadn’t drawn your attention to it, but it’s out there now and you can’t be too careful these days.
But then it occurred to me that the very inclusion of the reasons I decided against it could equally be read as divisive, in a similar way that someone like Clarkson throws in a defamatory remark and quantifies it by apologising for a lesser crime than the one he has actually committed. Which finds me between a rock and a hard place. Should I have the courage of my original conviction, or should I edit myself into ever-decreasing circles, based almost exclusively on my nascent understanding of what you enjoy reading here every week? A Sophie’s Choice, basically, and I fear whichever I go for will inevitably be wrong as per.
Anyway, I’m getting off-piste. Today, one of those bloody things shot past me as I made my way to purchase a coffee over my morning break and my ears are still ringing as I write this. It’s the lunacy of having a coma-inducing klaxon on vehicles designated specifically for our care, make no mistake. Er, and that’s it, pretty much. I was hoping to go on to mention healthcare cuts, key worker issues etc…and somehow make it all funny, but you’ve got no idea: Every time I think of something relevant, I am utterly distracted by chronic feedback between the lugholes and I just get in a strop and forget about whatever it was that I had in mind in the first place.
Cameron, this is all your doing: I was good before you got in. Just give the NHS enough moolah to replace those appalling style-over-content American wailers with good old-fashioned Z-Cars ones from yesteryear and I’ll do my best to be entertaining again. There are people out there relying on me, and the last thing they want is weekly derivative crap forced upon them by your swingeing policies and my deteriorating hearing. And, in case you’re wondering, the title has got nothing to do with our friends across the water. Or The Graduate. Got that? Good.
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.
One of the perennial delights available to the migrant worker in the UK is that of the great British B&B. In an age of flux, it is comforting to note that this cultural stalwart has roots deep enough to weather the whims of fancy and will remain defiantly crap until the end of time. And if anyone is in any doubt about this, have a quick butchers at Rising Damp on Comedy Gold before heading out. Ok, let’s start at the top:
A significant percentage of any annual B&B budget goes on external appearance, making it the Joan Collins of temporary accommodation. Sadly, this leaves very little once you’re inside but by this point the transaction has generally been made online, leaving the hapless punter at the mercy of the Fury within (which I shall come to presently).
The room. Invariably will have been converted from an under-used alcove into a Laura Ashley-inspired floral extravaganza, complete with Morphy Richards kettle on a laminated tray with a cat on it, sugar sachets nicked from the nearest Wetherspoons and some UHT milk. The light switch will NEVER be where it should and only two of the floorboards covered by the Rorschach purple carpet will not creak, making a mockery of you and your endless trips to the bathroom (which I shall come to presently).
Actually, I’ll come to it now. The bathroom is, by default, at the furthest point in the building from where you happen to be. Don’t ever question this, it’s just how it is. And no amount of corridor-creeping will prevent other guests being aware and in full audio range of your intended business, be it a shower, a widdle or a go on the throne. If it is the latter, may I recommend leaving a tap running, as this affords the end-user the camouflage of a decaying Edwardian plumbing system, screaming to keep up with modern-day demands as you wrestle to silence your most basic of emissions.
Breakfast. If you, like me, have learned to get by on a monstrously strong cup of Columbian and a couple of fags, you’re going to be in for a shock. Your host will be frying up a wealth of sizzling flesh, surrounded by cats and photographs of horses from the 1970’s. Dietary deviations from the above will be frowned upon, as will quantity. Even going all Hugh Grant doesn’t cut much mustard here so you’ll just have to suffer the consequences.
The internet. This extraordinary modern miracle is not much understood at your B&B which is why they tend to turn it off at night, like in the war. However, as with our current government, they know you’ll go elsewhere if it’s not there so you have the upper hand.
Finally, just remember: If you kick off and report these ailing establishments to whatever ombudsman you adhere to, they’ll go the same way as slavery, capital punishment and underage drinking. On your own heads be it.
So then, milk. When everything around you is going tits up, what better way to block out the maelstrom than to bang on about cow juice for a few paragraphs, maybe even whilst squeezing the udders of allusion along the way. Personally I can’t stand the stuff, which is probably why my body has morphed into Orville without Keith Harris up it, but I know there are those that can so I shall tread carefully.
Earlier today, Mr Pearce came to sweep our chimney. I booked him in weeks ago, so desperate was I to avoid the queue of disgruntled SSE customers, fighting back in the only way they know how (at this point I should insert the hashtag middleclassproblems but I dislike Twitter even more than I do milk, so I won’t). Anyway, about fifteen minutes before he turned up, I realised there was no milk in the fridge. Because there never is. Because it’s shit. Which presented me with a dilemma: Do I go off to the shops and get some, running the risk of missing Mr Pearce and upsetting him and his old-skool ways, or do I fly in the face of all odds and pray that he doesn’t take the statutory 50/50 mix of hot beverage/milk that is the constant of all tradesmen? Tough one, right? But being the kindly old soul that I am, I opted to ensure his cuppa would be drowning in white mucus. Which was the right decision.
If you’re not sure what I’m on about here, try this: Next time you’re getting those chunky shelves built over the telly, or getting the interweb mended or installing those to die for cast iron radiators, offer him up a cup of black coffee over the natural break. At first, you will be greeted with an ecstasy of coughing from lactose-corrupted lungs. Then the white eyes, writhing in his face, vile and bitter as the cud. And any vain hope you cherished of patronising smalltalk will be violently dashed, like smelted pig iron on a blacksmith’s anvil, leaving you helpless, afraid and pitifully vulnerable.
In short, it’s better to have a pint indoors for emergencies. UHT if you have to, but make sure there’s something suitable in or suffer the consequences. A splash of the white stuff is the trade equivalent of popping a brace of speckled hens into a lap dancer’s G-String. It’s an emollient, particularly over the troubled waters of class. And for 58 pence (nota bene, Mr Cameron), you will secure peace of mind and an unruffled path to the kind of smug never more succinctly satirised than by Patrick Nice of the Fast Show.
‘But what of Mr Pearce’, I hear you ask? Well, after I had established the status quo, we discussed his family history, the upturn in trade for Victorian fire grates and touched lightly on politics. After which I gingerly asked if he would care for another cup:
‘Naaah, Gawd bless yer, squire, I gotta run’, he went. Which was nice…
I’m sitting in the soon to be opened Moroccan Room in Idle Hour Barons Court, waiting for Nibs to show up and deliver his verdict on IE4, a witty yet savage take on the perils of middle age. It’s a blinder, of course, and I’m expecting voluminous gratitude and hopefully a free pint of Harveys. All around me are tasteful hints that I am in a better world, where I can relax after work with my friends/business colleagues on a pastel pouf or two, sipping on a tension-busting cocktail or two and let the evening wind itself down slowly to its Tangiers-inspired conclusion. Nibs, however, is late. Not that late, but late enough for me to be side-tracked by my admittedly fabulous imagination:
I’m snuggled up over there, on the crimson sofa beneath the clock, with someone you’ve just read about in the Metro who earns more than you do. She caresses my face gently and throws back her hair in a devil-may-care stylee. And she actually thinks I’m really funny: That’s why she’s laughing, see? Then, slowly, but quite deliberately, she…
‘Alright Bro?’ Balls! It’s Nibs. Blasting away at the cobwebs of my fantasies just like he used to in our shared bedroom in Godalming.
‘Ahem. Nice one, Bro.’ I deliberate on the correct level of small talk required before I can fish for compliments but he goes in for the kill before I have a chance to get my house in order.
‘It’s the blog, Bro. Big no no. Sorry, man, don’t think we can use it. Way off base.’
Way off base? I have to counter with something but I’m reeling from the patois. Does he think I work for Radio 1? Or worse still Channel 5? I decide to appeal to his sense of reason by going for the artistic integrity approach, something he knows little about and therefore will give me the upper hand:
‘I know where you’re coming from, Bro. It’s just, well, I think we have to allow our character to have a bit of breathing space outside the pub, no? Otherwise we get stuck in a product placement kind of thing.’ I’m thinking Harrison Ford in Witness, reluctantly reciting ‘Honey, that’s great cawfee’ and inadvertently launching a host of vulgar imitators.
‘Yeah, I know. But I need you to big up the Moroccan room. The punters don’t want to know about you getting old and fat. And anyway, I don’t get it.’
His beard twinkles in the rooms’ candlelit glow (ideal, incidentally, for Christmas parties and functions) and I realise this boy isn’t quite the pushover he was when I made him jump off the roof with an Action Man parachute in Marbella. And it occurs to me contractually that this soft, sumptuous space, with its metallic fire surround, original 50s portraits and subtly decadent aura would lend itself perfectly to any sophisticated West London get-together. But I don’t tell him that.