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.
Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that the humble gerbil has graced the dailies once again, but not in a good way. Turns out our furry brethren can no longer be considered impossibly cute playthings of the very young (and, on occasion, my good self), being as they are conveyors of misery, disease and quality herbs and spices brought in on the Silk Road. And we’re also expected to believe that in 1347, in between exercising on their little wooden wheels and nibbling whatever they liked nibbling back in medieval Syria, they found time to pop over to London and give us all the Black Death.
It is a monstrous slur, cooked up by some Norwegian boffin with too much time on his hands, and fails to digest some pretty basic facts. For starters, there is no evidence whatsoever that gerbils took up residence in the UK until comparatively recently. Why would they? If your thing is copious quantities of sand and sunshine, you’d probably give it a bit of a wide berth, right? To say nothing of the logistical issues if and when you finally made it to Calais. Absolute nonsense.
Furthermore, architectural clues only date back to the 1950s. Before Rotastak, the Nottingham-based pioneers of affordable rodent housing, there were slim pickings to be had if you were small, hirsute and over here. Rats understood this implicitly, so they made alternative arrangements. But they were also fat and greasy enough to hack it. Their smaller, more delicate cousins wouldn’t have lasted five minutes. You can take Syria out of the gerbil etc…
Clearly we are being whipped up into a collective state of anxiety. It’s what the media does when it wants us to go to war, or sanction the spending of taxpayer cash on something unpalatable the government has shares in. What on earth can the gerbil have done to get them wound up so? And why are we being told that the more sinister rat is the fall guy? It smacks of Andy and Rebekah, the former taking the hit so the latter can persist with her satanic craft. Something stinks up there in the corridors of power, but what?
And then it struck me. Helen Perley’s exquisite 32-page tome Enjoy Your Gerbil (The Pet Library™, 1971), clearly states that the same is no ordinary rodent, and frequently refers to him as a ‘Superpet’. Probably the exact kind of pet that could radicalise British teenage girls into making the arduous pilgrimage to his homeland. And guess where that is? See? By demonising the critters, we surreptitiously put the brakes on the next wave of IS recruits and no-one gets hurt. No-one, that is, except these innocents abroad, and who speaks for them? Who will fight their corner after the first spate of distressing pet murders? And which sick individual will be the first to expand their perspex property portfolio at the expense of the less fortunate?
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.
Like Cornwall, the trouble with the Cotswolds is that they’re woefully inadequate at catering for regular folk. By which I mean that every idyllic bar and restaurant, set in local stone and staffed by enthusiastic pin-striped undergraduates, leaves in its wake a paucity of eateries affordable to the indigenous population that isn’t a flame-haired former news editor or her tit of a husband. Even your bog-standard takeaway has been usurped by Cameron’s cronies, now profiteering proudly from weak puns and an artisan prefix. So, where to fill up without spunking away your wages when buried deep in the West Country?
Good question. And if you are holed up in a country B&B, your options are drastically reduced. For you must either drive to one of these godforsaken places, or learn to enjoy the pleasure of your own company with a Waitrose 2 for 1 nuclear meal and a bottle of anything red that will stay down. A Sophie’s Choice, basically. But then I got to thinking (necessity being the mother of all invention): What if I could harness that 1987 Panasonic Destroyer of All Hopes & Dreams to my own advantage? Perhaps even rustle up something my guts wouldn’t instantly reject, and in record time? The mind began to work overtime, like it’s supposed to do during sex or at the moment of violent untimely death…
As luck would have it, I discovered a Microwave Oven Recipe Book nestled alluringly between a brace of curry menus, purposefully placed in order to offer the budget diner the illusion of opulence. For example – How about some plaice fillets in a white wine sauce? Preparation comes in at a mere 10 minutes, presumably the time it takes to leap into the Thames in Hunters waders and net a couple of the flat bastards before they hightail it off in their inherited Aqua Rover. What’s more, the end result serves four people, a salient glimpse into the lives of others as you attempt to scrape the charred remains of sliced mushroom from the duvet cover. And if you’re feeling adventurous, why not round off the evening with a pineapple upside down cake? Simultaneously conjuring up Hawaii and the 1970’s, this delightful pudding is rustled up in seconds if you happen to have a greased soufflé dish stowed away in your rucksack and can handle 100g of refined sugar before the witching hour.
Sadly I don’t and can’t, to say nothing of the potential shame involved. To fail at cookery is one thing, but to fail at fan-assisted cookery in the seat of all things cookery is quite another. So I bailed, as you’ve probably guessed by now. However, tonight acquainted me with a spectacular 2012 Sangré de Torro (a snip at £8.99) and guess what? That family bag of farm-raised, oak-smoked Gloucester Old Spot flavoured crinkly kettle chips hand-picked by Dave on 26/02/14 doesn’t seem so bad after all.
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.
I’m not much cop at this whole social networking business. God knows I’m trying, but the bewildering plethora of platforms, plug-ins, avatars and what-have-you leaves me yearning for the good ole days when the only time all your friends knew what you were up to was at the village hall on your birthday:
How did they know it was your birthday?
Because you had gone to WHSmiths, purchased a bumper fun pack of cards with balloons and bears on the front, sifted through your Letts address book and made a list of definites, possibles and last resorts (letters sent out accordingly when the chosen ones had been drawn up), created a second list of acceptees, booked the hall with the vicar (with the help of mum), ordered in a vile selection of foodstuffs and low-alcohol punch materials (with the help of mum), checked off the arrivals on aforementioned list with accompanying tick-box for gifts given (with the help of mum, to be doctored at a later date), and then, when asked what you had been doing lately, you lied back at them with a straight face. These were simpler times.
What about gigs? You used to do them, remember? Social media is a direct, targeted tool to reach your fanbase. Discuss.
True, but that was the ’90’s. If you had told any one of my ‘fanbase’ that they would have to turn on a computer, log on with personal details they had set up at the same time as ordering a pizza from Camden Town, pretending they had read something by Charles Bukowski to a lady with smudged lipstick and a bob whilst attempting to chop half a gram of Persil White into recognisable geometric shapes, perhaps they would have opted for more traditional methods of communication.
Despite being a society of essentially like-minded animals, we have become more disparate than ever before. As our governments continue to fail us, perhaps the duty of care falls to those at the forefront of technology?
Are you sure about that? The very thought of an army of one hand typists having any kind of input as to how we conduct our lives is, to say the least, somewhat worrying. Larry Page’s Financial Funfare, anyone? Or how about Mark Zuckerberg’s Fiscal Fury? Some things are just best left to the suits.
And finally, your blog: Try getting it out there without us.
I can’t. Which is why I’m having to rely on this hackneyed attempt at nostalgia for times past which in turn generates ‘likes’ from various friends I once made in the real world and a few new ones I got off you. Hopefully our unlikely partnership will bear fruit in the near future. I will not, however, do anything you consider fashionable and my reluctance thereof will possibly get us further ‘likes’. Why did you have to call them ‘likes’? Do you have any idea how shit that sounds? Didn’t think so.
I threw a massive hissy fit on Wednesday. Not indoors, as you might imagine, hurling abuse at the microwave or railing at the escalating shortcomings of this bag of bones I laughingly refer to as a body. No, not this time. This week it was aimed smack at the nose of the nation’s favourite Tory chip wrapper via the armchair critic’s soapbox of choice, the Facebook. Sorry, fAcebook. Because nothing affects change better than having a good old bleat on social media, does it? And this was to be my very own Arab Spring. My personal Pussy Riot. And after a few well-chosen words of spleen, my virtual army of loyalists would rise up, incensed and vying for blood, hacking away at the Sidebar of Shame and the jaded leveson of journalists that created it until all that remained were the smouldering carcasses of innuendo and hypocrisy, laid bare for all to mock, like the aftermath around a medieval gibbet.
Strong stuff. Well, I thought it was rather good. But you’re probably wondering what on Earth has unleashed this cauldron of bile, right? To be honest, it was pretty lame: They dragged up the sworn total of my late father’s estate from the Public Records Office (to the exact pound), posted it as a headline in the Showbiz section next to a nice picture of him smiling and wearing a rustic hat, and hinted that the kids were in for a few quid. Ordinarily, I would have gone fair game: live by the press, die by the press, but now that the firm are fighting off evil SOB’s we didn’t know existed until this happened and the sum total is modest by anyone’s standards, the lines are drawn. Terribly sorry to disappoint any trash trawlers out there, but I’ve had enough. Catch any of us falling out of a cab outside the Ivy with our knickers gasping for attention and you’ve got a point, but when you’re struggling to stay afloat in CamBlighty and its flagship rag is suggesting that you are one of the chosen few, then guess what? It’s time to lay down the cards on the table.
I used to think the Mail was pretty innocuous. Just tittle-tattle for the chattering classes that would disappear like the morning mist. And I found it amusing to wear the ironic tee-shirt that claimed it hated me because it set me apart from the idiots. But it is so much more than that. The soft-sell approach it adopts to seep into the national consciousness and wear it down into submission is more insidious than heroin or sugar. And a lot less palatable. So, my friends, when the time comes for my magnificent windfall to appear, I do hope you will join me in raising a glass to our splintered society, made possible by the magnetic powers of a free press and a government that allows this to happen. Chin-chin x
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…
Like you, I’m pig sick of this weather. Sick of it. Month after month of relentless, Chekhov-grey misery that has mercilessly bled into Easter and beyond and left us raw, flattened and howling for a culpable scapegoat. But who on Earth can we point the muzzle at? If we were Grasping George, it would be simple: It’s them benefit scroungers, with one hand on handouts and the other cranking the levers at the Met Office. If we were Austerity Dave, we could legitimately have a pop at the North Koreans, what with their bonkers supreme leader Kim Jong Thingy, whose big wide face has almost certainly got something to do with it. And if we were IDS, sadly we wouldn’t yet be up to speed as the telly would be off. Although, to be fair to the man, so would the heaters so he’s out of the hot seat. Sort of.
Anyway, to be honest, it’s a toss up tonight whether I continue with this nonsense or retire to the living room where there’s a roaring log fire, series two of Borgen on DVD and a potato gratin to enjoy. I could always pretend I’m sick or depressed or on short leave, which would probably have you racked with sympathy. But the truth is, I’m just fed up with being cold all the time. We all are. As I type this I have a fleece on and an attractive scarf. Inside, with the heating on full tilt. In April. Yet the breaking news we cannot escape from is that the energy giant SSE has just been fined 10.5 MILLION QUID for ripping off the general public. And, as I listened to Radio Four’s Today programme through my massive headphones with their toasty thermal pads, their corporate affairs director managed a monosyllabic apology: “Sorry”, he said. And that was pretty much it. Which seems to be all you have to do these days in order to wipe the slate clean and get on with your day. No sackings, no tribunals, no dignity. Just an unmeant soundbite on the first available news slot. And in the meantime, a nation huddles around the crystal set for the warmth of sincerity.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s actually going on here: The bitter irony of global warming as we freeze to blue inside our own homes. The weather people, the gas people and the government are all in it together. Of course they are, don’t you see? The gas people pay the government to keep it cold, who in turn bribe the weather people to turn down the switch on the proviso that the gas people give them a good deal. WAKE UP, BRITAIN!!! It’s a symbiotic gang-bang in which the only ones screwed are the end users. And that’s us, if I’m not very much mistaken. Which I probably am, to be fair. Sod it, I’m going next door: There’s ice on my keyboard.