Thursday, 29 April 2010

Too much porn and not enough goulash

Warning - this blog entry contains sexism, stereotyping and spelling errors.

The last couple of weeks have seen some poor spelling and a seemingly never-ending search for sanitary ware. Idly flicking through the local authority jobs online, I came across one that involved dealing with ‘members of the pubic’. I wondered whether to apply, at the same time pointing out this rather amusing faux pas in the application, but quickly thought better of the idea. Nobody likes a smartarse. However, everybody likes a handy set of three fridge storage boxes, and the co-op were doing a special deal on them last week. Except that the notice described them as ‘fidgde storage’. I wasn’t sure how to pronounce that.

Back to the sanitary ware. The time is fast approaching for our friendly builder to start work on the refurbishment of our bathroom and shower room, and it’s not until you start to make a list of the necessary fixtures and fittings that you realise how much stuff you need to get. Bath, two basins, two toilets, two shower cubicles and trays…then there’s the taps, tiles, floor covering…I have to admit that, when it comes to choosing such things, I’m an amateur from the school of ‘let’s just get something, shall we? This’ll do.’ But my pathetic, half-hearted interest in things ablutionary doesn’t go down well with Mrs. H.

Mrs. H is a porn addict. Perhaps I should qualify that remark. She has no interest (as far as I am aware, dear bloggy friend) in magazines featuring gentlemen dressed (or rather, not dressed) as gladiators, firemen or horny Vikings (I refer to their helmets, which are always incorrectly surmounted by horns). No. Mrs. H. is into something far worse - Home Porn. On the days when she finds time to do so, she can be seen in our breakfast room, surrounded by catalogues; bathroom catalogues, tile catalogues, household gadget catalogues, and magazines featuring home decorating and refurbishment. These publications always seems to feature some thirty-something woman who has turned her bleak 18th century shell of a cottage into something out of Grand Designs for a few hundred quid. They always seem to ‘know someone’ who can build them an entire kitchen out of salvaged ships’ timbers, or who rewired their house for a couple of pots of home-made jam and a bottle of elderflower wine. It is these publications that Mrs. H. will read in preference to the latest novel by Mr. Dickens or Mr. Thackeray, and I have to admit to feeling rather uncomfortable with my bed time book - Three men in a boat - whilst Mrs. H. peruses the most recent update to the John Lewis catalogue.

The Sunday papers really don’t help the cause of those of us who find the whole business of decorating rather less interesting than, um, just about everything else. Their lifestyle supplements often carry articles about a couple who have refurbished their house. Invariably, of course, they are a Perfect Couple. She is often a fabric designer, whom we see engaged either in arranging flowers or baking cup cakes in her kitchen with her unnaturally well-behaved children. He is an IT consultant with that shaven head that seems to be rather popular in certain circles, poring over his laptop whilst a curiously quiet jack russell terrier sits at his feet. Their house, which is usually in Hastings Old Town, looks fabulous, with its shabby chic (or as I like to call it, badly-painted) furniture and little accessories dotted about, and has clearly cost a small fortune to get to that standard. But we have to listen to all this ’we had a really tight budget’ nonsense. Why not just be honest and say, ’it cost us an arm and a leg to do the place up.’ All this false modesty makes them sound like politicians who, having gone to a private school, try to persuade us that it really wasn’t much better than Bash Street. But I digress. I just wish they’d stop parading all this Home Porn before our eyes.

During the course of our bathroom odyssey, we came across one of those discount furniture warehouses. You know the kind - the ones that sell ‘genuine oak furniture’. Yep, it’s genuine, all right. The only problem is that it’s…how shall we say…rather chunky. The coffee tables have legs so thick that they might have been constructed from recycled fence posts or railway sleepers for all I know, and weigh so much that I’m surprised they haven’t collapsed in upon themselves like neutron stars. This particular warehouse only had a few sad, massive pieces dotted about; all the rest of the stock was in huge cardboard boxes, piled higgledy-piggeldy three or four high, either side of a central walkway. As we stood there, an employee was lugging another huge box on a wheeled truck into the bowels of the warehouse, and I was suddenly transported back to the final few moments of Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the crated up Ark of the Covenant is buried deep in some US government warehouse. I said as much to Mrs. H. She said I think too hard for my own good sometimes.

This seemed to be a good time for us to depart and, as we walked through what appeared once to have been a office, I saw some coat hooks on the wall. Or rather, I didn’t; I saw one coat hook, and three sets of screw holes where three further coat hooks must once have hung. Beneath the one good hook was the name Terry. Beneath the screw holes were the names Phil, Andy and Paula. What was going on here? Was this some kind of employee incentive scheme? Was Terry awarded the only coat hook on the basis of his superior sales figures? Were Phil, Andy and Paula new members of staff who, due to their inexperience, had not yet qualified for the coveted hook? Had they previously had hooks, but been relieved of them for some misdemeanour, or for failing to meet their sales targets? Or (which seemed unlikely) had the hooks simply fallen off and not been replaced? I barely had time to ponder this before I saw a sign just outside the warehouse. It said ‘Hand car a £5’. This seemed a rather curious instruction. How do you hand five pounds to a car? If I had taken my car over to the sign, would someone hand me five pounds? No. 1 daughter seemed to think the sign should have said ‘Hand car wash £5’. By then I had already done far too much thinking and headed for home.

As we’d had quite a busy day we thought a takeaway might be in order - Indian, Chinese, or just good old fish and chips. Then No. 1 daughter pointed out the leaflet she’d picked up for a Hungarian takeaway. Now, I don’t know much about Hungarian cuisine, but I do know they’re supposed to be famous for something called goulash, and I thought that might be rather nice for a change. Sadly, I scanned the menu for this piquant item in vain. I did, however, find the following treats:

Fried Camenbert cheese with rice, served with blueberry souce
Hungarian sausage wraped in port fillett
Fried streaked chicken breast with cheese souce
Gipsy stily pork steak
Grilled pork fillett topped with traditionell Hungarian Lecso served with rosted potato
Crepes filled with creamy popeyseed with cherry souce.

I took a look at their website. Sadly, some of the food looked as if it had already been eaten by someone else. Food porn it wasn’t.

I opened a tin of baked beans.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

I should cocoa...

Easter is here and, predictably, the shops are busy. The busiest seem to be those selling chocolate because, as everybody knows, Easter and chocolate are synonymous. Whatever synonymous means. Although I’m not one to follow the crowd generally, I thought it proper that an impending visit to my mother in London should, perhaps, be accompanied by some chocolates. This being decided upon, I trundled into Thornton’s on Thursday to see what item might take my fancy. I eventually hit upon a milk chocolate assortment, and joined the end of a queue to make my purchase.

The queue was moving very slowly; much slower than usual. Not that I’d know how fast a queue in Thornton’s generally moves, of course. I hardly ever frequent such places. But it eventually became apparent that the slowness of the queue was due to each Easter egg purchaser (or should it be ‘egg donor’?) availing themselves of the opportunity to have the name of the recipient piped onto the egg in what appeared to be white icing. Each donor had more than one egg, and the shop had not thought it appropriate to designate a single egg-calligrapher for the day. So each transaction was brought to a halt as the relevant chocolatier laboriously wrote ‘Sid’ or ‘Penelope’ or some such on the convex surface of the egg with all the deliberation of a Benedictine monk in a medieval scriptorium. By now I was bored. I looked at the box of chocolates; it contained around twenty separate morsels, and for a moment I toyed with the idea of getting my calligrapher of confection to pipe the word ‘Mum’ onto every single chocolate. I said as much to Mrs. H, but she didn’t think much of the idea, explaining that it might make me and, more importantly, her, look foolish. The idea was quietly dropped. As I handed over my money, I idly wondered how long it would take to reproduce a page from the Book of Kells, using a slab of Dairy Milk and different coloured icings. Quite a while, I thought.

Today saw me shopping yet again, this time for the everyday necessaries of life; chicken, cheese, chives, and, of course, chocolate. I shop alliteratively, you see. Rather like the QI programme that designates every series with a different letter of the alphabet, I purchase foods that start with the same letter and advance through the alphabet as the weeks progress. (Next week it’ll be duck, doughnuts and Danish pastries). As I was scanning the wine aisle for chianti, I saw a curious sign. It advised that, if I looked as if I were under 25 years of age, I’d be asked to prove I was old enough to buy alcohol. I found this a bit confusing, since I’d always understood that the minimum age for the purchase of alcohol was 18. I guessed there must be a very good reason for this, and determined to look it up on the internet when I arrived home, which I duly did. The result made rather less sense than I had hoped. The scheme is called ‘Challenge 25’. Its posters say, ‘If you are lucky enough to look under 21, you will be asked to prove that you are over 18 when you buy alcohol or tobacco.’ But the scheme is actually aimed at the under 25 age group (hence the ‘Challenge 25’ name). So the reality is that, if you’re under 25, and look as if you’re under 21, you’ll be asked to prove you’re 18. Call me stupid, but isn’t the whole thing far too complex? How about ‘if you appear to be under 18 when purchasing alcohol or tobacco, we will require proof of age’? Or, even simpler, ‘ID to be produced if requested’.

As we unloaded the shopping at home and consigned the chocolate to its designated place, I started to wonder why the resurrection of Christ should lead to children consuming an average of two and a half kilograms of this particular confection over the holiday period, so, having exhausted the whole ’Challenge 25’ thing, I spent a bit of time looking for answers. The consensus seems to be that chocolate, being a luxury, is given as a gift to celebrate the end of Lent, a period of fasting and austerity in the Christian calendar. I’m afraid I found this to be a very lazy explanation. Since when was chocolate a luxury? One dictionary defines luxury as ‘something inessential but conducive to pleasure and comfort’. Ask around and I’m fairly sure most people will tell you that they regard chocolate as essential - in a similar category to water and oxygen. The Concise Oxford speaks of ‘choice or costly surroundings, possessions, food, etc.’ Choice? Costly? Isn’t Aldi selling chocolate bunnies for 99 pence each? The Roman Emperor Augustus railed against excessive luxuria in the Empire, but I’m sure even he wouldn’t have stuck a senator’s head on a pole for buying a 99p bunny. No. the time has come to supplant chocolate as the alleged ‘luxury’ Easter gift. But what to replace it with? Some kind of food would seem to be appropriate. Almas caviar springs to mind; weight for weight, it’s more expensive than gold. And it fulfils the whole ‘egg thing’ surrounding Easter. There are even cheaper alternatives around - lumpfish caviar, available from most good supermarkets, is a fraction of the price. Or we could go for truffles. The chocolate shops seem to shift a lot of Belgian truffles, so people might go for an Italian white truffle (tuber magnatum). One drawback is that it doesn’t smell (or taste) like a Belgian chocolate truffle, but on the other hand, it is reassuringly expensive at around £3125 per ounce. But if you wanted to move away from the whole chocolate substitute idea, precious metal is always an acceptable gift. And just about the most precious metal you can get is Plutonium. At around £6,600 per ounce, a pendant made from weapons-grade plutonium is sure to give your loved one a warm glow.

Happy Easter.