Wednesday 22 October 2008

Herald of the morn.

So it's the early bird that catches the worm, right?

So they try to tell us. But the logical projection of this pious taradiddle makes a complete nonsense, so any metaphorical inference drawn from it is quite valueless. It's not Holy Writ, just blatant anthropomorphism hard-sold as a basic truth by a dour Puritan minority as a step up to that moral high ground they seem to crave as their right. while denying it to the rest of us foolish virgins. But the control freaks have got it wrong. Logic module malfunction. Abort. Cancel. Retry.

After all, what about the early worm ? Leaping virtuously out of bed at the crack, full of rich nourishing compost and good intentions, didn't exactly do that poor creature any favours, did it. Had it stayed in its comfortable pit of a morning like a sensible worm oughter, idly dozing, making slithery love to its comely wormwife, or as is often the way with hermaphroditic wrigglies, itself, (hence, I suppose, the proliferation of blindworms,) hacking into the wormish equivalent of Earl Grey and Weetypops, and snuggling under its loamy duvet doing its lazy vermiform thing, instead of dancing shamelessly about on the lawn wiggling its bum in virtuoso linguine impressions and generally showing out to passing fowls, it wouldn't have ended up as a blackbird's brekkie.

If you're a worm, matitudinal misjudgment can seriously endanger your health. And blunt your sense of humus something permanent, I shouldn't wonder. Tardiness should be next to Godliness, in Wormworld. As the vermicular versifier, Williworm Wormsworth, has it:

Early to rise, and early to bed
makes a worm healthy and wealthy and dead.

So before you set the alarm tonight, undress, turn around, and take a good look at yourself in the mirror. Any evidence of feathers, bills or talons, and you're onto a hot date with Aurora. 4AM will do nicely. And don't activate the snooze button, Woody. Get up, get out there and get the vocals going full blast. It's all you're good for, let's face it.

But otherwise, my old son, if you're feather-free, downless as an egg rather than descended from one, not a beak to see you through the week, you ain't a Woodpecker, you're a Worm.

So sling the timepiece out of the window, take the phone off the hook, snuggle up, and allow yourself a nice long lie-in. You'll feel better for it, I promise. And when, overcome by exhaustion due to lack of sleep and all that singing on an empty stomach, the early bird falls off his perch slap bang onto your front doorstep, that's the time to rise and shine. Bye-bye Blackbird, hello Brunch. That's the watchword, wormwise. While birds have their set of laws, worms must live under a completely different code. And not one concocted for them "for their own good" by nest-featherers masquerading as do-gooders.

What say you to a piece of beef and mustard?.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a food manufacturer in possession of a hot new line must be in want of a fresh supply of marketing ideas.

Which is why, sooner or later, he’ll bring it out in Tandoori flavour.

If you don’t believe me, take a stroll round your local superstore. You’ll see Tandoori Pizza, Tandoori flavour Pasta sauce, Tandoori sausages, All-American Tandoori flavor [sic] potato skins, Tandoori style Peking duck, (honest – I’ve seen it, packaged with pancakes and ‘genuine’ spring onions,) Tandoori kebabs, complete with pitta bread doing nan impressions, racks of Tandoori ribs, a whole raft of Tandoori-flavoured nibbles, and so on etcetera.

Even the humble takeaway chicken sandwich can’t escape the statutory tandoorification. And more often than not it comes accompanied by the fashionable but markedly non-Indian ‘oven-roast’ (how else do you do it?) vegetables. With a dollop of fromage frais atop and wrapped in a tortilla. (Whatever happened to Hovis?) Ethnically confusing, but delicious.

So - you name it, and with the possible exceptions of sushi, which really would be a culinary paradox; jellied eels, which really would be revolting; and bagels, which might invoke the attentions of the Race Relations Board, some bright spark, with an insouciant disregard for theoretical ethnic pedigrees, will have smothered it in the spices of the Orient and flogged it to Tescos. Harry Ramsdens are probably road-testing Tandoori cod’n’chips as we speak, (and what are mushy peas, if not dhal with a Yorkshire accent,) I’m expecting Tandoori Yoghurt any minute, Tandoori Ripple is only a matter of time, and even that nice Mr Kipling has been spotted lurking around the Indian spice shops in Tooting High Street. And he ain’t about to make cinnamon buns.

Of course, it’s not just a Tandoori thing. Gastronomic cross-breeding has become part of our way of life. You can buy almost any ethnic foodstuff you like, and quite a few of our indigenous dishes, dressed up in the national colours of almost every other cuisine or discipline you can think of. Add to all this the considerable influence that fad, fashion, fancy and foodies have had on the range of comestibles on offer in our shops and restaurants, and almost anything becomes possible.

So – my highly-tuned nose having sniffed out a gap in the market, I feel a caff coming on. I’m going to call it “Uncle Phil’s Multicultural Cuisine-u-like” or something equally snappy. Here are some sample menus:

Swiss muesli, with organic Greek goats milk and genuine Canadian Maple syrup. (Hoi-sin sauce optional).

Sweet ‘n’ sour Kipper blinis

Eggs various, served with piri-piri , garlic butter, satay sauce, or tiramisu


Pizza Cosmopolitana, either Deep Pan or Thin ‘n’ Crispy ( sorry folks – I don’t know the Italian for either of these terms) from a build-it-yourself smorgasbord groaning with hundreds of delicious ‘morning-fresh’ fillings and flavourings, including deep-fried seaweed, rollmops, lemongrass, whelks, vintage Marmite, bacalhao, crystallised pineapple, ackee, gravad lax, sauerkraut, pemmican, smoked haddock (non-dyed, naturlich ), Mortadella (no, sorry – that’s Italian – we can’t allow that), Thai-style Cumberland sausage, California raisins marinaded in chilli and garlic, goose khorma, quails eggs in ginger & spring onion, aromatic crispy saltbeef, barbecued grapefruit segments, Cajun fricasseed whitebait, prune and pine nut tempura, strawberry raitha, anchovy and blackcurrant pesto, quenelles of goat’s thigh topped with feta cheese, sun-dried ostrich steaklets, squid and pistachio passata, kiwi fruit & wasabi coulis, shiitake mushrooms in balsamic vinegar, baby beetroot in brandy, and of course that old favourite, tandoori gefillte fish

Sorry – somehow I don’t feel up to doing dinner. If you’re still hungry please avail yourselves of the leftovers from lunch. On the House.

Failing that, I suppose I could always take the battle to the enemy and open a Mexican takeaway in Beijing. “You likee tly unworthy tortirra ? Rotsa derricious orfentic firrings. Rancashire Hotpot, Gleek Kreftiko with flesh Coliander, Tandooli……………..?”

A snapper-up of unconsidered trifles

I can’t begin to tell you tell you how relieved I am. It’s as if a lifetime’s burden has been lifted from my aching shoulders by an uncharacteristically benevolent angel. It’s as if several billion prime brain cells have been released from decades of worry duty and can be recycled into concerning themselves with things pleasant, like sex, or food, or Lesley Garrett; or can be sent as cannon fodder up to the front line next time I go on a bender. It’s as if my personal Road to Damascus has instantaneously sprouted high-tech twenty-first century halogen street-lighting.

But maybe I’d better explain.

For many years now, I’ve kept a Commonplace Book. Well – maybe ‘book’ is slightly too precise a term – what I have is a hotchpotch of ill-assorted bits of paper, scrawled with notes and filed all over the place; yellowing photcopies; articles excised from newspapers and mags; several scruffy notebooks that contain not only literary nuggets, but everything from recipes to out-of-date phone numbers for people I can’t remember ever having met, to details of the day’s take for an Antique Fair I did in Builth Wells in 1983; a library full of books with grubby, crumpled, fading Post-it notes doing duty as bookmarks; and a vague but rapidly deteriorating idea as to where I can lay my hands on some juicy morsel of literary merit that first tickled my fancy in 1954 or thereabouts.

So a couple of weeks ago I decided that the time had come for a major rationalisation programme. I’d enter the whole bang shoot onto my computer, neatly filed, referenced and cross-indexed. Tidiness is all.

A major task, this, but I’m getting there. Another six months should do it. No sweat, apart from a minor case of keyboard wrist and a strong possibility of terminal eyestrain. I’m even learning to read my own handwriting, a skill which has defeated me since I was five years old. And O the joy of re-discovering little gems that haven’t seen the light of day since I first read them in my teens, and have been misquoting from memory ever since.

But it wasn’t until I came across (after a good twenty years lying fallow at the bottom of a cardboard box) a parody of Pride and Prejudice written in the style of Dylan Thomas (by a comic genius called Stanley Sharpless), that it hit me. Bingo!

I’m never, ever, ever again going to have to force myself to attempt Jane Austen!

I have her Complete Works sitting on my bookshelf. Well, you do, don’t you. They’ve been there for years, glowering guilt at me from every virgin spine. And every so often, in a flush of misguided virtue, I’ve taken down P&P (I always start with P&P, for some reason) and tried to sneak into it. I can quote you the first sentence off by heart, but I don’t think I’ve ever got past the second page. Because frankly, the woman is plain bloody boring. It’s her prissy, decaffeinated, anaemic style that induces chronic ennui, not the stories per se, which aren’t bad - after all, they work beautifully on television or on film – but by God it’s dull stuff to read. And having managed without for sixty years, I suddenly realised that I don’t need to make the attempt any more. Yippeeee!

But it gets better, because of course the tedium quotient doesn’t only apply to St Jane. She’s just the tip of the wossname. For starters, I can dump dismal Dickens, piecemeal. Another example of the camera being mightier than the pen. If I feel a Dickens coming on I’ll rent a video of Oliver – at least the tunes are good. I can bin a busload of boring bloody Brontes. I can slap ‘Not Wanted on Voyage’ labels onto all twelve turgid volumes of Gibbon’s so-called masterpiece. I can consign Carlyle to deserved oblivion. I can trash great screeds of Milton – any good book of quotations will serve to supply a compilation album of the best bits – Milt’s Greatest Hits, as it were. I can leave Bunyan’s Pilgrim to Progress unaided and unread. I can forswear Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, Sir Walter-Scott-Fitzgerald, all those interminable Russian novels where everybody has at least three different sets of names and you have to draw up a genealogical flowchart as you go along so as to remember who’s doing what to whom, and why. I can quit trying to struggle through Garcia Lorca. Or Ibsen. Or Goethe. I can pare five centuries of French soi-disant literature down to Candide and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. And no – I’m not forgetting Proust. You can stuff Proust. Il pouvait ennuyer pour La France.

I can even (O Heresy ! O Blasphemy !) conveniently forget my self-imposed annual dose of The Faerie Queene.

It was Arnold Bennett who said something to the effect that “A list of the masterpieces I have never read would fill a volume.” Arnie-boy – I’m right in there with you. There are hundreds of worthy books that I’ve always felt I ought to read; some I’ve tried and failed miserably, some I’ve never got round to, and some I’ve never been able to face.

And I’ve just decided that I’m never going to bother. I’m only going to read what interests me, and the dickens take the rest.

Ain’t Freedom wonderful!

Sally Forth

It’s bloody ridiculous! At my age, too! Silly old fool!

You’d think by now that I’d know better. After all, the once-rampant testosterone, while hardly quiescent, is at least under control, most of the time. And besides, I’m far too busy for these emotional fripperies.

But that was before she came along to disturb my comfortable equilibrium.

‘She’ being Sally. My lovely Sally. Even though I’ve never even met her, I have only to hear her voice, and all commonsense goes out of the window. I’ve fallen in love.

Sally. Darling Sally! O be still, my fibrillating heart!

She lives above me somwhere, and spends her entire time, bless her, telling me exactly and precisely where to go. Other women have tried this over the years, of course, but never to such devastating effect. The woman has me in thrall.

Sally Satnav is her full name. It sounds vaguely Slavic, but I don’t think she is. A perfect English Rose, to hear her sweet carefully modulated Cheltenham Ladies College tones. While I motor along the highways and byways, eagerly awaiting her next instruction, I dream of her, comfortably ensconced in her nice little bijou satellite, up there somewhere twixt atmosphere and cosmos , roses around the airlock, chintz-framed portholes and weightless Laura Ashley cushions.

I see her in her twinset and pearls, serene and at ease on an overstuffed sofa in front of a flickering fire, a brace of ginger cats snuggled up to her trim ankles. Tea - Darjeeling of course, cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off, or maybe Marmite soldiers, scones with jam and cream, Rich Tea biscuits, Woman’s Hour on the wireless, and a copy of Pride and Prejudice, or maybe some knitting, on her lap.

Her conversation is, admittedly, a bit limited, and consists mostly of instruction concerning exits on roundabouts, and left or right turns, but every perfect syllable brings a thrill to my trembling breast.

But it’s when I dare to disobey her that the real Sally emerges. Off comes the twinset to reveal clinging leather gear. Whips are brandished. Manacles are rattled. In an instant the voice turns from golden honey to blued steel. “Turn around as soon as you can”. “Go back the way you came” “You naughty, naughty boy!” Aaaaaaahhhhhhh.

And then finally she informs me, in a dreamy, post-orgasmic voice, that I have reached my destination, and I sink into anticlimax. The joy is in the journey, not the end of it.

Goodbye for now, dearest Sally. We’ll meet again on the way home, I hope. I’ll turn you on as usual, and you certainly will me.

Monday 20 October 2008

Corporate Marketing Persons should be boiled in oil!

Prime quality first pressing oil lovingly squeezed from plump ripe olives hand-picked on sun-drenched Italian hillsides by blushing virgins from gnarled antique arboreal masterpieces that were mere octogenarian saplings in Michelangelo’s time, naturally.

But boiled, long and hard, they should be. Regularly.

What does Uncle Phil have against marketing wonks? you may well ask. Siddown. Pour yourself a drink. Bend an ear.

I wanted some toothpicks. Not a great and ennobling ambition, you might think, but if a chap’s gnashers need picking, they need picking. It’s allowed.

We were in our local Tescos . A veritable ├╝ber-Tescos this, so vast that I reckon it regards itself as the centre of the universe, and talks loftily of ‘our little local city’ You need a cab to get from one end to the other. I’ve never dared to venture further than Aisle127 for want of native bearers, and I hear tell that there’s a sign down the end somewhere saying ‘Here Be Dragons – Tescos will not be held responsible if customers get roasted’

So while Susie was stocking up on her weekly container-load of cleaning materials (as I may have mentioned before – we have a menage-a-trois, her, me, and Mr Muscle) I went on a toothpick hunt.

I wandered a couple of aisles down, to the section called (somewhat prissily, but no matter - it gets worse) “Oral Health”.

Toothbrushes, toothpaste and mouthwash, in other words. And in theory at least, toothpicks.

It should be noted that I had my driving glasses on, as opposed to the reading variety. (I tend to need about five pairs of specs, all with different focal lengths, which means that I invariably have the wrong ones on for whatever it is I’m doing. And if by any chance I have the correct pair on, I’m probably doing the wrong thing. ) But I digress, Revenons a nos cure-dents.

It should also be borne in mind that toothpicks by their very nature are not very big, and even bought by the hundred (when I was a lad you could buy them individually, like Woodbines, but that’s progress for you) they come in a very small box. With, by definiton, very small writing on.

So I went up and down the aisle for about twenty minutes, peering intently at lots of little white boxes, all of which seemed to contain dental floss. But toothpicks, I couldn’t find.

By which time Susie came looking for me, shoving a creaking trolley-full of curtain polish and such, and looking relieved to see me. I think she may have thought I’d ventured down to the dragons end, by mistake.

“Suse”, I said, “I can’t find any bloody toothpicks. Have a look for me, there’s a love – I can’t read a damned thing with these glasses”

She looked. For about ten seconds. And waved a little white box at me.

I took it from her. Took my glasses off so as to see better. Did it say “Toothpicks” on the front?

No – it bloody didn’t. Tescos don’t sell toothpicks any more. Their marketing people have, in their wisdom, renamed their product “Freshmint Flavour Interdental Woodsticks.”

It’s worth remembering that, in Coventry at least, half the population struggles with basic English, it not being their first language. “Toothpicks” they might just be able to work out. But “Interdental Woodsticks”? Do me a favour, Tescos – get real! And anyway – why “wood” sticks? Are there any other kind?

As I said – boiled in oil.

taking the Mickey

Not a mouse
Shall disturb this hallowed house.
I am sent with broom before
To sweep the dust behind the door

Much Ado About Nothing, 5,2. The titleof the play is apt, as you shall see.

We’ve been blessed with an outbreak of mice again, after an absence of some time. Or, to be more accurate, an ourbreak of mouse – as far as I can tell there’s just the one. We’ve not so far clapped eyes on our unwelcome guest, but every so often we hear the patter of tiny murine feet running about in the space between the first floor boards and the ground floor ceiling.

Not exactly one of the Twelve Plagues of Egypt, you might think. The taps aren’t running with blood. Not a locust in sight noshing the rose bushes. The local cattle, or at least the bits of them on show at Tesco’s meat counter, look healthy enough, if a bit dead. A frog-free zone, except for the charming little Kermits that always live in our garden. No more thunder and lightning than is usual for England in late summer, even allowing for the Climate Change Chimera. Any firstborn that happen to be around can slumber safely in their cots.

But to hear Susie, you wouldn’t think so. A Mouse! Shock! Horror!. Armageddon Hits Coventry!

Before the first pitterpatter had died away Susie (The Verminator) James sprang into action, ripping up floorboards all over the house, poking around with a torch for hours playing spot the shit, and shoving enough Warfarin into the underfloor cavities to send every rodent between here and Moscow to his maker. Traps? She set ‘em wholesale. Cleaned and vacuumed and swept the whole house, from top to bottom. Three times. Scoured in places I didn’t even know we had places. Major upheaval time. Furniture and floorboards all over the place. “Dropping Crumbs On The Carpet Is Absolutely Forbidden On Pain Of Death!!!“ “Turn The Bloody Television Down - I Can’t Hear The Mouse!!!”

That sorta thing. On the nuisance value scale, give me the mice, any day.

Last time we had a visitation, it cost me about a hundred smackeroonies in B&Q. Poisonous substances by the hundredweight, a clattering of traps, enough torch batteries to run the Blackpool Illuminations, some kind of foam sealant which turns into impermeable orange candyfloss when you squirt it into any available point of entry (consenting adults only!) and little electronic doohickeys that you plug into the mains in each room. Apparently they order Mickey In fluent Mouse to piss off, or give him a shocking headache, or something. At twenty-five quid a pop they didn’t make me feel all that good, either.

However, up to now at least, this marriage of toxins, torture and technology had worked. Albeit it would have been cheaper to give each little nibbling nasty his own plane ticket to the Bahamas and enough holiday money to keep the little bugger in gorgonzola for the rest of his natural.

Not content with our stockpile of Weapons of Mouse Destruction left over from the Last Show, Suse felt compelled to look up ‘mice’ on the internet to see if there were any other poisons, potions, instruments of torture, spells, amulets, ultimate deterrents, or anything else she could buy (read “I could buy”) to halt the advance of Genghis Mouse and his ravening hordes. Bloody Google! Whatever happened to Blissful Ignorance?

It would appear, quoth (and quoted) she, that Mr Mouse doesn’t come as single spies, but in battalions. In every group (according to those nice people from Google, may they each and every one spend eternity trying to work on a Commodore Pet with dial-up) there’s a Dominant Male, a non-dominant male, and several females. Presumably the function of the non dominant male is to take the DM out for a beer in between rudies, or when he’s just plain fed up with the girls not squeaking to him.

Amidst all this domestic chaos, in walks Melinda, my Elder Stepdaughter. Another one, like her mother, with strong and forcefully expressed opinions, not always backed up with impeccable logic.

“Oh, ” she says. “ What you need is to borrow a cat.”

Let us leave aside for the moment the fact that Gemma, the younger and more excitable of our two Rough Collies, would immediately think “aha – Lunch.” (the elder, Amie, is far too much of a lady and far too laid back to let a mere cat disturb the even tenor of her ways. )

Let us leave aside for the moment that Melinda has five cats, and still has mice.

“Yeah. Right. “ I said. “You mean I should go through Yellow Pages until I find somebody that hires out cats”?

A chap could find himself in trouble, that way.

“Hello – is that Rent-a-Pussy?”

“Yes, duckie, that’s us. At your service. ”

Good-oh. I need to borrow a cat. Urgently. ”

“Oooh – I don’t know, dear. I’ve heard it called all sortsa things in my time, but never ‘borrowing a cat’. I can do you French, I can do you Greek, I can do S & M, or I can do you straight. It’s a hundred and fifty quid and I can be round in half an hour.”

“A ton and a half call-out? Even my Polish plumber doesn’t charge that kind of money!…….”

………..but I think I’ll leave it there. You get the drift. Back to the mice. Or rather, mouse.

The house, always spotless, is now gleaming, top to bottom, from bedroom ceilings (“they might climb the curtains”) to under the kitchen sink. Any food, including tins and bottles (“just to be on the safe side”) is in a tupperware box, inside another tupperware box, in the fridge. The vacuum cleaners (all six of ‘em – Suse feels about Hoovers like Imelda Marcos felt about shoes ) are lying around in corners with flaccid hoses and gasping for breath. The office, normally in the state of organised clutter I find comfortable, is so clean and tidy it’ll take me weeks to find anything.

And as for………….hang on – what’s that noise?


Oh! Soddit!