COLUMN: September 22, 2016

soloposter

I WENT to the newsagent’s to renew my monthly bus ticket. This is always a source of conflict for me. On the one hand, I understand that I would save money on bus fares over the month by paying in advance.

On the other hand, what if something happened to me which would prevent me from taking enough bus journeys in the month to justify the initial outlay? What if I won a car, or I died after being hit by a bus wing mirror, or there was a nuclear apocalypse? That would be typical.

Of course, after I had paid the surcharge for using my debit card to buy my ticket in a newsagent’s – 50p to use a card in a shop in 2016 – I bimbled towards the bus stop, whether I wanted to or not. How else was I going to make inroads into my investment?

And there in the bus stop was displayed an advertisement recommending that I buy the very ticket I had just purchased. It was illustrated with a photograph of a young, unthreatening, ethnically-diverse bunch.

This gang would not play videos of auto-tuned singers on their phones on the bus, unlike every other group of youthful bus passengers I have encountered in the past eight years. Nevertheless, I hated them, obviously, with their haircuts and their enthusiasm and their lives stretching ahead of them.

But that was as naught compared with my anger towards the words which accompanied the picture. “Cut out the need for photo ID and buy one or more Mega tickets on your Wibble card, leaving you more time to have a laugh with your mates.” I have changed the names of the tickets because I do not want this column to show up on a Google search and give them extra publicity.

It is not the first time I have seen a poster which suggests travelling on public transport is a source of unlimited mirth. My local train provider recently ran an ad depicting a carriage filled with, variously, a woman singing karaoke, a man DJing, a string quartet, a chef cooking, and a hen party. Underneath was the slogan “Great Nights Out Start On The Train.”

That is not a great night out, that is the result of a fire alarm at Blackpool Tower, or ITV’s Saturday night schedule. It is certainly not a great train journey.

But what is this bus poster nonsense, this “leaving you more time to have a laugh with your mates?”

What sort of young person will see that advert and think: “Well, yes, having more LOLZ with my friends is exactly the sort of thing to which I aspire. As God is my witness, I WILL buy this season ticket – which, by the way, is the only type of bus season ticket available now – and achieve my ambition, no matter how marginal the effect?”

For how much time is the travel authority suggesting will be made available for mate-orientated ribaldry as a result of buying this season ticket? Why is this not quantified? There should be an asterisk after “more time” and some small print at the bottom of the poster stating: “On average, 28 minutes more LMAOs and LOLZ over 35 years, assuming 10 journeys per week. That’s roughly 0.7 extra HAHAs a day.”

Also, I am not sure the travel authority should be encouraging raucous behaviour on buses. Buses are not fun places to be, like nightspots or Methodist youth clubs or wherever youngsters congregate these days. Buses are for quiet and despairing reflection on where you are going and how your life has come to this.

But the worst thing about this statement is that it is not true, certainly not for me. Back in the olden days, about a year ago, I had a conventional pass, what I would dub The Classic. It had a terrible picture of me on it, and the expiry date clearly stamped, and I wafted on and off buses like Rihanna or the late Sir David Frost might saunter into Claridge’s.

Now I have lost my VIP status and have to queue up with people who pay their fare with 43 different coins, and teenagers, leaving me with even LESS time to “have a laugh with my mates”, if only I had some.

I calculate I have lost an average four minutes a week, and 50p a month, because of the Great Bus Pass Switch Caper. And that is no laughing matter.

COLUMN: September 15, 2016

TELEVISION PROGRAMME : Coronation Street (1994)

The smallest picture I could find of Jack Duckworth’s broken glasses

IT IS coming up to a year since I lost my favourite pair of glasses. “Lost” is probably not the right description. I know exactly what happened to them.

They were crushed under the wheels of at least one uncaring car after they fell out of my pocket as I crossed the road during an unnecessary walk.

This left me with only my second-favourite pair of glasses. The fact that they are now my only pair of working glasses and still my second-favourite pair should tell you how much I dislike these spectacles.

When I bought them I thought they were quite swish, with a sort of 60s feel about them. That much was true. When I got them home I realised they made me look like my grandmother. I am not saying there is anything wrong with looking like a 75-year-old woman, but that is not the look I am going for. I am aiming for “man in his increasingly less early 40s, or late 30s from a distance if you are squinting and it is dark”.

But it is clear my glasses have sensed my hostility towards them and so they have been plotting against me, waiting for the perfect moment to take revenge. That day came a couple of Thursdays ago.

I was working in London on a super-secret project and had taken the overnight coach to get there. My seat was next to the toilet. Consequently, sleep mostly eluded me and I was about as fresh as the last loaf left in the only shop open on Easter Sunday.

I rubbed my bleary eye under my glasses and they fell off. My colleague, a man I will call Phil, jumped with the shock of the event. “Sorry,” I said, “this doesn’t usually happen.”

“No,” said Phil, “that would make them rubbish glasses.” Here, I thought, was a man who understood why these glasses would be my second-favourite.

I slipped the rubbish glasses back on and continued with my work. “Hmm, I thought, “the right arm of these glasses seems unusually loose. As soon as I can I will have an optician tighten the screw holding it in place. That would be the responsible thing to do, as they are my only glasses.”

“Gary,” said Phil, “could you have a look at…”

I turned my head, eager to appear helpful and attentive for once, and my glasses flew off my nose and past Phil’s head, to his evident disappointment.

“Oops,” I said. I picked up the glasses and found the screw was indeed very loose. It was so loose that it was no longer there. The arm had, in flight, detached itself from the rest of the frame.

“You want to get them fixed,” Phil suggested. I explained to him that trying to find a glasses screw on a carpet would be like trying to find a glasses screw in a haystack, and, besides, I did not have a screwdriver of the specific size.

He recommended that I attach the arm to the frame using a sticking plaster, as Coronation Street’s Jack Duckworth would have done. I dismissed his suggestion on grounds of vanity, and dispensed with my glasses for the rest of the working day.

But when I left the headquarters of the super-secret project, it became evident I would need my glasses. I had no clue where I was. Everywhere was blurry, and I am not a Londoner.

I decided that if I clipped the arm back into the frame I could manage, just as long as I did not make any sudden movements. I began to walk and the glasses began to slip. “Wait”, I thought, “make gravity your friend. For once.” I cocked my head back and continued to walk, keeping my head very still.

It is hard to describe how I must have looked to the various pearly queens and jellied eel merchants I passed but if you can imagine Kenneth Williams walking a tightrope through a sewer, you are pretty much there.

Then I sneezed and the glasses fell off. That was it. I had to fly blind – literally, apart from the flying part – stumbling through our great capital like a mouse in a maze.

Eventually, I stopped. “Excuse me, sir,” I asked what turned out to be a young woman. “Could you tell me where Ladbroke Grove tube station is?”

She threw an anatomically-themed insult at me and walked away. I was standing right outside Ladbroke Grove tube station. Revenge, apparently, is sweet.

COLUMN: September 8, 2016

paperboat

The closest I could get to a picture of Sir Philip Green’s yacht for the money I had

FOR complicated professional reasons I am flying to Portugal for a couple of days later this month. It is about four columns waiting to happen.

Now, I know Portuguese about as well as Jose Mourinho knows humility. And so for the past couple of weeks I have been trying to learn the language, with the result I am currently 15% fluent in Portuguese according to the Duolingo app. This, I suspect, is overstating matters.

Nevertheless, I now know how to say in Portuguese “Where is the tea?”, “My pillow does not speak,” and “There is a cat in my shower”, which should cover all of the issues which might trouble me in a hotel.

One of the aspects of life Duolingo seems particularly keen that I understand is the difference between varieties of lamp. Time after time it ensures I know how to say “the lamp”, “the pendant lamp”, and “the chandelier”, to a degree which makes me worry about how dark Portugal must be.

Combine this constant darkness with the obvious cat problem the Portuguese have in their bathrooms and you understand why Mourinho always looks so miserable. He must have spent his childhood bruised after tripping over Tiddles in the shower and not being able to find the door. That sort of thing changes a man.

It led me to ponder where the Portuguese purchase the lamps they so desperately need.

Do they have, for example, their own version of BHS called Portuguese Home Stores, filled with lamps and shades, like we do?

And then I remembered that not even we have a BHS any more.

I walked past a BHS branch a couple of weeks ago. It was during night of the day it had finally closed, and the lights were still on. Through the mesh of the shutters I looked inside. It was bare, stripped not just of stock, but of fixtures and fittings. I thought of school shirts and lamps – so many lamps – I had bought there. But I was not sad.

We have seen so many household names shut up shop in the past 10 years – Woolworths, Comet, Borders, even Past Times, which allows us now to be nostalgic about a shop which sold nostalgia – and most of us were sad to watch them go. Although if we loved them that much, they would still be in business.

But BHS is different. The closure of BHS should not make you sad, it should make you angry.

Sir Philip Green, the owner of BHS for 15 years, took £400m out of the chain during his ownership. When he finally sold the struggling chain in 2015 – for just £1 – to serial bankrupt Dominic Chappell, a man who had had no retail experience, the company had a £571m hole in its pensions fund. It was the equivalent of selling your house while it is on fire to a man who doesn’t know how to dial 999.

And while 11,000 people were put out of work, Sir Philip holidayed on his £100m yacht. As the former shadow business secretary Angela Eagle said: “It appears this owner extracted hundreds of millions of pounds from the business and walked away to his favourite tax haven, leaving the Pension Protection Scheme to pick up the bill.”

This week, the comedian Lee Nelson plastered a sign on that yacht, emblazoned with the words “BHS Destroyer”. And that is probably the key to this.

A man who owns a £100m yacht and £20m jet plane, and who books Beyonce and Rihanna to play at his private parties, is a man who cares deeply about his reputation.

So they should not just strip him, like the disgraced Fred Goodman of Royal Bank of Scotland, of his knighthood, he should be forced to change the name of his Topman and Topshop stores to “Terribleman” and “Terribleshop” until he pays hundreds of millions into the BHS pension fund.

It would not bother me – the last time I bought anything in Topman UB40 were in the charts – but I cannot imagine many customers enjoying carrying bags with Terribleman written on them. I’m not sure what they could call Burton and Dorothy Perkins. Perhaps “All My Customers Smell” and “Ms All My Customers Smell.”

Maybe this sort of embarrassment would help “Sir” Philip learn to be humble. It would happen a lot sooner than I will learn Portuguese.

COLUMN: September 1, 2016

A church

A church which may or may not be the one to which I refer below

BY THE time you read this, the sun will be a distant memory, for I am writing on the last day of a baking August, and you will be reading in rain-lashed September, probably batting away falling leaves and trying to put on a jumper as you do so.

But for a short glorious period, the sun – that warm yellow ball they have in the sky in foreign countries – made a guest appearance in Britain, and it seemed a shame to waste it.

So when lunch time came about, instead of eating al desko as usual, I decided to go for a stroll and see if my body could make some of that Vitamin D one reads about in the news.

I fought my way through the crowds who had had more or less the same idea, and played Guess The Tattoo. And eventually I found the solitude I craved in the garden of a church. I sat on a bench, in my dark suit, looking like a spy waiting for a drop-off.

It was a shady spot, because I didn’t want to go too mad with the sun, and I listened to the birdsong over the distant sound of cars, and was grateful for the respites of green we have in our city centres. For a moment I was at peace with the world.

It couldn’t last. I do not believe in karma, “what goes around comes around”, cosmic balance, or whatever you call it. I just know that whenever something good happens to me I will pay for it. That is not religion, it is science, based on the evidence of a 44-year life.

And so, just as I supposed I’d better get back to work, the church emptied. Dozens and dozens of people poured out, following a coffin.

An elderly man who had been sitting on one of the other benches approached me. “Who’s died?” he asked. “The bloke in the coffin,” I replied.

“Are you not with the family?” he said. “No, I’m on my lunch break. I need to get back to work,” I said, as more and more people piled out of the church.

“I doubt I’d get that many people to my funeral,” said the man. “I doubt I even know that many people,” I said.

For there was now a crowd of mourners, maybe 150 of them, packed into a small space outside the church, the small space which was between me and the church garden exit.

And I had to get back to work…

I looked at myself – white shirt, dark suit, could I really get away with this? Yes, I told myself. Merge into the crowd of mourners, make your way through the crowd, and you won’t be late back from lunch, I told myself. Easy peasy.

I put on my sombre face and pushed through the mourners. “’Scuse, sorry, y’all right, so sad,” I said. Obviously I felt bad about it. You only get that sort of crowd at the funeral of a really good person or a really bad one, and this felt like one of the former.

But then I reached an impassable obstacle… the hearse. The coffin was inside and everybody was waiting for it to be driven away.

“Aw, shame, isn’t it?” said a man behind me.

I turned around. “Er, yes,” I guessed, as my stomach dropped to somewhere near my ankles.

“And how did you know him?” the man said, extending his hand.

I shook it. “Ah, well, you know…” I said, my eyes wildly scanning the crowd. A woman standing nearby clutched an order of service. I could see the deceased’s first name. This was a sort of victory. “… everybody knew Tommy.”

The man chuckled. “Ah, they did, all right,” he said, still shaking my hand. Oh, God, I thought, he’s never going to let go. “Great turnout,” I said, pulling my hand away and indicating the crowd.

“Yeah,” said the man, “shame Mary couldn’t be here.” Who was Mary? Estranged sister? Deceased wife? His goldfish? I couldn’t work out if he sounded bitter or regretful. I nodded, non-committal.

“Are you going to the do?” he said. “Oh, well, I…” I began. I really hoped it would not come to that, but everything was heading in that direction.

But the hearse drove off, the man was distracted, and I managed to slip away.

This is why I should never leave the office.

COLUMN: August 25, 2016

An exploding washing machine

It was not this bad

I CAME home from work to absolute silence. This should be normal as I live alone. I was not expecting a samba parade or a Beyonce concert or a Virgin East Coast coach.

Nevertheless, it was unusually quiet, and it took me a little while to put my finger on what was wrong. There was no whirring sound from my fridge, the background noise to my home life.

I walked into the kitchen to discover that one of the circuits in my flat had been tripped while my washing machine was mid-cycle.

Investigation the next morning revealed that the washing machine itself was the culprit. Further investigation revealed that broken washing machines do not drain themselves. Even further investigation revealed that sopping wet bed linen is quite heavy when you carry it a mile down the road to the nearest launderette.

I called my long-suffering lettings agent when I returned. “Washing machine broked. So sad. Please help,” I attempted to explain through the tears. She sighed and promised to send a man.

And so last Sunday morning a man appeared in my kitchen. “Is this it?” he said, pointing to the washing machine. I indicated that it was indeed my only washing machine, imagining a golden life in which people would refer to me as “Gary Two Washing Machines”.

 “And what’s wrong with it?” he asked.

I decided it was not a trick question. “It keeps tripping the circuit,” I said, pretending I knew what that meant. “Hmm,” he said thoughtfully. “I’d better (Is that the kettle on? Black coffee, no milk, one sugar) pull it out and see what’s wrong with it.”

While I made a bad coffee, the man pulled the washing machine out and saw what was wrong with it. “Dear oh dear oh dear oh dear oh dear,” he repeated for about eight minutes while shaking his head.

“This is what we call in the trade ‘beggared to feck’,” he said eventually, using some different vowels. “It must have been leaking for months. Didn’t you notice?”

“No!” I said, offended that he would imagine I could be so unobservant.

“I mean,” he said, “it must have been taking ages to wash. A couple of hours?”

“Oh,” I said. “I… I just thought it was a feature.”

“Dear oh dear oh dear,” he began again. “Well, there’s nothing I can do to fix this. It’s rusted to feck,” he said, using just one different vowel this time. “You’re going to have a new one. I’ll put the order in. Won’t be me, though, I’m off on my holidays.”

He began to put away his tools and drink his terrible coffee, while asking me a series of questions about my life, previous conduct, and personal ethics, which was so comprehensive it led me to conclude he was writing my definitive biography and was delighted to grab some time with the reclusive Gary Bainbridge.

Then, as he dropped the last screwdriver into his box he said: “What’s that noise?”

“Noise?” I said. “A train?”

“No, that whirring sound,” he said.

“Oh, that’s just my fridge,” I said.

“And how long has it been making that noise?”

“Dunno,” I said.

“Let me guess,” said the washing machine man. “You thought it was a feature.”

I shrugged, while he opened the cabinet which houses the fridge. “This fridge isn’t closing properly,” he said. “Hadn’t you noticed?”

“I don’t know!” I said. “I just close it. I’m not a… a fridge man.”

“Dear oh dear oh dear oh dear,” said the washing machine man. “This must be costing you a fortune in electricity. It’s going to have to come off.”

“What? No!” It was too late. He began jemmying off the cabinet door attached to the fridge door. Something fell at the back. “That’ll be a hinge,” he said. “What?” I said.

He lifted the cabinet door down and closed the fridge door. The whirring noise stopped.

“There you go,” the washing machine man said, handing me the door. “You’ll need to get that put back on again. I can’t see the hinge. They’ll have to pull the fridge out.” He looked me up and down. “It’s a two-man job,” he explained.

“Right, I’m off on holiday now. Bye,” he said, and he vanished in a puff of smoke.

It has been very quiet in my flat since then. Although my milk is colder than it’s ever been.

COLUMN: August 18, 2016

A plate of patatas bravas

Some brave potatoes

I FIND dining out to be something of an ordeal. It’s a thrill ride of anxiety during which so many things can go wrong, and I have little control over them, like a Labour leadership election.

This fear of a bad dining experience can strike at any establishment. It can strike at one of the Argos-like collection points at a big McDonald’s, where I am convinced somebody is going to filch my burger bag and abscond.

It can strike at the production line at Subway, in which I come under pressure to make so many rapid decisions about the constitution of my sandwich that I might as well have made my own at home.

And it can strike too at one of those very posh restaurants where they have plates and cutlery, where you order while sitting down, and where they only ask you to pay AFTER you’ve finished your meal.

As a result, I find that the less time I have to spend in the restaurant, the better, which is probably why I pop up out of my seat like a meerkat as soon as I have finished eating, waving frantically at the waiting staff, and miming the writing of a cheque in an attempt to obtain the bill at the earliest opportunity. This is despite the fact nobody who waits in the sort of restaurants I visit even remembers cheques.

Essentially, nobody has ever wanted me to leave the restaurant quickly more than me. Or so I thought…

I went with a friend some time ago to one of those small plates restaurants. It was not exactly tapas because not all of the food was Spanish, but you understand the sort of establishment to which I refer. I am yet to be convinced that small plates restaurants are not some sort of scam to fool us into buying simultaneously too much food and not enough food, but that is by the by.

I was not sure how much to order, but I was told the advice was that I should order one more plate than I thought I would need.

“But what if the amount I think I need is the amount that I actually need?” I asked.

“Just… Just order,” my friend said.

Nevertheless, the food was sufficiently tasty, and our waitress was sufficiently friendly, and for a moment I was able to forget that I hate dining out. Obviously then we had to ask for a glass of Coke three times because nothing ever goes completely right.

Anyway, as the meal progressed, I speared the next to last wedge of patatas bravas with my fork. Was that a patata brava? And why should a potato be brave? I didn’t know. I didn’t do Spanish, I did Ancient Greek in case I ever went to Ancient Greece. I dipped the spud in some garlic mayonnaise, and bit off half of it.

I approved very strongly, and put the rest in my mouth. And as I went for the last one, the waitress reappeared and whisked the plate away.

“What?” I said, when my mouth was no longer full. “She just took the last patata brava.”

“Did she? I wasn’t looking,” my friend said. “She must have thought we were finished.”

“There was one left! How can that be finished? That’s the opposite of finished.”

The waitress returned. She made a grab for the plate with the last croquette. My friend was ready for her. “We haven’t finished with that.” The waitress was shocked to the point of insult.

And so for the next 10 minutes she kept returning to the table. “Have you finished with that? How about that one?” she would say. I am not sure why. Maybe I had ordered so many things they had run out of small plates. My nerves were shredded. It was like playing a restaurant version of Operation.

“Shall we have pudding?” my friend said.

“I don’t think we dare.” I said. I did my meerkat impression. “Can we have the b…” I started. The waitress shoved it under my nose before I finished the sentence.

We paid, and then we slid off the banquettes. We turned back to pick up our bags from the seats, but we could not reach them. The waitress had already started cleaning the table.

“Can we just…?” I said.

“I’ve just got to do this bit,” the waitress said. “Can you wait a second?”

COLUMN: August 11, 2016

 

A pull-along suitcase

The enemy

IT is not likely that in the next 10 years I will become Prime Minister as I am neither A) an MP; nor B) a member of the Conservative Party.

But if it did happen, owing to some sort of administrative mix-up, or my standing in the wrong queue, the second thing I would do, after moving Boris Johnson to the Ministry of Agriculture, would be to set up a public inquiry into who is responsible for pull-along suitcases with wheels.

I work in a part of town where it is impossible to walk more than a couple of metres without falling over one. It is not just the fact that there are a couple of swanky hotels nearby, but that the various legal functionaries at the local law courts use them to haul their books and papers about the place.

They are basically pensioners’ tartan shopping trolleys for the sort of young people who can afford to buy houses, and I, for one, am tired of them.

For firstly, when you do see them, for example, from across the road, they look ridiculous. The moment it occurs to you that the person using a pull-along suitcase looks exactly like an owner taking a very reluctant dog out for a walk you become incapable of seeing them any other way.

I know of which I speak. I am a man who owned a dog so lazy he preferred to dream of chasing rabbits than actually chase rabbits, and I sort of understand from where he was coming.

Secondly, it is impossible to see that somebody walking towards you is dragging a suitcase behind them. Oh, sure you can hear the suitcase (of which more later), but you cannot see them because they are not wider than the human body.

And so if you are in a hurry, racing down the pavement to catch a bus, say, and have to cross the road, and if there is somebody walking towards you, and it is rude to cut in front of them, and you wait for them to pass before dashing behind them, well…

I am not saying that I have fallen over two pull-along suitcases in such circumstances, separated by only a couple of months. That would make me look like a clumsy idiot incapable of learning from his mistakes.

All I am saying is that if somebody, say, a man in his increasingly less early 40s with glasses, fell over a suitcase like that, he would scratch his palms on the Tarmac of the road between two parked cars, and helplessly watch – blurred – as his glasses flew off and into the middle of the road, as passing cars somehow managed to miss them with their wheels. Nobody wants that to happen. Again.

And thirdly, pull-along suitcases make that noise, a sort of rumbly, rattly, scrapey noise, an empty thud-thud-thud-thud-thud as the wheels hit every flipping paving stone, because the designers of pull-along suitcases did not anticipate that anybody would ever take them out of the house.

It will come as no surprise to long-time readers that I own such a suitcase, bequeathed to me by my late mother, presumably as some sort of post mortem practical joke.

I have had a few trips in the past year which have necessitated its use.

One trip was to London. It was in London I discovered the alley oop wrist twist. This is a trick one has to learn quickly, and named after the similar skateboard move.

It is pulled off when one of the wheels of your suitcase hits a slightly raised paving stone and catapults the suitcase into the air. In order to stop it flipping over, you have to twist your hand while the case is airborne, and somehow right its position. The trick is customarily accompanied by lavish swearing and a degree of wrist pain.

Another was to Edinburgh at the end of last August, for the Edinburgh Pull-along Suitcase Festival, in which tens of thousands of pull-along suitcase enthusiasts gather to bash into each others’ shins while ignoring jugglers and Australian mimes. You might think it would be difficult to tell if a mime is Australian, but you just can.

And if you are wondering what the third thing I would do as Prime Minister is, that would be to resign. There’s nothing else I could do to make the country better.

Why Being Famous Does Not Necessarily Mean People Know Who You Are

robertpalmer

I HAVE no idea who is number one in the charts right now. I am going to have to look.

OK, it’s Cold Water by Major Lazer (feat. Justin Bieber and MØ). I don’t know who Major Lazer is, but he sounds like me at 11.16 on a Sunday. Maybe it’s a band name. I have no idea. I know who Justin Bieber is, but I don’t think I could pick him out in an identity parade. I have not a single clue how MØ is pronounced.

Similarly, ask me to draw a picture of Drake and I would be baffled. Drake is huge. Drake dislodged Bryan Adams’ record for longest-running UK number one. He may even have succeeded him as number one for all I know. Drake could sit next to me on the bus and I would just tut and think, “Now I have to put my bag on my lap.”

It’s because Top Of The Pops is not on the television any more. Thirty years ago, everybody knew who Robert Palmer was. Your nan would say, “Ooh, I saw that Ronnie Barker on Pebble Mill. He’s a well-turned out young man.”

But famouses are not what they were. The media are fragmented. When we had three or four TV channels, if you were famous everybody knew who you were. Now you can be incredibly famous and beloved among a small sector of the public, and virtually anonymous outside it.

A couple of weeks ago I walked past Waterstones in Liverpool. There was a LONG queue outside, with more young women than there are in the Guiding movement. They were waiting for a signing by Tanya Burr.

No, me neither. But my nine-year-old daughter knows who she is. Tanya Burr does a lot of baking. She is a British YouTube star with three and a half million subscribers. To put that in some sort of perspective, that hated rag which still employs Kelvin Mackenzie, and which sells close to zero copies on Merseyside, has a UK circulation of around one and a half million.

Drop Tanya Burr into a room of pre-teen and early teen girls, and you would be able to hear the squeals on Jupiter. However take her into the Jumper and Ferret on Barnsley high street and you wouldn’t be able to hear the shrugging anywhere because shrugging is silent. But there would be a lot of it, even though Yorkshire people are not very demonstrative.

Drop Tanya Burr into a large square in front of a public building and she would draw a very big crowd, jam-packed with people who think she is the best thing since sliced bread, which would be ironic given her specialism. They would be bashing about saying, “Isn’t Tanya Burr great? Everybody here thinks she is great and there are thousands of us, so we must be right. It is literally INCONCEIVABLE to me that this gathering of people here is not representative of society at large.”

And if you were say to them, “Well, actually, popular as she is among people like you, she is actually not popular out there. I mean, she seems very nice and everything, but there is no way I would vote for her as Prime Minister,” they would be baffled.

And they would say, “Hang on a second. Have you been using this example of a massive gathering of like-minded Tanya Burr fans as a way of explaining to Corbyn supporters that just because they have big rallies full of people who really like Jeremy Corbyn it doesn’t mean that there are millions and millions of people out there who agree with them?”

And you would say to them, “Yes. I am sorry for tricking you into reading this.”

And they would say, “Yes, but I saw a thing on The Canary that said Tanya Burr invented unsliced bread 30 years ago but neoliberal Big Baker suppressed her invention, and it’s only now that bread in its natural form is being allowed to flourish.”

And you would say, “Was that ‘flour-ish’ a play on words?”

And they would say, “No.”

And you would say, “Look, a) bread has to exist in its unsliced form FOR it to be sliced. And b) Tanya Burr is only 27 years old.”

And they would say, “Typical MSM twisting the truth by relying on provable facts. Look around you. Look at all these people. Are you saying Tanya Burr is not popular?”

And you would say, “No, I am saying she is very popular indeed, but only among the sort of people who like Tanya Burr, i.e. pre-teen girls, who are not representative of society as a whole.”

And they would say, “Well, we will see, won’t we?”

And you would say, “Yes. But I am right.”

COLUMN: August 4, 2016

Tasty-Kitchen-Blog-Raw-Cauliflower-Couscous-03

ONE of the many sacrifices I make to ensure that the general public is well informed by its press is that I often work late shifts.

Because I start at lunchtime, and get home long after Huw Edwards has put his slippers on, it means I regularly go for a week without having a hot meal. And it means that I am now approximately 37% sandwich.

Now sandwiches are tremendous things and it is hard to imagine where we would be without them. We would have to scoop up egg mayonnaise with our hands for a start, and our lunchboxes would be in a terrible state, with bits of cheese stuck to our bananas and our Capri-Suns covered in Branston pickle.

In fact, if John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich, creator of the sandwich, were to introduce himself to me I would shake him by the clean hand and say, “Thank you for all the chip butties. Hang on, I thought you died hundreds of years ago. Argh! It’s a ghost!”

But a diet of sandwiches does begin to pall after a while. Perhaps it is that predictable bread-filling-bread pattern. Perhaps it is the fact that while virtually anything edible can be slapped between pieces of bread, the same fillings keep cropping up – usually mayonnaise with things in.

But the other day I sat in front of my work computer, passively taking in sandwich calories as I ensured democracy could thrive through knowledge of the world as it is. And I thought, “This is total bobbins. Eating should be a pleasure. Tomorrow, Bainbridge, you will have a nice tea, one not surrounded by bread and sponsored by the mayonnaise industry.”

And so the next day, I stood before the chiller cabinet in Britain’s Favourite Struggling Retailer, trying to ignore the rallying call of the bread-wrapped battalions in front of me. I scanned the shelves, looking for something not slathered in mayonnaise, or, worse, yoghurt.

I know that lots of people like yoghurt. But I do not like milk very much, and cream even less, so the thought that a sort of slightly-off thick milk might enhance my eating experience does not convince me.

Then it appeared, bathed in golden light, the answer to every food problem. It had a long name, and you might need to have a cup of tea in the middle of reading the name. It was “Seared Chicken With A Moroccan Inspired Cauliflower Couscous Salad”.

I snapped it up. Who could resist that, apart from vegetarians or people who do not like cauliflower? I fit into neither of those two categories. In fact, I am a big fan of cauliflower, although I could not tell you who invented it. It’s so versatile – you can roast it, you can boil it and serve it with cheese sauce, you can… I don’t know, there are probably other things you can do with it.

It turns out that one thing you cannot do with it is make it into couscous.

Now, even couscous at its best is underwhelmingly flavourful, a sort of pasta for ants. But this somehow had negative flavour. It prevented other things around it from having any taste.

I understand that some people have bowel illnesses or gluten intolerance which mean they cannot eat ordinary couscous, but whatever the answer to that is, it is not cauliflower couscous.

Desperate measures were called for. A hunt through the salad for something which tasted of anything at all took place. I had a bite of what I thought was apricot. I cannot be sure it was apricot. It tasted indeterminate.

I was reduced to picking out the chickpeas which were dotted among the polystyrene-like cauliflower fragments. I do not know if you are familiar with the chickpea, but it is a crumbly pulse that tastes of not very much.

Whizzed with oil and garlic, the chickpea makes houmous, which is excellent. But in the wild it is nothing more than disappointment and heartbreak. And it was still the best thing about this salad. Even the “seared chicken” was a sort of dry cotton wool sitting on top of the bowl and hoping for escape.

I was brought up in the 1970s and still eat all my dinner in case Mrs Savage from the school canteen is watching. But this ended up in the bin. It was better to go hungry.

It was a sacrifice too far. I am having a sandwich today. I have learnt my lesson.
cauliflower

COLUMN: July 28, 2016

cocktails

I HAVE come to the conclusion that we have gone mad with regard to straws in drinks for grown-ups.

For reasons which need not concern you, I have spent more time than usual in the sort of establishment where there is a menu for drinks on the bar.

These places are great if you are one of those people who like spending £12 on a deceptively large ice-filled drink called something like a Squiffy Belgian or a Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, which contains 26 different ingredients, which takes the bartender 18 minutes to prepare, and which is gone in four slurps.

These are establishments which believe that the bit that everybody likes most about going out for a drink is the waiting by the bar rather than the actual drinking part.

Perhaps it is my ingrained lack of sophistication which makes me unsure about such places. When I was growing up, and when I first attempted to obtain alcohol from a public house, things were much simpler. You knew where you were with a vodka and tonic, or a cider and black. Basically the recipes for drinks were exactly the same as their name.

But I do not let such considerations stop me, for these days I consider myself a kind of David Niven figure, the sort of man who knows which fork to use without being told, and owns socks which need those little shin suspenders, and claims ladies’ farts.

And so I found myself in a cocktail lounge recently. I sidled up to the bar, eased onto a stool, perused the menu coolly, and caught the barman’s eye. With practised savoir-faire, I leant forward. “A Sexy Dog Explosion, please,” I said.

I was sceptical, I admit, about the barman’s ability to deliver a definitive Sexy Dog Explosion, as Rihanna or the late Sir David Frost might have enjoyed. The list of ingredients was long and obscure, and apparently involved a degree of muddling, whatever that is.

I watched him busy himself with ice and cups and swizzle sticks while I read a couple of chapters of my book, and eventually, long after I had forgotten that I had ordered a drink, he presented me with my Sexy Dog Explosion with a flourish.

First he placed a small black napkin on the bar, then he plonked the plonk on top of the napkin, and then he put two thin black straws in the glass. And I wondered, not for the first time, why do bartenders in these places give you two straws?

It is difficult to understand why it would be considered necessary to give an adult even one straw. Granted, when you are a child it is true that using a straw introduces a small element of fun into the practice of drinking. And I would never attempt to drink a Capri-Sun without a straw.

But I would suggest that there is already an element of fun in the practice of drinking for adults, namely alcohol. So unless you have no hands, you should not really require a straw as an adult.

And if you are going to stick straws in adults’ drinks, would it not make more sense to buy straws that are wide enough for the purpose of drinking, instead of having to double up?

Apart from anything else, those straws are sharp, and damned dangerous, especially as the evening wears on, and the effects of a succession of cocktails begin to be felt.

I have lost count of the times I have forgotten about the other straw, picked up my glass, and scraped the roof of my mouth, much as I did that time I popped an entire one of those tiny slider hamburgers into my mouth without realising that it was held together with a cocktail stick. I did not have to go to hospital on that occasion, but it did leave me with a greater appreciation of the art of sword swallowers at circuses.

And I cannot tell you how many times I have given thanks for my glasses as I have picked up my drink and watched a straw I have missed slide around and bounce off one of my lenses.

So I fished the straws out of my Sexy Dog Explosion and resolved to drink like a grown-up. I lifted the glass to my mouth and took a sip.

The twist of orange fell out, in my surprise I jerked my elbow, and roughly £5.38 of my cocktail ended up in my lap.