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.

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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.

https://twitter.com/emiliabona/status/758260679690289152

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