COLUMN: December 28, 2017

An oven front panel

I SPENT Christmas on my own, partly for complicated reasons, but mostly in an attempt not to bring calamity to other people’s Christmases. Nobody needs a repeat of The Stuffing Incident.

It seemed wantonly extravagant to buy a turkey for myself, and Christmas is hardly the time for wanton extravagance. Besides, I was not sure if the shelves in my oven went down far enough to accommodate one and my chopping board is fairly small.

So I decided to go for a chicken. You’d have been happier with a chicken too. At least chicken tastes of something. Turkey just tastes like a photocopy of a photocopy of chicken.

But I pushed the rubber dinghy out and bought the best organic chicken I could find. It was corn-fed, and consequently, apparently, was bright yellow.

I do not understand this. Why does chicken’s skin turn yellow on a corn diet? What is it about corn that tints skin so? I mean, I live on a diet of strong tea, but I am as pale as Michelangelo’s David, which is where the resemblance ends.

Perhaps some enterprising farmer could try different feed, like beetroot or asparagus, and we could have multi-coloured chickens, like heritage carrots or tomatoes. The chiller cabinet in Tesco could look like a packet of Refreshers.

Anyway, I took my yellow chicken, rubbed it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and chucked some sprigs of thyme in the cavity, all the while using expressions like “bosh” and “luvvly jubbly”, as Jamie Oliver might have done. And then I fell at my usual hurdle, which meant I had to switch on my laptop.

You see, I live in a rented flat, and a previous occupant had been so fastidious when it came to cleaning the oven that he or she had scrubbed off most of the labels on its front panel, rendering it useless.

So when I moved in, I did a trawl of the internet in an attempt to master my oven, and I found that somebody was selling as a spare part a front panel of my oven on eBay. And so I made a copy of the photograph.

Similarly, I found a PDF of the instruction manual online, not, of course, on the website of the oven manufacturer, but in an internet forum I discovered halfway down page 6 of a Google search, which is, by the way, the best place to hide anything.

So, whenever I have to use my oven, I have to switch on my computer, find the manual and picture of the front panel, and zoom in on it so I know which settings to use.

I know I am not alone. Yes, the specifics are different, but we all have quirky things and workarounds in our homes. There’s the broken flush that you have to press in just the right way. There’s the funny window latch that you have to wobble before you open it. There’s the bathroom door you have to keep your foot against because the lock froze and it would probably work if you got some WD40, but you’ve forgotten to get some WD40 for about 18 months.

These are all things that, if you were buying a property, would probably put you off, the inconveniences that are just enough to annoy you at the time, but not inconvenient enough to stick in your mind and make you do something about it. If they were a television programme, they would be The One Show or a Michael McIntyre variety show.

So instead of fixing them for good we bumble along, with a low-level buzz of irritation in our lives.

No longer. Let us make a New Year’s Resolution together. Let 2018 be the year we finally adopt a zero-tolerance approach to slightly annoying things.

Let 2018 be the year you finally get the gas company to spell your name right. Let 2018 be the year you unsubscribe to those emails. Let 2018 be the year you buy a new ironing board cover instead of just Sellotaping it back down because the elastic perished.

Better than that, let 2018 be the year you find out why corn turns chickens yellow.

Fix the small things as they crop up, and we can turn our ire in 2018 on the important things, like the spread of food bank use, the rise in homelessness, the increase in post-Brexit-vote hate crimes.

And maybe we can see our way to having a Happy New Year.


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