choices

Think on: Does any cheese complement a tomato?

The UK’s popular, and probably populist, newspaper, The Sun, states, following a poll of its readers, that a fraction above 62% of them would vote Leave if there was a second referendum on Brexit. Quelle surprise, as they may say in Brussels.

Polls are silly and I don’t like them, so much so that I might respond to any in a mischievous and inconsistent way just to subvert them. Am I alone in this? Let’s take a poll….

Seriously, I wondered if any of our other esteemed papers had instigated their own agenda driven readers’ polls. I didn’t find any but stumbled across a YouGov analysis of different paperstypical reader. It was all pretty banal until I read,

“A Daily Mail reader enjoys eating cheese and tomato sandwiches…”

Now I’m not saying reverse logic can apply and that knowing your character traits can point you towards the appropriate newspaper but, really, is there any way I can pick up the Daily Mail knowing this?

In my world, sliced tomatoes have no business between two slices of bread anymore than say a sliced lemon does (by all means try one and let me know). But then with cheese?!

I know, I know, the pairing of Cheese and tomato, have history – but how on Earth did that happen?

As usual, answers on a postcard, please, as we used to say….


YouGov Poll on UK newspaper readerships (via The Guardian) – old news

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Better Places to Read & Write

I want to record this fact, that I’m writing this after reading through the latest posts from my followed blogs, sitting in The Cricklade Club. They are promoting Veganuary but I chose from the menu a chilli bean doodah which came with a soft poached egg.

I am also sinking deep into a wonderfully distressed, tan leather armchair, part of a suite corralled about a low, broad table. I sip an IPA called Pioneer which isn’t over bitter and has distinct floral-fruity notes. The place is buzzing but oddly not distracting, and it is this which makes me think I should read, and perhaps write, more in places like this.

After we move house, I must try to look for a pub with wi-fi and a comfortable corner, and bring along my iPad (the phone I’m using here is a bit too small for typing). Perhaps, amongst noise and strangers, I will be plagued by far fewer interruptions and distractions.


image: on the wall by the comfy corner, a stranger in contemplation.

Back to Normal

“We just want to go back to some semblance of a normal life that everyone else has”
(Eric Van Balen)

Humans are conservative by nature; they love normal, they desire normal whenever life seems… abnormal. An excess of normal is often seen as being boring.

Normal is the rock on which we build successfully. Normal is the level base upon which we grow, from which we develop. Normal is sane. Normal is rational. Normal produces a healthy intellect, encourages imagination and innovation.

Normal is the calm before a storm, and the calm following a storm (unless on Jupiter where the storms have been raging for thousands of years. For a Jovian, that’s normal).

Normal is peacefulness, a time free of trouble and conflict, unless you’re a child born in Yemen or Syria where war is continuing. Fear is normal.

Normal is routine. A morning begins with fresh coffee, from a pot which has already been cleaned from the previous day’s use, the coffee jar not yet empty, fresh water in the jug, sugar in the sugar pot and clean mugs.

It’s getting ready for work at the right hour. It’s regular work. When I explained to my father-in-law that I worked freelance for short contracts, he was aghast. He’d told me, with some pride, how he’d been with the same firm for forty years. I have known people who started work after university and are still at that same company, the same commute to the same office, the same lunchtime routine, the same time going home. The way the company works, the way it likes to do business, has become second nature. That’s normal. Though in that time, they say they have seen changes. That’s normal.

Normal. Even the sound of the word appears to grind to a standstill.

If you’re an adventurer, if you’re a party goer, if you grab life by the balls, carpe diem, and all that, and you do all this, then that’s normal for you.

Normal is what we want unless that’s all there is, and then we want something else. And that’s normal too.


Written for Reena Saxena’s Exploration Challenge #68 – “Back to Normal”

It’s a train of thought piece which is how posts normally start though it’s not normally how I publish them.

Fishless January

It seems a bit cruel to decree this a month in which we must abstain from alcohol AND meat when most of us are struggling to give up CHOCOLATE.

It’s staggering to read there are now probably 3.5 million UK citizens who identify as vegans. This is about 7% of all British men, women and children. Though, significantly, the motive has shifted from mainly cruelty concerns in farming to personal health benefits and awareness of climate change, and given a tremendous lift by social media and following celebrity lifestyles.

I’ve received a bulletin email from my supermarket of choice, Waitrose, announcing a launch of their “Fishless Fingers“. Presumably it’s aimed at people who shamefully admire fish fingers but wouldn’t eat fish. This is, surely, imitation-alternative gone too far; the food equivalent of jumping the shark.

I remember the debates back in the 70s as to what part of the fish their fingers actually came from. Today, I find that their history goes way back to 1900, and the commercial product gained popularity in Britain in the 50s. Clarence Birdseye, the doyen of frozen foods, first marketed them as “herring savouries” though public opinion preferred cod fish, so he dreamt up instead “battered cod pieces” which sounds like the aftermath of a terrible fishing accident. His employees rescued the day in an opinion poll, considering “fish fingers” to be the most attractive marketing name.

I’m sure they used to be a way to get young kids to eat fish – which was considered as “brain food”, benefiting their developing intelligence. However, more recently, and with improved quality, it has found favour with adults as a convenient and easier way of packing fish into a sandwich. Hence, I suspect, the necessity to invent the Fishless Finger alternative.

Beyond the year 2050, when we’re all vegan, what will future generations who won’t have known meat make of the term, Fishless Fingers? Or will it be just a flash in the pan?

New Endings and Beginnings

Nearing its end, 2018 has been, for me, a significant year: a milestone birthday, a determination to give up routine work, and a decision, soon to be realised, hopefully, to move home.

We are not moving far, no more than seven miles from where we are now and have been for the best part of twenty years. We had intended to move sooner, sometime around 2008, but there was always something going on (in 2008, it happened to be the banking crisis and the recession, but there were personal things happening as well). Every year seemed to bring with it a doubt as to whether it was the right thing to do.

But there comes a time when you think you’re not going to end up on the proverbial death bed with big regrets, so you sort out those dreams which might be realised and act. Big resolution time!


The justification for our move is food. It would be, wouldn’t it. For years, we kept an allotment, a narrow strip of cultivation rented for a small annual amount – £15, I remember – on which you could grow fruit, vegetables and sometimes flowers for cutting. There are rules and obligations to keeping a plot and this, we felt, wasn’t for us. We simply didn’t have the time and we let it go but the keenness to grow some of our own food remained. So we trust we can begin in the new year with a decent sized garden, and a greenhouse included. Straight from the ground, into the kitchen, and onto the table. There’s not much that can beat that, food-wise.


Moving further away from town, the one thing I think I’ll miss most is the easy walk into town for some casual shopping. It’s not much of a walk, as walks go around here, though I have spotted deer, water voles and the intermittent sighting of a kingfisher, a brief halcyon blue dart heading upstream or down.

Apart from this, I’m happy to leave. With the passing of years, town is reminding me a little too much of the suburbia I left thirty years back – though not as bad as suburbia is now. My regular walks will probably have to be to a pub, about a mile away. It’ll be tough but it’s got to be done.

A Tin Opener

In Britain, before the can, there was the tin. I mention this only because, I think, in America it is a can whereas we seem happy to interchange between tin and can now, although for a long while it was only a tin. Some bifurcation in English probably occurred with “tin can”.

When I was a kid, a lot of food was bought in tins, mainly because domestic freezers weren’t in common use. “Pudding”, as dessert was then called (and still in our house referred to as “pud”) invariably meant opening a tin of fruit, divvying it out into bowls, and pouring on a serving of evaporated milk, again from a tin.

Tinned fruit favourites were apricot halves, sliced peaches, pear halves, mandarin orange segments, pineapple rings, and fruit salad (sometimes labelled as fruit cocktail). All of these fruits were canned in a sweet syrup presumably made from fruit juice and sugar. All in all, it was extremely calorific.

Other foods I remember my folks buying in tins were beans, peas, soups, ham, corned beef, “pink” salmon, “red” salmon, sardines, and tuna. And not forgetting the SPAM!

I believe you could buy anything in a tin in these days – even a steak and kidney pie! – but you had to draw the line somewhere. Tinned potatoes? Unless you were expecting a nuclear attack and preparing a bunker, tinned potatoes or almost any root vegetables, seems unnecessary.

Celebrity frugal cook, Jack Monroe, is in the news saying we shouldn’t be snobbish anymore about tinned food. I’m not sure it is, or was, snobbery though there must now be a case for revisiting the tin what with all the bad news about plastic waste. Surely the quality of food in a tin need not be different from similar food in a carton or plastic container.

Come to think of it, in our kitchen, some tinned goods have never gone away. Tinned tomatoes are a better product than fresh in our climate, and are always chosen for chillis and bakes in preference. Tinned beans, though not quite as good as dried, are far more convenient. And lately, being fed up with disappointingly dry, fresh grapefruits for breakfast, we have been buying tinned grapefruit segments in juice – now a store cupboard essential. Along with succulent tinned prunes, and a spoonful of natural yoghurt (albeit still from plastic tubs), it makes a perfect breakfast first course.

I draw the line at tinned tuna though. Such a noble fish, and expensive too, ruined by boiling it ready for the tin. It’s simply not the same product as fresh; it ought to be banned.


Stop being snobby about tinned food (Telegraph)

Telling Stories

I can’t help thinking picking a story from the submissions grid for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers is a bit like chosing a chocolate from a selection box. Which one is going to be a soft centre, which one is a bit nutty?

I could start in the top left corner and work through but this wouldn’t be as much fun, so it’s a random choice for me.

I don’t know about being an aspiring writer but I’d settle for storyteller. If anyone had suggested I’d be writing stories deliberately at the time I kick started this blog, I would have laughed. But it has turned out to be good fun.


I ought to have an avatar image like most of the other submissions have. I’ll have to give it some thought.

These are your afterlife options

Okay, here’s the scenario,

You’ve reached the natural end of your life and the next thing is your god, or an angel, or spirit animal, or just a voice in the gloom, tells you you have two options. You’ll be happy to know neither involves spending eternity dressed in white, on a cloud, mastering a harp, but if this is really your thing, I’ll make an exception though you’re out of the game.

Option one: return to the time of your birth and begin again.

Option two: take another chance on a spin-the-wheel accident of birth lottery.


I was thinking about it on my drive home (well you have to do something to take your mind off the ditherer in front). At the risk of seeming unadventurous, I would go for option one every time. Not that I’m one of those who say “…and I wouldn’t change a thing!” I certainly would, if I could. It’s simply that I’ve been fortunate on the whole, with just a few niggles, and my perfectionism won’t let those lie.

Then this prompted the reckoning; would changing things on a second go around be allowed?

I’m guessing you would be conscious of starting over else it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to be offered the option. If you weren’t aware, it wouldn’t matter which life you asked for. So if you were conscious of having been this way before, you might be able to change things. Bearing in mind even a small change could lead you into a different life anyway. If you conceived your child moments earlier or later than before, chances are the child would be a different sex than in your previous life. It may be anyway due to other differences you won’t notice but I’m really considering here the idea of freedom of choice.

What catastrophes lie in store for a fallible improver of a rerun life? The harp gig in the clouds doesn’t sound so bad now.


Tune in next time when we’ll be considering what to do if shoes never wore out.

Freedom

“You only are free when you realise you belong no place; you belong every place.”

Maya Angelou (in conversation with Bill Moyers, 1972)


I’m unfamiliar with Maya Angelou, but I don’t imagine she means it geographically. I think it’s about acceptance, about being accepted as a person.
Toleration. Respect.

But what has this to do with freedom? Freedom, from what?

If you live free from obligation, from responsibility, from commitment, then how can you expect to hold onto respect?

And what is it to be free of compassion, and free of love?

John Donne, in his Meditations, in 1624, wrote of man being not an island, entire of himself. He is connected to others by human experience and shared values, of life and death. Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

So what of freedom? Elusive?

Richard Lovelace, while imprisoned for political dissent in London, 1642, wrote to Althea in verse. The famous final stanza reads,

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage:
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage.
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

The line that impresses most is, minds, innocent and quiet. If we do not feel at ease in our own mind, then where on Earth do we go to find it?


inspired by Reena’s Exploration Challenge, week #50

It’s a good, and difficult, challenge from Reena, this week. Being overprivileged as I am in this old world, I wonder how much of value I can say about the sense of freedom, unlike Maya Angelou, say. Mine is just thoughts and words, and participating in Reena’s challenge.

No man is an island, by John Donne (spoken poetry / youtube)

To Althea, from prison, by Richard Lovelace

Press 1 to read this post…

You know those irritating automated answering services, the thing with the numbers that try to filter callers into a particular category of call? Press 1 for enquiries about X; press 2 for enquiries about Y; press 3 for enquiries about…etc.?

You select the not quite appropriate number and get transferred to a second set of numbered options in an attempt to narrow things down, then possibly a third and fourth, in the vain hope you’ll arrive at an option which directs your call to a human voice before being cut off, and when, or if, you get that human voice, it would in all likelihood be the very same human voice you would have got whatever number sequence you amassed. And then you have to explain to this human voice in tedious detail what you’re enquiry is all about, like the numbers meant nothing. Which they don’t.

As we know, the system is reliant on we humans behaving more like machines. This is simply because it’s easier than making a machine think as well as a human.


I was getting something similar to this all day today, trying to make this piece of “industry standard” software do what I wanted. That is, perform like a human being would. It wouldn’t play ball. Not only that but it wouldn’t disclose why it couldn’t play ball. In the end I had to resort to a “work around”, i.e. think on the same level as the machine.

After work, I headed home in the car. For the past two weeks, the audio has been playing Jazz off my USB stick, something I gleefully requested by voice activation:

“Say a command.”

“Play Jazz!”

“Playing. Genre. Jazz”.

And off it went, beautifully. There’s quite a bit of jazz on the stick so two weeks isn’t a long time listening but this afternoon, being sunny and balmy, I fancied some Afrobeat…

“Say a command.”

“Play Fela Kuti!”

(silence)

“Say a command.”

“Play. Fela. Kuti.”

“Say a command. Like Play, Genre, Artist, Device.”

“Play Artist. Felakuti!!”

(silence)

“Say a command. Like Play, Genre, Artist….”

“PLAY. AR-TIST. FE-LA KU-TI!!!

(silence)

“Say a command.”

FELAKUTI!! FEL-A KUTI. FELA. KUTI. FELAKU-TI.”

Immediately, it starts playing Emmylou Harris. I’m not having that; I’m nothing if not persistent. I press the button again.

“Say a command.”

“PLAY. Expensive Shit!”

It plays Fela Kuti.

It was childishly amusing to hear it announce “Expensive shit” in its proper English, received pronunciation, charming lady voice. My irritation melted away and the episode got me thinking that rather than mucking about with the pretence of a humanlike conversation, I should simply answer from a list of numbered prompts.

Say 1 for Jazz, say 2 for Soul, say 3 for Americana, say 4 for Afrobeat….


Expensive Shit (full album) by Fela Kuti (Youtube)