Masterchefs need to apply

It’s a Sunday morning, and not for the first/last time I’m staring across a pub table at a friend who looks as though their internal organs have pins-and-needles. We’re getting older now, though the booze intake has not slowed down, leaving the recovery mode to kick in with all the pace and success of an ancient laptop, creaking and crunching its way through start-ups and breakdowns. We’re not ‘surrounded’ as such, though this is a Wetherspoons, so there’s an atmosphere all the same. Overly cheerful bar staff discuss the weekend’s football – “I like Brendan Rodgers, he’s got things right every time” – and a smattering of other similarly hungover folk are peppered around on tables all hunched over smartphones or newspapers. Not one of them is drinking alcohol, though it’s possible to buy drink from the moment the doors open at 9am, which is one of those New Labour licencing law legacies which hangs around unchecked. I note that some of the heavier drinkers at Wetherspoons are similarly prone to hanging around, unchecked.

A lone woman sits near by, her face one which has won arguments and weathered storms, a matriarch whose expression tells of penny jars and a dutiful marriage. She knows, as we know, that life was not supposed to direct her to a chain pub, on a Sunday morning, politely accepting the reheated food offered by nonetheless happy and polite men in branded shirts.

Within the context of “horsemeatscandalDRAMA” it’s worth remembering that Wetherspoons hasn’t been implicated. The world’s worst kept secret is the company’s reliance on microwaves and flash-frying, making their “curry club” nights identical to the rapid response seen in countless curry houses across the country. That said, what curries they do provide aren’t particularly bad, even if you don’t start at a round 100 before taking off points for soggy rice, cardboard-like poppadoms, a mango chutney with an apple-pie like consistency.

Their biggest failing and the source of my greatest food related angst since…well last week to be honest (post-ale festival ‘stodge’ of a Mattinsons sausage and a pint of lemonade)…has to be their ‘breakfasts’. It’s perhaps little surprise that there seems to be a single sort of man (and always men) who are spotted at early doors ordering a ‘spoons breakfast. Men who still have booze on their breath, or still have booze swirling around the brain, or who’ve been in need of proper munchies having eaten their entire kitchen stock of Battenburg cake and sour sweets. With warped tastebuds sleeping alongside most other vital organs – some more vital than others at such an early hour – it’s to be expected that the quality control is so low, but the wide acceptance of their early meals as adequate is a particularly British failing which brings to mind the oft-repeated maxim from a former line manager; “When you’re consistently below average, you bring the average down.”

The breakfast presented to me and countless friends over many hangover Sundays has always been below par, ‘acceptable’ because the hour is early, the head is sore and the tongue wants something other than real ale to taste. It is always lukewarm, because like my late-grandmother’s Christmas meals, they’re microwaved. Individual items congeal and wrinkle, sausages the colour of a baking dish, a single egg with a ripped underskirt for its white, toast which would be recognised as “warm, floppy bread” by Alan Partridge. It’s a plate which would embarrass most traditional ‘caffs’, and whilst a few cost cuttings are acceptable for the mass catering of evening meals, the state of breakfast at a company in rude health should be a point of some serious shame.

My friend and I carve our way through the barely heated food, little pats of butter secreted between the “toast” to assist with making malleable a hard, processed flower. What shadowy ghost of heat might have stuck around at the start has now floated away completely; we’re essentially eating cold food. And we don’t complain, not out loud, because this is accepted as what hungover people do between the hours of waking up and falling back to sleep. We’re guilt-filled and regretful, as any teenage masturbater caught by a family relative might be, at the satisfaction we nonetheless feel at consuming something, anything, to battle against the booze headache.

Our tepid plate, not so much fry-up as faux-up, can be placed anywhere in the current argument about lowering food standards, the increasing gap between those who can afford fresh ingredients and those who can only afford prepared ready meals. The complacency and acceptance is our own failing. The food industry hides its use of horse DNA as well as any businessman obscures his tax-evading savings, and in so many ways they’re choking us all. The horsemeat scandal engages producer and consumer with choices which must be made. It seems a long way from a reheated handgrab of reheated breakfast staples, and I suppose in the most basic way there is a distance, but the bad taste remains in the mouth all the same.

Vox Pop

Upson?

Matthew Upson?

CARRICK?

(I understand Fabio phoned Sven’s one-time unknown quantity Theo Walcott while the player was at a golf course. Given his performance on Sunday, that does bring to mind the image of him running up to the tee with intent before swiping the ball into the crowd.)

I woke this morning at about half-5, due in part to some unusual dreams. Nothing violent or sexual or owt, though I could have done without close-up shots of me shaving in slow motion like some out-takes from an arty black-and-white Hungarian film. My morning showers always have Radio 4 in the background – yes, I wake up to Evan Davis – so this morning I had a bit of Farming Today, which introduced me to this hitherto unknown quango.

(Their slogan is hilarious, as it goes, I won’t ruin it for you….)

Why “Alliance”, though? Was there a split in the Salad & Greens Marketing Board? I only remember watercress as the standby science experiment introduced by bored or desperate primary school teachers, that they need a marketing board seems somewhat over ambitious. If there is any chance that someone can explain this to me, I am open to all information.

Bought a new laptop yesterday, and another wireless router. For the latter, a children’s television presenter served me with pound signs in her eyes (“Would you like to upgrade to the SuperSpensiveNoMoreReliable Package?” “…Bwuh?”)

I now await the “activation”. It all seems rather arbitrary. If my experience of office life is anything to go by, mind, I assume the headquarters of this particular ISP has one part-timer, a single in-tray, and a repressive clean desk policy.

The purchases (and drinking at Britain’s smallest pub, has made a dent in my finances (NO, I hear you shout, FOR THE FIRST TIME!). I will pledge, maybe even make moves towards enacting, as close to a detox month as I can…

….Trust me, I was a politician…..

Big fan of the Saturdays

Unless a repressed memory of offering fisticuffs to the widest tighthead prop in Orrell has yet to move to the centre of my mind, I think that’s all the flashbacks from last night sorted. Good old fashioned Saturday, then. The paper, a brew, Soccer Saturday, and fathoming out what it is about the side of shampoo bottles that makes them such decent reading material while needing-to-do-what-needs-to-be-done-after-a-night-on-the-real-ale. Oh come on, I’m not spelling it out.

But yes, here is the old friend reunion. Mr Hangover. And like fingerprints, hangovers are unique, and can be used to link anyone with a crime scene. Like giving a group of strangers the impression I was dancing because of certain medications. Or maybe as a consequence of not taking necessary medications. Or drinking Corona.

Saturday mornings have long been my favoured day of rest. No more family home routines, of ‘big shops’ of legend and Going Live! and Des Lynam on Grandstand. Or the High School routine of bopping around town for endless hours on end, which on some occasions meant hanging outside the covered market topping up cans of cherry coke with vodka hidden in a paper bag. Classy lad, I was, at times.

And now it’s the morning for looking at BT Bills with a sense of bemusement and confusion, of aiming kitchen cleaner at ovens with the cap unmoved and wondering why nothing is coming out. For Sundays are the days of dust chasing and sock drawer sorting and washing-pile fathoming. Champion the Sabbath, I say. Listen to the Now Show repeat on Radio 4 (except when Mitch Benn is on. When he starts, flick to 5Live. I don’t like Mitch Benn. At all. I may have said this earlier while giving it to the warbling Joe ). Slump on the sofa with the Guardian and a brew. Draw up rough proposals on how BBC schedulers would be able to adequately promote live coverage of New Zealand’s World Cup match against Paraguay.

Not a time for thinking, much, Saturday. Unless you have something constructive to do, like get married or somesuch. Finding your way to Blackburn for whatever reason, as was the case with three Scouse-accented lads on the train this morning. “Ere, y’are, this must be Preston, like; it looks like Sunderland, ay, blud?”, as one of them commented.

Saturdays can be the ace day of the week, the cool brother, the decent teacher, that cheeky tap-in goal from the guy who has been hitherto the subject of every negative chant from rail platform to the stands. If Monday is the nightmare to top all – the RBS banker of the week, if you will – then let Saturday be the perfect dream. Well, unless that dream is broken by the piercing shrill of the mobile phone at 7am and the female voice of reason reminding you about the wedding later that day…

Jesus Christ and John Smiths

Forty days. And forty long nights. “A bit like Jesus,” suggested a lad at work. Well, quite. Our Lord and Saviour may well have survived, as have I, on powdered soup and tea leaves.

Not wanting to appear somewhat inconsistent in my argument – as if a liberal ever would! – I decided not to buy any booze for the period of my financial kerfuffles (see Missives passim). From watching the might Berske lose to Halifax in the FA Cup qualifying to last night’s High Voltage shindig in Manchester, I endured and partly enjoyed the “dry period”. It would have somewhat invalid a stance were I to claim financial responsibility in one breath while hoiking 12 cans of best ale from the corner shop every week.

Drinking that first pint of Smooth last night returned a very strong sensory recall memory. My earliest attempts to purchase booze in a pub was at the age of 15, with my best mate at High School attempting to look awfully older slurping two pints of Fosters at the Ship. I was wearing his t-shirt and his dad’s trousers in an attempt to look older. Still was refused entry to the Blue Moon, later on, though. Never forgotten.

It took about 40 minutes to drink the first pint, last night. The tight head this morning certainly seems familiar. Unlike the Son of God I dare say my month of sacrifice has not taught others to live a different way, and my blog readership stats suggest these words may well be reaching a world-wide audience, but only of thousands rather than billions. I take the view, as I sit here in a stuffy library struggling against the pinching headache behind the eyes, that in the manner of someone from Thought For The Day, drinking in Manchester and buying a Burger King for the midnight train is a little bit like Jesus….Er….and….surely when He…erm…taught the lessons of fortitude he was thinking about…er…the pocket shrapnel one does not like counting through the early fog of the morning after?

Or…you know….something. Cheers!