Tis the season for…exotic mango?

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The excitement is building, the tension is mounting. It’s that time of year. The nights are drawing in, the weather is colder, the days on the calendar tick by. Everyone is getting excited, boys and girls, mums and dads, yes it won’t be long, the time will soon be here for…the John Lewis Christmas tv commercial?!?!? Just when the old cynic in you was convinced we could not get any further from the true meaning of Christmas (celebrating the birth of a Jewish baby in a Middle Eastern stable, conceived out of wedlock over two thousand years ago), it had now warped so far to now be all about the marketing campaign of one of Britain’s biggest department stores. All because John Lewis hit on the lucky formula a few years back of a commercial made memorable by a tear-jerking story, loosely related to Christmas, accompanied by a haunting song to make people head in their drives for their nearest store or website to buy all their Christmas gifts. The impact has lessened recently, however, as pretty much every other bank, supermarket and insurance company has aped the format with arty slow motion films, soundtracked by a stripped back acoustic version of an 80s hit to emotionally attach you to their product. 

 The tv ad break is a real feeding frenzy at Christmas and it is particularly interesting this year, as there has been a tangible shift in how we do all our shopping with high street stores all reporting torrid times. The department store, the bastion of Christmas shopping, has been hit particularly hard with House of Fraser, Debenhams, BHS, Littlewoods and Woolworths having sunk or are sinking in the face of internet shopping. More worryingly, I spotted a brand new trend last weekend (reclined on my sofa, spilling Chinese on the carpet watching X Factor) when a commercial ended with the instruction of asking Alexa to send me a sample. I did so and within a couple of days, the most disgusting variant of a well-known cola drink arrived on my doorstep. So now, even if it is far too much effort to get off your backside and go to the computer, or pick up your laptop, tablet or phone to do your shopping, all you do is shout at your smart speaker and it is done. Amazing!

 However, to me, part of the what makes Christmas (along with wearing gaudy knitwear, Santa hats, drinking in heaving pubs, office parties, nativity plays, carol services, Brussels sprouts, turkey and being nice to the mother-in-law) is fighting your way through the crowds in the days leading up to December 25th, stressing about the gifts you can’t decide on or the ones you can’t find. How much to spend, without appearing too tight or too obsessive. Getting home pleased that you remembered to buy wrapping paper, only having to dash out to every petrol station in the area late on Christmas Eve because you forgot the sellotape.

And here’s the Woolies Christmas ad from 1978, for your viewing pleasure:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDcEyAyW49c

* I’ve just remembered my favourite story about Christmas shopping. Legend has it that some high ranking marketing executives from one of Tokyo’s biggest retailers had cottoned on to just how important Christmas was to annual earnings to shops in the West, so decided to introduce the tradition of Christianity’s biggest event to the Japanese shopping public. At much expense, in the flagship store in downtown Tokyo, a huge display was constructed in the ground floor as the shopping public entered the store ready to dispense with their hard-earned Yen. Sadly, it all backfired, as, upon arrival, they were greeted by a thirty foot high giant Santa Claus….nailed to a cross. 

 

#Christmas #shopping

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Pride of Britain…

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As I write this, five men have been arrested in connection with the burning of a Grenfell Tower effigy at a bonfire party last weekend. There has been widespread condemnation from the Prime Minister downwards and across all the usual social media commentators. It is undeniably a grossly insensitive act, but sadly one which doesn’t really surprise me in the current climate. I can think of a few people I know that would have found this despicable thing funny. I remember, as the horror unfolded early on the morning of June 14th, live pictures in my office showing the smoke and flames billowing from the burning building. Even then, people around me saw fit to make comments like, “It’s okay, they’re all illegal immigrants in there anyway” and “Benefit scroungers, they won’t be missed”. Society, to me, is now more uncaring than it has ever been, certainly in my lifetime, even under the worst excesses of the “I’m alright, Jack” days of Britain in the 1980s, under Margaret Thatcher. The pall of confusion that has befallen the nation as a result of the Brexit referendum, where nobody knows what they have won or refuses to accept the result, without suggesting an alternative has led to uncertainty about the future, which is translating to fear. And so, people feel empowered to be more racist, more misogynistic, more homophobic, more distrustful in general. Since 9/11, it seems all Muslims should somehow bear responsibility for the terrorist acts done by a tiny minority in the name of their religion in a way that Catholics were never held to account when the IRA were blowing up Harrods and pubs in Guildford and Birmingham a few decades before. A culture of not caring, about throwing people on the scrapheap has seeped down from top level government, where the Home Office was happy to create an environment of hostility, to underfund public services, for encouraging corporate greed and letting them put profit over people. The sick and the weak are vilified as burdens, anyone of a different persuasion is viewed as suspicious. We have gone backwards in a very short space of time. We care more about who wore what on the red carpet at the Pride of Britain Awards, than who won for what achievement. Education, facts and knowledge are now not regarded as important to the argument. Last night was Bonfire Night, but I wonder just how many people knew exactly what they were celebrating (the overthrow of a terrorist plot in 1605 by religious fanatics, with foreign backing, to destroy Parliament, assassinate the monarch and impose a new regime and laws shaped by their own religious beliefs, fyi) and last week, were we all solemnly remembering the saints (hallows), martyrs and all the faithfully departed? No, Hallowe’en is pumpkins and trick or treating, Bonfire Night is fireworks, hot dogs and burning a “Guy” or indeed any other effigy we think might be amusing or funny.  

Beanie, bobble or…?

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As the weather turns colder and we can finally dig out our winter clothes, I think it’s high time we resurrected a true winter essential, the balaclava. When I was five or six, they were a common sight on our school playground, along with the duffle coats, woolly mitts and thermal socks. A knitted all in one headpiece that covered your head and neck, with an open space for your face, a balaclava was great for keeping you warm on those icy mornings. Unfortunately, the balaclava was soon adopted as the go-to fashion item for your everyday terrorist attacker, bank robber and hostage taker, many of whom went for the full face army variant with just the two peep holes for your eyes. Pretty soon, the balaclava had disappeared from our streets and playgrounds. But I say we should now reclaim it for ourselves. I’m sure a savvy designer could launch a range in a multitude of colours and patterns and as long as they stick to the open face design, it would be a surefire hit! After all, the balaclava does away with the need for beanie, ear muffs and scarf all in one fell swoop; think of all the room that would free up in your bag for your daily commute. Just one tip for the fashionistas out there, please don’t think of marrying up your black balaclava with this season’s must-have surplus combat jacket, or you may find yourself being taken in for questioning…

Curry and chips.

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I was born in London, but was raised in Essex, where we moved when I was three years old, but my heritage is rather more exotic. My dad came to England in 1961, amid the Windrush generation arriving from the West Indies. He is descended from indentured workers brought to the Caribbean from India after the abolition of slavery. My mum arrived here in 1956 with her parents, having been raised in the Indian subcontinent. Her father was in the British Army during the years of the British Raj and was now returning home. My parents met, married and started a family in South London, before moving to Billericay, for reasons I have never yet had fully explained.

 For them, the culinary journey of discovery was the exact opposite of that travelled by English people of the time; having grown up on a diet of spicy food, curries, breads and exotic fruits. They had to adjust to the traditional English fare of Sunday roasts, fish and chips, apples and pears, fried breakfasts, pies and suet pudding. The one common denominator was a love of drinking tea. As a youngster, I remember being dragged to various friends and relatives houses and being sat on the carpet, while ladies gossiped, nibbled slices of Battenberg and sipped tea from china cups and saucers. It was accepted practice back then to tip a little tea from the cup into the sauce and sipping it from there. It’s many years since I last saw anyone do that in polite company.

 My parents were keen for us to grow up fully integrated in English ways. A school dinner menu of boiled ham, boiled potatoes, boiled veg, corned beef, liver, chocolate sponge pudding, pink custard and those half-pint bottles of warm full cream milk you used to get at break time was a million miles from how my parents were brought up. 

 And so, at home our food tried to resemble a local diet. Of course, this being the 1970s, it meant the frying pan got good mileage. Sausages, beef burgers, fish fingers, chips, crispy pancakes and indeed anything else churned out by Bird’s Eye, Findus or Ross was out of the freezer and into the frying pan. Having a chip shop over the road only emphasised this! Notable exceptions being boil in the bag cod in butter sauce, pot noodles or pasta. I look back and feel for her, as she was keen to cook English food, but my old man would have much preferred to keep going on curry and rice. Mind you, he never had curry for breakfast, settling usually for Ready Brek and toast, though at weekends it was a paratha (pan-fried greasy flat bread) and fried eggs, which remains a treat for me every now and then. So a lot of the time, mum tried to keep everyone happy round the dinner table and quite often she would prepare meals that were hybrid versions of English and Indian cooking. Spaghetti Bolognese was one; the pasta was prepared in the traditional way, but the sauce was more Bombay than Bologna, containing chillies, coriander and garlic cloves?!? Chillies would invade everything and you had to be careful biting into any homemade burgers or sausages, as you might soon be gasping, in need of a glass of water. Cardamom pods were another minefield to be carefully navigated, as biting into one is a once in a lifetime experience. On Sundays, roast beef would come with two gravy boats, one had Bisto and the other had the sort of sauce that turned anything into a Madras. And there would always be a pile of poppadoms on the table, no matter what meal we were having. Of course, the poppadoms were cooked in the traditional fashion of being deep-fried, which is very rare in restaurants these days, but they taste much better fried. You just have to try not to think of the cholesterol levels. 

 Sadly, my mum is long passed away and the tastes and smells of those long ago days are now a distant memory, but if I feel a bit down, i just rustle up my favourite hybrid meal of paratha (left over from last night’s take away), smothered in strawberry jam and rolled into a cigar shape and I am eight years old again and all is well.

Full line up for Chelmsford now confirmed!

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Very pleased with this line up, all are absolutely top notch and we have secured one of the best MCs on the circuit in Dave Ward, who is outstanding. This will be a superb night. Get your Christmas going in style, block bookings welcome! Buy your tickets here:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/comedy-night-tickets-51358397349?utm_term=eventurl_text

#comedy #chelmsford #standup #essex

 

 

I can’t get no sleep…

Portrait of an insomniac man trying to sleep in his bed

A normal body clock and tv scheduling usually dictates that around 10-10.30 at night, it’s time to head up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire. On a good night, you’ll slide under the duvet, read a few pages of your book and then switch the light off to let darkness lead you into the land of nod. But it’s not always like this. Sometimes, having followed the same routine, you don’t fall asleep. You lie on one side, then the other, ending up on your back. And then on your front. Awake. Unable to sleep. Rather than shutting down, your mind finds new life and you start to question why you just can’t seem to go to sleep. Especially, when you felt so tired this afternoon, craving bedtime.

 You shift again in your bed, adjusting the pillow, taking it out from under your shoulder to let it fully support your head. A car goes past outside. Your wandering mind has now aroused your senses and now you have bionic hearing. Another car – someone on their way home from the pub, maybe? A loud miaow; next door’s cat. Bet he’s sat on my car again leaving his muddy paw prints all over the roof. How do I stop him doing that?, you wonder. Leaves rustling in the trees means the wind has picked up. What’s the weather doing tomorrow? Blast, you forgot to check. Hope it doesn’t rain cos you’ve left your umbrella at work again. More wind in the trees. Was that an owl hooting? There’s always an owl on the telly when it’s a scene set at night time. You wait, listening, but the owl’s hoot never comes. What little light there was suddenly becomes even less, as the streetlights go out. That means it’s midnight. What? How did that happen? You’ve been lying there for nearly two hours! That means the eight hours’ sleep you had planned is now only six hours. Maximum! It’s now dark at six, when your alarm goes off. When was the last time it was light, you wonder; two weeks ago? No, when was the last time it was properly light, with the sun already in the sky? August, September? You rack your brains…And it’s darker much earlier in the evenings now too. You remember a balmy evening sat in the garden until ten o’clock in the summer. Wow, that seems ages ago. Anyway, six hours’ sleep isn’t so bad, when you were younger you could get away with four hours on a school night, even after a night out. Nights out on school nights are a no-no now. Getting old. Feel rubbish for days after. Too hot now, you kick the duvet off. Ah yes, your missus turned the heating up earlier cos she said it was freezing and right on cue, her icy feet brush against you as she turns in her (very deep) sleep. Suddenly cold, you pull the duvet back over yourself and roll over in the bed. Maybe it’s the mattress? You read somewhere that memory foam mattresses retain your body heat and make you hot. The man in the shop never mentioned that. He told us all about the advanced technology, how it would mould to the exact shape of your body and support you in deep, blissful sleep. Except tonight, it blimmin isn’t! And remember how much it cost? Why did you fall for that? And why were you puffed into buying the memory foam pillows too? Another sound. The dog is having a dream and barking in his sleep downstairs in the hallway. You know it’s a dream, because it’s only a gruffing noise, not like the full bark he does when the postman knocks. You envy his state of slumber.  But now what’s this? Movement? The dog’s dreaming has disturbed your wife and she is now getting out of bed to go to the loo. The bathroom light goes on, then off as she returns. Do you let her know you’re still awake, that you heard the dog too? If you do and tell her you also heard the dog, she’ll engage in a lengthy conversation about the dog and then want to know why you can’t sleep, how long you’ve been awake…best not to, eh? You make pretend snoring noises and wait as she falls back to sleep. Waiting for her to fall asleep and also waiting to fall asleep yourself. Waiting, waiting. But there’s no chance. Properly awake, your night vision means you can see all around your room. You make out the wardrobe, the dressing table and mirror. The chair with the pile of yesterday’s clothes. There’s something reflecting in the mirror. A red light. oh, that will be the reflection of the digital clock. The digital clock that is now displaying 02:37. Which means only three and a bit hours till you have to get up. That’s not enough. No way. Panic surges over you. Your bed now feels like some electric torture device, which pulses current after current through your body. You imagine the electric shocks. Twisting and turning, you imagine your body reacting to the torture. You count the intervals between each pulse. Every ten seconds, every ten seconds…every ten seconds…every ten…BEEP…BEEP…BEEP. A red light flashing. Warning, warning, danger, danger! You sit bolt upright, soaked in sweat. And a voice says: 

 “Good morning, here is the news from the BBC. it’s six o’clock …”.

Would you like to change seats?

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Words every bloke dreads hearing, ”About time we got a new sofa?”. A modern day invitation to Dante’s Inferno. You never hear your other half utter questions like,”Oooh Sony have just released a 70” 4K tv with built in  Dolby sound, we should go get one…”, or, “ Porsche have just updated the 911. The engine’s smaller, but the bigger turbos more than make up for that, shall we get one and whizz down to the South of France?”. No. 

 Sofas. Pretty low down on anyone’s wish list. A piece of furniture that rapidly becomes invisible in anyone’s house. Not very bling, not very “latest model”, not very aspirational, whatever the adverts try to convey.  Even the ads are depressing, especially when you get that blitz at that particularly soulless time of year in between Christmas and New Year, when all the glitzy, high budget tv commercials spun out in the run up to the festive period are replaced by endless reels of some Z-List celebrity prancing round a furniture showroom on some desolate industrial park. And there’s always a sale on. 50% off, 75% off…200% off! And nothing to pay till some time in the future, by which time you’ll have forgotten you bought a sofa on finance and then get clobbered by some extortionate interest rate. 

 So, on a grey Saturday morning, not having the will to put up any sort of a fight, you agree to go “have a look”. You get in the car and drive off to what used to be some fields a couple of years ago, but now is a collection of drab warehouse buildings, full of cheap-suited, spiky-haired sales staff all working on commission. What you weren’t prepared for was the scale of the choice on offer. Any thoughts you had of a quick half hour bouncing up and down on a few two or three seater jobbies had now been dashed, because Sofology, Harveys, Furniture Village, Sofa Workshop, Laura Ashley, DFS, SCS and IKEA all await your pleasure. (A bit of advice at this point, avoid IKEA at all costs, because the maze at Hampton Court Palace is easier to navigate than any of their stores.) After you have sleepwalked through the first three or four stores, trying out this season’s latest range – who knew that sofas could be influenced by meteorological factors? – you are then thrown the curved ball…”I just need to pop into Next to get some bits,” as you get dragged off by the arm.

All the while, you wonder why you actually need a new sofa. The one you’ve got has seen you faithfully through four World Cups, fourteen Cup Finals, three home Ashes series, Andy Murray winning Wimbledon, The Stones at Glastonbury, all those box sets, FIFA, Minecraft, Babe Station and even that time you fell asleep after the pub and woke up to find yourself wearing your chicken madras?!?! The thought of food reminds you that it’s now lunchtime and you need feeding. You’ve done your bit, you only came “to have a look”  and besides, even if you found one you liked, you’d have to wait at least six weeks for the thing to be delivered. You’ve been dragged round five sofa shops, you’ve helped decide which white tee-shirt looks best (out of the twenty tried on), so now, without discussion or debate, it’s time for a dirty great Maccie D’s, fries and a shake, then home in time for Soccer Saturday, burping and farting on my trusty old sofa. Now…who’s hidden the remote?

Only in cinemas…

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 In an age where you can download and watch a film on your phone, it’s quite a feat that cinemas are still going strong. Most large towns and cities around Britain will still have a reminder of cinema’s golden age, when huge art-deco buildings were erected as altars to the silver screen. Sadly, many of those old cinemas that managed to survive are now bingo halls, indoor markets and bar/restaurants. However, despite the arrival of videos, dvds, internet streaming and on-demand, people still enjoy going to the cinema to watch the latest releases on the big screen with sound surround, feeling every thump, crash and obligatory helicopter flying overhead. Multiplexes became the thing, with up to a dozen films on offer, once you had negotiated the shopping mall entrance offering all manner of food, drink, sweets, pop corn and ice cream. (Why is it, that despite all the healthy lifestyle and anti-obesity advice bombarding us, at the cinema we are encouraged to eat and drink ALL the wrong stuff, while slumped in a chair for three hours?)

 The latest incarnation is the cinema where you arrive early to enjoy a couple of drinks, eat a great big gourmet burger, accompanied by a shovel-load of chunky chips, or maybe a bucket of cheese nachos all topped off with an ice cream sundae that really should come with two spoons. Then an ever-so-polite usher arrives to tell you the film is about to start and leads you into the ambiently lit auditorium. You are then seated on a huge, comfy sofa which has enough leg room for you to stretch your legs out. Right out. The lights dim, the huge stage curtains pull back and so starts a quarter of an hour of adverts. You sink deeper into the sofa. A short pause then trailers are shown for upcoming film releases to drag you back in a couple of weeks’ time. You realise you really can stretch right out now. And there’s a recline button which makes a leg rest come up and the seat back tilt, so you can get properly comfortable. The curtains close. A dramatic silence and the room is pitch black. Not sure if you are awake or not, the military snare drum of the 20th Century Fox theme jolts your senses, but then the soothing strings accompanying the film’s opening titles remind you of the perfectly comfortable state you are in. The alcohol, the stodgy food, the soft comfy seat and your perfectly reclined position. You have become attuned to the darkness and now not even the flickering of the screen, as the film comes to life, can stop you sinking deeper and deeper, eyelids heavy, you drift off in contented bliss….Suddenly, you start to see this really bright light. There’s music. Loud music. Noise everywhere, you become aware of people are moving around you. Someone’s calling your name. Your eyes squint to make out the closing titles scrolling up the film screen. There’s a trail of dribble coming from the corner of your mouth. and then your eyes open properly to see your other half was the one calling your name. To your eternal shame, you realise you’ve slept through the entire film and, overwhelmed by a sudden horror, you ask, “Was I…”., before a snappy interruption, “Yes, you blimmin’ were, you were snoring the whole way through?!?!?!”.