It’s good to see some reporting of what’s really happening in the debate about alcohol pricing, although the Evening Standard can hardly think that tonight’s front page is in any way ‘news’ to most of their readers. (One of the civilising aspects of central London is that so few people drive to work and the pubs are so numerous that an after-work drink hasn’t been eradicated by the health-fascists from commuters’ social lives.)
The headline (and the name of the paper) is quite apposite to my recent experience as I shelled out for my first £4+ pint of British real ale last week. Admittedly it was strong — Old Peculiar — but not strong enough to erase my memory of having had to pay for it. It was at the Royal Standard of England in Forty Green near Beaconsfield (in fact a 20 minute stroll from the station, as we proved). It’s a lovely old pub, claiming to be the oldest free-house in England with some parts dating from the 14th century, but at £12.50 for fish and chips (very good, mind you) and beer (also good) rising from £3.30 to £4.30 (ouch) according to strength, sadly we won’t be returning there too frequently.
But beer and wine are becoming a lot more expensive as almost anyone who buys them will know. Tesco’s are notorious for their ‘half-price’ wine sales where they reduce a bottle of mass-produced plonk from an eye-watering £9 to a more realistic £4.50 and try to suggest that’s it’s a short-term bargain when anyone who paid the higher price has more money than sense (and knowledge of wine). There are very few genuine bargains any more — as the Evening Standard article explains.
I wonder if those clamouring for the deterrent effects of high alcohol pricing will now notice a corresponding decrease in alcohol-related problems now that the weak pound, inflation and a government not above stealth-taxing sin have done their bidding? Even if a relationship was proved then I doubt they’d be happy — probably choosing to switch to the contradictory argument that alcohol is so addictive that its users will consume it whatever the cost.
But back to the story being on the front page of the Standard — I bet the journalists weren’t disappointed when they were given that story to research!
Fuller’s seem to be confident enough about the economic climate to push through the New Year increase in beer duty — at least in The Euston Flyer near St. Pancras station and on their London Porter. A good pint,and a nice pub with lots of pleasantly available tall blonde barmaids (I got served twice by the old bloke, of course) but I probably paid the most ever for a pint of real ale — a whopping £3.70.
The infamously delayed Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner’ actually got off the ground today — two and a half years late. This is a pretty good achievement seeing as one of the latest delays was caused by a fairly important structural flaw — apparently the part of the plane where the wings join on wasn’t strong enough. It wouldn’t have been much of a dreamflight if the wings had fallen off. According to the BBC, the wings managed to stay on for the duration of the test flight, although it landed earlier than schedule.
The BBC’s reporting of the strike has been woeful. They ask people who’ve booked holidays on BA what they think of the strike — what sort of response do they think they’re going to get? Yet the next item on the news is about Copenhagen and climate change. While there are people travelling over Christmas for necessary reasons there are an awful lot of the BA customers who are just jetting off for a sunny second (or third or fourth) holiday — so we’re expected to emote when Samantha and Toby can’t easily take their brats to the Caribbean for Christmas but then wring our hands over climate change? It seems like the editors of certain broadsheets are peeved that their own getaways are possibly being jeapordised — the Independent bizarrely wants the union to play down its huge majority for action.
Another inconsistency and hypocrisy is that the management of BA has the customers’ interests solely at heart — those nice men. Think who installed an abrasive chancer like Walsh into his position — the back-scratching clique of institutional shareholders like pension funds, stock market gamblers, hedge fund managers and so on. Exactly the bunch of economic micro short-termists whose judgement (along with Brown’s complacency) landed us the credit crunch. BA’s management has no-one’s interests at heart but global capital.
It’s a hugely irresponsible management that has had this strike ballot pending since the summer and seems more intent on provoking a showdown than resolving the underlying issues. They are a bunch of chancers and the union has hugely called their bluff by planning a strike of a length that would cripple the company. (For one thing, if all BA’s planes were grounded they would have no room for them, certainly at Heathrow.) The Daily Telegraph is considering if BA will be completely destroyed. It seems that Walsh is about to hand Branson and O’Leary a nice Christmas present.
The Restaurant on BBC2 promised to plumb further depths of the stupidity of the deluded members of the British middle-class who convince themselves that running a restaurant is some sort of decadent leisure activity for the indolent celebrity class rather than be a very hard way of making a living. (Beware: spoiler alert below).
There was some shocking ineptness from the start when the contestants were asked to cook a ‘signature’ dish — some of them tried something they’d never even attempted before. They knew that their dish would be served to Raymond Blanc (with his two Michelin stars), although they might not have been aware that he’d be wandering round the kitchen looking at the packaging on their food. Even so, it was staggering that three of the couples went shopping for their food in Asda (‘voted Britain’s cheapest supermarket). Now Asda can do a few foodie things that even M&S and Waitrose don’t do (chopped up organic carrot batons for one) but its customer base cannot be said to be the most discerning smoked salmon connoisseurs. (I’m not being a food snob. I go there myself sometimes where it’s fine for basic things but a smoked salmon specialist it’s definitely not.). It was no surprise that they failed to find gravadlax there — this is probably only reliably found at Christmas in places like M&S, though Waitrose has plenty of types of smoked salmon and may do it all year round. The thought of going to a specialist smoked fish supplier probably never crossed their minds. Even so, this pair did nothing with their plain Asda smoked salmon except put it on a plate with a load of chopped up beetroot or something and a few crusts of bread. They then stood around looking pleased with themselves while the other contestants busted a gut to finish their dishes in an hour. Even so, they survived until next week.
One of the most intriguing things about this reality show is the mismatched abilities of the couples. One has to deal with front of house while the other is the chef. Often one of the two is reasonably competent with the other being completely useless and a persistent cause of failure — this leads to fascinating strains in the partnership, particularly when the two are related. There was a team of dominating mother and henpecked son. She was a decent cook but lost out because her son told the lovely Sarah (who has one of the most comically expressive faces on television) that it was impossible to describe his mother’s restaurant concept — completely clueless.
The most amazing part of the show came when another parent-child couple tried to open a coconut — which they eventually manage to bludgeon into a pulp — and then were stumped by a tin of evaporated milk. The daughter of the couple didn’t look so young she’d never have encountered old style tins (without the handy ring on the top) but she seemed to have no concept of what a tin opener was. Perhaps using a tin opener will need to be taught and assessed in schools (maybe it’s on the A-level syllabus for domestic science, which explains youngsters’ ignorance) or perhaps the sharp edges to the tins break health and safety regulations? However, what health and safety types wilfully fail to
recognise is the incredibly dangerous methods people dream up to achieve their objectives left to their own devices. In the case of the can of condensed milk, the opening method attempted was to hold a butcher’s cleaver vertically against the can lid (its point downwards) and to then hammer the knife handle with a rolling pin. The film crew must have been waiting hopefully for an accidental disembowelment if the extra sharp Raymond Blanc knife slipped into the woman’s stomach when she attempted to smash down on the knife to gain access to the tin. Fortunately, Raymond spotted her in time and showed her a helpful gadget that has no doubt saved many lives in similar circumstances in about 150 years of canned food — a tin opener. It would have been fascinating to see the education in other kitchen utensils that this couple may have gained in later episodes — oven gloves, corkscrews, bottle openers, perhaps — but Raymond sadly sent them home for their own safety.
It makes quite a serious point about health and safety as almost everyone has enough in their kitchen to do horrendous damage to both themselves and others — sharp knives, roasting hot ovens, boiling water, naked flames. Yet many people happily cook complex meals involving these and many other dangers while lubricating themselves with alcohol at well over the legal drink drive limit. Watch out for the government to go into cahoots with ready meal makers and supermarkets and bring in the kitchen breathalyser built into appliances which will lock all drawers and turn off all appliances except the microwave (to be used for M&S ready meals) if a cook is found to be over the limit.
The Financial Services Authority has come up with a novel idea — banks should make sure that people who take out loans and mortgages should be able to pay them back! We have to hope that sanity breaks out and these proposals are rejected as it would mean turning off the principal means of growth in the economy for the past several years — people being able to borrow money they can’t pay back all based on an unsustainable inflationary rise in house prices that is purely speculative.
Some idiot estate agent type was on the radio bemoaning the FSA’s extinguishing the green shoots in the housing market by these proposals as he’d been cautiously optimistic that things were returning to normal. Doesn’t he realise that ‘normal’ got us (or, more precisely, people who haven’t received massive bonuses underwritten by Gordon Brown this year) into this mess in the first place.
Why is it that every idiot journalist who presents a radio or TV story on house prices starts from the presumption that rising house prices are an indisputably good thing? Don’t they realise that people buy as well as sell houses and that, strangely enough, people who sell their houses tend to need to buy another to move into. Rapidly rising prices make things more expensive in absolute terms for anyone who isn’t downsizing into a smaller property — as well as destroying the market as a whole by barring new entrants. The only people who gain unreservedly are people who stand to inherit some massive house in an expensive area — and who can’t wait for the occupants to die. Funnily enough, this sounds like the sort of demographic group (ageing spoiled rich brats) who tend to write these ‘good news, house price inflation is rampant’ stories in the media so maybe they’re acting in their best interests after all?
I came across the previously mentioned Giant ale from White Horse Brewery in the Turf Tavern in Oxford yesterday. They’ve not shied away from putting the chap in all his glory on the pump clip. Of course I had to try a pint of the ale but I better not say whether it had the advertised effect.
I notice that this might fall foul of our current government’s moral outrage over beer drinking as not only does this obviously make Viagra-like suggestions over the potent effect of the beer but he also carries a huge weapon in his hand. What else could re-inforce more the government’s linking of beer with violence — both wanton and sexual. Except, of course, that the giant probably dates back several thousand years and, while he doesn’t have a pint in his hand, the discovery of beer and fermentation dates back to a similar time.
PS. I heard the most offensive, yet slightly witty, response to a request for a pint to be topped up. This was in a touristy pub in Oxford where the clientele is probably routinely ripped off with pints containing 80-85% liquid. The cocky barman said ‘I’ll get you a straw next so you can suck the beer up off the bar’ — shows what a badly run place it was that they tolerated such spillages anyway.