Recent reflections

No mirror required…

Over the long weekend, as I attempted unsuccessfully to remain dry, I saw several things that gave me pause.

As I walked down Piccadilly, I passed a branch of the sandwich shop chain that wishes to suggest, to any Francophone customers, that its wares are ready to eat (another similar chain dispenses with the foreign tongue and indeed the “ready to” leaving only the bald imperative).  This chain is also justly famed for its attempt to eliminate the EU mayonnaise lake single-handed.  Anyway, as I passed I noticed a sign on the pavement outside asking us to “Keep it clean for the Queen”. Now I know this country’s finances are not the Mae West, but surely Her Majesty has not been reduced to crossing Green Park in her slippers and purchasing a mayo-heavy sandwich when she’s feeling a little peckish? I’m all for cost cutting, but she is 86 – surely she must qualify for meals on wheels (or its modern equivalent)?

Walking through John Lewis on my way to the flicks (of which perhaps more in another post) to avoid the rain, I passed through the kitchenware department. There I spotted a range of saucepans which were copper on the outside, stainless steel on the inside and aluminium in the middle. The pans did not appear to be particularly thick sided, so each layer must have been quite thin. I suspect that this was very much a range to be seen, not hidden away in a cupboard – and one which I presume would need frequent polishing. However, my worry – or perhaps my interest – was how this trinity of metals, with different rates of expansion under heat, would stay together in the rough-and-tumble of life on the range (I’m assuming they were for the Aga-using public). I could easily see a very messy divorce on the horizon, with each pan slowly becoming three pans of very similar sizes. How would you stick three metals together in this way and keep them together? Perhaps my next OU course needs to be on metallurgy or materials science?

Wandering round the fruit and veg section of Waitrose, I added another item to the list of tasks to be performed when my merits are finally recognised and I rise to power in this land (don’t worry, I will be a benevolent ruler).  Buy-one-get-one-free offers will be banned on any item where the ‘best before’ (or ‘use by’ or similar) date is less than twelve months from today (I might be willing to negotiate the twelve down a little).  This is just encouraging people to buy more perishable goods than they require, leading to wastage.  I refuse to buy such offers, but as a result feel that I am being forced to subsidise other people’s waste. Of such little things is resentment built…

Finally, I should perhaps warn you that WordPress has changed the GUI (Graphical User Interface: yes I admit it, I am a graphical user) it presents me with as I craft these posts, hewing them from the raw stuff of language.  No longer does it offer a word count, so posts may start growing longer without the constraining effect of constant feedback on my text-based verbosity.

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Hold the Mayo

After an efflorescence of posts over the weekend, there has been rather a dearth of new content this week.    The author has  suffered a lot of early mornings and late nights, coupled with the horrors of air travel, during the week – all in the name of work.  Yes, hard though it is to believe, this blog does not yet provide sufficient (or, to be brutally frank, any) income to allow me to give up working for “the man”.

I am not a big fan of air travel – especially when it involves me.  This is partly because I am not keen on either heights or enclosed spaces – which are delivered in a rather unhappy conjunction by the modern aeroplane – but also because airlines and airports seem to have gone to some trouble to deliver a deeply unpleasant travelling experience.  I firmly believe that if the Good Lord had meant us to fly, he wouldn’t have given us the railways.

My travel was in the hands of the OneWorld Alliance which is not, as it might sound, a fascist military faction from a science-fiction novel but is a group of airlines including British Airways and Finnair among numerous others.  My tour took in Terminal 3 of London Heathrow (LHR), where they seem to have removed most of the chairs from the terminal (for reasons unknown) and replaced then with what looks like a private roller rink, Vienna (also, rather short on terminal chairs – but with particularly good systems surrounding the issuance and checking of boarding passes) and Helsinki.

Several years ago, when I moved to South Cambridgeshire, I thought that one of the potential benefits of living in the area was its proximity to Stansted Airport and the consequent easing of the pain of international business travel.  However, whenever a business trip abroad comes around it inevitably seems to involve a destination which cannot be reached directly from Stansted (or even the wonderful London City Airport) but only from LHR (my least favourite of London’s airports, with the possible exception of Luton).  From home, it is around three hours on various rail-based transport systems to LHR (which usually exceeds the airborne component of the journey by some margin).

One thing I learnt from this most recent trip is that there seems to have been a major diplomatic incident between the UK and Finland.  At both ends of my journey (and indeed on my previous trip to Finland), we passengers were not delivered to (or from) our transport from (or to) the terminal by a short walk along a pier but had to walk to the far end of the terminal building where a bus gave us a tour of the airport tarmac on our way to find our plane.  I have flown with both “flag” carriers – but this seems to make no difference, I still get the bus ride at each end of the journey.  What has William Hague said to (or about) the Finns?  I am forced to wonder if a Yorkshireman is perhaps a little too blunt to be foreign secretary?

One of the many mysteries of air travel is the terrible food on offer both on the ground and in the air.  At most UK airports, one is offered the choice of seafood washed down with champagne (why?) or Starbucks (or some clone thereof) – and other European airports seem little better (and some even worse).   Contrast this with St Pancras International railway station where Le Pain Quotidien offers the traveller delicious French (or perhaps Wallonian – but still Francophone) bakery, patisserie and salads.

In the air, you often get little more than a packet of mini-pretzels (possible the least edible of all the snack foods) or a filled roll if the airline is pushing the boat out.  On my return journey I was furnished with a prawn mayo and rocket roll – which I imagine BA thought was a luxury offering, but which I worried represented a dangerous risk of food poisoning.  As this was a UK-sourced item, it provided details of its nutritional content – including the somewhat shocking fact that it provided nearly half of my RDA of salt for the day.  This was not a huge roll, and as a bread-maker myself I know bread requires only very modest amounts of salt – added to which I’m pretty sure that rocket is also salt-free.  I will admit that prawns, whilst alive, do prefer a somewhat saline environment (well some do, including those which end up in commercially-produced rolls) – but, once dead and imprisoned within a bakery product, there seems no obvious requirement to maintain this habitat.  I am forced to assume that the mayonnaise was comprised almost exclusively of salt (though, as the sandwich also contained an alarming proportion of my saturated fat allowance for the day, I assume this salt was blended with neat lard).  Y-O-Y-O-Y?

Expanding on this rant, why do so many sandwich makers feel the urge to place mayonnaise in almost every sandwich or roll anyway?  I have made bread-based meals at home for decades, and have yet to feel the need to put mayo in any of them.  Does this explain my relatively sylph-like figure, modest blood pressure and the fact that a packet of salt lasts me from one decade to the next (I ignore the use-by date as salt is a preservative)?  If this country is serious about tackling the obesity epidemic and rising rates of hypertension, surely the easiest option would be to ban mayonnaise in pre-made sandwiches?  It would also help reduce the incidence of post-consumption greasy fingers and so, perhaps, reduce serviette usage with a consequent saving in trees.  It should also make for cheaper sandwiches (fewer ingredients) which would be much appreciated in these times of rapidly rising food prices and shrinking incomes.

I think I may have found the single-issue party I need to launch my political ambitions onto the national stage.  Remember, cast your vote for “Hold the Mayo” the next time you find yourself in a hardboard booth with a pencil in hand!  Fish for PM!  (And no, I’m not looking to replace Eddie Mair).