Maiden Aunt

Not alas, the sister of a parent who can keep a batsman firmly pinned to his (or her) crease – though surely such folk must exist – but instead a rumination on my role (or one of them) in life.

This blog has noted before that I would make someone (or ones) an excellent maiden aunt despite my total lack of ability at cricket and my possession of a volume of Y-chromosomes that would normally lead to instant disqualification.    For a start, I use far more allusions to the game of bridge in everyday conversation than is normal – especially as I haven’t played the game in more than a decade.  Of late, my inner aunt seems to have been moving ever closer to the surface and it can only be a short while before she is engaged in a knock-down, drag-out fight with my inner child for mastery of my declining years.

In my cultural outings, I often find myself able to observe young people “up close” and often for substantial periods of time.  This is not just my inate voyeuristic tendencies, but the fact that they are often performing on a stage (or where one should imagine a stage, though technically one does not exist) directly in front of me and it seems rude not to watch.

As a brief digression, this brings me to another one of my ragtag collection of unusual and not wholly utilitarian super-powers.  I seem unable to attend any theatrical production without at least one member of the cast getting their top (and often more) off.  To answer the naysayers who may think the old fool has wandered into a gentleman’s club (a place where I suspect one is very unlikely to encounter a gentleman, or at least one meeting my definition thereof) while not wearing his glasses, I can assure you that these are excursions to the proper theatre and not to venues where dancing takes place on the sort of surfaces normally used to rest a tray or mobile computer.  It may be that theatre is hoping that torso-based nudity will bring the punters in or that I am subconsciously choosing productions where stripping is required, however, I am assuming that something about my prescence must be causal.  Perhaps fortunately, this power only rarely shows itself outside the theatre, for now at least…

This leads us neatly to the first aspect of my maiden aunthood: the young and theatrically inclined really need to be eating more.  Every man-Jack (or woman-Jill) of them, almost without exception, seems worryingly close to emaciation.  They make me look overweight, something which would only be medically viable if I lost around a foot in height (I’ve tried just eating or drinking more, but it doesn’t seem to work).  We are told there is an obesity crisis afflicting the young (and the not so young), but most of my test subjects give the lie to this idea.  My other sample of young people, who could probably be described as music/jazz geeks, share this tendency to a willowy lack of physical substance.  I had even less flesh when younger than I do now – training as a middle-aged gymnast has helped place some minimal meat on my bones (though I fear I’d still make more of a low-fat starter than a main) – but I don’t remember being this skinny, even in my famine poster-child days.  I find myself worrying that these youths may inadvertently snap a limb live on stage should they be struck by a falling leaf or flying athropod.  I’ve started to wonder if I should be bringing a good square meal or two with me to each gig: or would this be viewed as odd?

The second indicator of my changing status relates to the idea of “feeling the benefit”.  I first noticed this at the Joiners – a rather famous local music venue which I’ve started visiting in 2017.  I have even used the gents, despite strong warnings not to (they really aren’t that bad, I’ve seen much worse).  During the cold January evenings, I noticed young people in the audience – and indeed on stage – continuing to wear their full outdoor clothing long after they had transitioned into the relative warmth of the venue.  My inner aunt was very concerned that when the music ends and they are cast back out into the frosty external air they wouldn’t feel the benefit of their warm(ish) clothing – an issue likely to be exacerbated by their general lack of adipose insulation.  I have, to-date, resisted tendering any advice in this direction (but it’s not been easy).

The third indicator came at an open-mike might at the Talking Heads.  By some distance the best performer on the night was a young lad sporting several haircuts, what I would consider an unwise volume and distribution of tattoos and lobe deforming ear ornamentation.  You might have thought that one of these aspects of his appearance might have brought auntie Stuart to the fore, but no, (s)he was far more worried that he didn’t seem to be getting enough sleep.  As an insomniac myself, I fear there was little advice I could offer the chap but still feel I should perhaps have given him a quick talk on sleep hygiene (not that this knowledge has ever done me much good).

So far, I have manage to resist spitting on my hankie and scrubbing a smut or simlar mark off the face of a stranger, but I feel it can only be a matter of time.  Is there some sort of Aunts Anonymous with a 12-step programme that I can join?  Or am I doomed?


The Tyranny of Choice or an Exemplum of the Obesity Crisis

Earlier today, I wandered out to buy a new cover from my ironing board.  Oh, yes I’m doing alright and living the rock-and-roll lifestyle to the max.  My ironing board is knocking on a bit, it could legally buy and consume alcohol in the US of A with a pretty generous safety margin, and its cover is pretty threadbare.  So, I thought it was about time to treat it, and my clothes, to some swanky new threads.

My plan was thwarted by the discovery that ironing board covers have a size: they can at least be Medium or Large (based on the evidence of my eyes) and I assume a Small may be lurking somwhere.  I had no idea of the size of my own board, but the 21st century boards on sale nearby all seemed much larger than mine.  I had assumed this was probably just an optical illusion or a failure of memory – but investigation on returning home suggests not.

The smallest cover available was intended for a board of 124 x 45 cm.  I have now measured my board and found it to be a svelte 108 x 30cm: so all the covers on offer will be decidedly baggy.  I suppose it may be possible that ironing boards are wearing their covers loose this season – but I’m not wholly convinced that the ironing board is having a 70s moment and a fashion for flares is to blame.  Over the last quarter-century, while homes have been growing smaller, it would seem that ironing boards have been swelling: much like the human population.  Have ironing boards been growing to ensure that the increasingly obese ironing public can keep their marquee-sized clothing smartly pressed?

Whatever the reason, I find myself at a loss when it comes to finding a snugly fitting cover for my ironing board.  Should I be searching antique shops for some relatively mint covers from the early 90s?  Is there a homeware equivalent of the craze for vintage clothing?  Or do I need to find a friendly local seamstress to knock-up a bespoke number for my ancient companion?  I am loath to replace my old friend (cheap though it was when new) and I don’t have the space to store one of its modern brethren, so my search for a solution continues…

Morocco Bound

Today’s title could be a description of my thoughts (or at least one thread thereof) over the past week, as well as the mark of a well-presented book.  It is also a farcical musical from the 1890s by one Arthur Branscombe, in which the hero recruits the aid of a retired costermonger (and other English “characters”) in order to travel to Morocco.

The start of Spring can be a challenging time for the British vegetarian trying to satisfy his eating needs from locally sourced (or, at least UK-sourced) produce.  As I attempt to maintain interesting dining choices, within my self-imposed constraints on ingredients, I have turned to Morocco and, in particular, the tagine for inspiration.

I must admit that I haven’t watched Masterchef since the days of Loyd Grossman, but am still aware (through some form of cultural osmosis) that the current incarnation features a bald, shouty, retired costermonger (just feel that craft!) and an antipodean cook yclept, John Torode.  It is to the latter that I owe the very apogee of my recent tagine strategy with his self-styled “Moroccan Tagine“.  In what is becoming a tradition, I did not produce the dish in precise accordance with the instructions provided: mostly due to a quite disgraceful performance by the purchasing department here at Fish Towers.  As it was, I had to make two special trips into the village, first to acquire the prunes and then the leeks (I really should read the whole recipe before making these emergency ingredient dashes) and so the final product was a tad lighter (OK, 50% lighter) on red onion and lemon juice than in its original conception (I refused to countenance a third trip – no mere recipe is the boss of me).  Truly, “cooking doesn’t get any tougher than this!”  Even without the additional, enforced shopping expeditions, the tagine leaves a rather longer gap between inception and consumption than is my normal preference – and it makes for a rather unprepossessing sight when you do finally remove it from the oven.  The omens did not look good – though, so far as I’m aware, no culture has ever turned to the vegetable casserole for its glimpses into the future – but all was forgiven when it hit my tastebuds (will they never bloom?).  Not only does it use almost every fresh UK vegetable available at this time of year but it tastes divine: one of the very finest fruits of my mostly meat-free dining years.

But this was not the only reason for my thoughts being Morocco Bound this week.  On Monday evening, after a trip to the Wigmore Hall, I found myself standing on the northbound Victoria Line platform at Oxford Circus (pleasingly free of performing animals in this enlightened age, well, unless you count the more inebriated of the passengers).  Opposite me was a huge poster trying to tempt me to visit Morocco with the strapline that it is the “country you carry within you”.  I know I make my way through a pretty large volume of snap each day, but I think even I would notice had I ingested an entire country (and not even a particularly small one).  I did begin to wonder if Greggs (and their ilk) are entirely blameless: is the current obesity epidemic the fault of the Kingdom of Morocco hitching a lift in an increasing percentage of the UK population?