A very warm welcome to customers joining at Bad, our next station stop will be…

Those of you who know roughly how my mind works – well, I say mind and (for that matter) works, but we both know those two words are operating well outside their respective comfort zones – will realise that this post will be about verse.  Oh yes, he’s brazenly attempted to gussy-up the hackneyed old “going from bad to verse” pun in the hope of creating some barely viable click-bait.  Then again, if you’re reading this, it may have actually worked.  Go me!

The regular reader will be aware of the start of my unfortunate poetry habit and I regret to inform you that matters have not improved.  I currently seem to be consuming collections of poetry at the rate of one per day.  This may not be entirely healthy and is starting to impact other areas of my life.  It has been good news of J Sainsbury’s plc as their store is more convenient for Octopus Books, where I can go for a new fix of any poesy unavailable from the library, than is Waitrose.  In consequence, they have increased their share of my weekly grocery budget – though oddly, this seems to have coincided with a fall in their share price (should they be paying me to take my custom elsewhere?).

At one point, my need for poetry led to me reading Thom Gunn in the checkout queue.  Not entirely wise as supermarket staff are not trained to understand why tears may be streaking a customer’s cheeks after only a fairly minor delay in the process of paying for his goods.  I have now reverted to stewing in my own thoughts as a more socially acceptable form of waiting.

I don’t claim to understand every line, or even every poem: but enough makes it through my semantic barriers that I can recognise some very compelling writing.  Reading some poetry can almost feel intrusive, almost like reading someone else’s diary (and I don’t just mean a list of appointments), so personal does some of it seem.  There are also some lovely turns of phrase available, one of my favourites is “her petal-bright coat” (by Mark Doty): not sure why, it just feels so good in the mouth.  Actually, along with Thom Gunn, Mr Doty is one of my favourite discoveries – he seems to share a little of my style, with his poems full of the sort of asides that litter GofaDM like spots of used chewing gum.  I’m also rather the fan of Michael Donaghy and Philip Gross – but my range is still expanding.

In an attempt to control the poetry, and very much using the same pest-management strategy that proved so successful for the old woman, I am now attempting to ‘swallow’ some short stories.  I presume I will then have to switch to novellas, followed by novels in an escalating chain of reading that will no doubt result in my eventual demise after trying to tackle the literary equivalent of a horse.  Following a sudden memory restoration, I decided to start this counterattack with some work by Jorge Luis Borges (who I’ve been meaning to tackle for some time).  His works proved tricky to find in the library, being filled under neither L nor B.  Reference to the catalogue revealed they did exist, but were held in the Central Library Stacks.

[Cue spooky music: I’m thinking thunderstorm, heavy rain and some solid work on the organ by someone with a pale complexion, dark clothing and maniacal laugh.]

The library staff were a little reluctant to visit the stacks which lie in the crypt (OK, the basement) beneath the library.  There is some thought that they are haunted after the civic centre (including the library) was bombed by the Luftwaffe during the last unpleasantness and a number of children lost their lives sheltering in what is now the stacks.  There has, indeed, been a strange miasma rising up from the lower floor of the library, but I think this has more to do with recent flooding than an imminent assault by the undead.  Still, they did brave the trip and its potential for spectral complications, returning unharmed from Hades antechamber bearing a copy of Labyrinths for my future enjoyment.

This future enjoyment will be somewhat magnified as my reading glasses have arrived – so if you have any small print which needs reading, I’m your man!  The additional clarity (at close range) is taking a little getting used to – everything seems to be shouting at me – but I’m rather enjoying the blurring effect on my distance vision.  It does give everything the feel of those close-up shots of the female lead in a forties movie – as though through muslin or a thin film of vaseline – which lends an aura of romance to even the most mundane of vistas.

The downside of the reading glasses is the ever-present reminder of the temporal transience of existence (and, in particular, mine).  Here, poetry can be a comfort (so I shall probably stick with it, albeit aiming for a lower dosage): in the words of the aforementioned Mark Doty, “that flower wouldn’t blaze if time didn’t burn”.

Stand Up, Stand Up for Cheeses

I have rather a penchant for the fruits of the cheese maker’s art.  Such a huge variety of tastes and textures, even without leaving these shores – and even more once you cross la Manche.  Cheese seems to be one area in which the Old World remains immeasurably superior to the new – where, at least across the herring pond, all cheese seems to be called Jack.  Then again, lest I start to feel too superior to our one-time colonies, as a wee lad I did believe that ‘processed’ was a variety of cheese.

Yesterday evening, I was in old London town (or at least a modern take there on) and as is becoming traditional, spent some quality time in the work of the Gilbert Scott family. In this case, George’s splendid St Pancras Hotel as opposed to his grandson’s Bankside power station on my last visit.  In the rather fine restaurant there, I was able to enjoy a little of the wonderfully named Childwickbury goat’s cheese – from a small village just outside St Albans.  However, I don’t fancy my chances of finding even such a relatively local cheese in any nearby supermarket.

Whilst the grocery barons are keen that we should be able to sample some goods, however far out of season they may be here on the outskirts of Europe – for others, they seem rather less keen to offer choice.  Strawberries they will ship from the furthest flung reaches of this planet, but gooseberries not so much – I presume this reflects the rather limited international appeal of the gooseberry (though it is indigenous from here to the Himalayas, so many cultures should have had the opportunity to sample its deliciousness).  Perhaps, like another favourite of mine – rhubarb – it is considered too tart by a world locked in the saccharine embrace of enamel’s enemy, sugar.

Sadly, cheese is another area where the range on offer in most supermarkets does rather disappoint.  Beyond a dozen or so staples, the choices are quickly exhausted – though I have noticed that most do offer cheddar from a a growing number of ex-colonies, which I think they may have mistaken for offering a broad range of cheeses.  Cheddar is also pretty much the only cheese offered in a range of strengths – from the utterly tasteless to, what I believe our cousins from down-under would call, biting.  True biting cheese would obviate the need for the mousetrap, the lure itself would be sufficient unto the entire task, but I suspect only exists in the imagination of the more outré geneticist (and, as it transpires, yours truly).  Talk of which reminds me of the hot dog, the only dog which feeds the hand that bites it – but I digress.

Today, I strayed from my usual supermarket of choice and used a branch of Mr Sainsbury’s emporium to acquire some victuals.  Whilst searching the store for various products, I passed the cheese department – which was rather curiously segregated.  I first notice a section tagged as ‘healthier cheeses’ – but failed to find the complementary ‘unhealthy cheeses’ or ‘less healthy cheeses’ counter.  Instead, the remaining cheeses were divided between ‘sliced and grated cheese’ and ‘recipe cheeses’.  I presume that the process of slicing or grating must render cheese less wholesome in some way – it certainly renders it less whole.  As to what a ‘recipe cheese’ might be, I’m sorry I haven’t a clue (quick plug there for Radio 4’s finest).  Mr Collins (my semantic arbiter) offers three meanings for ‘recipe’ – two of which could be boiled down to the idea of a method and the third of which is a medical prescription.  Whilst, I love the idea of cheese on prescription, it often makes me feel better, I really can’t see it happening given current belt-tightening in the NHS.  I wonder if perhaps ‘recipe cheese’ is an analogue of ‘cooking sherry’ or ‘cooking chocolate’ – foodstuffs you would not want to consume in their own right, but which are fine for putting into a cooked dish.  If so, this seems to be setting very low expectations for the quality of a good third of their cheese department.  (It does get worse: whilst researching this ‘article’ using their website, I found that this same supermarket under the heading of British Regional Cheeses offers up that most well-known of varieties, ‘Red Cheese’).

Generally, I do not buy my cheese from a supermarket – preferring instead to purchase it from my local butcher.  They don’t have a bad range for a village butcher – and despite being mostly vegetarian (though, I do classify fish and anything lacking a backbone as a vegetable), I feel it is very important to support my local butcher.  I suspect I am, by a long way, their most valuable vegetarian customer – especially as I also buy all of my eggs and honey there (I have nothing against animal exploitation, per se) and my oil (of the eating as opposed to the lubricatory variety), in whose production, so far as I know, no animals are harmed – though, as previously mentioned some are deprived of their perches.

So, brie good to yourself!  Discover gouda have more fun! (some Dutch pronunciation may be required).   Y fenni opportunity presents itself, try something new from the world of cheese – and not just cheddar from a new country!   You won’t raclette it!