Conspiracy theory I

The world is rife with conspiracy theories – generally, involving governments and/or aliens and/or secretive (probably imaginary) organisations that have existed for millennia.  Few stand up to even cursory inspection and all rely on a degree of organisational ability which it is really quite hard to imagine the human race managing to field.   This from a species whose trains struggle when exposed to a few leaves!

As you might imagine, I am not going to posit such a high-level conspiracy – but, in keeping with most of GofaDM, something much mundane.  Over the last fortnight, I have observed two apparently unconnected products switching from blue to red.  Coincidence? I think not!  The “packaging” of both Waitrose Extra Thick Single Cream (viz the tub) and the iTunes (viz the icon) have made this transition.  Now, due to my extraordinary general knowledge, I am aware that Cardiff City FC also changed their uniform (kit?) in the same way back in 2012 – but I do not believe this is connected.

So, is Waitrose subliminally plugging iTunes or is Apple trying to point me towards the joys of Extra Thick Single Cream?  My own theory is that Waitrose probably led this shift.  For many years, single cream has been found in red pots and double cream in blue (whipped in green) – I’m not sure who decided (perhaps a Royal Commission), but I think we’re probably stuck with this association now.  So, their ETSC has been an anomaly for years – mutton dressed as lamb, as it were – and has now finally been brought into line with the rest of the world of cream (or at least the United Kingdom of cream: I’m not sure if we exported the convention to the Empire, less alone the rest of the world).

This would suggest the John Lewis Partnership have bunged a few used fivers the way of the Apple Corporation to “plug” the change in ETSC packaging.  It is quite a subtle plug (well, it was until GofaDM blew the thing wide open) – but perhaps the JLP have learned an important lesson from the whole U2 album debacle.  It would also be quite tricky (even given 3D printing technology) to supply ETSC via iTunes – though I (for one) would be willing to pay for this service (if the price were right).  For where ETSC leads, surely cheese must follow – and the ability to print you own cheese at home is surely the mark of a somewhat mature civilisation.  However, I could be wrong – perhaps Waitrose have been bribed by Apple to boost the flagging fortunes of iTunes (following the aforementioned U2 album debacle).

Do the tentacles of this conspiracy extend further than cream and downloadable entertainment?  Have readers noted a lengthening of the wavelength of reflected light from other products in the last fortnight?  For the avoidance of doubt, I’m fairly sure that iTunes and ETSC are receding from me at high speed – so I don’t think the red-shifting more normally associated with distant galaxies outside is implicated in this particular case.  Maybe the cost of the colour blue has increased recently?  Though I don’t recall any recent news stories about a shortage of blue caused by recent poor harvests – indeed, I vaguely recall hearing that blue is/are reforming.

If they don’t believe any of my theories, perhaps readers would care to posit an alternative theory which might explain these co-temporaneously shifting product colours?

Brands

I chose not to focus on the traditional ownership marking of animals, nor on Jo or Russell (the new Farage) Brand, but instead on one of the marketers’ primary tools for separating us from our hard-earned (or ill-gotten) money.

If I recall a little of the history I learned from the television, brands were largely introduced at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.  The driver was the very serious adulteration of foodstuffs with highly inappropriate (and unexpected) alternatives to the purchased product.  The brand provided a guarantee – in the first instance – that flour, for example, was actually flour and not merely an admixture of vaguely flour-like powders.  On this basis, the relatively recent mystery-meat scandals – which are no longer news, but neither is the fact that they aren’t continuing – suggest that brands no longer provide quite the guarantee that once they did.  Still, as a (mostly) vegetarian I could view the horse (and other, perhaps more exotic) meat scandals with a degree of amused detachment.  However, while I have been gadding about this week a much more worrying food scandal has broken.  Apparently, not all goat’s cheese does what it says on the tin!  Luckily, there seems to be no suggestion that it is not actually cheese (sighs of relief all round) – merely as to the animal whose lactation provided the principal raw ingredient.  It would seem that there is a shortage of goat’s milk (something which seems to have been kept very quiet, presumably to prevent a middle-class revolt).  I’m not sure if this is down to a shortage of goats or just poor productivity from the available goats (or both) – nevertheless, if you have a small piece of land, now could be a good time to put some money into goats (probably safer than the banks and with a higher interest rate – assuming you find goats interesting, and why wouldn’t you?).  No, it seems that the milk of the humble sheep has found its way into many a supermarket’s goat’s cheese.  I would like to make clear that I am not blaming the sheep here (though there may be one or two baaaad apples) as I doubt they have the intellectual horsepower to organise a conspiracy of this size – no, I suspect some human agency is to blame.  Or it might by trolls: well, they do have a long-standing dispute with goat-kind – something about a t(r)oll bridge as I recall.

All of this sort of stuff should be prevented by the Food Standards Agency, but I suspect they may be understaffed.  Their website doesn’t give details – it isn’t even entirely sure how many members it has on its board (though they are willing to guess it lies between 8 and 12) – but it is recruiting one new member of staff: a Field Veterinary Coordinator.  The brief job description is comprised entirely of vague business-speak of a sort normally only seen in parodies – but I’m still fairly sure the successful applicant will not be on the front-line of ensuring my cheese is from the correct mammal.  Maybe I need to insist on tasting every cheese in the supermarket before I buy – better to be safe-than-sorry, you understand (and clearly this is not a flimsy ruse to sate my terrible cheese-addiction).

Whilst on the topic of branding, it will come as no surprise to the regular reader that my supermarket of choice is Waitrose.  Whether this is because I am hopelessly middle-class (or over-paid) or because it has been (for the last 8 years) the closest large supermarket to my home, I will leave it for you to decide.  Over these years of use, I have notice a worrying and increasing tendency to support the “brand” with the aid of soi-disant celebrities.  This started with chefs – Delia and Heston – but now seems to have moved on to more general celebrity with Weekend Kitchen joining the ever swelling (tumescent?) line up of cookery shows that infest the weekend mornings on television (does anyone really watch TV in the morning to decide what to make for lunch?).  However, by far the most blatant celebrity on Waitress shelves is the heir to the throne, via his Duchy Originals brand.  It started with a few packets of over-priced biscuits, but now he seems to have his sticky fingers in almost every isle (or every isle containing organic foods).  He seemed to start with milk and then move on to eggs (and an obsession with hen’s tail colour – like the apocryphal Henry Ford, you can have any colour as long as it’s black) – however, this last week I discovered he has annexed mushrooms.  I’m starting to suspect that he’s not doing it all himself – and the kids don’t seem to be helping out down on the family farm.  Has he given up any hope of the throne and is going for commercial hegemony instead?  He comes from a long-lived family, so he can afford to be patient.  I fear that by the early 2020s, no product except those made by Duchy Originals will be available in this country – so we all better start saving now (or taking the Good Life route)!  I’m still trying to work-out how to keep a goat in a one bedroom flat without so much as a window sill (let alone a window box) for it to graze upon…

Football crazy

I’m staying in a house with some real men – well, realler than me in terms of many masculine stereotypes (not hard, if I’m honest) – and so upon my return from a day of theatre, art and comedy I caught up with Match of the Day for the first time in many years.  I must admit that it came as somewhat of a surprise that the football season had started already – though that be part of a more general feeling that we cannot possibly be in the second half of August.

What a strange world football is!

One manager, after his team lost 5-0, made a solid attempt at suggesting that this was good news and even planned.  He seemed to be arguing that the pasting would act as some sort of inoculation against further defeats as the season progresses.  I am no expert on association football, but I’m pretty sure that losing is neither like a vaccination nor like catching chicken pox – exposure to a weakened form of the experience confers no protection.  If it did, the England football team – not known for its winning ways despite an incongruously high FIFA ranking, one which makes me suspect that money has changed hands – would have little to fear from any opposition or the dreaded penalty shoot-out.

During another game, a player was praised for staying on his feet.  I’ve managed to stay on my feet – except when an at least partially recumbent posture was appropriate – for many years now.   No-one has come up to me to offer their congratulations or a multi-million pound contract.  What am I doing wrong?

The most extraordinary spectacle, and the one where I realised that football has “jumped the shark” came towards the end of the programme.  As the Reading game (cf the Berkshire town rather than anything more cerebral) developed it became clear that the team were sponsored by Waitrose.  The soi disant beautiful game is now truly a middle-class affair.  It guess it was inevitable with all the money flowing into the sport, but soccer has finally been gentrified.  Or is this an attempt by Waitrose to broaden its appeal to the more affluent of the working classes?  If they can afford Sky Sports and the cost of a ticket to a football match (which seem to have prices only marginally lower than the opera) then they are clearly in a position to take a step up from Tesburys and Sainscos.  Let’s face it, since Sky invented football back in the early 1990s it has never been knowingly undersold, so it’s a natural partner for the John Lewis Partnership.  I eagerly await shirts bearing the names of Harvey Nichols or Farrow and Ball!

Déjà choo

Following a series of posts tackling the major issues of the day to surprising critical acclaim (though, if I’m honest, any degree of critical acclaim is pretty surprising), today I return (unashamedly) to the domestic front.

The author once again find himself subject to the all-too-common cold: that’s the second one in a month!  Normally, my physical health is pretty solid (in marked contrast to its mental counterpart) and I only fall victim once a year.  This time, there is a rather obvious smoking gun in the form of the vast quantities of germ-ridden youngsters that shared my personal space last Tuesday.  I think if I start uncling on a regular basis I may need to take more serious precautions: a mask, gloves and a supply of disinfectant should cover most eventualities (and may have the useful side-effect of prompting the kiddiewinks to give me a wider berth).

Anyway, as I live alone there is little point moping around the house, sighing and looking pathetic as there is precious little obvious sympathy to be extracted from an orchid (which is by far the largest of my house-mates by size).  Nor should you, dear reader, view this post as an appeal for a sympathetic response to this debilitating bout of the man ‘flu – no, it only exists at all as a result of the wizard title that came to me as I was mooching around Waitrose in search of victuals to form the basis of the next few days of comfort eating.  You will be pleased to know I managed to obtain suitable nourishment, and in particular, chillies: I’m a big believer in the curative (or at least placebo) powers of hot food on the unwell – both in the sense of serving (or, as it has been known since the Budget, taxable) temperature and on the Scoville scale.

As a brief aside, on my way to the middle-classes’ supermarket of choice, I passed a car with what I felt was an inappropriate number plate.  The car was a large black Rolls Royce, one of the very modern, equally ugly type rather than anything more classic or attractive (in fact, it might even have been a Bentley as I’m quite rusty on my Eye-Spy Book of Ludicrously Expensive Cars) but it bore the plate: NHS 9.  Presumably the owner has the initials NHS or perhaps a loved one had been saved by a public hospital and this was his attempt at a tribute; I’m not sure why I should object, I suppose I just wanted some sort of nominative determinism for vehicles.  Ho hum…

Anyway, the choice of title does not just reflect the second cold and the tendency to sneeze, oh no, it goes far deeper.  This second cold began at the same time as the last (the wee small hours of Friday morn) and I have subsequently had exactly the same errands to run on both Friday and today.  Once again, I spent this morning working both in and on the garden – today more pruning and the planting of my first crop of 2012, the spuds (Rocket, since you ask) – and then had an afternoon trip to buy food while I was still fit enough to cycle (as I’d hate to use the car for such a frivolous reason – and it’s already been out this month to buy large quantities of peat-free compost).  The symptoms are also following exactly the same course at the same pace as last time.  It is all rather spooky – it’s as though the author of my life has run out of new ideas and is just recycling old ones in the hope I won’t notice.  Ha!  I have noticed!  I think it’s time go all Alan Sugar on the incumbent and recruit a new auteur to start scripting my existence – if we are all very lucky, it might lead to an improvement in the quality (or at least the range of subject matter) of future posts.

Spookopolis

Can you guess what it’s going to be about then?  Yes, it will be about scare city!

Having just been drenched yet again whilst out and about on two wheels, and with my garden looking more in need of a marina than a patio, I was surprised to see the Environment Agency fretting that our rivers may run dry.  Given how waterlogged the semi-arid environs of South Cambs are, it struck me as a rather distant worry (I suspect the sun swelling to consume the earth or the heat death of the universe should be more pressing concerns).  Still, trying to make the best of a bad job, I am willing to offer my current abundance of the wet stuff (collected in both vessels and the local topographical minima of the grounds of Fish Towers) to the EA to refill a river or two at a very reasonable rate.

I am, in many ways, a creature of habit and there are certain dietary staples (well, they’re staples to me – if to no-one else) that I attempt to buy every week.  However, these staples do have a tendency to disappear from the shelves of Waitrose – and, indeed, from those of other (inferior, probably serviette selling) supermarkets.  Organic cottage cheese has not been sighted for many months.  Organic, wholemeal spaghetti is but an infrequent visitor to our shores – I presume it is driven here by adverse weather conditions on its regular migration routes (well, it doesn’t grow on trees, whatever you may have seen on Panorama).  The most recent disappearance has been of toasted flaked almonds (an essential part of my daily breakfast), and then of all flaked almonds – and this was not just a Waitrose-based phenomenon but one that occurred Cambridge-wide.  Almonds were still readily available, as was the ground version, so I am led to posit that the UK (world?) has but a single almond-flaking machine.  Could there be a business opportunity in this?  Could I set myself up as an almond-flaker and break this monopoly?  Or should I offer to establish an almond-flaking regulator, OFFLAKE?

However, my most serious recent scarcity has been one of time.  This shortage has led to a serious decline in the generation of nonsense to post to this blog.  I wish I knew where the time went.  Perhaps its leaking out into all those hidden dimensions the folk of CERN are poking into?  I have to seriously wonder (can, or indeed, should I be breaking infinitives for emphasis?) how normal folk, those with full-time jobs, make it through the week at all.  Am I just hopelessly inefficient, frittering away the hours?  If so, I really ought to stop as deep-fried time must be terribly bad for me – though may be excellent training for my next trip to Alex Salmond’s kingdom.  Or am I just trying to do too much?  In this latter case, things will shortly be getting even worse as I shall be taking on a whole new activity in February (of which more in a later post).  We must all pray that my temporal oversight improves and that the blogging does not continue to suffer!  Either that, or I shall have to find a way to make the stuff – I’ve always been a big fan of seconds (at the meal table at least), but I’m not sure if this is sufficient background to go into manufacturing.  At least, the leap second has been spared for another three years – it may not be much, but that second could be vital to me!

Class Act

Having recently finished reading “Watching the English” by Kate Fox – a very entertaining, if sometimes worrying, read – I seem to have become slightly obsessed by class.  As a result, I was interested when strolling round Waitrose to see that one aisle proudly boasted that it contained napkins – very upper-middle class (or above).  I now know that only the denizens of Pardonia would use the word serviette in a futile attempt at social climbing, even though both words come to us from Old French (I’ve always felt this blog could do with a little more etymology!).

My own class indicators are somewhat confused – varying from upper middle class to deep into the working class (though I am very obviously not upper class – this blog alone would provide proof, as an earlier post used the word posh where a toff would have used smart).  I blame the parents (mostly mine, obviously, who came from different social classes), Radio 4 listening and my magpie-like tendency to gather up any particularly shiny word or pronunciation and add it to my repertoire for this rather weak class anchoring.  I suspect my factory-setting would be lower middle class – but I can often pass for rather higher up the social scale among the anthropologically ill-informed.

Last Sunday, I found myself at King’s College Chapel listening to Verdi’s Requiem (this was not as a result of blacking-out earlier, but is merely a rhetorical flourish).  I was ‘comped’ into this concert (my first comp anywhere – isn’t free stuff nice!) and was seated right at the front, only three seats from the Mayor and only one seat from the Principal ‘Cello.  Indeed, as I was led to my seat, I did worry that I would be expected to sing (luckily, for all concerned, my fears were groundless).  I have previously mentioned my reservations about the acoustics of KCC, however, these are significantly improved when one is sitting almost in the orchestra and the music packs the sonic punch of the Verdi Requiem.

Over the course of the evening (which did extend rather beyond the concert and involved quite a lot of red wine), I kept encountering the same chap who seemed very insistent that my name was Sebastian.  I kept correcting him, but to no avail – eventually, he accepted that this wasn’t my name, but felt that it should be and so continued to use it.

Now, I can understand his position as I have been known to rename people myself (and not just by the more normal substitution of a nickname for the one recorded by the State).  When I first entered the world of full-time employment, I worked with a chap whose name I can no longer (and mostly never could) recall – to me he was (and always will be) an Ian and I fail to understand how his parents could have chosen any other name for him.  As a result of this certainty, I could never remember his soi-disant real name – as it would just be over-written with Ian every time I heard it.  At around the same time, I provided mathematical support to a pair of apprentices who were named Julian and Gavin by their respective parents – though I always called the latter, Sandy.  Luckily for me, he was far too young to understand the allusion (as, of course, am I) and so I never felt the rough end of his nunchucks (he was heavily into one of the more violent martial arts at the time).

Despite my own tendency to rename others, I’ve never really thought of myself as having another name (other than various nicknames) and had certainly never seen myself as a Sebastian (should I start carrying a teddy?  For the avoidance of doubt, I refer to the cuddly toy rather than the item of lingerie).  However, the name does have rather a nice, upper class ring to it (and re-uses my existing initials) so perhaps I will adopt it to ease my way into the upper echelons of society.  If nothing else, its application shows that I continue to punch above my weight class-wise, at least on the basis of a relatively brief encounter.  I suspect my true nature would start to bleed through should I ever have to go the distance…

Wallflower

I eat quite a lot of nuts and while you are very much what you eat, I don’t think you can really use this statement to deduce anything about my mental health.  Many of these nuts come from Waitrose and they used to come in numbered packets (00-99) with each number representing a different type of nut, seed, dried fruit or combination of the above.  However, in recent weeks this has all changed with nuts (and other comestibles) in new (un-numbered) packaging and re-branded ‘lovelife’.  I am unsure whether it is we the consumer or the nuts themselves who are being encouraged to say ‘no’ to suicide – or perhaps organic walnuts are an aphrodisiac and the new brand is by way of a recommendation for victuals that will spice up a couple’s gland games.

All very well you may say, dodgy re-branding is a fact of modern life – even for the Waitrose shopper – but why do you bring this up?  Well, while I was waiting at the till earlier this week, I spied a copy of the Waitrose Food Illustrated magazine (free to Partnership cardholders!) which displayed a strap line to the effect that lovelife was “the range everyone is talking about”.

I like to think I get about a bit – only last night I was hob-nobbing (well, more cava and canapé-ing, if honest) with the fragrant Mary Archer and the Mayor of Cambridge (among other luminaries) at the launch of the Cambridge Summer Music Festival – but despite the celebrity-inflected gay social whirl that is my life, I had encountered no-one discussing a newly re-named range of edible tidbits from the John Lewis Partnership (and this despite the fact that last night’s canapés were consumed in the 3rd floor brasserie of the John Lewis store in Cambridge).  Where am I going wrong?

It is not as though this is the only example of me being left out.  I must be one of the few people left in the UK never to have been offered (or even mentioned in conjunction with) a vacant position in the Sugarbabes or the role of England football manager.  I will readily admit that my singing voice may not be the Mae West and my grasp of the off-side trap lacking – but I doubt I could do a poorer job than the current incumbents.

Worse, the News of the World has failed to make even a desultory effort to hack into my phone (either landline or mobile) – which may make me unique in this country.

What does a chap have to do to get noticed?  I had thought that after leaving school the weekly ritual of being picked last (or penultimately) for every sporting team would be at an end, but it would seem not…