Friday, November 25, 2011

Frankenstein and the Four Bird Roast

We were sitting around idly the other night watching a Bushtucker Trial on I’m a Celebrity... and waiting for the adverts to come on, when all of a sudden the parallel paths of fantasy and reality took a ghastly wrong turning and became inextricably linked.

One minute a D-list celebrity was chomping on some of the less savoury parts of a camel.

The next moment, one of the supermarkets was trying to persuade us of the virtues of something called a Four-Bird Roast.

Now the Four-Bird Roast, it would appear, is going be the Big Thing this Christmas.

Imagine if you will (or even if you won’t) a tightly pressed sandwich of four different species of avian flesh; a Frankensteinian layer cake of formerly feathered protein.

Never mind the common-or-garden three-bird jobby offered by other supermarkets. This, we are asked to believe, is true celebrity fare: neatly packaged and ready to take pride of place on your very own festive table.

We aren’t told which particular birds have been sacrificed: turkey and chicken are natural shoe-ins, but what then? Duck, maybe, or goose? Swan hardly seems likely: auk, puffin, grebe or avocet even less so.

Sir David Attenborough would have a thing or two to say about that.

They’ve done a similar thing with razors, incidentally. There was a time you could only buy single blades. Then it was twin blades, then three, then four.

And these days no self-respecting fella would scrape his cheeks with anything less than a five-blader.

The logical conclusion will be a razor with so many blades that you’d have to be an Olympic weightlifter to get it anywhere near your face.

But once you got it up there, it would only take one delicate stroke to remove every last bit of stubble.

Back to those food ads, though. Because hot on the heels of the four-bird roast comes a new and rather disturbing promotion for Colman’s gravy paste.

In which a glossy brown, animated ox is squeezed from a tube, boogies around a kitchen table to the strains of I Like The Way (You Moo) and then leaps in to a gravy boat. From which it is promptly poured out on to a plate of meat and two veg.

Dear advertisers, please take note. We Brits don’t actually like to think to carefully about where our food comes from. Just as the Victorians covered up furniture legs with drapes to preserve their modesty, we like our comestibles to be presented attractively, but demurely.

And while we're at it, we'd rather our mince pies tasted like mince pies. And not like Christmas trees, whatever fancy-flavoured icing sugar Heston Blumenthal may be promoting this festive season.

That’s why we cringe at the thought of a Bushtucker Trial. That’s why the Four Bird Roast tweaks and pulls at the dust sheets that normally cover the murkier corners of our imaginations.

And that’s why – although you can find a statue of a merry-looking pig dressed as a chef outside every self-respecting pork butchers in France – when a bull starts dancing around on a British TV screen persuading us to eat it in the form of gravy, we get all rather squeamish and have to go for a little lie-down.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Guaranteed trouble

Sometimes it seems like the world in general, and your bit of it in particular, is out to get you.

This week is a prime example. So if you’ve started reading this blog in expectation of the usual frothy blend of dry humour, barbed witticisms and perceptive insights into 20th-century life then you are seriously advised to swallow your disappointment and stop reading right now.

Because sometimes one just has to have a bit of a grumble. And this is one of those times.

First off, Dixon Junior’s mobile phone wouldn’t turn on. We only bought it in March, so muggins here naïvely assumed that the first step might be to take it back to the Orange shop for repairs or replacement.

But shop assistant number one is having none of this. “Plug it into your computer, mate, and run the setup wizard.” What, even if the computer is an Apple Mac? “Yeah, it works for my sister.”

Maybe it does. But not for us. The phone stays resolutely stuck on the Orange logo.

Back to the Orange shop. Assistant number one lurks around looking guilty, while assistant number two does at least examine the phone, ascertains that it isn’t working, and directs us to the Orange helpdesk.

Who explain that because we bought the phone from that very same Orange shop more than six months ago, it is no longer covered by the Orange guarantee. Notwithstanding the fact that it’s an Orange-branded handset on an Orange contract.

All we can do, say the helpdesk, is send it back to the manufacturer. And here’s their phone number. At the other end of which, a dithery lady says go to our website.

This counts as progress, of sorts. Fill in an online form, pay £15, wait a few days, and a pre-paid Royal Mail special delivery envelope arrives to send the phone back in.

After ten minutes of merriment with bubble wrap and sticky tape, the phone is securely packed and ready for a round-trip to Scotland.

Meanwhile,  the postie delivers a little red card explaining that they couldn’t squeeze a parcel (unconnected to the phone saga) through the letter box, and would you kindly present yourself at the sorting office at the bottom end of town to pick it up.

A-ha, you think. Let’s kill two birds with one stone. Pick up one parcel, drop off the other.

So you negotiate SouthGate (aka Death Race 2011) without damage to self or suicidal pedestrians. Past the forlorn row of blue bikes and astonishingly – the only bit of good news in this sorry tale – find a parking space by the sorting office.

Collecting the undelivered parcel is a breeze. But dropping off the mobile? Forget it.

The Royal Mail office is quite happy to take the parcel, but they can’t provide a proof of posting. For that, you have to go to the Post Office in the middle of town.

Where you go. And you take a number. And you queue. And a nice Post Office lady tells you that you should have taken a different number.

And you lose... the will... to live...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

To BT Infinity and beyond

It’s been high-tech à gogo at Dixon Towers.

Not just because of the long-promised arrival in our street of BT Infinity.

Which we will of course be getting as soon as possible, if only to stop the continuing battle over internet bandwidth between the four of us: Dixon Junior smiting sundry zombies, Viet Cong and Chechen terrorists on the Xbox 360; young Miss Dixon conducting an in-depth study of Japanese cartoon cuteness on YouTube; Mrs D downloading the complete works of Monteverdi; and self emailing the bank explaining how we intend to pay for all this technology.

It’s a bit mystifying why some people from bosky Fairfield Park have complained about the arrival of the dark green BT street cabinets in their own area.

They’re pretty unobtrusive, they don’t make a noise and they don’t frighten the birds. Even better, with their promised 33Mbps download speeds, they look as though they’ll finally put an end to our incessant broadband bickering. Job done.

But the real technological revolution chez Dixon isn’t anything to do with the internet. It’s all about in-car entertainment.

In the good old days (if they ever actually existed – the memories are fading), we used to pass long car journeys with a friendly game of Pub Cricket.

We split the kids into two teams of one each, and got them to count the legs associated with the name of each pub we went past on their side of the road. Each leg scored one run.

Thus The Duke of York scored two runs. The Black Horse scored four. The George and Dragon scored six (assuming of course that dragons have four legs – there was some debate about that one).

The rules became more and more arcane. The Fox and Hounds scored an innings victory. The King’s Arms scored no runs at all because arms aren’t legs. And The Drunken Sailor scored a big fat duck because he was legless. Oh, the fun we had.

Sadly, as more and more roadside pubs closed and the children got older and cannier, Pub Cricket went the way of Musical Chairs and Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

But now we have an even better game: iPod Anagrams.

Last week we got a wonderful new gadget. You plug one end into your iPod and the other into the lighter socket and somehow it lets you play your tunes on the car radio.

As an added bonus, though, it also flashes up the track title and artist in the radio display.

Or at least it does for a couple of minutes. Then it gives up the unequal struggle and jumbles up all the letters, to the great hilarity of passengers and driver alike.

Thus is was that on a recent trip, Love Hangover by Diana Ross became Roana Loss singing Have Dingover. Motorway favourite Autobahn by electro-wizards Kraftwerk somehow transmogrified into Krautwahn by Aftoberk.

As for Rikki Don’t Lose That Number by Steely Dan? Well, let’s just say that it will shortly be appearing as a clue in The Times crossword.