Christmas Food for Thought

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Christmas comes but once a year. However there’s been a concerted effort to make that one coming last as long as possible. It’s very much the Sting of holidays.

One of my friends has her birthday on 9th September, comfortably just following the end of summer. But every year the Co-op celebrate this day with the addition of mince pies to their shelves. There’s literally an entire season to go before Christmas, so this is a massive “fuck you” to Autumn. The leafy bastard. With the additional insult that any mince pies bought then don’t actually have the shelf life to reach until Christmas itself.

As it’s the 1st of December today, part of me feels lost that I don’t have an advent calender this year. I think I might be getting to old for them. I worry that starting my day on pure chocolate is more likely to make me diabetic than festive. So it’s not for me (he says, quite happily tucking into a pile of Krave so large it takes a step-ladder to start).

In fact last year I had the thought, (only for a second!), but the thought that maybe I could melt the chocolate down and hold a fondue dinner party. I’ve not trusted myself with one since.

Ahh Christmas food. Some of it is healthy, mind. My cranberry consumption increases 1406% each December. And sprouts. I eat some of them too. Begrudgingly. But for the most part it’s not a good season to be a waistband.

The chocolate. The cakes. The mince pies. The addition of cinnamon to ANYTHING. All are vital parts of the Christmas experience.

Then of course there’s Christmas dinner, which is fast becoming less an indulgent meal, and more a farmyard genocide of meats. Will you cook a gammon joint, or beef? Or both? Then the five-bird roast, upping the traditional menage a trois of poultry that is the three bird roast with the addition of goose and guinea fowl.

Normally if tell people you’re giving them sausages as a side for their roast and they’ll look at you like you’re mad, but with the simple addition of bacon they become piggys in blankets and have the magical power to transform and dinner into pure happiness. Pure artery-clogging happiness.

No Christmas meal is complete without crackers. To non-Brits Christmas crackers seem like an odd ritual, but the Christmas cracker remind us of being together as a family. That’s why they’re full of shit, have poor jokes and are likely to snap.

Then there’s the post-meal food coma. That dangerous time where you’re full, sleepy and could drop off at any moment, leading to a reduced sense of control for any sprout-related gaseous expulsions. Or as my dad calls such odours, Frank’s Incense.

Which is weird because his name’s Neil.

Should We Be Scared?

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Should we be scared?

Yes. Terribly so. Anything less is simply unpatriotic.

Why Fear is Good

The entire world is built on the overriding principle of fear. The belief that something could go horribly wrong at any moment, and therefore acting accordingly.

You go to your job and are the last to leave the office, for fear of being labelled “work-shy”. You stay at the job hate for years, because of the fear of being without an income. You go home and you buy yourself stuff you don’t need with the money you earn for fear of being thought of as behind-the-times. You sit and watch box sets for fear of missing out.

Fear of loss is as powerful a motivator as the possibility of gain. That’s why we practically crave hearing about bad news. We feel compelled to know, to understand, so that we might better protect ourselves.

When terrible things around the world happen, we feel knowing and studying it can help us to avoid a similar fate. We feel that it can help us keep those things that mean the most to us. Even when these acts are random, we have to know. Even when we’re drastically more likely to die from heart disease related to poor diet and exercise, we still fear the big, scary events more. Normally while consoling ourselves by putting our feet up and eating an entire pizza (it’s been a tough day, after all).

Why The Alternative is So Terrible

Let’s say this weekend you wake up late after a long lie in. You make yourself a healthy breakfast, then decide to head to a park and hike around, and be one with nature. Instead of watching TV when you get home, you decide to write. A book, and article, a random opinion piece you’ll force upon your friends. Whatever. Afterwards you go to see your family for a home-cooked meal to talk, laugh and be happy.

You’re decaying the very foundations upon which everything we know is built. You’re crippling the economy. You haven’t consumed anything, you’re not making money for anyone.

If you’re happy, you’re not spending. Contentment is anathema to capitalism. Capitalism, in its current form, cannot exist when people are content. Content people don’t buy the latest models of gadgets. Content people don’t comfort eat to console themselves. Content people don’t go on shopping sprees to fill a void.

Instead our entire economy is built on the fact that people spend more. And when people spend more, the economy grows. And growth is good. And then people spend even more, so the economy grows further. The perpetual motion machine of capitalism trundles ever onwards.

Comedian, host of the Nerdist Podcast (and my general hero) Chris Hardwick once made a point that stuck with me – confidence comes from options. If you have the ability to find a new job with ease, the realisation that you can leave a relationship that isn’t good for you and find someone else, or that there may be another way to do things, then suddenly you aren’t scared.

In such a situation you can demand that pay-rise you deserve, or take that job that is more fulfilling. You can demand better treatment from your employer, or else you walk, preventing the race-to-the-bottom. This is great for you, but very very bad for business. And businesses support this country.

Sure they might not pay taxes, but they pay wages. Fine, they might not pay great wages, but they provide a vital product and/or service. OK, it might not be vital – in fact it could be very bad for your health and well-being, but they’re making money. And yes, it’s for people who already have a lot of money, but it’s still growth, so we’re all better off. Apparently.

Confidence kills fear, and without fear you’re not supporting your country. This country needs miserable workers who know their place. Who accept what those higher up deign to pass along, with a yes-sir-thank-you-sir attitude. To diligently consume more and more to keep us moving forwards towards…. well, more. Work harder. Buy more things. Rinse, repeat.

To do anything less is unpatriotic.

This article topic was suggested by a reader for Over-To-Uesday. If you fancy suggesting an article for next week’s blog, message me on Twitter or drop me an email.

We’re Quiztory

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What happened, TV quiz shows? You used to be so good to us.

Oh sure, when we first started seeing you it was only small, jokey gifts. The microwave ovens, the Wedgewood dinner set, or the collection of encyclopaedias. With the occasional speedboat thrown in, just to keep us interested.

Of course, we weren’t only with you for the prizes. We were there for the drama. The highs, the lows. The fact that you pushed us, and taught us. That you made us better than we were before you.

Then your prize fund crept up. Suddenly a mantle-piece clock was to be sneered at. Instead we were now looking at a prize fund of up to £1,000,000. Not an inconsequential sum, I’m sure you’ll agree. In fact, the first £1000 was so offensively easy that failure to get it was basically akin to failure at life. Heads would be forever hung in shame (and presumably sent rolling when you got home empty handed).

And while that top prize was but a lofty ambition, achievable by only a few of the highest flyers, the excitement of watching more than a few Icari try only added to the drama.

But… did we do something wrong? Now we can hope for a prize fund of a few thousand. Probably split amongst other contestants. And that’s assuming we get anything at all. We can get all the way through the rounds, battling off the competition only to fall at the final hurdle. Which is presumably a format they’re working to put into an actual show (in a world where The Edge exists, anything is viable).

Instead we need to outperform a professional quizzer, or come up with an answer no one else did, or roll a pissing ball a certain amount of distance.

We understand that the recession hit, and we expected some belt-tightening. But to bring us all that way, to get the people in the studio only to end with the damp squib of “well, at least I’ve had a lovely time” is just not what we expect any more. You’ve shown us a different life. A better life.

We’ve grown accustomed to the finer things, and we expect better of you. If you don’t provide we’re leaving you for reality TV. And we’ll take the speedboat with us.

This article topic was suggested by a reader for Over-To-Uesday. If you fancy suggesting an article for next week’s blog, message me on Twitter or drop me an email.

The Philosophy of Photography

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It’s estimated that 1 trillion photos will have been taken this year. That’s 1,000,000,000,000 photos. In one year.

But… why?

I ask this as a rhetorical question of course. As a man who writes a blog I really don’t want to put the question “why” into people’s heads for too long. Plus, as a man with his own blog I’m opinionated enough to just tell you exactly why anyway.

Most people may argue that their pictures are for them. That years from now they’ll look back over them and be thankful that they took so many, because each one meant something. But that’s rubbish. The existence of Facebook and Instgram show our photos are not for ourselves, but for others. To show them all the best-foot-forward, cool things that we get up to. We want desperately to believe that we’re important, that what we’re doing is important. To hope that someone somewhere will feel jealous of us. And that we’re worthy of that jealousy.

While on holiday this year I saw some deer. It was as I was driving past – a whole family with little baby deer like something off an Ikea canvas print. Just lovely. The moment was gone far too fast for me to get my camera and take a picture. In fact, by trying to do so I would have missed it.

Even if I’d had the camera out and ready, suddenly the memory wouldn’t be of seeing the deer, but of my viewfinder. Thus the photo itself becomes not a memento of that moment, but a poorly shot representation of an experience I didn’t experience. In that situation I could have simply gone online and found a better picture of deer, one that’s not shot by an incompetent travelling at 60mph, and it would have meant exactly the same.

The addition of Photoshopping just compounds this. Not only are you taking photos of things that don’t mean anything, but now you’re actually altering them to look even less like the moment itself. By adjusting the colour, removing the imperfections, adding a filter you’re robbing yourself of the reality and creating a moment that never existed. That never could exist.

That’s why the best photos aren’t the ones where the group gather round and stare at the photographer. Where you collectively say cheese and pull a smile that doesn’t appear anywhere in nature. Where your hair is just perfect, otherwise DELETE!

The best photos are of a moment. A group of friends talking to each other, laughing together. The sunset you watched with a loved one. Children running around playing, not being forced to sit and smile inanely.

The more staged a photo is, by definition the less real it is.

Years from now you won’t look back and remember posing for a selfie. You’ll remember where you were, what you were doing that you had to distract yourself away from in order to pose of the photo.

Let’s say you meet a celebrity you love. You don’t have much of their time. Do you thank them from the bottom of your heart for their work which has affected you so much? Do you talk to them as a person, and connect with them as a fellow human being, forever remembering a moment shared? Or do you say “excuse me, could I get a picture?” and remember forever the moment you were stood next to a hero, literally inches away from them, and instead chose to spend it staring at the screen of your phone?

But it’s fine, you can crop it down and add a filter when you get home to hide how you look. But at least this way people will know. And that’s the important thing.

The Most Advert-full Time of the Year

Christmas Hordes
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The annual John Lewis advert is here. As ever it hits you right in the feels. Unless you’re a cold-hearted cynic. Or just view it as a piece of marketing by cold-hearted cynics, designed to sell you TVs, furniture and soft cushions (bloody cushions).

I remember as a kid liking TV adverts. I still get a slight excitement when I hear “holidays are coming”. And the child-labour espousing evil of Geoffrey the Giraffe on the Toys R Us ad flew over my head to instead be a source of joy. In fact the reflexes of a thousand Christmases take over when you hand me an Argos catalogue.

But this was all when I was a kid. Now I’m a grown up (supposedly), and realise these aren’t insights into a magical world. They attempts to associate a time of year with a sugary drink and consumerism – diabetes be damned!

We’re grown ups. Why are we sat in anticipation waiting for something designed to flog us crap we don’t need, all by connecting their brand to an idea. A feeling. That everything will be alright if I buy more things.

And the latest ad for John Lewis is the worst. I like the idea of an emotive appeal to get older people involved in Christmas. Last year around half a million older people spent Christmas alone. That’s heartbreaking. But has fuck all to do with buying new cookware.

If this ad was asking me to donate my money to Age UK instead of buying a new tablet computer, then fair enough. If it wanted me to donate food for a group lunch so that old people don’t have to be alone, then I’m all for it. Hell, even if John Lewis were donating all their profits for the December period to show that it’s not about the money, then it’s probably OK. But it’s not. It wants me to buy more, and maybe, maybe, give some of it to an old person. Because old people need things too.

Even if we take it as a given that it’s a cash-grab by the company, they could at least get the narrative of the thing right. They want to help this poor, lonely man to feel loved and part of Christmas. Do they bring him into their home and feed him as one of the family? Or do they realise he can’t come to them, so they bring Christmas to him? Or, inspired by The Martian, do they come together to stage a valiant rescue attempt for this poor, stranded soul?

Do they fuck.

They send him a telescope.

“Here Grandad, watch all of us have fun, but you can’t come here because you’re old and smell of stale cabbage. Plus you might die and really ruin everyone’s enjoyment of the listening to a whiny rendition of the Royle Family theme tune on our new surround sound system from John Lewis.”

They might as well send him a brand new photo album, filled with all pictures of the fun and joy they had on their magical day, with a note saying “Maybe next year, eh old man?”

P.S. Really? Using an Oasis song for a Christmas ad? Well, I guess nothing sums up Christmas like thinking your brother is a dick.

Fireworks. Complaining Doesn’t.

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As October turns into November and the pumpkins start to decay revealing the true message of Halloween – the futility and inevitable end of human life – our thoughts move to Bonfire night.

Fireworks were first used in 7th century China during the Tang dynasty, before presumably being perfected in the Bang dynasty.

Walt Disney was a large consumer of fireworks. This weird dietary quirk earnt him the nickname “Sparkle-farts”. After his death the Walt Disney Corporation continued this tradition, deciding to shoot them off into the sky instead, but remains the largest consumer in the world.

As a child I was scared of fireworks. My theory is because I was Christened on Nov 5th I have a Pavlovian association between the bangs of the fireworks and the burning of the holy water. But it’s also because fear of fireworks is a COMPLETELY NORMAL REACTION TO EXPLOSIONS AND FIRE. Look at a dog at a firework display. Does it sit in silence and use the bright colours in the moonlit sky to ponder it’s place in the universe?

No.

It howls and gets as far away from that shit as possible. Natural.

Women like fires that are controlled and pretty. This is why they spent over £90m on luxury candles in a single year. That’s right ‘luxury candles’, suggesting that there are still essential candles. Presumably for restaurants who like reading the menu to be a game of Russian roulette, and the booming Jack Be Nimble impersonator market.

See, men like fire, but we prefer the kind of fire that stinks to high heaven. Smoking fire. Fire for meat. If you doubt this, see the difference between how many former scout peed on a fire vs the girl guides.

Admittedly the scouts have the biological advantage of being able to arc their stream and maintain a safe distance (after all, that’s one meat we don’t want on the BBQ). But we’re also the only ones stupid enough to wonder what happens. And the answer is a stink to high heaven that stays with you forever. It’s my sincere belief that the reason men have more nose-hair is that this is the body’s natural defence to protect itself from experiencing that unholy aroma ever again.

Wherever you are, have fun this Bonfire night. But I think the closest I’ll get to setting off a firework is flicking some water on a hot hob.

The Joy of Fest

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It’s recently been floated as an idea that some friends and I should go to a festival next year. I’m am for this in principle, but I’m not the kind of person who fits in well at a festival. I try. God do I try. But it’s only getting worse as I get older.

So here’s my top reasons my peak festival-going days may be behind me.

1) Alcohol

Many people consider drinking to be a fundamental part of the festival experience. But I’m not a massive drinker. Plus I’ve paid a lot of money to come and see music, I want to hear the bands play the songs, not be leaving every 4th track to pee in a giant plastic cube while standing in the urine of a thousand other men.

I’ve genuinely seen people falling down drunk at 10:00am, and one guy at a day festival apparently passed out around 14:00 and missed all the bands he went to see. If you want to pass out in a field listening to “also appearing” acts, go to a battle of the bands and save yourself a lot of money. They’re closer too.

2) Back pain

I’m just getting to the age where office life is starting to break me. Oh sure, talk all you want about regular breaks and ergonomics, but being sat in an office for 8 hours a day is always going to leave a lasting impression. Generally my arse on the seat.

So if you’re going to have me in a field clapping all day, with the occasional raising of my hands into the air to adequately demonstrate my apathy, this is going to add up to a sore back. And that’s the kind of shit that a weekly pilates class is powerless to prevent.

3) Logistics of being over-prepared

Some happy-go-lucky types just wander in with nothing but shirt on the back. Some don’t even manage that.

Not me.

Sun cream? Check. Lots of bottled water to stay adequately hydrated in the summer sun? Check (at least 6, just to be safe). Waterproof rain jacket. Hoodie in case it gets chilly. Healthy snacks? Unhealthy snacks? Wet wipes? Hand sanitizer? Sun glasses? Phone, wallet, keys and other valuables?

I look less like a care-free festival-goer and more backpacker-who-just-saw-a-crowd-and-followed-it.

4) Food

Festivals are like my heaven – it’s all pizza, burgers, burritos, noodles and other delicious food stands. Proper food stands. None of these hipster veg-infused bollocks. Processed meats, American Cheeses and saturated fats all the way. But when you get to the stage when pie and mash is the healthy option, and you’re choosing burgers because you can add fried onions, which totally count as one of your 5-a-day, something may be going wrong. Like most of my internal organs.

The older I get, the more aware I am that I should eat healthier. An indulgent day used to make me worry I’ll get fat eventually. Now it makes me know that I’ll get heartburn and probably wake up with a food hangover thanks to all the salt and MSG and crap.

5) Hygiene

Hygiene is a major concern. I’m not so worried that I’m going to smell. I can’t smell me, what do I care?

No, my concern is more that I’ll die of dysentery by eating without scouring my hands for twenty minutes first, or I’ll catch chlamydia from the toilets. Again.

In these situations hand sanitizer is your friend. Although the first festival I went to was on at the same time as an England football match. I went to order some food as everyone was walking towards the screens, put some hand sanitizer on while I waited. As the woman went to hand me my burger she paused, looked at me doing this, and simply said “I’m guessing you’re not going to the football, are you…?” How. Rude. I mean, I wasn’t, but still, assumption much?

This article topic was suggested by a reader for Over-To-Uesday. If you fancy suggesting an article for next week’s blog, message me on Twitter or drop me an email.