A Greggs in a Manger

Greggs

Greggs the “bakers” have attracted some opprobrium by replacing the baby Jesus with a sausage roll.  See above.  It’s not the Messiah, it’s a very flaky pastry.  The picture is an advert for Greggs’ advent calendar.

That’s right, you read correctly: Greggs are retailing an advent calendar.  It cost twenty-four English pounds and has vouchers to spend in its stores behind each door.

This immediately prompts a number of burning questions: Who is this seasonal item aimed at?  Who in their right mind would spend £24 on a Greggs advent calendar?  Who, in their right mind, wants to celebrate the coming of the Nativity via the consumption of rebated Greggs delicacies?

Taking for granted, for a second, that these are questions that would baffled the sagest intellects of this and indeed any generation, let us move on to the fact that this advert has caused some offence.  Not much offence, obviously, but some.  The UK Evangelical Alliance (no, not the foggiest either) said they were “not too outraged” about the Greggs nativity scene, but that it “does raise issues of companies using the Bible story to sell products.”

Because Christmas and Capitalism never mix.  Quelle horreur.

And a few people on Twitter complained as well.  And that never happens on Twitter.  Especially now they’re going up to a 280-character limit.  That hasn’t made Twitter even more unbearable and whiny at all…

Gregg’s have apologised for sullying the Nativity with a savory baked product.  To which my immediate reaction was: pussies.  This was golden publicity for their bakeries and their shitty advent calendar.  If I were brand manager not only would I have refused to apologise, but I’d already be planning sausage rolls nailed to a cross for our big Easter push.

In many ways I’ve already believed that Greggs’ sausage rolls (75% saturated fat, 22% gristle and 3% actual pig) possess greater powers of resurrection than the son of God himself.  When I was employed by Zurich Assurance I often worked Saturday overtime and I often stumbled into work with profound organ failure.  To try to stem my imminent demise I’d pop into Greggs on the way in and buy 3 of their sausage rolls with two bottle of Mr Coca Cola’s diet pop.  Within minutes of consumption this complex mix of fats, carbohydrates, protein and caffeine would bring about a physical, spiritual and intellectual revival worthy of Lazarus himself.

Still, a Greggs’ advent calendar?  What were they thinking?  Who is their brand manager?  Why isn’t it me?   What would Jesus do?

So many questions…

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Cat-a-Flog 25

Lilly's kitchen

I’m still ill.  I wouldn’t mind, but it’s not an illness of any great uniqueness or invention.  It’s a shallow but enduring and monotonous cold.  It’s just debilitating enough to blunt my wits, spirit and appetite, but not debilitating enough to warrant exiling myself to my bed in perpetuity, like Marcel Proust, and devote the next few decades writing a seven-volume Swindonian equivalent of “À la recherche du temps perdu”.

A colleague of mine who is suffering from the same malady was recently told by their doctor that it’s a virus that’s doing the rounds, there’s nothing to be done to treat it and the symptoms are typically enduring in most sufferers for 8-to-10 weeks.

I’ve had it for about four weeks.  Kill me now.

Still, I digress: cats.  More specifically: cat food.

Sage loves cat food.  But then Sage likes food.  Cat food or human food he really isn’t that bothered.  The whole world is a 15 course tasting menu to Sage.  He’d probably steal bamboo out of a panda’s mouth given the chance.

Tarragon is far more ambivalent about food.  He seems to dimly recognise that he needs sustenance and will eat, begrudgingly, at dinner times, but he’d rather be out prowling the garden and menacing wildlife.  Breakfast, especially, is an inconvenience preventing him from getting about his business and he’ll often leap straight out of the freshly unlocked cat flap after barely a mouthful of food.

This suits Sage.  Having two breakfasts is very much to Sage’s liking.  He’d rather three, obviously, but that would require us getting another cat of indifferent appetite and that isn’t going to happen.  Probably just as well as Sage’s eyes are literally bigger than his belly and, after a recent double breakfast, he ended up puking barely-digested cat food over the landing carpet, which was a nice surprise when got home from work on a Friday night.

Pet ownership is just one delight after another.

Anyway, this feast and famine approach the cats have adopted isn’t healthy for either, so, to try to enthuse Tarragon, Caroline’s got some sachets of this deluxe cat food.  I mean their usual stuff isn’t exactly Whiskers, it’s 70% meat, but this new stuff is something else.  It’s 90% protein and full of (I believe) venison, cavier, fois gras and fresh swan.  I presume it costs more per ounce than Persian saffron.  I haven’t asked.  I feel ill enough as it is.

It seems to have done the trick, so far.  Tarragon’s been guzzling the stuff with gusto.  Sage hasn’t been slow to notice the improvement in their rations and has started wolfing his meals even faster so he’s got time to barge Tarragon off his bowl before he’s finished.  So one of us has to run interference so that the smaller cat gets to finish.  The most efficient way to distract Sage is an alternative food source.  Muttered threats are less effective, but they make me feel better at least.

I’ll say it again: pet ownership is just one delight after another.

Did I mention I was ill?

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Paige Rage

Paige

Saturday lunchtime: Caroline was still away in the States.  The cats were out having adventures meaning I was in the house on my own with only my my lung-shaking cough and self-piteous groaning for company so, to try to drown out both, I turned the wireless on.  I always find that a bit of the Graham Norton show on Radio 2 never fails to raise the spirits.  However, as the radio fired into life I was assailed not by a flurry of Graham’s saucy Irish badinage but by a peculiar, yet familiar, cacophony.  A peculiar gurgling noise like a cross between a blocked lavatory and a Gremlin drowning in a barrel of molasses.  A bubbling throaty discord that regular listeners to Radio 2 on a Sunday would recognise as: Elaine Paige laughing.

I was momentarily baffled.  The diminutive diva has her own radio show at around the same time on the Sabbath.  I hadn’t slept straight through Saturday had I?  Bit of a waste of the weekend if I had.  But no, I soon heard Graham Norton’s fruity brogue and it became evident that la Paige was a guest on the cheeky Irishman’s show.

Two doses of Elaine Paige on the weekend seemed a bit excessive.  Two hours of her on a Sunday is a surfeit as it is.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the mix of Broadway, Hollywood and West End tunes she plays on the show, but there’s something about that laugh of her that sets of my gag reflex.  It’s the unnatural and mirthless chuckle of a serial killer.

It was just as well Caroline was away as she’s very much not a fan of Elaine Paige OBE.  If we’re driving in the car an Elaine Paige on Sunday comes on the radio then I need to change station and sharpish.  I think she finds her false, condescending and vainglorious.  Norma Desmond in the body of Jeanette Krankie.

I can tolerate her better, so I listened in for a bit.  She was selling something, obviously.  They almost always are on Graham’s show.  It’s probably the only reason they tolerate him taking the piss out of them.  Elaine’s got a new three disc album out on CD.  “Elaine Paige presents Showstoppers from the Musicals”.  That’s Caroline’s Christmas present sorted.  And she’s touring, apparently.  In fact she’s at the Wyvern Theatre tomorrow, just in case you were looking for another reason to avoid Swindon town centre on a Tuesday night.  Standard tickets £38.50, although if you can stretch to 75 quid then a laminate photo, a signed copy of Elaine’s book ‘Memories’ and a programme are included in the price.

Why do they laminate the photo?  Actually, don’t answer that.  Elaine has some very passionate fans, obviously.

But that’s not all that Elaine’s up to, oh no.  She’s appearing at the London Palladium this Christmas as ‘Queen Rat’ in Dick Whittington with Nigel Havers, Gary Wilmot and Ashley Banjo.  Haver’s talked her into it, apparently.  Well done Nigel.  And she’s guest starring in an upcoming episode of Midsomer Murders.  And she’s filmed a pilot for a new sitcom playing Johnny Vegas’ mother.  There’s no stopping Elaine Paige OBE at the moment.  I had to turn the radio off.  I was feeling exhausted for her.  There’s going to be no escaping Elaine Paige OBE in the near future.

Caroline will be delighted.

 

 

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There’s a Cat on mi Chicken (What am I Gonna Do?)

Gusto

Have you heard of Gusto?  It’s a marvellous service.  What you get is a box full of stuff.  Food flavoured stuff.  Ingredients, you might say.  Fresh and quality ingredients.  With everything weighed out precisely.  And they also provide cards with the recipes on them.  And as everything has been measured and weighed out you don’t have to waste your time on measuring and weighing, so it’s double-quick, chop-chop, on your plate and thank you very much.  You can have a tasty hot meal in an average of about thirty minutes.

Unlike Jamie Oliver’s supposed 30 Minute Meals.  They take fucking ages.  90 minutes if you’re lucky.  How he hasn’t ended up in court over that blatant false advertiser I’ve no idea.  You’re a fat-mouthed, dribbling and mendacious turd, Oliver!  Get back into your hole, you sanctimonious mockney shit house!  For shame!  For fucking shame!  For SHAME!!

But I digress: The recipes really are pretty good in general.  We had one duffer, a lamb biryani that took half a lifetime to cook and tasted like lukewarm fire extinguisher foam by the time we’d finished, but – in the main – it’s not bad if you’re busy but still want a home-cooked plate of grub without excess graft.

We don’t get them all the time but they’re nice to have if Caroline and I have a week where we’re going to be busy and the temptation to explore the takeaway option will be nibbling at our ears.  And as Caroline was going to in the US this week she rather thoughtfully ordered a Gusto box so I wouldn’t spend the week eating convenience slop.

Last night was shredded Mexican chicken with sweetcorn and lime salsa.  Delicious.    So I amassed the ingredients.  Slight problem: there was no lime.  I couldn’t remembering finding one when I’d unpacked the Gusto box, I couldn’t find one in the fridge or the pull-out and upon re-inspection of the discarded box there was not a single lime to be found.  Not one green spherical citrus fruit in sight.  None on our fruit shelf, either.  Tangerines and lemons, but no limes.  We had a lacking fruit shelf.

So I had to pop out to for limes.  To the Co-op.  Unusually they actually had a grocery staple on their shelves.  It was going well.  But as I was queuing to pay when I remembered two things that chilled my blood:

  1. I’d left the chicken breast from the recipe out on the counter.
  2. We have cats.  One of whom will eat fucking anything, let alone raw chicken.

So I hurried back.  I wasn’t totally doomed.  Sage had been out in garden when I left.  Maybe I’d dodged disaster.

I hurried through the front door into the kitchen.  Initially there was no sign of Sage.  Sadly there was also no sign of the chicken breast.  I peered round the cats’ cardboard tepee (yes, it’s a thing, get over it) and Sage was sat there eating it’s plastic wrapper like a tiny and furry Cornish ferryman feasting on a Ginster’s pasty out of the wrapper.  He looked up at me with his big, innocent cat eyes.

I was not angry with him reader.  It was I that had failed.  That said I took the ruined breast back off him as he would have eaten it all and the end result would have been unpretty in a litter tray sense.  He stared at me daggers.  No my dear, sweet cat, I thought, there is no justice.

This failed to mollify Sage as he is:

  1. Not telepathic.
  2. A cat.

Back to the Co-op for more chicken.  I’d wasted more time and money on trips to the Co-op for lime and chicken then I’d saved in trying to cook the Gusto box meal in the first place.  And all because some **** at Gusto HQ had failed to pack me my fucking lime.

Although even with the two trips to the Co-op it was still quicker than one of Jamie-bastard-Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals.

The shredded Mexican chicken with corn and lime salsa is delicious, by the way.  One cooking tip: make sure you have limes and don’t enable your cat to consume nearly its entire body-weight in raw protein.  That does rather queer the deal.

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The Raisin and Brandy Marketing Board

Pumpkin

I’m afraid to say that Hallowe’en has rather caught me on the hop this year.  I’m not ready in the slightest.  I’ve yet to carve my Jack o’Lantern, soak the Haribo in cat piss or put the final touches to my Kevin Spacey costume.

Too soon?

Trick or Treating.  It’s essentially demanding candy with menaces, isn’t it?  Not that we get many at our door.  We used to at the old house, the either a pack of manic sugar-fuelled rug-rats in fright costumes (plus at least one frazzled-looking adult) or a group of sullen teenagers (usually wearing battered plastic superhero masks like a low-rent pubescent Ocean 11) demanding “Five Quid” and getting a door in their face in response.  Nothing now.  Maybe the tots from two doors down, but these Hallowe-ens our front door is undisturbed.

You know what I hanker for?  No, not that; wash your minds out.  No, what I hanker for are the Hallowe-en parties that they use to do back in the old days.  The Victorians were mad for a good Hallowe’en party.  The children of the great unwashed in the area would be invited to gather at the lady of the manor’s abode for a night of revelry.  There’d be a feast of nuts, ale, baked apples and soul cakes.  The local would be dolled up as a witch reading palms.  And games!  Games like apple bobbing, ‘Three Luggies’ and Snap-dragon.

Let me tell you about Snap-dragon.  This’ll blow your minds.  First you fill a bowl with brandy.  This is a kid’s game, remember.  Then you get a load of raisins and add them to the brandy.  With me so far?  Smashing.  Then: you heat the bowl and set fire to the brandy!  Yes!  The aim of the game?   To pluck the raisins out of the burning brandy and eat them without burning yourself.  And did I mention they’d do this in the dark, illuminated only by the blue flame of the burning liquor?

I know the Victorians’ record on child safety isn’t exactly spotless – what with the chimney-sweeping, mud-larking, beatings, etc – but encouraging your offspring to play with fire in the dark and feast on brandy-soaked raisins?  That’ll make them grow up big and strong.

Oh, I know…  Health and safety, etc.  But doesn’t that sound more like fun that pissing about in the cold and knocking on strangers’ doors in return for cat piss-flavoured Haribo?  I caught fire at least once as a child, it never did me any harm.    Just keep a fire extinguisher handy and have some Berocca ready in next morning to treat your little angel’s boozy raisin hangover.

One note of caution: It’s probably not the best activity to try while wearing one of those incredibly flammable ASDA budget Hallowe’en costumes though.  They’ll go up like a treat, even if they’re still soaked from the apple bobbing.

This blog has been brought to you by the Raisin and Brandy Marketing Board.  Happy Hallowe’en!

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The Jerk

Volcano

Caroline’s away in New Jersey for a week (well, 8 days; let’s not quibble) to see her sister (well, and brother; let’s not quibble) so I was left to my own devices on Sunday.  Sunday evening was supposed to be taken up by a rehearsal for a play I’m gracing with my involvement in December.  However, various key cast members weren’t available for various reasons.

Not “recovering from the Darkroom Halloween Fancy Dress Party” reasons, obviously.  Oh no, all perfectly valid reasons that don’t resemble a hangover like an axe wound to the head at all, I’m sure.  I expect they’ll all produce doctors’ notes unprompted at next rehearsal.

This meant I had the house to myself – as much as you can ever say that with two cats – and I had the time to invest in a nice supper.  So I thought how about a nice jerk pork stew?

No, that’s not some slang term for a sort of guilt-ridden post-onanistic funk, I mean a pork casserole with Jamaican jerk seasoning.  I got the idea from a Sunday morning cookery programme I was watching where chef Brian Turner got ex-Olympic hurdler Colin Jackson into his kitchen so he could jerk his salmon.

…Oh, come on now.  Really?  You’re all better than that!

Salmon’s not my thing, but I knew I had some pork steaks in the freezer and there was a jar of jerk rub (stop it!) in the fridge.  The jerk rub, an innocuous glass jar of radioactive orange paste decorated with the Jamaican flag.  I’d purchased it from a stall at the Swindon Chilli Festival a few months back from a wizened and gnomic Rastafarian vendor.  Come to think of it there had been a twinkle of mischief in his eye as he handed over the goods that might have said: “This will burn you up on the inside good, boy!”

The paste in the jar smelled harmless enough upon opening. Slightly sweet and sour with a whiff of five spice and nutmeg.  I fried up the pork and veg, stirred in the jerk paste and – because I’m not a total idiot – added a tin of coconut milk to soften the heat of the seasoning.  After a few minutes I risked tasting the sauce:

My palette was tickled by lime juice, soothed by brown sugar and then…

Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeezus!!

A supernova of Scotch Bonnet peppers exploded in my mouth.  My gullet was on fire.  It was like I’d deep-throated a red hot poker.  Stars flashed in front of my eyes.

I stirred in another tin of coconut milk.  After a few minutes I risked another small tea spoonful.

Lime…  Brown sugar…

Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeezus!!

I had a saucepan full of jerk pork that was in direct violation of the Geneva convention.  And I was all out of coconut milk.

Around this point I seriously considered ordering in a pizza instead.  In the meantime I let the stew simmer gently on the hob like molten lava in the vague hope that I might be able cook the demons out of it.

The solution, in the end, came from someone I follow on Twitter called “Hippolyta Loudbasket”.  At least I’m pretty sure she’s actually called that.  This is her nom de clavier on the Twittersphere.  Anyway, she’s a bit of a foodie and, in reply to my online grumbling, she suggested I try cooking a raw potato in the stew.  She’d read somewhere that this can take some of the spice heat out of a dish.

So I peeled a potato, plopped it in the cauldron and let it sit for twenty minutes over a low heat.  And then I tasted it:

Lime…  Brown sugar…  I braced myself…

But bugger me backwards if it hadn’t taken the edge off!  The Scotch Bonnet were still giving off a mule-like kick of spice, but the demons had been tamed.  The concoction was edible.  Quite tasty, even, now the chillis were in harness.

And so, finally, I ate jerk pork stew for supper last night, with brown rice, thanks to the sage advice of Hippolyta Loudbasket and her raw potato remedy.

And next morning…  Well, let’s leave next morning out of it, shall we?  It’s going to take more than a raw potato to sort that out.

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Cat-a-Flog 24

Sage

Sorry for the lack of blogs lately.  I’ve been riddled with pleurisy.  Or consumption.  Or a heavy cold.  One of the three.  The symptoms are practically indistinguishable.

Of course, cat ownership isn’t suspended or transferable during illness.  The cats continue to be cats with their own quirks and peculiarities.  I wouldn’t mind so much if the quirks and peculiarities were at least constant, but they tend to be in continual flux.

Here’s a new one: Sage has developed a taste for olive oil.  This latest fixation is at least the result of my own carelessness.  A carelessly discarded fish slice was left on the kitchen counter, slick with said cooking pomade, and Sage found it, tasted it and like it.

Now he’d developed something of a fetish.  He can hunt it down as sure as a pig snuffling out truffles.  We have to hide the stuff from it now.  If you leave a bottle on the counter now he’ll nudge it over and happily lap the discharge up off the bench.  God knows what it’s doing to his turds, but I’m delighted that he’s mostly shitting outside these days.  They must be like new-born seals.

Still, to pay for his olive oil habit Sage brought us a gift from the garden the other day.  We returned from work to discover a dead toad on the kitchen floor tiles the size of a small skuba diver.  It lay on its back, gazing dead-eyed at the ceiling.  There had been something of a struggle before it succumbed to the inevitable, going by the bloodstains on the flagstones.  Of course I’m merely presuming it was Sage that committed the butchery, but Tarragon simply isn’t brawny enough to have muscled a struggling amphibian through the cat flap so I’m afraid that Sage must remain the prime suspect.

I would, normally, have offered to have taken over the funereal arrangements for the toad, but, unfortunately, I was suffering from pleurisy/consumption/a heavy cold so Caroline had to do the honours.  After some canny jiggery-pokery with a cardboard cat food tray it’s in a carrier bag, in a bin bag, in the bin.

However, Caroline is off in the States for a week now, visiting her sister, so any further toad-related gifts will be my problem.  No danger at the moment.  Sage is asleep on the back of the sofa as if butter wouldn’t melt.

It’s not all bad.  Tarragon was quite sweet earlier.  Caroline had left and I was having an late shower (or an early one.  Have we gone forward or back?) and the smaller cat suddenly materialised on the edge of the bath, mewing like stink.  I concluded my shower, wrapped my gargantuan frame in a towel and retreated to the bedroom and tried to get dressed.

Tarragon wasn’t having any of that, though.  The more aloof of the two cats wanted attention.  I sat on the bed and he scampered about me, playfully.  He hopped on my lap, which he never does, so laid back on the bed and he actually clambered up on my belly and settled down on the towel.

After a bit of pawing, thankfully not too close to my unprotected bollocks, he bunched up and took a snooze on me.  Again, he never does that.  I think he tolerates our presence at best.  And, as this was an uncharacteristic treat and I didn’t have anything I’d rather be doing, I left him lay there to snore asthmatically enjoying the weight of the warm little furball relaxed on my gut.

And I felt better than I had in nearly two weeks.

Which is probably worth the odd toad and the occasional glug of olive oil.

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