Sunday, November 29, 2015

Christmas Catalogues - the gifts that go on giving

It's that magical time of the year. As the skies darken and the temperature plummets, as the leaves fall leaving twisted bare branches dancing in the gales, as the lights go on in the shopping centres and the retailers rub their hands in expectation, so we can expect to receive those wondrous tidings of good joy  that are the Christmas Catalogues. No matter that we may only rarely have purchased - or in many cases, never at all - from the emporia soliciting our custom. The bright packets thud upon the doormat and are marvelled over nonetheless. There are 'festives' and 'yuletides' galore. There are Santas and robins, ribbons and tinsel, and those wonderful prices with a much higher price shown crossed out. Always there is a higher price and a 'saving' for us to gawp at, eyes wide and fingers itching for a credit card. Not to use, mind you. To put safely away.

I keep the catalogues in the bathroom. For there is nothing so pleasant, when one is seated comfortably, than to flick through them, admiring the shiny photographs and curling one's lip at the vast savings one is supposed to be making by buying something. And then not buying anything.

There is also the wonderful juxtaposition of certain items. Two well known distributors of office supplies, Viking and Staples regularly vie for our attention. But at this time of year, amongst the multi-coloured pens, the stapling machines, the storage boxes and the reams of paper, the shredding machines and the filing cabinets (and let's face it, one can spend many happy hours browsing such stuff, comparing one type of ring-binder to another and pondering the merits of a mesh in-tray and a pack of spiral-bound notebooks) there are also hampers. I don't mean the simple wicker baskets. These are your actual Xmas hampers, stuffed full of the sort of things people buy at this time of the year to give to others when they can't think of anything else but desperately want to give something other than a gift token. And the mark of a Xmas hamper is that the products are things that are themselves familiar but are marketed under names one has never heard of before. I cite as my first witness, your honour, these ingredients taken from hampers marketed by Viking.
  • Mrs. Bridges Orange and Cranberry Marmalade
  • Hamlet Belgian Chocolates
  • Crosta and Mollica Grissini
  • Sally Williams Nougat
  • Grandma Wild's Luxury Mince pies
  • Monty Bojangles Scrumple Nutty Truffles
  • Old Hamlet Mulled Wine Manilla packet
  • Eternal Grocer Chilli coated peanuts 
Are these not wonderful names? Do they not fill your head with ideas, visions of dedicated, white-haired, apple-cheeked, a-bonnetted women stirring bubbling concotions with wooden spoons, twinkly-eyed, gnarled old craftsmen patiently showing the apprentices how a master truffler gets that final difficult bit of nut to stick in, Edwardian butlers striding into the kitchen to taste the breakfast before bearing it away on a silver salver 'upstairs' where young Lord Bojangles is dallying with a actress? And the dramatic potential is boundless. You only have to let those names roll off the tongue and the play is unrolled before your eyes.

Scene: A castle battlement in Denmark.Night.
Enter Crosta and Mollica, guards
Crosta: What, has this thing been seen again?
Mollica: Ee'n so. It stalks abroad
Crosta: Tis passing strange
Mollica: Bleeding incredible, in actual fact
Enter the ghost of Old Hamlet
Old Hamlet:  Oh woe, woe, a thousand woes
Crosta:  That's him, alright
Mollica:   Let us report this and then forget all about it
Crosta:   It shall be so

Scene. Inside the castle
Enter Mrs Bridges and Grandma Wild, witches
Bridges:   When shall we three meet again?
Wild:    Two dear, Aunt Bessie couldn't make it, it's bingo night
Bridges:   Then shall we suffice 
Wild:   Hark - I hear a drum.
Bridges:   You've got your hearing aid back to front again
Wild:   It is Hamlet. And friend.
enter Hamlet and Monty
Monty:  Snap out of it Hammie, you've got to move on, son
Hamlet:   But I love that Sally Williams, though her family is mortal enemy to mine.
Monty:   Oh I thought you were still fretting about your dad.
Hamlet:   No, he was well past it, falling off that tower into the sea and being stabbed by those conspirators, best thing that could have happened.
Bridges:   Hamlet, thou shalt be king hereafter!
Wild:   And treasurer of the debating society!
Monty:   This is passing strange
Hamlet:   We've had that line
Monty:   Yeah but I kinda like it
Wild:   But beware. Beware of a man who sells tinned foods and soft drinks
Bridges:  Beware of a man who stocks sauces and condiments
Wild:   Beware of a man who always has special offers
Bridges:   Beware of a man who an apron brown sports
Hamlet:   You mean?
Bridges & Wild:   The eternal Grocer!

And so on. Coffee break is over. Thank you for coming and good night.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Pleasures of the Market

[Not another heavy piece about economics is it? It's years since you studied it, you know: Ed]
Actually, no. This is about a real market, the craft and foodie market that graces beautiful Ruislip once a month, held in the medieval surroundings of the Great Barn. Today will be one of the main events of the year with only one more fair before Xmas. It was held yesterday as well but the rain and murk kept us away. Sadly, the awful weather blighted another key event of the local calendar, the switching on of the Xmas lights as part of Ruislip Manor Fun Day (but given that this event was relegated to a rather tawdry set of stalls in a car park, compared to taking up the whole of the shopping area of Victoria Road in recent years, it was a bit of a damp squib anyway). Today the skies have cleared, the airs are mild and the breezes light so we will make the effort.

Despite the enormous range of goods in supermarkets, there are always things at the craft market that are different. A lot of stuff is made locally, by the people who turn up every month to sell it. If you want to know what's in the jar, you have only to ask. There's specialist olive oils, buffalo meat, real Arbroath smokies, fresh cakes, whole ciabattas and sourdoughs, tasty and well-filled meat pies, cheeses from nearby farms, any amount of chutneys and sauces and plenty besides [Enough, it's a long time till lunch: Ed]. 

We don't buy a huge amount but it's always nice to mill around, inhale the aromas from the paella stalls and hog roasts and nibble the odd freebie. There is no road traffic to disrupt the free flow of people and no music blaring at us. There are almost no branded goods on display. The greetings cards, the knitware, the pottery and the candles are all made by the stallholders. Ruislip ceased to be a village a century ago but on market days - and in some sense on Rembrance Sunday - it reverts to feeling a bit like one.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Before the Big One

This Saturday the football team for whom I hold a season ticket [Is this grammatically correct? Ed] will play a team three leagues above them in the first proper round (or first round proper as it is sometimes quaintly known) of the FA Cup. In other words Wealdstone of the National League South will host Colchester United from League One. There is therefore a huge sense of anticipation around these parts. Colchester should be the massive favourites and consequently are on a hiding to nothing - a win is no achievement but should they lose then there will be rejoicing and amazement indeed in West London and the inevitable dubbing of the winners as the 'Giant-killers'.

The game may be diabolical. Who knows? Based on our normal form we will have several players booked, concede one or more penalties and waste innumerable chances to shoot in the general direction of their goal (never mind shoot on target). I wouldn't be surprised if one of our players, or even the manager, gets sent off. It's happened before. We have form.

But then again Colchester may freeze, daunted by playing at an unfamiliar pace and style, and perhaps by whatever we can slip into their pre-match tea.

However it is the delicious expectations that make this fascinating.  As it stands right now we could go into the second round. The BBC are filming highlights and before the match are actually hosting the main preview show, Football Focus, from our ground. What on earth will they do if we survive?

It is amazing to note that in 1949 we also met Colchester in the first round of the Cup and it was only the second live match ever televised in this country. And we won. Can history repeat? Will Scott Davies repeat his much talked about wonder goal, scored in the third qualifying round against Brockenhurst? Will the Wealdstone Raider lead us in the mass chants of "Yerve got nah fans, Yerve got nah grouaaand"? Or will we trail sadly away at 4:45, musing on what might have been?

[A match report may be posted here, depending on the result: Ed]