Tuesday, 30 August 2011
Sunday, 28 August 2011
For the purposes of not naming names, the following theory discusses a hypothetical supermarket chain. Let us call it, ‘Tesbury’s’.
It’s often said that stores like Tesbury’s want to control the provision of everything from Custard Creams, to Car Insurance to DNA and the human soul... and keep quite a nice display of fresh fish with ice underneath it on a table.
But why would Tesbury’s want to strive for world domination? Why, when we can do it for them? We’ve already made a start. We all do our bit taking the strain off the checkout operators by learning how to struggle with the self-service tills (see ‘Love Eggs and Self-Service’, August 2011). This appears to be voluntary work, but we sometimes forget that the self-service checkout is our friend or incapable lover (because of its limited range of functions – at time of writing). It speaks to us in a very, very friendly voice. It says ‘cash’ as in ‘Insert cash’, so joyfully that you want to rejoice too. It says ‘cash’ but it could just as easily be ‘I think I love you’, or ‘I love these little meetings, these little cash transactions we make together’. You want to dim the shop lights and light some tea candles around it and share the intimacy of being told to take your paper change from the notes dispenser. Isn’t this what Britain’s coalition party’s Big Society is all about? Engendering a sense of belonging? A sense of community? And you can’t suggest community more than naming your shops ‘Local Metro Tesbury’s’, can you? Be fair.
The next step for Tesbury’s is to deepen that relationship. Reprogramming, adding to the repertoire of the joyful Lady of the Checkout:
‘…Insert cash or touch 'Pay with card'… Can you put in for planning permission with the appropriate council to build another Local Metro Tesbury’s in that rural idyll village full of cottages with thatched roofs (one selling fudge) voted Britain’s tidiest?’
Or how about this?:
‘Do you have an Ambrosia Card? Insert cash or touch 'Pay with card'. You know you did take the last packet of ‘Rejoice in the Difference’ onion bhajias? Do you mind having a little look, see if you might restack that shelf?’
Careful wording can make her sound like your loving, coaxing partner, who doesn’t demand you do things, but makes the suggestion that you ‘might’ do them. And do you mind? But not actually saying God help you if you don’t do it, I’m nearly on my period.
Thursday, 25 August 2011
This was how the discussion went when self-service checkouts were first mooted in a supermarket executive board meeting:
‘People won’t want to serve themselves at supermarkets.’
‘They will if they heard how the girl says “Cash”.’
‘The one who does all the voice-overs for the checkouts. Listen to this (light clunking sound of tape recorder button being pressed): ‘Insert cash or touch 'Pay with Card.’
‘Whoa! That made me feel like…’
Yeah, go on. Feel like what?’
‘Well it made me feel like I don’t know – grabbing a retail item, swiping it, making a beeping noise.’
‘See? That’s what I’m talking about.’
‘Who is that girl? She says ‘cash’, but she doesn’t just ‘say’ it…’
‘She gushes. She injects jubilation, triumph, an uplifting sense of just saying something, a word, whatever the word, doesn’t matter. Like she imagined that the word she said immediately before it was the last word she ever expected to say. Then saying ‘cash’ is this one enormous bonus.’
‘Her delivery – it’s like a, like a verbal cuddle’.
‘I like that. And there’s more. Check out how she delivers this piece on an unexpected item in the bagging area…’
It’s since been heavily suspected that the voice of the self-service checkout girl is indeed that of teen programming broadcaster Margherita Taylor. Listen here to her clip on exam revision tips.
Around the 1.06 (timecode) mark she purrs: ‘Post-it Notes’. It’s highly charged. It’s ecstatic. It’s no coincidence that Margharita Taylor is the first person able to put so much euphoria into what she’s saying out of a sexual context and without the use of love eggs.
Tuesday, 23 August 2011
Monday, 22 August 2011
The Oyster Card is an electronic smartcard you can use to pay for journeys on London Transport. While its designers have made travelling easier for those living in the capital, they have rather overlooked the concerns of the dead. Suddenly, the deceased are left high and dry with unusable credit.
However, there are now ideas on how to address the situation. Money you may well have put aside for a hearse (what is really a specialist, ultimate taxi service) you can spend on other things like nicer casket handles, rest assured that your Oyster Card can still get you to a cemetery near a bus or London Underground route. All you need do is chat up some pallbearers about slightly altering their plans come the day. Instead of asking them to slowly hump you around lying in a box, you could ask them to escort your corpse onto a number 73, for instance, making sure you’ve left them enough for a one-way ticket’s worth on your Oyster Card.
Buses are ideal, in fact. They have those luggage shelves by the side window, roughly the same place on the vehicle as where you would place the floral tributes in a hearse. One of the pallbearers can help here asking if other passengers would mind shifting up their fold-up pushchairs and Netto supermarket carrier bags to accommodate the ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’ spelt in roses… which should also quite nicely cover up any issues relating to putrefaction, like smell.
Of course, getting a seat isn’t always possible. Especially in the rush hour, though the crawling traffic does act in your favour in some ways. The bus is forced to slow down and that ensures that traditional, processional, stately carriage feel. What you want to guarantee is a seat – what could be thought of as a temporary, travelling memorial bench. It might be as well to sound out someone influential at the sign department at London Transport and ask if they could see about amending the priority seats sign. To something like: ‘Please give up this seat to elderly or disabled people or those carrying children, or the departed’. The term ‘departed’ actually fits quite well with the travel theme.
Now and again you ding the bell to request a stop but the bus driver forgets to react and drives on past. You’re left with your pallbearers going, ‘Oh no, we’ve gone past our stop. Oi, mate!’ they shout at the driver, ‘You’ve gone past the cemetery gates’. What to do? Put by a little extra and you’re comforted in the knowledge that there’ll be another coming along going the other way.
Thursday, 18 August 2011
‘Thlon, thlon’ they say, turning to each other joyfully, the penny dropping (or at time of writing, the Euro cent dropping, as it is not yet known in the present financial meltdown whether Greece will revert to their previous currency, the drachma. If it does the couple mentioned will realise in terms of the lepton dropping (100 lepta = 1 drachma)).
The decathlon is a competition involving ‘deca’ or ten events; the pentathlon, ‘penta’ or five events. But it’s not clear how it was agreed which events would constitute those multi-events. Pentathlon is made up of posh peoples’ events like equestrian because they have stables (when did you last see someone saddling up in a council stables?); shooting, because they used to kill each other with pistols wearing big wigs early in the morning; and cross-country running to quickly check in a far-flung field that the squire was properly supervising the dry stone walling. The triathlon involves swimming, running and cycling. Do you have to apply to the Olympic Committee if you’ve thought up a new thlon?
‘What about the octothlon? Eight, events, right? ‘Octo’ meaning eight, yeah? Got me so far? So you’ve got all the events in the decathlon, throw in let’s say tiddlywinks for the hammer, minus a couple say if anybody wants to go home early.’
‘Okay. Anything else?’
‘How about the sextathlon? ‘Sexta’ meaning six.’
‘No, I think prudish people will think it has some link to sexual athletics. What are the events? Convince me.’
‘Okay, no heavy petting though?’
‘No, no, strictly above board. Then there’s running.’
‘And that doesn’t involve running after chubby people? What’s it called chubby chasing?’
‘No. We’ve got fencing and cycling – nothing to do with anything menstrual.’
‘Very good. Sounds like our kind of thlon. What’s the final event?’‘Dogging.’
Tuesday, 16 August 2011
Sunday, 14 August 2011
There’s a lot of film remakes being made. For those who might have missed them the first time. Made by directors who are unaware that you are allowed to rent the same film twice at your video store (or are we any further down the road to calling it the Blu-Ray store?).
There is though a case for keeping media productions up to date. All those films in which a character says to a distanced nearest-and-dearest, ‘Where have you been? You don’t write, you don’t call anymore’, could drop the line. Change it to something like: ‘Where have you and your avatar been? You don’t email, you don’t tweet, you don’t skype anymore’.
But it’s not just films that could benefit. The children’s animation Postman Pat might be succeeded by Internet Provider Pat, though more likely his Christian name would have to be changed so as to form a catchier alliterative title (after all, Colin the Tank Engine proved to be a hard sell). Perhaps Internet Provider Iñes, an animated Spanish IT person with a server that delivers the village’s email messages. It’s unclear if this is how the whole email process works, but come on, the show’s for kids who don’t care. They just want a main character who is responsible for the communications within a community. And they expect him to implement whatever system is technologically advanced and proven. And for him to have a black and white cat. (N.B. A halfway house scenario between Postman Pat as is, and a Spanish communications-literate reincarnation might be realised by viewing the clip, below.)
Where next? The remake of the remake? Or could that result in just making the original film again? You have to think these things through. Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder could be remade as Text M for Murder or Text M for Mango if the main character didn’t know how to switch off the setting for predictive text.
Friday, 12 August 2011
Baby sweetcorn only really burned itself into the national conscience in Britain in the late 1990s, perhaps as late as 2003, November 17th. Around the time that the British isles became acquainted with the café latte. Applications for the infantile vegetable sprung up almost immediately. Young girls could treat their Barbie Dolls to a Barbie-size KFC meal. Instead of corn on the cob, they could use the miniaturised version, with diddy French Fries (or Monaco Fries, Monaco being a small principality of France), and a much smaller bird species than the chicken, perhaps a hummingbird. Fingernail licking good.
Before the baby sweetcorn people just had to put up with the fully fledged corn on the cob (the only vegetable known to sound like a place name in Somerset), an alternative that would look very much out of place in a Thai dish. In fact, the only way of making the corn on the cob look right was to make gargantuan proportions of the other ingredients so that the corn looked more baby from the point of view of perspective (for ideas on how to re-enact this, look no further than video footage of making giant paellas. See clip below).
Tuesday, 9 August 2011
Sunday, 7 August 2011
Try telling it to the youth of today and they won’t believe you – you never used to be able to order breakfast from a café in the afternoon.
Now it is possible to order a fried breakfast at specially designated cafes that proudly advertise ‘All-Day Breakfast’. So how was the Draconian curfew broken? Anyone familiar with the film ‘Gandhi’ might have drawn inspiration. Gandhi wouldn’t have put up with it, albeit in a non-violent way. He encouraged self-sufficiency among the Indian people by spinning their clothes on a spinning wheel, the charkha. The message he sent out, effectively, was: if you won’t cook my breakfast, I’ll cook it myself. Gandhi would have similarly encouraged the disenfranchised British who got up a bit late to get down the caff to take up their own frying pans. In defiance. The charkha was such a powerful symbol that its depiction later made it onto the Indian flag. Imagine the Union Jack: the Cross of St George, the Saltire of Scotland, whatever it is of Wales but not their dragon because it would have mucked up the design of the flag, and a frying pan plonked in the middle?
All we know is that something changed in British society. A Spartacus moment.
All we know is that something changed in British society. A Spartacus moment.
Thursday, 4 August 2011
The odds were stacked against Maris Piper. The best chipper has to be the King Edward and there you’re competing against someone very well connected. Little potatoes – nice idea as a summer salad tuber, but you’re taking on the Establishment again. Jersey Royals. The aristocracy has almost cornered the foodstuffs market. There’s the Earl of Sandwich with his refined butties; Earl Grey who successfully combined a tea with a deodorant.
Of course, we now recognise Maris Piper as the undisputed best mashing potato, pound for pound. Not to say that Ms Piper wouldn’t have seen darker days. The 1970s nearly saw her potato completely blown out of the water by Smash, the instant mash, which threatened to make the potato masher a future archaeological curio.
‘She’ll never come to anything.’ That’s what they said of Maris Piper when she was young. Up in the headmistress’s study she’s constantly having to answer for her absenteeism; caught on numerous occasions breeding varieties of potato behind the bike sheds. ‘Why can’t you be a more adjusted teenager?’ the headmistress would ask, ‘and take up something like snooker?’
Wednesday, 3 August 2011
Monday, 1 August 2011
Zoos, museums, airports. What do these locations have in common? They are all places that make us crave wanting to pay a minimum of £5.20 for a cappuccino, or £12 for a soggy panini made from bread that is the latest pioneering foray into exotic bread types by Mother’s Pride. All foodstuffs that say shut up we don’t have to be organic (see ‘Know Your Organic Paraguayan Melons’, May 2011; and ‘That’s Organic Peanuts!’, July 2011, in the blog archive for more on organic stuff) to cost this much.
In the airports, caterers are able to pass on the costs of delivery hold-ups in their snacks if they make their deliveries through the check-out desks.
‘Did you pack your own sandwiches?’ asks the airline employee.
‘Uh, a load of ladies on the shopfloor did them.’
‘So, no? Okay. Can you just open them all up for me…?’
Zoo cafeterias have the potential to take things further by offering more of a restaurant service… via the specials board.
‘Are you ready to order?’ asks the waitress.
‘I quite fancy the panini, but what are the specials you have?’ asks the diner.
A crackling noise interrupts the order. The waitress answers a walkie-talkie communication from a zookeeper, then re-engages with the diner.
‘I’ve just been notified of a demise in one of the enclosures’, she says. ‘May I suggest the panda and chips?’
‘Well it’s not every day… yes, well why not?’ replies the diner enthusiastically.
The waitress, searching for a way of extracting a few more bob from the diner in tips, goes for the bonding strategy:
‘And how do you like your panda, sir?’
‘I think you’ll find they’re all pretty rare, sir’, she quips.