Tuesday, April 22, 2008


To B (blog that is) or not to B

An unusual attack of introspection from A.A.Gill in this week’s TV review column has him trying to work out why he has such an ‘utterly phobic’ reaction to Newsnight Review ('it makes me want to poke my eyes out with a rusty boy scout and wander rural Shropshire humming Benjamin Britten’s English folk songs in falsetto') and though he admits it’s totally irrational, he cringes with embarrassment at the preening opinions aired on the programme. He concludes that it’s because it’s too close to what he does and who he is. You hate what you fear.

Yes, well spotted, which reminds me of something else that a lot of people are quite phobic about, which is blogging - obviously not you, dear generous readers of this blog. But opinions never fly thicker or faster than when someone ‘confesses’ to being a ‘blogger’ (though admittedly I don’t mix in the sort of circles that casually throw in topics like whether you swing as serious contenders for heated debates). And they all say the same thing: ‘I just don’t get blogging’. Well I don’t get stamp collecting or watching Grand Prix racing, but I’m happy for those who do to charge round the countryside looking for a glimpse of a Penny Black or a Lewis Hamilton.

A lot of the things I do could be considered pretty pointless - chatting over a glass of wine, playing Scrabble, watching TV to name a few - but blogging comes into a different category altogether. Reaction to it is something akin to dying your hair blonde. You can dye your hair red, brown, black or even pink and that’s just a bit of fun or a necessary adjustment to ageing. Dye it blonde and you're suffering delusions of glamour.

And so it is with blogging: 'why d’you think anyone’s interested in what you're doing?'; ‘I think it’s a bit sad communicating with strangers when you could be talking to real friends'; ‘why would you want to write for free?' are some of the questions people ask.

A Times columnist, who ‘didn’t get it’ either, started her own blog to see what all the fuss was about and began with a post about what she was making for supper that night. Doesn't that say it all? When already there's not a single meal whose name everyone can agree on, apart from breakfast and even that’s brunch sometimes - with lunch for some being dinner for others, who then have tea which the other lot call dinner - she throws in supper, which seems to be posh for dinner, rather than the cheese on toast or Weetabix of my childhood supper, but still eaten at home, since restaurants never serve supper, except perhaps a nightcap, which has, I think, to be liquid.

So the journalist remained a non-believer, complaining that, despite posting another five times (including a riveting account of watching the protest at the Olympic torch relay) she got zero comments and so pulled the plug.

So if anyone has any ideas about why blogging gets up so many people's noses, I'd love to have them.

Monday, April 14, 2008


A Quiet Revolution

The French are funny about food. Well, ok, they’re funny about all sorts of things (except comedy), but they’re especially funny about food. They regard their place as leaders of the culinary world as an inalienable right and the rest of the world’s place as nowhere. They look neither to the left (we’re not talking politics here) or to the right to see what’s cooking yonder and spout the good old clichés of ex President Chirac’s that France’s food is best and only one country has worse than England and that’s Finland, although I’d challenge M. Chirac to remember when he last popped into a restaurant in England, or Finland for that matter.

On one of our French trips, we were watched like a couple of zoo exhibits to see how we reacted to ‘real’ food, as a woman declared with smiling satisfaction ‘ah, you don’t eat like that in England do you?’ Well not exactly like that no, but just as well. Not as routinely as in France it’s true, although we’ve had our share of average and some below average meals there, but while the French have been smugly unconcerned with innovation and are content to serve up the same old faithfuls, we’ve been moving quietly onwards and upwards.

While the Brits and the rest of the world have been creating wonderfully innovative menus and producing more and more Michelin starred restaurants (Tokyo now has more than any other city in the world) France seems to have stood still. They still don’t do spicy for example (our local supermarket doesn't sell chillies) and if you’re unwise enough to ask for a curry in a restaurant, you’ll be rewarded with the thinnest, blandest sauce ever to come out of a kitchen. In the supermarket recently, I put back some chorizo labelled ‘very hot’, in favour of the simply 'hot' variety, forgetting that what they call hot is most assuredly not and sure enough, it was mild enough for a baby. I’m not knocking French food - I love it, especially the fact that it's kept its peasant roots, while we‘ve abandoned ours, but you pretty much know what to expect, which won't be a surprise.

I’m reminded of this because my daughter is about to come for a visit and we’re going to have to confess our little act of treachery. When she came a few years ago, she was not only vegetarian, but a very fussy one. After trudging round the local restaurants inspecting all the menus outside to find something she could eat, we realised that a French vegetarian was an oxymoron, so, finding nothing, we finally decided on one of our regulars, with a view to ordering ‘normal’ for us and asking them to cook an omelette for her. They refused. I don’t know if they thought this was the thin edge of the wedge and it would encourage all sorts of flesh-hating weirdos into the restaurant, but we left, vowing never to return. But, time moves on, the restaurant has a nice atmosphere, does great food and so we shrugged our shoulders and went back. So much for principles. The irony is that the restaurant now does veggie food and she’s given up being a veggie. So yes, France gets a few points for moving forward a bit where veggie food is concerned.

Ha ha, I’ve just got my comeuppance for my criticism. Three weeks ago my loved one was promised a dermatology appointment and it’s just arrived in the post - 1st OCTOBER. Yes, the French may be funny about food, but they’re not a bit funny about their Health Service, although they'd laugh their heads off if they were asked to wait that long for an appointment.

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