Bloke in the Kitchen. All-in-one tuna pasta salad

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

Another absurdly easy meal to prepare. It doesn’t require any actual ‘cooking’ apart from boiling some pasta.

It is low in calories and full of goodness.

If you have kids to feed, you may even be able to get them to eat this. It has been known for me to be asked for seconds. Don’t bank on that, but it’s a possibility.

Ingredients (for two people)

Pasta (penne, fusilli, farfalle etc).

Lettuce (Romaine, Little Gem, whatever)

Can of tuna in oil

Capers

One fresh lime or lemon

Extra virgin olive oil

 

Method

Logical tip

Do the pasta in advance. It will take 20 minutes or so to cook and then it has to cool. Keep soaking it in cold water and straining until it’s close to fridge temperature. When it has lost the heat, drain it well and mix it up with a little olive oil to stop it sticking together.

So: cook the pasta. Drain, cool and place in salad bowl.

lettuce

Rinse and drain the lettuce, just in case. Lettuce plants grow close to the ground, and although it is unlikely that you will find a slug, snail or valuable Roman coin in there, nobody likes crunching pieces of grit.

Chop (or tear apart) the lettuce and add to the bowl

Add the tuna (with its oil)

Sprinkle in a tablespoon of capers

Squeeze the lime or lemon over everything

Pour on a little olive oil

Mix with your hands

Add black pepper and salt to taste (it won’t need much)

Note: there is no need to mix the oil and citrus juice first.

Drink the rest of the glass of wine that you have already started.

pasta salad
This is the general idea, but you will have more of the green stuff. And you will probably be serving it on plates rather than in cute glass bowls.

 

Flexibility

You could use iceberg lettuce (bland as hell but easy to work with and it does keep better than most). Or if the lettuce in the shop is all rubbish, maybe you can find some nice spinach leaves.

The capers are like little grenades of flavor. You could add black olives, chopped sweet peppers, anything like that, but no onions: that would change it completely.

Lazy git tip

A bag of salad leaves will save you the trouble of tearing a lettuce apart, so if you’re into making Formula 1-like time savings, you could reduce the preparation time by 0.004 seconds in this way.

 

Sequels and prequels

Wilde

Many a cultural sensation was either the culmination of years of failure and disappointment or a never-to-be-repeated flash in the pan. As we approach International Never Give Up Week we take a look at three triumphs that came against the odds. Some laid the foundations for brilliant careers, while others were those rare lentils that float (and nobody likes a floating lentil).

mandolin
Yeah, I know. I dropped it last week. Sounds okay though.

Captain Corelli Takes Up the Banjo

Louis de Bernieres probably knew he would never get it so right again, but he gave it a go. And, like Status Quo following Pictures of Matchstick Men with the similar-sounding Black Veils of Melancholy, he decided to plough the same furrow.

The war is over and Antonio Corelli decides not to return to his home island, for fear of finding his lost love, Pelagia, changed, aged and in love with someone else. Instead he settles in a small town in the American deep south. His love of music leads him to join a jazz band, but they don’t like the mandolin and encourage him to learn a more rustic instrument. Then one day he visits the local fish market with the intention of buying some tilapia, and who should be gutting the fish but Pelagia, up to her eyes in scales and blood, but still beautiful, still single and still in love with him.

The book sold poorly, lacking as it did the drama of the Second World War background, although Hollywood did pick it up and filled it with flashbacks of appalling violence and atrocities. A stellar cast was assembled, including Woody Harrelson as Corelli and Sarah Silverman as Pelagia, but the audience had moved on and the film grossed just $27.48 during the all-important first weekend.

amethyst-242335__180
A rough diamond is one thing, but a rough amethyst is another. This is a fact.

Accidental Death of an Amethyst

Humble jewellery salesman Dario Fo was a genius playwright in search of The Idea when he came up with this intriguing tale of a gang of humanoid precious stones on the run in 19th century Italy. Despite (or perhaps due to) the brilliance of the concept, Fo had trouble finding a backer in London’s West End and tried several variations (Accidental Death of an Analyst, Anchovy etc.) before hitting on Accidental Death of a Masochist, which he was reluctantly forced to abandon because it was difficult to stage without being arrested. Then he happened upon Anarchist, which he was required to look up in the biggest dictionary at the British Library because he feared it wasn’t a real word. The rest is history.

The Brothers Kalashnikov

The great grandson of Russian literary giant Fyodor Dostoyevsky was determined to make something of himself, but was hampered by a lack of talent and charisma. What he did have was a famous name (albeit with the first part corrected to Theodore). But how could he take his great grandfather’s story into the late 20th century without losing something? Turning it into an epic struggle within a family of arms dealers, Theo slogged the lonely round of publishers without success. He died, bitter and broken, in the arms of his dachshund in 1994.

 

kalashnikov
Hey mister, the barrel’s bent. A rare early publicity poster for The Brothers Kalashnikov

 

Kaycee’s Klasic Films – Almost Famous

Siobhan Kennedy-Clarke’s classic film reviews

almostfamous2

This film is all about a very young guy who wants to be a rock journalist and gets his chance with Rolling Stone magazine which is real and one of the most famous music magazines in the world. It stars Patrick Fugit as William Miller the journalist Billy Crudup as the singer in the band William goes on tour with and some other quite tasty guys as the rest of the band. And there’s Kate Hudson as this groupie Penny Lane.

As I said William is really young he’s a virgin actually and you would think he’d be more interested in trying to get his end away for the first time than writing about this band Stillwater hence the name but he’s really obsessed with becoming a writer which is admiral I suppose. You can tell he’s interested in Penny and her sexy groupie mates but there all into the older guys what is it with boys don’t they understand they have to wait there turn. You wouldn’t of caught me with a teenage boy when I was that age you want someone with a bit of experience don’t you but I suppose you can’t blame them for trying.

The thing is, Penny is being frigged about by the singer he only wants her for one thing and you get the feeling when she’s not there he’d shag anything that moved. So you kind of keep hoping she and William will get it on if he grows up in a hurry but he’s such a clean living lad you also secretly know it’s not going to happen.

It was written and directed by Cameron Crowe who also directed Jerry Maguire another of my favourites that’s why I went to see this in the first place as it happens. And Cameron was a young journalist who did exactly the kind of thing William does but you don’t know how much is the truth and how much is wishful thinking.

Their’s also this sob plot about William’s sister Zooey Deschanel whose a few years older and has really good taste in music only her Mum Frances McDormand doesn’t like the fact that she’s growing up so fast and is a bit of a killjoy on the quiet she even phones William when he’s on the tour and embarrasses him in front of everybody. So Zooey leaves home.

The musics okay I suppose if you like that kind of 70s rock its not my cup of tea but each to there own right? This Stillwater band are doing lots of drugs which was ryffe if that’s the word at the time and they get suspicious of William and only want him to write nice things about them but he wants to tell the real story.

And in the end guess what they respect each other that’s what usually happens in these things I suppose they think thats what people want. Life ain’t like that really though is it sometimes you fall out with somebody and you stay fell out with them till your dying day not that I would know as I’m still alive but you know what I mean.

 

 

The English Pedant – The language of football

It would be wrong to suggest that footballers are illiterate. But it would be equally misleading to suggest that they as a whole are well educated.

The sport takes over their life from an early age, at the expense of everything else, and while you do find some who are quite articulate, their thoughts tend to be expressed in a sort of football jargon.

It’s always been like that (sick as a parrot, over the moon etc.) but since the great foreign invasion began about 10 years ago, with top players from around the globe coming to England to take the clubs’ money… I mean to test themselves against the best in the world, the language of the Premier League has become a mishmash of foreign adaptations and pure errors, which the English players don’t notice and use themselves without thinking.

Take, for example:

In a good moment. ‘We’re in a good moment’ means the team is winning, things are going well. But that expression didn’t exist in the English language in the 20th century.

Shall. Manchester United’s manager, the Dutchman Louis van Gaal, is waging a one-man battle to reintroduce the verb ‘shall’ to English. We long ago abandoned it in favour of ‘will’, which really suggests wanting to do something (free will, where there’s a will, there’s a way etc), while ‘shall’ was simply predictive. So now we say ‘We will get beaten if we defend like that again,’ when obviously we don’t want to be beaten. Nowadays in English we only use ‘shall’ in expressions like ‘Shall we do this?’ In Dutch they still have ‘zal’, meaning shall, and ‘wil’ meaning will, and they use them appropriately.

Van Gaal
He’s dour, he’s Dutch, and he says “shall” too much. Louis Van Gaal is pretty good at English, though

Get beat. While we’re on the subject, getting ‘beaten’ is being abandoned in favour of getting ‘beat’. Sounds suspiciously like an Americanism, although there aren’t enough Yanks playing football here to have an influence.

On the other hand…

Offense. ‘Attack’, the English word for going forward, trying to score, is being challenged by ‘offense’, so that when someone talks about playing offensively, they don’t mean running with two fingers raised, questioning their opponent’s parentage. And note that the American offense has an s instead of a c. How long before that spelling infiltrates our dictionaries?

Normal. It’s an ordinary word that can cover a multitude of situations. But rather than learn the adjectives that are traditionally used, your imported player just uses this catch-all one. So when the other team came back harder in the second half because they were a goal down, when the English option would have been something like ‘that’s what you would expect’, Johnny Foreigner opts for ‘that’s normal’. Nothing wrong with that – it’s just an observation.

Costa
Chelsea’s Diego Costa may want to learn the English expression “That b***ard tore my shirt”

But it’s not just the foreign influence. Here are two that we are inflicting on ourselves.

Defeat to. ‘City have struggled away from home since their defeat to Stoke.’ Ladies and gentlemen, we are defeated by somebody, not to them.

Tour to. Fair enough, you go to America on tour. But once there, you are on tour in America, or on a tour of America. You’re not on a tour to America.

This is not rocket science. It is not difficult. Nor, admittedly, is it desperately important. Just watch all these things creep into British English and know where they came from.

Confessions of an Expat – a table in the car park

La Guaira is a sprawling town which lends its name to a long area on the Caribbean coast of Venezuela.

It’s the closest port to the capital, Caracas. The local baseball team is called Los Tiburones – The Sharks – so it is obviously proud of being on the coast. But it is not a pretty sight, nor sound.

pto-la-guaira
It may once have looked exotic, but it’s a port. What do you expect, palm trees?

We spend the morning at a bank, which is easy to do because they work at an unfathomably slow speed, then cross four lanes of growling, polluting, American-made trucks for lunch outside the fish market at an open-air cafe/restaurant. What’s the word I’m looking for – not quite doghole, but imagine putting tables in between the containers and lorries at Portsmouth docks.

Then the mood changes by courtesy of food. We have a red fish (could be snapper, but most of the fish around here seem to be red) simply fried on the bone and delicious, with a natural strength of flavour that doesn’t need any help from a fancy sauce – just a squeeze of lime if you like. The accompaniment is played by a kind of coleslaw without onion, supported by fried slices of plantain.

Do we enjoy these meals simply because we’re somewhere ‘exotic’, or is this fish really as good as I’m making it sound?

Well, for a start, you wouldn’t find it in an equivalent cheap and cheerful place in the UK – in fact all you would find in such a location in Grimsby is a burger van. There, fish for the masses is either deep-fried in batter or oven-baked in breadcrumbs. If you’re lucky, in a seaside town you might get a mackerel cooked by a chef who has confidence in his ability to bring out the best in the raw material, but it’s a rarity.

harbour car park
Stick a few plastic tables and chairs out there and bingo! An open-air restaurant

As a free starter, by the way, we have a thin, unhealthily grey-looking fish soup which harbours sly, slimy, layabout pieces of vegetables and tastes better than it looks, but don’t expect the fussier members of your party to have any truck with it at all.

There are back street garages in South London more hygienic than some South American fishmongers, and this soup gives the impression of having been prepared from the loot gleaned from the annual sweep-up, boiled and with the detritus strained out through the local good-time girl’s tights. And yet we survive unscathed and live to eat another day.

To visit such a place of preparation is to wonder how you will ever eat fresh fish again, as we find the following week in the remote, romantic seaside village of Chuspa. In the dark, grimy workshop that you can imagine the guy uses to work on his motorbike in the evenings, there is a guillotine-like contraption for making fillets of thick fish. Almost-vertical steel rods (almost clean and almost shiny) stand three feet tall and the snapper, grouper or whatever is placed at the bottom. The operator takes a machete and slams it down, guided by the rods, to separate the fish into one-inch steaks.

fish
Raw materials sometimes look better than end results

We buy a bottle of Chilean merlot with a screw cap rather than a cork, because it stands less chance of being off that way. In a place like this, which is charming in a Second World War film way, reached by broken, mud-scarred roads and involving a tentative drive through a small river because the bridge is out of action, you feel lucky to find such luxuries as wine anyway.

Then it’s back up the hill to the posada – a sort of self-catering guest house where you share the kitchen – to do what you can with a sputtering gas stove and a cheap aluminium pan. Subtlety does not exist in such circumstances: the object is to get the fish cooked and any germs killed, and if it sticks to the pan, that is only to be expected. It becomes fuel, not food, and if there is any pleasure in the eating, that’s a bonus.

 

DIYF: Do it your ******* self

It’s a semi-skilled business

Do it yourself: it can sound rude, can’t it? Insert a swear word before ‘self’ and it’s a defiant message with an edge of hostility. And in truth, even when there is no one else involved and we have simply decided to have a go, many of us end up angry.

I inherited my optimism and lack of aptitude from my father, a man who believed that the way to get a job done was to swear at it as you did it, and then, when it turned out somewhere between imperfect and a total mess, swear some more.

diy 1
Let this be your mantra: proper planning prevents poor performa… damn!

The main stimuli for doing DIY are twofold: the idea that it looks quite simple and an unwillingness to pay an expert to do it. Thus we will have a go at most things, knowing deep down that it’s not going to work, but buoyed by the notion that you can’t keep putting things up crooked your whole life: at some point the penny must drop and you’ll be able to do this one stupid little thing.

There are often unexpected conditions to deal with, as you might find when trying to put up a kitchen utensil rack and finding the strip of wood you’re trying to get screws into is like iron. Hard wood that lives up to its name. But I’ll get you: see this Black and Decker drill?

Having suffered this immediate setback, maybe it’s best to ease yourself in slowly – into the project, that is. A hook on the bathroom door, to hang your clothes on. Put the first screw in – and it does go in. The screw is through the first hole in the hook and you’ve sensibly left it not too tight, so you can make sure the thing is straight while you prepare for the second one. There it is, perpendicular as a lamp post. Apply a bit of force to get the second screw going. And as if by magic, you’ve got yourself a hook on the bathroom door. On the correct side of the bathroom door, it should be noted.

To adapt a line from the film Body Heat (no, that’s just the title), “Any time you try a decent crime, there are maybe 50 ways you can screw up. If you think of 25, you’re a genius… and you ain’t no genius”.

This hook: it’s on the door, it’s firmly attached, but it’s ever so slightly slanting to one side. Well, who’s going to notice? Only a perfectionist such as yourself. Onwards and upwards; we have bigger battles to fight. Curtain poles, for instance. The curtains have holes near the top and you just slide the pole through them. Award yourself 10 points for buying things that are compatible. And the curtains are roughly the right length, so they will finish an inch above the floor, depending on how high you fix the pole, and that in turn depends on where you fix the brackets.

Enter the cowboy. Normally such a rational, clear-thinking person, the calculations involved here force you to choose between not doing the job after all or going for the approximate option. The latter involves erring on the side of caution. Better to have them higher than perfect rather than lower, and brushing the floor.

diy level
Do I have a spirit level? Err, not as such, but my eyes are pretty straight

So, out comes the step ladder – a good quality, stable one (award yourself another five points). Take a pencil and mark with crosses the points where the screws have to go, except this is a plaster-on-brick wall, so you’re going to use rawl plugs (ten beautiful points – you’re so sophisticated). Choose the right size drill bit, which you think must mean big enough for the rawl plugs, which in turn have to be big enough to accommodate the screws. Have 15 bonus points for thinking this through. After all these years you’ve mastered the art of planning. Now it’s just the execution.

Keep the drill straight.

Damn, it skids slightly on the paint, but you’re still within the area of the pencil cross. Just need to compensate a bit on the other one. How much? A bit. This isn’t brain surgery, it’s soft furnishings.

Ten minutes later the holes have been drilled. Not deep enough. The rawl plugs stick out. Whack one with a hammer and it bends, flops to one side. Extract it with the pliers, then drill all the holes a bit more. How much? A bit. This isn’t dentistry, it’s soft furnishings.

Insert a rawl plug. Perfect.

After less than two hours the curtains are up. The air has been blue, you’ve cricked your neck and your wrist aches, but several square yards of manmade fibre are between you and the glass.

A mere two inches shorter than you would have liked. But come on – who looks down there? An immaculate job. Virtually.

beer
Beer and crisps for the DIY hero

 

Ref! On derbies and decisions

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads. I’m hot off the train from Manchester. Yes, the bore draw derby. It’s not surprising you get one of them now and then, though. The pressure, mate. You can feel it as soon as you walk in the ground. Even if you get there early, as the officials do, you can sense it.

The ground staff and the admin people, they’re giving you the old positive bit, but even they are a bit nervous. There’s a lot at stake – well, there was in this case. Not just what the media call ’bragging rights’, but this was two teams at the top of the Barclays Premier League.

You have to, Baz, you have to say Barclays, because sponsors put up the money for these things on condition that their name is linked to it at all times. So you don’t have to say Barclays, but someone like me has to, because I’m part of the whole Barclays Premier League family, if you like.

Where does a referee stand in that family, Dave? Well, I suppose we’re a respected uncle with a professional speciality that is called for at certain times and events. We’re a voice of authority, of reason, even. Without us it’s anarchy. In fact if referees didn’t exist they’d have to invent them.

Anyway, derbies, yes, the tension is all around. See young Bobby Madley got thrown in the deep end at Newcastle, where there was even more riding on it than usual, with Steve McClaren under pressure and Big Sam just installed at Sunderland.

And what does he get? A controversial sending off for an infringement that people could argue about till the cows come home.

The laws are clear but some are open to interpretation, Gary. Yes, a bit like the Bible, as you say. Thou shalt not barge people like thou didst in the 1950s, when the barge was about the most heinous of crimes but was perfectly legal, just frowned upon if you conceded a goal because of it.

Pint of Peroni, mate – no, that’s not open to interpretation. He’s a wag, isn’t he, Dave? It’s a pint, as defined by the weights and measures people – an English pint – and Peroni is the draught lager of that name. Yes, I suppose you could make it a pint out of bottles, but that would cost you even more, so only a fool would do that.

And the decision is going to be reviewed, yes. Can you imagine any other profession putting up with that? You’re in charge, you make a decision and it gets challenged. Exactly, Baz, bloody insulting. But that’s the way it is. It’s even worse in cricket, mate. They do it during the game, and not only that, the teams are encouraged to do it. They can make a certain number of reviews in each innings, so if you haven’t used up your quota towards the end it must be tempting to challenge a decision even though it’s obviously correct.

It’s transparency, which is a fashionable thing in all sorts of environments nowadays. Exactly, Baz, if something is transparent, you can see through it. No, it’s not the decision that needs to be transparent, it’s the process. Imagine the process as a box or a room, and the decision takes place inside. If it’s not transparent, you can’t see what’s going on. Yes, I suppose it has to be transparent for sound too, so you can hear any discussion. Is there a separate word for that? I don’t know, mate. I’m a football referee, not a bloody Professor of English.

Dear Whoever

I’m praying to you but I don’t know who you are. My grandparents used to pray to God, but now lots of people say there is no such person and anyone who’s religious is just imagining it. And other people say there is, but not the one that Christians call God, the one who had a son called Jesus. They have other names for their god. Whatever, this is what’s on my mind this week.

making face

Refugees. Not a week goes by these days without stories about people running away from their own country and going to someone else’s because it is safer and they have a better chance of living a happy life there. It’s a complicated subject, because the world is full of people whose ancestors were originally from somewhere else.

I can’t see my parents ever doing that, because we’re quite happy where we are, but if a civil war broke out and suddenly the UK wasn’t a safe place to be, a lot of people would probably choose to leave, It would have to be a pretty bad situation, though, because you’d be giving up your home, your family, your friends and your whole way of life.

And what happens when you get to this new country is that they don’t really want you there and maybe they’re a bit scared of you because they don’t know how you’re going to behave. That’s how a lot of British people are about Muslims.

There’s this comedian called Omid Djalili whose parents are Iranian, although he was born and brought up in London, so he’s familiar with both cultures. He does a sketch where he jokes about being worried when he sees Arabs at an airport.

muslim girl 2

I assume he’s joking, anyway – you can never tell with comedians. But with his background you would think he understood Muslims, but it’s the terrorists people are afraid of, and how can you tell an innocent person from someone who wants to kill people?

My Dad says it’s not all one-way, either. What is called racism in this country is usually white people being mean to black people (and now Muslims). But my Dad has been robbed more than once in broad daylight in the street in the West Indies and he thinks it’s because he’s white. I have to admit we stick out like sore thumbs in places like that because we are so obviously not local. And the criminal element just see white people who are obviously richer than they are because they can afford to fly thousands of miles and pay for hotels and taxis and meals at restaurants, so why not steal from them?

Well I’ll tell you why they shouldn’t rob my Dad: because he’s my Dad. He’s a nice man, he’s not racist and he’s not rolling in money. We’re just getting on with our lives, minding our own business.

And I suppose that’s how immigrants feel. They’re only being themselves, so why should anybody treat them differently?

Anyway, Whoever, please bless all the good people who are having to flee their own home and make a new life somewhere else. But if you could somehow make it impossible for the extremists to get out and make trouble, that would be perfect. Let them blow themselves up in private if they have to blow anything up – but preferably don’t let them want to do that sort of thing in the first place.

 

 

Bloke in the Kitchen. Curry and… not necessarily rice

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

Rice, pappadums, nan bread, chapattis etc.

In many countries, including the UK, it is assumed that you have rice with your curry, and indeed it goes perfectly.

Long grain rice, that is. The small stuff is for rice pudding. Get ordinary long grain, or Basmati if you like and are prepared to pay a bit more.

rice 3
Neat pile of rice but messy plate. A professional would wipe round the edge with a cloth to make it look better

METHOD

Cook it according to the directions on the pack. Or (if for instance you have been at the pre-dinner drinks and can’t focus, or have already thrown the bag away) use twice as much water as rice, bring to the boil, turn down to simmer with the lid on the pan at a jaunty angle.

Give it 10 minutes or so and check it. If the rice is dry but not cooked, add more water (boil some in a kettle to speed up the process). If it’s cooked but still wet, put it in a sieve and drain it.

If using wholegrain (brown) rice, add more water because it takes longer to cook.

If using parboiled rice, that means part-boiled, so it’s partly done already and will cook more quickly.

COWBOY Q&A 1

Why do you not put the lid on the pan properly?

Because if you do it will froth up and boil over, making a mess on the stove and smelling like you’ve set fire to your underpants.

COWBOY Q&A 2

What if it boils dry while I’m not looking?

If it has only just happened, scrape as much of the loose stuff off as possible and hope it’s enough. Smell and taste it to see that it doesn’t smell/taste burnt. If it does, throw it away and start again – and pay more attention next time, if that’s not too much to ask. But then again, it’s your problem. Do what you like. Just don’t come running to me etc. etc.

BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE RICE

All the other stuff you can buy ready-made. Pappadums (or poppadoms, or… spelt all sorts of ways) are often served as a kind of appetizer, with dips (chutney, tomato salsa, whatever, really – buy some appropriate ones ready-made). But you don’t usually use pappadums as the main bulk/stodge/fibre/carbohydrate for the meal – you need something more substantial.

Nan (naan) bread, chapattis etc. are used in their country of origin instead of rice, not in addition to it. But if you want to have them in addition, you’re in charge. Just remember it’s like having a western meal with potatoes plus bread plus pasta etc. Do you really need that?

nan bread
People who call their grandma Nan probably add an a here, making this naan bread

COWBOY TIP

If you don’t have any rice, having burnt it all, and also have no nan bread etc, having forgotten to buy it or ruined that too, do some mashed potato. To make it look like you meant it, put a helping on the plate, make a hole in the middle, smooth the outer edges into a circle and put the curry in the hole. Swear blind you serve it like this all the time because they do it in some remote area of the Himalayas, then listen to the happy grunts as people agree that it really works. Because it does.

 

What drinks go well with curry?

Beer is the popular choice because people appreciate the soothing qualities of all the water it contains. And it doesn’t have a subtle flavor that your spices will destroy (discerning beer drinkers may disagree).

If your curry is mild in terms of chilli, by all means wheel out the wine of your choice. If the curry is fiery, don’t waste your money – you won’t be able to savour it because the curry will have blasted your taste buds to hell anyway.

 

 

 

A question of taste – furniture shopping

From the Taj Mahal to temples of tat

Indian bed 1
Dream like a king, make love like a maharajah, spend like an idiot

I am lost in a Bollywood film set. Everywhere I look there are beds with headboards inspired by the Taj Mahal, with peaks sweeping up to the ceiling. Is it grandiose or is it over the top? Do people really sleep on furniture like this? Maybe it makes them feel better, so they buy this stuff although they can’t really afford it, or maybe they buy it because they have plenty of money and can indulge their extravagant tastes.

The real setting for this experience is a furniture showroom. We are moving house soon, so we’re on the grand tour of furniture stores, earmarking a table here, a sofa there and looking for a bed somewhere between palatial and basic. The trouble is, when you don’t know these places and what they are likely to contain, you have to traipse around them all.

If there is one trait that women have that we men don’t, it is a willingness – perhaps even a positive desire – to traipse. Thinking about it, though, maybe women don’t actually traipse at all, because it implies reluctance, so while I’m traipsing, my wife is enacting some other, happier verb.

To me traipse is an ugly word that accurately describes the slow, resigned trudge around these emporiums. You can tell as soon as you walk in. You see one hideous dining table and you know they’re all going to be hideous. Because they were all picked by a buyer who has a particular taste, or whose customers have a particular taste, and if you are one of those customers, that’s fine, but if you’re not, you’re like a wheat-intolerant diner in a pasta restaurant, a teetotaler in a wine shop.

At the other end of the spectrum there are stores that trade not on offering value for money but on being expensive. This is perhaps the most despicable of all characteristics of a retail store: it says ‘don’t come in here unless you’re loaded,’ and has the shamefully elitist unspoken motto ‘if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.’ And do they keep only half the exorbitant profit for themselves and give the rest to charity? In the dog-eat-dog world they inhabit, lack of wealth is a weakness to be looked down on, a disease akin to leprosy.

The customers of the elitist furniture store probably include many of the patrons of the fitness club where the receptionist talks initially of membership costing less than £10 a month, before whizzing through the details of one-off initial payments and months payable in advance before arriving at the figure required to be stumped up today of £500. It’s worth considering what ‘exclusive’ means: people are excluded, and this is done on the basis of wealth. Perhaps money really is the root of all evil.

Ironically, the same city that boasts an elitist emporium will also possess temples of tat: shops in which not a single item is what it claims to be. They are full of designer names, sometimes spelled correctly and sometimes, helpfully, let down by a missing letter or two. ‘Calvin Klein’ jeans with crooked stitching, robust-looking bags whose fastenings malfunction the first time you use them. I once narrowly avoided buying a sports bag that didn’t open because there was no zip – it was stitched shut. The shop assistant laughed and found one that did what it was supposed to, although by the time I got home it was broken and saw the inside of a garbage bag in record time.

Indian bed 2
And if we’re not home when you deliver, just stick in the shed, okay?

Back in the furniture stores, oddly, certain ones can be terrible for, say, settee suites but okay for patio furniture, so you have to persevere even in the face of upholstered items you wouldn’t be seen dead sitting on (although they would probably fall apart before you did anyway). There will also quite likely be a wall full of TVs and ‘home theatre’ sound systems, and here the trick is to work out for yourself what they all do and whether you need them. Ask a sales person which is better, plasma, LED or LCD and all he is going to do is tell you the most expensive is the best. Like doctors, they don’t really deal in ‘I don’t know’.

As someone who thinks the whole thing is overrated and is quite happy to watch a film on a laptop, I am perhaps the wrong person to comment. But really, when you have been happy for years watching a clear colour picture, how much better can ‘high definition’ be? Similarly, who needs a selection of small speakers dotted around the room to give the effect of ‘surround sound’? If you do, of course, then good luck to you. Let me know if the movie is any different. And if you do sleep in a bed that was decorated by the Indian Leonardo Da Vinci, may all your dreams be glamorous ones.