Saturday, 1 December 2007

A Merry Xmas? You must be joking

I dislike Christmas so much I founded the SAS (The Scrooge Appreciation Society), the insignia of which is the odious Tiny Tim being battered with his own crutch by Tony Soprano.

Now I am going to have to celebrate it because the Government is trying to downsize it. Somewhere in Whitehall there is a Think Tank which is set up for Enjoyment Reduction. Pretty long established. In 1664, Oliver Cromwell banned the Christmas pudding. Eating it, he said, was a lewd custom inappropriate for people who followed God. The pudding was re-established in 1714 by King George I, with meat from the original eliminated from the recipe. It would be about the only sensible thing that George I did, and less socially divisive than locking his adulterous wife up in a German castle in Celle as a punishment after having her lover Count Konigsmark murdered. Though, in fairness, the story that was told in Celle when I was stationed there, that he had the Count baked to death in an oven, lacks authentication. Though when you consider that our Hanoverian Royal family contains a murderer (Victorian Duke of Clarence whom Queen Victoria was convinced was going to murder her); three bigamists (Georges III and IV and William IV) - Charles II was a bigamist too, but he was a Stuart; and a traitor/fraudster (the Duke of Windsor) it does give pause for thought.

I am by nature subversive. What I eat, for example, is dictated by what the Government advises. Whatever it tries to ban, I increase my consumption of. Scoff not. “Safe alcohol levels” were a rough guess by a committee and we have been assured that a large percentage of HIV sufferers do not know they have the disease. If they do not know, how can anyone else? How did the doctors find out and why did they not tell the patients?

Never in my life have I eaten more oxtails than I waved in the face of authority when oxtail was banned (I make them with a dusting of chocolate). T Bone steaks appeared on our table with the regularity of afternoon tea, and I narrowly escaped egg binding when Mrs Currie warned us of their dangers. I even ate foreign cheese, of which I am not greatly enamoured, the moment she advised against it. When she sent out letters of fire and sword against chicken, I ate so much I sneezed feathers.

Now, following the largest ever review of links between diet and cancer
incorporating more than 7,000 studies, a ban is sought on everything I enjoy eating. Among warnings to stay thin, take exercise and eat greens and grains is the recommendation to avoid processed meats such as ham, bacon and salami. Experts suggest we will drop dead on the spot if we so much as nibble the crusts of a bacon butty.

My chum “Blaster“ Bates defined expert thus; ”X is in an unknown quantity and spurt an uncontrollable drip.”

Happily, according to the Daily Mail, there is a growing medical and food
industry backlash against the £4.5 million, five-year study. I stand in its Van.
The trouble is that when the Government leads, others follow. An elderly disabled couple whose Christmas shopping trip to Tesco cost more than £300 have been given a warning for taking too long in the store.
Wheelchair-bound Roland Hodgson, 80, and his wife Pauline, 75, took more than four hours to com.plete their gift-buying expedition, which included a meal in the cafe.
Shortly afterwards they received a letter pointing out that they had exceeded a three-hour limit for parking at the store in Trowbridge, Wiltshire. A young mother has been ordered to pay nearly £400 for leaving her wheelie bin in the wrong place. Holly Dutton, 26, failed to pay a £100 fixed penalty notice issued when she left the bin in an alley behind her house in Horwich, near Bolton
A pensioner was thrown out of a superstore because he refused to remove his hat to please security cameras. A pregnant friend who asked Peterborough Hospital to sex the baby she was carrying was denied on the grounds that if some foreign patients were told they were having a girl they would seek an abortion. In Boots Cash Chemists I was told that my measurement for knee length elastic stockings must be taken by a man. In Halesowen Santa Claus has been forced to add a sea belt to his sledge and observe a 5 mph speed limit. Primary pupils in Devon have been forbidden from wearing angel's wings in case they are set alight by candles. Although much of such nonsense is driven by Insurance Companies it makes our lives a misery and readers will no doubt have many additions to offer.

I once complained to an hotelier that when I put my shoes outside my bedroom door, no one any longer took them to be cleaned. He said there was a machine in the room for that. I said there was also a machine in the room for making tea, a TV, a fridge for drinks and a trouser press. Not to mention room service. And he said, “Well, we don’t want guests wandering round the hotel.”

He explained that on the plans for new hotels the water colour sketches of the reception and restaurant and bars looked pristine. When the hotel was built and opened there were customers all over the place and the effect was ruined.

“So we keep them in their rooms. It’s tidier.”

Things were different when I was a Knight of the Brotherhood of the Chain of the Turning Spit.

Once we hired a dining coach to be put on the end of the Crewe to Bournemouth express on an occasion when we were eating away from home. My friend, the 9th Baron Langford who was our Baillie and was kindly contributing several bottles of ’47 port, insisted the pair of us interview the station master at Crewe to ensure all was hunky dory. Station masters love a lord and this one donned morning dress and a topper to meet us. At the baron’s request, he introduced us to “our” engine driver.

“My grandfather,” confided the baron to the startled driver, “always maintained there was no greater pleasure than making love in a sleeping car as the train went over a set of points.”

(The Brotherhood was very strong on such niceties. One elderly brewer assured me that no kisses were more erotically charged than when the girl had been drinking yellow chartreuse and the man green. An estate agent called Ramos declined a dessert that was served in a cocoon of spun sugar on the grounds that it would be like eating the pubic hairs of a fairy.)

“However,” the 9th Baron told the engine driver, “what might be an aid to lovemaking is very bad for port. So I would be grateful if you would slow down as you approach any set of points on our journey.”

The extraordinary thing was that the engine driver did.

I made my own modest contribution to refined eating. We had been to a Normandy banquet at the Piccadilly Plaza in Manchester where our guests had been Louis Edwards, the Lord Mayor of Manchester, and Sonny, the then Marquis of Milford Haven. After the meal, Geoffrey Langford and I took them to the champagne bar where Edwards ordered a tankard of Moet, the 9th Baron, Mumms, and Sonny, Louis Roederer.

To this day I do not know why, when it came to my turn, I asked for a chip butty. The waitress took the order without demur and soon returned with the champagne, followed by a waiter bearing the finest chip butty I have ever seen. The bread was home made, the butter runny and the golden chips had hard crusts protecting inner potato, soft as a baby’s cheek. The silver platter on which they were served also carried salt, pepper and vinegar. Interspersed ‘twixt chip and plate was a neatly cut, and probably ironed, square of newspaper.

“By God,” said the 9th Baron, “that looks good. Bring me one!” “And me,“ said the Marquis of Milford Haven. “And me,” said the Lord Mayor of Manchester.

I have achieved little in life, but I did introduce the aristocracy to the chip butty. Which, on a point of information, goes very well with champagne and is as good a way as any to shuffle off this mortal coil.

* * * * * *

My first Christmas card arrived this week. It was “Christmas Cracker”, a commonplace booklet which my broadcasting chum John Julius Norwich sends to his friends. The booklet contains oddities he and they have picked up over the year (I have had two honourable mentions). From this year’s, a gem contributed by Nina Lobanov:

‘Edinburgh Evening News, 18 August 1978:

‘While they were waiting at a bus stop in Clermiston, Mr and Mrs Daniel Thirsty were threatened by Mr Robert Clear. “He demanded that I give him my wife’s purse,” said Mr Thirsty. “Telling him that the purse was in her basket, I bent down, put my hands up her skirt, detached her artificial leg and hit him over the head with it. It was not my intention to do anything more than frighten him off, but, unhappily for us all, he died.’


We may extend Mr Sharples’s search (Letters 22 August) for “useless” words in the Chinese language.

A rare Chinese-English dictionary of the mid 19th century, based on the Khang-His Tzu-Tien dictionary of single pictographs, reads for the most part quite normally. However, each page contains one or two gems of translation, such as the character rendered as “a dog with short legs”. My favourite “useless” character is translated “a horse passing wind after eating corn”.


Asha Stephen said...

Mr. Skidmore, you are hilarious!!! I wish most dearly that I belonged to your generation, and had experienced things the way you have. (Though I know that not even a fraction of the people, your generation or otherwise, really experience things the way you do). I always seem to wish for the impossible :(

I have started to read Gwynedd. It is slow going since I am busy with research and am reading two other books simultaneously. But I like it immensely already.

Asha Stephen said...

I take back what I said... I don't wish I was from the same generation as you... I wish I were YOU! You seem to know all my heroes and heroines and to know the most wonderfully amusing and fun people.

I've been reading up on the posts of your blog that I missed. I am sorry you got treated that way by the Indian technical advisor person. I'm Indian myself and blush to think of how awful you must have felt. I apologize for him.

Asha Stephen said...

I'm glad to hear that. :)