Monthly Archives: October 2012

Do you have to scream?

We should have seen it coming.  Back in the days of Driving School, Blind Date and Survivor there were plenty of prophets of doom declaring the end of the world, as we knew it.  Trouble is on that occasion they were right. Sometimes it seems as if today’s TV is wall-to-wall reality shows. While I’m the first to plead for more drama, more documentaries, more everything that’s not cheap-to-make reality, I’m not among those who believe these programmes are all bad. Some really are the pits of course and others just plain sad.  However, there are plenty of uplifting ones. Shows where people develop and learn something. And programmes that are just good honest entertainment.

Over the years the predictable, and popular, gardening, property, cookery, dating and talent shows have been joined by a raft of unlikely productions. There’s not a topic that isn’t covered – from Wife Swap to Extreme Makeover, where the subject is, of all things, cosmetic surgery. Nothing’s sacred, and there’s no accounting for taste. If Four Weddings has me reaching for the Prozac, while wondering why people would turn their wedding into a circus, there thousands even millions who enjoy watching this strange and rather depressing freak show. Conversely, while I will watch anything with an animal in it, plenty of folks believe that I’m the strange one. But there you go. If there’s a kitten stuck in a conduit pipe, the sad inhabitants of a puppy farm to be rescued or a poor mangy creature neglected in a field, that’s me hooked.

One great virtue animals have over humans is that, when they’re happy, they wag their tails or give grateful licks and maybe even whinny, trumpet, roar or even bark a bit.  The one thing they don’t do is scream. And they don’t follow the herd, like sheep.  Unless of course they are sheep, in which case it’s perfectly acceptable. Screaming is ruining the shows I once loved.  I used to enjoy X-Factor but now I can barely watch it, and if I do switch it on I’m more than likely to switch it off pretty swiftly.  It’s that or shout obscenities at the screen and startle the cat.  The same goes for Britain’s Got Talent and Over the Rainbow and others too numerous to mention.

One of my guilty pleasures is American’s Next Top Model and its spin-offs in Australia, Britain and Canada. Set in the unreal and beautifully strange and inspiring world of fashion, this programme is among the worst offenders.  It’s only my love of the fascinating transformations, the extreme make up and extraordinary garments that has kept me watching.  In spite of the bitching and the egos and the nastiness. But it’s the screaming that will finally make me reach for the remote.

These girls  – what are they like! They scream every time Tyra Banks appears.  They scream whenever they see Jay Manuel, the creative director.  They scream when they get their makeovers. They scream when they’re introduced to their photographer or find that they’ll be working with male models.  They scream when they discover the location of their photo shoot and when they get the key to their apartment and again when they actually see the accommodation. I’m amazed they have any voice left to bitch with.

Now I don’t know who started all this screaming but it’s become an epidemic.  You didn’t find Alan Titchmarsh or Tommy Walsh screaming in the good old days of Ground Force. They didn’t scream on Changing Rooms.  In fact, until fairly recently, screaming seemed to be confined to the good old US of A, like death row and peanut butter with jelly. But what America does, we inevitably follow.  Pop Idol, Fame Academy, X Factor, Britain’s got Talent and others too numerous, and annoying, to mention – all got in on the act.

The families wait backstage, and when the darling appears – I don’t need to say it, do I? The same goes for those highly manipulated and manufactured ‘visits home’ with everyone, from Mum and Dad to silly Sid from across the road and next door’s dog, assembled in the front room.  All ready to scream at the sight of the singer, dancer, contortionist who’s made it through to the boot camp (where you can be sure there will be even more screaming.)

We’ve turned into a nation of hysterics. Mad as cheese and given to emotional outbursts. Our stalwart and ramrod forefathers would have deemed such behaviour unbefitting for an Englishman, though just what you’d expect from excitable ‘Johnny Foreigner’. Now I’m not against a bit of emotion. In my opinion the stiff upper lip is well past its sell by date – leaving who knows how many emotional cripples in its wake.  But you can have too much of a good thing. The worst thing of all is that this frenzy of misplaced hysteria has become the norm – goodness, they’ll be doing it parliament next. Come to think of it, screaming might even be preferable to braying.

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“You piss me off you Salmon… You’re too expensive in restaurants.”


PG Diamond tea bag

The most expensive tea bag in the world

If Eddie Izzard is pissed off with a mere salmon, just imagine what he’d have to say about a dollop of Almas caviar. At £16,000 a tin!

Admittedly the tin’s made of 24-carat gold.  Even without the gold, a smaller tin will set you back £800.  However, It’s not just posh foods that are graced with the ‘most expensive’ label. Hot dogs, bagels, baked potatoes, sandwiches, pizza, frittata – they’ve all qualified. Usually because of the addition of something glamorous like gold dust or truffles. A bit like sticking jewels onto your trainers. As PG tips did – not of course with their trainers but with the world’s most expensive tea bag. Created to celebrate the company’s 75th anniversary it was decorated with 280 diamonds and is worth £7,500.

Unbelievably extravagant?  It’s almost insignificant compared to the world’s most expensive water. A 1.25 ml bottle of Acqua di Cristallo Tributo a Modigliani went for $60,000. Designed by Fernando Altamirano, it’s coated with 24-carat gold.  If you missed the charity auction, and have $3.3 million lying around in your sock drawer, there’s a ‘dummy’ version in various precious metals studded with 6,000 diamonds.

This ‘world’s most expensive’ label is not easy to establish. There are claims and counter claims. It’s not a level playing field either. One thing’s priced by the bottle, something else by the ounce and so on.  The only real benchmark is the Guinness Book of World Records and even those entries are constantly changing. In it or not, there are some wonderful finds, like these two exceptional cheeses. It’s not their rarity or price tags that make them so fascinating, though at around $500 and $616 per pound respectively they’re hardly cheap. No the real joy lies in the fact that Sweden’s Moose House Farm cheese contains the milk from three unusually tame moose. They answer to the names of Gullan, Haelga and Juna!  Can’t say that about your average cheddar! As for Pule, it’s produced from the milk of 100 Serbian donkeys. And costs 1,000 Euros a kilo.

Not all highly priced foods are exotic and rare.  Saffron, derived from the crocus, is reasonably common.  Yet it takes up to 75,000 flowers to make one pound, accounting for the price of up to $5,000 dollars. The most expensive potato, La Bonnotte is grown uniquely on one French island, Noirmoutier. Melons are commonplace in Europe, rare in Japan. Which accounts for the $6,100 paid for a 17 lb. black Densuke watermelon. A pair of Yubari cantaloupes, auctioned in 2008, slaughtered that record fetching a mighty $22,872. And this September, Sotheby’s Manhattan showroom held an auction not of Old Masters, but of vegetables! Some expected to reach $1,000 a case.

Incidentally some ‘ordinary’ foods do make the Guinness Book of World Records. There’s Chef Blunos’ £111 cheese sandwich and the $69 hot dog from Manhattan’s Serendipity 3 restaurant. Domenico Crolla’s Pizza Royale 007 is a contender too, at $4,200. Serendipity’s Frrrozen Haute Chocolate Sundae definitely made it with its £15,730 price tag. From $1000 bagels and frittatas to beer at £500 a bottle, the world of gourmet eating seems in fine shape to me.  Did someone say credit crunch!

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Today he lost his best friend – the human cost of the economic crisis


Joyma - grieving and bewildered

Some people have made vast fortunes playing with money. Others have let them do so – by turning a blind eye, either to maintain the status quo, line their pockets, keep their parliamentary seat or preserve the possibility of honours. Although relatively few in numbers, the damage these people have done has had brought countries to their knees. It has affected and is affecting thousands, millions of people.

The story I’m about to tell is just one among these millions.  It may appear insignificant in the great scheme of things. But for one man and his old dog, their world has shattered.  Their story is not unique. Similar scenes are being played out all over Europe.

Spain, like many other places, has been badly hit by the recession. People have lost their jobs, their houses. Families have been broken up. One of the consequences is that people are no longer able to keep their pets. So they bring them to the killing stations, abandon them, or in some few cases try to find them a place in rescue centres.

The organisation I’m involved with is called ACE – Animal Care Espana, in Southern Spain. The rescue centre itself is called El Refugio, founded by Fabienne Paques nearly fourteen years ago. Like all the others it’s full to bursting now, with ever more dogs arriving or being dumped at the gates daily.

He came to the gate in tears. A young man of about 35. He’d lost his job. As a result his marriage had broken up. His wife had thrown him out with just a backpack and his dog, his Joyma. He had no car. No family he could call on. He’d been trudging from refuge to refuge to ask them to take Joyma. He loved him too much to even think of bringing him to a killing station or to simply abandon him. All the centres were full, besides nobody was willing to take in an old dog.

El Refugio is full, over full. But Fabienne couldn’t turn him away.  She couldn’t find the young man a home or a job, but she could take his dog. She’d make room. She would give him the only thing she could – the assurance that his Joyma would be well taken care of. It was distressing for everyone, so emotional. Heartbreaking. The dog was drooling in fear – clinging to his master. Don’t leave me.

The young man left, weeping. His Joyma is safe and will be found another loving home, but that’s of no interest to the old Cocker Spaniel. For he is grieving, pining for his best friend whom he lost today.  As to the young man he too has lost his best friend. He’s lost everything. Tonight he’ll sleep on the street. Alone.

This is the human cost of the recession.

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