the brilliantly leaping gazelle

It’s the Christmas Day catwalk…

After opening the presents – a good haul this year – I went out for a walk here in Southwold where I’m spending Christmas. Possibly because of the fact of me being woken at 5.30am by the next door neighbours alarm, possibly because of me me having had pretty much a whole bottle of champagne the night before and going to bed at 2am, possibly a combination of the two might have resulted in in my interpretation of what befouled my eyes on the walk  being more caustic than it might otherwise have been.

Because everywhere I looked there seemed to be people wearing presents they’d just opened. Clothes that were obviously having their first public outing, footwear that carefully avoided puddles or mud, and this is the important bit, the wearers trying to brazenly pretend that their not showing off their new gear. Any notion of colour co-ordnation is gone – if it’s been opened on Christmas Day it’s worn it seems.

And me being where I am, the amount of not so old men wearing red corduroy trousers and mustard colour socks was breathtaking. As were teenagers looking cool by wearing the latest tech gear – the EarBuds seemed especially prevalent – and men who should’ve known better trying to look cool but who had reached that level of financial comfort that they can actually afford the tech. Brands abounded, probably worn by bounders.

And this brings me onto my final gripe and it’s a perennial one. The sales start tomorrow, so what is the point of buying something at a more expensive price simply for the sake of it being opened on one day and not the next. This makes no sense to me, but I guess it’s how capitalism works, convincing us to buy something at one price, only to sell to us the same item at a lower price the next. Why people don’t give a card saying ‘This is what I’m to buy you in the sales’ bearing a ‘photo of said item,  I don’t know.

As for the women, well in this post Weinstein world we live I don’t think it wise for me to comment on them and….ooh is that the sound of a bottle of champagne being opened? It was! Duty calls…


Don’t eat the yellow snow…


One of the many great things about snow is that it helps one find one’s inner child. Admittedly, for some this search may be longer than it is for others, whilst for some it is a hopeless search. And then there are the wretched people who don’t bother to search at all, wretched on account of the fact that they experienced their own childhood as a necessary but tedious part the journey to becoming an adult.

You know, the sort of people who, when they open the curtains first thing in the morning and see a blanket of thick snow say with a sigh, “Well you know this will cause major problems for my journey into work.” Not “Great! A day off work! Fantastic! Lets get out in it!”

To have a snowball fight. Go sledging. Proper sledging, not the cricketing kind. And are wise enough not to eat the yellow snow! The sort of people who want it to keep snowing, so they can have more fun for longer. I can hear them now, laughing excitedly at sheer enjoyment of it all.

When on thinks about how comparatively easily bits of country grind to a halt – transport and utilities – and how the news would have us believe that stories of people just getting on with it are instead somehow brave, you wonder if this country ever faced a real disaster, not a media one.

The boogie must be breathing a sigh of relief, because given how some people lay the blame for everything on the decision to leave European Union, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if Guardian readers manage by some twisted logic to blame the disruption caused by the snow on Brexit.




Everything is about class, isn’t it…?


They say that travel broadens the mind.

Well that’s certainly true in my case, as a few days ago  I travelled to Chichester to see a play, and discovered yet more things to befoul my eyes and cause general botheration.

It seems that what I consider 1st Class to be and what Southern Railways consider 1st Class to be differ wildly. I’m not fool enough to delude myself into thinking it was going to be the sort of  1st Class that Hercule Poirot would not find out of place, but even though my hopes weren’t high, they sunk when I saw what I’d paid for. 1st Class consisted of a cover on the headrest with ‘First Class’ emblazoned on it. That was it. If there was any difference in the amount of legroom, or the comfort of the seats, or something, anything to set it apart from Standard class and therefore justify the premium paid, it was imperceptible.

I know that for some of your reading this, the very idea of their being any class system of whatever hue has no place whatsoever in a modern society, especially one that can be purchased. And I would agree with you, any class system is as outdated as it is divisive…but, and there is a but. My socialist principles – and those that know me may laugh at the very notion of me having any principles whatsoever – suddenly disappear in a Standard Class train carriage.

People using the free minutes that the mobile ‘phone tariff gives them declaiming loudly,  at length and within earshot, and as soon as one candidate for brain cancer has finished, another one who been biding their time starts. Or people who when finished doing the above bray loudly to an equally annoying companion about something I find tedious yet for some wholly inexplicable reason they find to be a source of inexhaustible discussion. Children, whose parents imagine themselves to be the sort of parents who don’t agree with what they see as the rigid orthodoxy of well mannered children which also just happens by good fortune to allow them to abdicate responsibility when it suits them. The fruit of their loins isn’t rotten; no it’s just ripening differently.  Other people, it seems to me, are better with the volume turned off.

And there was no refreshment available on the train either, so that when we got to Chichester, we repaired at once to the tea-rooms at the Cathedral – the look of other places wasn’t right for some unexplained but nonetheless self-explanatory reason – and had some tea. Well I write tea, inasmuch as it was to tea what homeopathy is to medicine, a poor imitation that costs more. If the tea was bad – and it was – then it was as nothing to what was befouling my nose. I’ve never smelt old ladies perfume before, but if I had of done, the person behind me would have bought those memories flooding back. It was how I imagine Barbara Cartland would smell, a cloyingly sickly smell, one that all the subtlety of a punch in the face.

Incidentally, the play was excellent.

Are banks inadvertently colluding with online fraud…?


Until a few hours ago, I had never even thought this a possibility, but now however, I’m not so sure. Let me explain why.

A couple of weeks ago I had an event to attend, which meant me wearing a suit and consequently trainers. The trainers I wanted were not easy to find online, but eventually I found them and bought two pairs of them. My doubts regarding this purchase grew with every passing minute I didn’t get an email confirming my order. Too late I checked and realized there was only an email contact form. I’d been scammed.

Within the hour, I asked my partner to ‘phone my bank. You’d think that a bank would want to make reporting suspected fraud as easy as possible for the customer. Think again. After putting in my details to the automated service, she was told that her call was important to them and would be answered shortly. If it was answered shortly, curtly or dismissively, I don’t think she have minded too much after ten minutes holding for a human voice that didn’t materialize. I mean, if you are already worried about fraud and you think that as you wait that your bank account is being siphoned away – that literally time is money – the last thing you want to do is to put in the very details that a fraudster would need to do that into an automated whatever only to be put on hold. Yeah that helps reduce your anxiety levels!

My partner ends the call and tries another number that the bank encourages you to call if you suspect any fraudulent activity. Same thing as above. Details and hold. And more hold. Eventually someone answered. Eureka! Once again details are given – not doing anything to allay my mounting paranoia – and eventually details of the suspected fraud is given. This takes a while and he confirms that yes the payment has gone out. To somewhere in China! A freeze is put on the card that used immediately to prevent any more activity and he arranges for a new one to be sent out. A text confirming that this has been done arrives a minute later and is the first piece of good news in this whole sorry episode. But he also says that if the trainers don’t arrive, to get back in touch with the bank to sort out a refund. So a happy ending then?

No. Because this isn’t a fairy tale

Earlier today my partner calls the bank. Same thing, details and hold. And more hold. Eventually someone answers. And asks for details, the details which the bank has already been given and which should be on a screen right in front of him. But no. Despite banks and others banging on about how your calls are recorded for this and that, her call was not, it seems recorded and the only information he has was that a new card was requested.

So the whole rigmarole begins anew. He can’t find any details regarding the affair. My partner is, understandably, beginning to lose her cool at this point. I don’t blame her. If it weren’t for my speech impediment, I’d be calling into question his both his legitimacy and carnal relationship with his mother. Her call is as labourious as it is unproductive. But he transfers us to another department. More hold. And more hold.

Eventually I ask my partner to hang up and give her an ‘0207’ number to call. Ostensibly this is a number to call from abroad, but I figure, ‘what the f-‘ Eventually this too is answered. But not by a human. Details have to be given first. Then more hold. Then a human. But first I have to answer some security questions, most of which anyone posing as me would know. And then she asks me in what month and year did I open the account I’m calling about. ‘Seriously ‘I exclaim, ‘that was over two decades ago, how do you expect me to answer that!’ She admits rather sheepishly that she couldn’t. But my partner is allowed to speak on my behalf. She explains again the situation and what led us to talking to her. Then she explains that this isn’t the right number we need to call, the right number is inexplicably not publically available and we should call this number in the early evening when it’ll be easier to get through.

So that’s the current state of play. And I can’t help but think that if banks want more of us to switch to online banking, they might possibly want to put in place fast and effective fraud resolution systems to give their customers some confidence. Not just say they’re doing it, but actually do it. But then my bank has cut 57,000 jobs in the last few years and like an increasing amount of companies uses automated switchboards and has websites that rarely give out direct numbers. This is efficient apparently, only not that efficient if you want to speak to someone, but efficient if you’re a shareholder in said company. This a gripe shared by others, raking in money from putting callers on hold or charging them for using mobiles. Nor can I forget the nearly £21 billion that we, the taxpayer, paid to pull my bank out of a hole they’d dug themselves into. If only the taxpayer had put them on hold!













A – fallen – Red Star Over Russia…


Yesterday I went to the Tate Modern in London to see the exhibition ‘Red Star Over Russia’ and I’d heartily recommend it. According to the Tate,

2017 marks the centenary of the October Revolution. Rebellion brought hope, chaos, heroism and tragedy as the Russian Empire became the Soviet Union, endured revolutions, civil war, famine, dictatorship and Nazi invasion. A new visual culture arose and transformed the fabric of everyday life.

But to me what it represented, ultimately, was a wonderful idea rent asunder by the venal reality of politics, the overthrow of one tyranny – an absolute monarch – only to be replaced by another more brutal. I suppose that’s the one never changing lesson that history teaches us. Tyranny replaces tyranny – let’s see how Zimbabwe gets on – and the worst kind of tyranny is one that offers the illusion of freedom.

How free are we? Is our democracy just a sop to us saps? Do our elections change anything? I mean not tinkering with things at the margins, but substantive change. Or do things continue much as before? Has there been any change in the prevailing economic orthodoxy, capitalism, whereby humans are necessary only make and buy the things companies make?

Has anything really changed since Robert Tressell explained in The Great Money Trick in ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ over 100 years ago? In it, the hero, Frank Owen explains that money is the cause of human misery. His workmates are unconvinced. So Owen tries to convince them. He employs’ his workmates cutting up the bread to illustrate that the employer – who does not work – generates personal wealth whilst the workers effectively remain no better off than when they began, endlessly swapping coins back and forth for food and wages. This is Tressell’s practical way of illustrating the Marxist theory of surplus labour, which in the capitalist system is generated by labour.

If there any other rational explanation to explain how every political decision is done so to favour business interests, I’ve yet to have come across it. It’s a bit like when I first read Darwin’s theory of evolution, it just made undeniable sense to me. In much the same way economic planning is shaped to favour the interests of capital, a form of economic Darwinism, if you will.

Nowhere is this series of beneficial coincidences more apparent – to me at any rate – than in education, which helps create the conditions necessary to effect a suitably compliant workforce. Think this a trifle far fetched? Well the proof is in the pudding!

First off, convince young people that university education is a good thing and something they all should aspire to, that a degree will make them more attractive to employers, that sort of thing. This is aided not only by ensuring that the National Curriculum is increasingly focused on putting the needs of employability uppermost, but by constant reinforcing of this notion in the press – which in itself is owned by vested capital interests. Secondly introduce and then raise tuition fees. When they eventually leave university they’ll have not only a degree but also debt – the average being £60,000 – a nice way to start adult life don’t you think? Then having been softened up they’ll accept low wages and an erosion of their rights as workers.

This post has veered way off topic. I’d intended to write exclusively about the Tate exhibition and how the highlight for me wasn’t in the exhibition itself. It was a great example of graphic design that had a simple elegance. It was public art that conveyed information in an instantly graspable way. And because it wasn’t on a wall in a frame or had a rope barrier in front of it, some people might not consider it ‘art’.


But one thing I have to mention is of the irony of an exhibition dedicated soviet propaganda, full of art that celebrated the idea of a communist utopia, exits visitors into a gift shop. Although maybe that’s an intentionally ironic statement about how capitalism has an inherent reductive capability, to bastardize ideals into commodities

If our Brexit negotiating team were florists, they’d close on Valentines Day..!

For a political party that always invites the electorate to compare its what it maintains own steady economic stewardship with what it maintains would be the almost certain economic chaos of a giving any other party the reigns of power, the events of Tuesday proved that that the Conservative horse has well and truly bolted.

First off there was the news that the government is going to sell off its 71% stake of Royal Bank Scotland (R.B.S) for an as yet undisclosed price, but certainly for a loss. Now we – and I mean that in the loosest possible sense as the government bought it for us, without asking us first for £58 billion. It’s a bit like someone buying you something you don’t particularly want, but they assure you need and then somehow getting you to pay for it.

Anyway, since the purchase in 2008 R.B.S has lost money. A lot of money. To date £90 billion and that’s on top of the £58 billion it cost to bail them out in the first place. Has this stopped them paying bonuses? Hazard a wild guess!

And the government plans to sell when it’s on the cusp of starting to make a profit? This is textbook economic illiteracy of the very highest order. With no hint of irony Sir Vince Unable questioned the low price as not getting good value for money for the taxpayer. When I heard this on ‘Today in Parliament’ on Tuesday, I shouted at the radio. Was this the same Sir Vince who presided over the controversial sale of the Post Office? Controversial not least because a by the in a report by the National Audit Office found that it had been massively undervalued and in wanting the sale to conducted in one day, that decision cost us £750 million? The very same!

The second example concerns what is known as the Brexit divorce bill settlement, but which also raises questions about the British governments negotiating position. Has Teresa May ever seen ‘Life of Brian’ and specifically the scene where an exasperated market trader tries to teach a hapless Brian how to haggle?

Not on the evidence before us, because a couple of months ago in Florence, our strong and stable leader suggested that she was willing to stump up £20 billion to settle and move on. Europe did its best impersonation of the market trader in market and asked if we were having a laugh. Only they worded it in far more diplomatic language than that but and here’s the crucial bit. They know we want a deal, because only then can other talks begin. The whole thing is a mess, they know it and they also know we need a deal more than they do. We can’t just walk away.

So yesterday it was announced that our next offer was north of £45 billion. An exact figure hasn’t been agreed upon. So not only are we signaling our willingness to cravenly capitulate, but also there is much more they can extract from us. If our Brexit negotiating team were florists, they’d close on Valentines Day!

Is the Queen a bit like Victoria Beckham..?



Most of the news coverage regarding Prince Harry’s engagement hasn’t been news. Well my idea of what constitutes news, anyway and clearly print and media editors don’t share this opinion.

The only newsworthy thing about this can be summed up in a sentence, possibly even stretch to a paragraph if one is feeling extravagant. “Prince Harry yesterday announced his engagement to Meghan Markle, and they plan to get married sometime in the spring of next year” That’s it. That’s all that needs to be said about it. How I wish for the good old days of 1986, when the Independent newspaper carried news of the announcement of Prince Andrew to Sarah Ferguson tucked away in the news in brief section.

Instead now we get the most toadying sycophancy not seen since the last royal wedding. The Queen and Prince Phillip are reportedly ‘thrilled’ that their grandson had become engaged. How is this news exactly? What would be news would be if the Queen and her embarrassment had indulged in a foul-mouthed tirade of vitriolic abuse upon hearing of the engagement. Grandparents being happy for the grandson’s forthcoming nuptials? Not so much news as fluff. As with other friends and lickspittles who all find new ways to say the same thing to a compliant media, who lap it up in the same way a dog will lick its own vomit. Although much kudos must go to Prince Charles in this regard. In the clip on the BBC 6 O’Clock news last night of him being asked to give his reaction, he displayed as much emotion as a man who has got up from the toilet, has a look at the contents the bowl and upon seeing it floats, is pleased with what he see’s.

Well I thought so anyway.

But then I think that the monarchy is well overdue for abolition anyway, given that they are constant reminders that in this age of austerity, not everyone is equal. Will for example, Prince Harry be doing a royal version of “Don’t tell the Bride’? I mean when you’re getting married in a chapel in your granny’s castle at Windsor you’re not exactly down on your uppers, are you? Will he have a limited budget, unlike his brother whose wedding is reported to have cost $34 million? $32 million of that was on security; a large part of which I guess was spent on making sure the Queen wasn’t seen smiling. (She’s a bit like Victoria Beckham isn’t she? Never smiles. Although the queen does smile on occasion, mostly at something with four legs that’s won her some money.)

Speaking of money brings me on to the thorny issue of who exactly is going to pay for all of this? If it is the taxpayer we are all a bunch of pricks, because as the Guardian reported earlier this year:

The Queen is in line for a near doubling of her income to more than £82m due to a government decision to increase her funding to cover “essential works” to Buckingham Palace.

The Crown Estate, which owns most of Regent Street and swaths of St James’s as well as thousands of acres of farmland, forests and coastline, made £328.8m profit in the year to the end of March 2017, an 8% increase on the previous year.

The Queen’s sovereign grant, the amount she receives from taxpayers, is calculated as a percentage of Crown Estate profits. In November,  it was announced that the percentage would rise for 10 years from 15% to 25%.

If she can’t find the money, what with living on state benefits and all, perhaps she might try looking in her offshore account? Just a thought. Otherwise the taxpayer stumping up the cost of yet another royal beano would be the icing on a cake we’re paying for!


If hell actually existed, I’d burn in it for all eternity for this….

MGOver the last few days a rather troubling thought has struck me, and so I thought I’d share it with you. During the last month or so, whilst the media has been awash with allegations of sexual assaults and various types of unwanted and unwarranted behaviours, it appears to me that another sexual predator has been lurking in plain sight.

His crimes may well have been committed many years go but are blatantly boasted about today. Celebrated even. These are no mere allegations, but reported as fact, with the victims deluded into thinking that happened to them was acceptable. If indeed the past is to be viewed through the lens of the prevailing norms of what is and what isn’t acceptable now, exactly how far back in the past should we go in this journey of exposing wrongs? Who is exempt?And why?

I can’t help but feel that what is happening now is happening at just the right time. I mean not the right time, in the sense this should have happened years ago, but the right time inasmuch as it is the right time of year, when the Christmas season is soon upon us. I mean Christians frequently bang on about what lessons the Bible has for us regarding modern life and how its – highly dubious – morality sets us some kind an example to follow. Nowhere is this more starkly illustrated than in the story of the “Immaculate Conception”. I contend that there’s nothing “Immaculate” about the “Immaculate Conception”. Immaculate means pure and clean and two things the “Immaculate Conception” is so not is pure and clean; it’s the very antithesis of those things.

In case you need reminding of the details, here’s an extract from the Gospel of Luke (C1 v: 26 – 38)

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

And this isn’t the first time God does this either. In verse 36, where it says “ Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month”, Gabriel admits that God did it to someone else. Like that would be of some comfort!

I know that some of you reading this will think that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. But am I? Really? You should be asking yourself why you think that, and consider that perhaps my interpretation has validity. Some celebrate the birth of Christ like some kind of wondrous event, instead of a monstrous one. Why is this actively celebrated, in Nativity plays at schools where this kind of abuse – and that’s what it is – acted out by children? They might go further and say I’m being too literal or twisting the Bibles words. Again, am I really? It clearly says that God has found so much favour with Mary that he’s going to impregnate her. And she thinks it is a good thing? Is this really what we should be indoctrinating young girls with, that their bodies are not their own?

Just because things in the Bible are supposed to have taken place over two thousand years ago does that make it somehow alright? Whilst I might believe that all religions are basically fairy stories for grown ups, last week I had the misfortune to be in a church the other day where the preacher was an evangelical Christian and clearly believed that the bible abounded with self-evident truths, and clearly he is not alone in his dangerously erroneous beliefs.

I know that the all of the so-called sacred texts of all religions are deeply problematic, with a highly dubious morality, but as I was brainwashed as a Catholic until I read Darwin as a teenager, I can only comment on the Bible. Why does religion get an exemption from the re-evaluation of the norms of now? Perhaps the only miracle of the Virgin Birth is that some of you still think of it as a miracle!

Wherein I reveal the unsurprising news ‘Debbie McGee factor’ both exists and is alive and well in the British press.


The media backlash over BBC presenters pay is yet another example of the ‘Debbie McGee factor’ at work. If you are unaware of the ‘Debbie McGee factor’ – what it is and the purpose it serves is – don’t be. I made it up for a blog I wrote a while ago, when I made the point that,

As every magician knows, if the audience is paying too close attention to them, then there is every chance that they will spot the sleight of hand or other chicanery they are is engaged in. (For the purposes of this argument all magicians are therefore less than handsome men, and it thereby follows that their assistants are attractive younger females wearing as little as the audience will permit). The purpose of the magician’s assistant is to distract the audiences’ gaze away from the magician and to focus instead on something more appealing. In essence the audience looks the other way, so that the trick can be successfully executed.

Debbie Mcgee was magician Paul Daniels’ assistant/ distraction and performed her role admirably, so admirably in fact that most people didn’t realise she had she was there to distract them.

When I remarked to someone yesterday that I was at a loss to understand the media’s over-reaction to the publication of the list, her response was that it was public – i.e. taxpayers – money and that therefore it was in some unspecified way justified. Which is true, up to a point. The point being the point at which sober reflection intrudes and gives chase to simplistic reaction.

Yes it isn’t fair that the BBC pays a lot to some of it’s employers. But whilst we focus on that, the media ignore the scandal that is the pay awarded to private companies by the government. That’s taxpayer money too, but it is very rarely front page news. This, for example, appeared in the Guardian,

Two private firms have earned more than £500m in taxpayers’ money for carrying out controversial disability benefit assessments.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) paid Atos and Capita £507m for personal independence payment (PIP) tests between 2013 and 2016, despite fierce criticism of their services by MPs.

And this little nugget, on economia with the intriguing headline,

Government paid Big Four more than half a billion pounds

The UK government has paid PwC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG more than half a billion pounds in fees over the past three years

Oh. And this, from who else? Your favourite and mine,  the reliably hypocritical Daily Mail which fulminated earlier this year that

All aboard the gravy train: Bill for Britain’s high speed rail link advisers is £180MILLION despite not a single piece of track being laid

Whilst gushing yesterday, with the unbridled sycophancy we’ve come to expect,

The look of love: Duke and Duchess of Cambridge can’t keep their eyes off each other as they join artists for a glittering reception in a Berlin ballroom

That would be the grandson of a pensioner who recently trousered an £82 million bonus to help with the refurbishment of her houses. Whose wedding we paid for. Enjoying a another taxpayer funded first class holiday. That one!

These things are related. By all means complain about what the BBC pay it’s staff and the gender bias it reveals, yes but whilst the public are busy being whipped up into wrongeous  indignation they are missing even more egregious abuses of public money. It says something none too edifying about the way in which the media both orchestrates and fuels public resentment over one issue, yet ignores others.

Debbie McGee!


Wherein Mr. Creosote meets Mrs. Frugal…



This post was going to be about the trial of three Barclay Bank executives and me comparing it unfavourably with the amount of people that have been jailed for benefit infractions since 2008. Ideally, I would have used this as a microcosm of the rather disingenuous judicial system that is skewed against the working person.

But instead I’m going to post about the events of last night which first of all, were a bit “Allo Allo” before morphing into ‘The rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and featuring a cameo appearance from one of Roger Hargreaves lesser known creations. Oh, and for good measure this was topped off by the feeling that one sometimes gets at school with an encore that was reminiscent of ‘Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.’

The setting for this lavish production was a wine and chocolate tasting evening at a nearby chocolate shop. I had brought this as a birthday present for my housemate and when we arrived and were seated we were subjected to a long introduction by the hostess who spoke in a comedy French accent that reminded me quite forcibly of Rene from ‘Allo Allo’. For those of you unfamiliar with ‘Allo Allo’ , it was a sitcom in the 1980’s that was based upon the French Resistance and Rene would always say ‘I will say this only once’. Only he would pronounce ‘this’ ‘theez’.

Once I had made the connection in my mind between Rene and the hostess I couldn’t put it out of my mind at all! She may have said something about different wines going with different chocolates and how she might have been to wine fairs to explore what wines went with the chocolates she made. She could have done but I just wish she would’ve repeated the word Sommelier over and over again for comedy value! The fact that she was French made it even funnier. She was proud of artisan chocolate especially the bizarre flavour combinations that she had concocted. One of these the coffee and aniseed one wasn’t as disgusting as it sounds, although the lavender and lemon one was as pungent as it was unpalatable. It was then that there was a performance of ‘The rime of the Ancient Mariner.’ Inasmuch as every time we thought we were going to eat some chocolate she banged on about something else. The irony inherent in her telling us about how her chocolate and how well it went with certain types of wine whilst us not experiencing it for ourselves wasn’t lost on me. And judging by the faces of the others wasn’t lost on them either! It was a case of it being so near and yet so far.

Finally the moment had come and she introduced the wine. Naturally this was accompanied by a talk on how important it was to choose the right wine to go with the right chocolate.   For some inexplicable reason that the 12 year old me couldn’t fathom, she said there wasn’t any white chocolate as white chocolate did something that was very complicated and worthy to something resulting in something else. Any hopes that our wine glasses would be filled were soon dashed by her transforming into Mrs. Frugal!

Everyone gathered was too polite to say anything but half a wine glass means that one half is missing and believe me these were the smallest wine glasses I’ve ever seen. They were more like Champagne flutes. It wasn’t so much that I wanted a full glass, but more that it was the principle. Eventually she stopped talking long enough for us to be invited to open the packets of chocolate and to sniff – SNIFF! – each one and decide which wine would go with each chocolate! If this all sounds a bit far fetched it was as nothing as being there and trying to keep a straight face! Then finally, we got to eat some chocolate. The chocolate was so wafer thin, that Mr. Creosote could’ve eaten it safely!

It was here that she mentioned that if our palate had been compromised her advice was that we should sniff our own skin. Possibly it was only me that thought it highly amusing that a French person was telling us to sniff our own skin, being that the English have a rather uncomplimentary opinion of French hygiene standards!

If you think that is bad, worse is to come because after we had tasted some chocolates and drunk a measly amount of wine she would then ask us in turn to evaluate them both. This reminded me of being at school. Specifically when a teacher reads out something that you are studying for ‘A’ level literature – and of which you have no understanding of – and asks everyone in turn what they thought about it. You tried to remember bits of what each person has said so you can give a Frankenstein answer. By the end of the evening the whole thing reminded me of ‘Invasion Of The Body Snatchers’ which as you are no doubt aware Invasion Of The Body Snatchers was a movie made at the height of cultural paranoia when American fears of communists in their ranks was at its height. The film played on the notion that people were not what they seemed and that aliens had hijacked their bodies but to all intents and purposes they were the same. It must have been the wine but soon everyone was loudly declaiming arrant nonsense in order to sound more cultured than they were. My favourite being by a long chalk was the hostess’ claim that ‘The flavours sounded delicious to her nose!’

To my uncultured mind, she had mistaken her anus for her mouth.