There are two kinds of people in this world and I'm one of them.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tell 'em about the honey

I don't usually go into the "bespoke" bakery round the corner from the flat, a bit because I'm not too sure what a "bespoke" bakery is, but mostly because it sells overly-complicated bread that you can't fit into the toaster properly and it's about five quid a throw. I was caught short, bread-wise, this morning, though, and I had to go and face up to the full, sundried tomato-infused horror.

The least intricate item seemed to be a white loaf being billed as Pain de Miel - bread made with honey, so it's a little bit sweet and you can whack a 200 per cent markup on the price. I asked for it in my best French accent, even though we're in Southwark, and the assistant, coincidentally the World's Poshest Woman, gingerly picked it off the shelf and wrapped it, all the time eyeing me suspiciously.

"Have you had this kind of bread before?" she asked, making it sound like it was some fabulously mysterious item, baked from flour ground underfoot by unicorns.

"Er, i don't think so," I said, not sure if she was even going to let me buy it. I should mention at this point I was wearing a track suit, and not my best tweeds, ribboned bonnets, etc, like the rest of the queue.

"It' honey in it..." she snarled. I felt like I was ordering something unethical, like I'd gone in demanding a pound of panda livers or humming birds on sticks. I think she imagined that people in track suits didn't have palates sophisticated enough to enjoy bread with honey in it.

"Er, yes, I know. Thanks." By now I was almost having to wrestle it from her hands.

"I'm asking because I've never tried it myself," she (probably) lied. "Will you come back and tell me what it tastes like?"

"No problem," I said, already turning for the door, thinking well, it IS made on the premises, surely you can just go in the back and tear a bit off, or buy one with what I imagine is a sizeable employee discount?

Sadly I'll only be going back as a last resort. And besides, you couldn't taste the honey.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I got a polar to love

Back, then, from two weeks guffing around the Antarctic Peninsula, a tale of derring do, seas rougher than a sandpaper facial and as many penguins as you could feasibly snort with frozen nostrils. It's way too much to write about in one boring fell swoop, so I will add episodes and bore you slowly. So slowly you'll hardly realise you're being bored at all, like a frog in a pan of gradually heated water. Before you know it, you'll be an exploded amphibian with boiling ennui for guts.

I'm going to fast forward through the first bit, which was an 18-hour flight to the Falkland Islands (via Ascension Island) and then two days there which need some reflection before writing about. More reflection, I mean. Anywackers, we joined our vessel - which had set off from Buenos Aires some days earlier - there, and set off for two days at sea. With nothing to see, but sea. See? Now read on...

Passenger's log: Day 2, Somewhere in the sea.

I’m on a ship. Or is it a boat? I know that one term is fantastically insulting to nautical types, and marks you out as a hateful Johnny Land-lubber, but I’m too embarrassed to ask which, so I just alternate usage to minimize the damage. I joined it (sorry, HER) at the Falkland Islands after the rest of the passengers had already been at sea for around five days, and apparently the best idea for newcomers is to beat the living crap out of someone on your first day so that they respect…no, hang on, that’s prison.

I’ve never really been at sea for more than a few hours, certainly not for two days without getting off or indeed seeing any land whatsoever. I’m obviously something of a salty old seadog now, apart from the ship/boat fiasco, but living at sea is mainly like trying to go about your normal business while someone randomly messes with the gravity settings. Your body is almost imperceptibly pulled in weird directions, even as you sleep, and then suddenly there can be a huge fluctuation that can be potentially awkward if you’re carrying soup or trying to look sober after one too many after-dinner ports.

Also, being on a ship is what it must be like to be OCD. To minimise the chances of an outbreak of something sinister in the trousers department, you have to wash your hands ALL THE TIME. There are handwipes on every available surface and you can’t go into a room without dipping your hands in something antibacterial.

The good side of the OCD behaviour is that you also can’t leave your cabin for more than ten seconds without the staff compulsively plopping some kind of present in there, from passable Belgian chocolates to newsletters telling you that Boy George has been sent to prison. I recommend the combination.

There’s not much to do, although there IS an important briefing going on in the lounge about the next days' landing, being conducted by the team of beardie on-board bird experts, which I miss to go for a well-earned massage by the non-beardie on-board relaxation expert(ess). I figure it will all become apparent in good time - we're going to see a lot of penguins I GET IT.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

To do...

Let's see now...wake up - check...pack - check...take car to RAF base for midnight flight to the Falkland Islands - check. I'm off for two weeks to go and bother some penguins and set foot on my seventh continent, which is fairly exciting, and spend ten days afloat with 300 assorted senior citizens which, well, is what it is, I suppose. The cruise is billed as The Far Side of the World (though everywhere is the far side of the world to someone) which makes me feel like Russell Crowe in Master and Commander, except hopefully without the crude surgical procedures and eating the weevils out of biscuits, etc. Flying from a military facility is a bit scary (I get nervous around squaddies) - I just hope the inflight entertainment stretches beyond someone screaming 'Drop and give me twenty!" every hour.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Mixed bag of ZOOg

Unless SpecSavers know something I don’t (lots about optometry and how the high street optical retail market works, but that goes without saying), I wasn’t beknighted in the New Year’s Honours List. I’d ordered some prescription sunglasses from them, and the store texted me to say they had arrived, only the text was addressed to ‘Lord Oswell’. Although it gave me five solid minutes of vicarious thrills, knocking the title around in my head and thinking of ways I could exploit people, I realised there’s nothing in this world that I have done to deserve any such honour, unless they’re dishing out gongs for Services to Work Displacement Activities, my long and varied napping career or my kindness to animals.

That last one is the least likely of all, as I am not kind to animals (at least, not since the death of my three fish of eleven years standing, Freeman, Hardy and Willis.) I’m not UNkind to animals, it’s just I don’t really know them on the whole. Not even to say hello to.

Hence my satisfaction at having successfully looked after the neighbour’s cat for seven whole days without a medical incident or some kind of comedy misplacement scenario which entails me hooning round pet stores with a photo, trying to find an exact replica before she got back. My allergy-riddled system meant I couldn’t dispense much in the way of actual affection, but I did let him brush up against my calves, or more specifically the thick denim around my calves, as I spooned his food out and tried not to breath in.

The cat’s survival formed one of the plus points to the mixed bag of a beginning to 2009, or ZOOg, as the kids aren’t calling it. The others include the aforementioned hilarious Lord incident, the Portuguese guy at the coffee shop I go to on the way to work giving me a free tub of hot porridge (I saw him make it by mistake for someone else and them palm it off on me as a “Happy New Year gift”, but I was still pleased) and my visiting friend Shannon buying a whole camembert to take back to the States with her and then leaving it behind in my fridge by mistake. I offered to post it, but in the end we just agreed it was best all round for me to look after it.

These rays of sunshine were of course counterbalanced with the news of ongoing violent war in the Middle East, the Current Economic Whatnot meaning I’ll probably only get about four day’s work this year and the general lack of enthusiasm for calling 2009 “ZOOg”.

So a finely balanced start, all told, and the next few weeks look to hold that pattern: I do get two weeks off work, but I do have to spend them on a boat with 300 pensioners. I sense a year of breaking even at best. Which I'll take, obviously.