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Thursday 24 February 2011

Porn Again: An Innocent At The Home Office

The current edition of the Radio Times carries an interview with former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to promote her forthcoming Radio 5 Live programme on porn. In it she talks about the scandal which erupted when it was revealed that she had claimed for pay-per-view porn watched by her husband.

It's fascinating stuff. But there is one disclosure in particular which brought me up short. The article states:

"...Jacqui Smith's most startling revelation is that she had no idea porn was so widely available on line. "I thought the attraction of porn was that it's illicit: you go into a private shop to buy a DVD. But what the Internet has done is to open up free, hard pornography to anybody of any age. I found that quite shocking.""

Gosh. What I find quite shocking is that a former Home Secretary was apparently unaware of the Internet's function as a giant porn machine.

What other miracles of the modern world might Ms. Smith be unfamiliar with? Squeezy bottles of tomato sauce? Pentapeptide skin technology? The horseless carriage? It does make one wonder how the conversation went when news of her husband's indiscretion was brought to her attention .... *screen goes wavy*

INT: The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, is seated at the desk, her head in her hands. She sighs, turns, picks up a small stick and loudly beats a gong positioned behind her chair. Almost immediately the door opens and two men enter. They are Sir Farquhar Monro, Permanent Secretary of the Department and the Minister's PS Bernard Sillitoe.

Sir F: You rang Minister?

BS: (Pointing gingerly at the desk.) You do remember Minister, you have the buzzer?

JS: Oh for the love of God Bernard! I've told you, I've no truck with the damn thing. It's just something else is going to break down on you. Now sit, please. I'm afraid we, I, have a situation.

Sir F: Is it, by any chance Minister, a matter relating to your husband and what one's aide de camp might refer to as "gentleman's entertainment"?

JS. Good God. Yes. How did you know?

Sir F: Ah, the jungle drums Minister, the jungle drums.

JS: For Christ's sake Farquhar! I may not be into Bebo and whatnot but surely we can use a bloody telephone!

Sir F: Ah yes, figure of speech Minister. I merely meant that such news tends to travel fast.

JS. Oh. Right. Well you probably know I've mistakenly claimed for some er, entertainment through pay-per-view. God knows how that works. Maybe it's a collector's thing like in the Sunday supplements. You know, where you buy one DVD and then you get a set in a ring binder. And the magazine comes with it. I got a very good offer on Little House on the Prairie.

Sir F: I'm sorry Minister, I don't follow.

JS: Pay-per-view Farquhar! They said he got it pay-per-view! You must pay per DVD you view! Or for every peek through one of those little holes in the wall, or something. I thought you were a man of the world!

Sir F: Ahem. I see. No Minister, pay per view refers to a service offered by satellite and digital broadcasters where one pays to view a particular, er, item on the television.

JS: What!? You can get a porno on the telly?! But that's ludicrous!

BS; Well, indeed Minister, given what you can get on-line for free, and with a bit of forethought not even your mother would know what you'd been looking at especially not if you...

Sir F: (Hastily) Yes, thank-you Bernard. Ah, Minister, I must inform you that we men about town, we blades, we tomcats, as it were, are no longer restricted to a fly blown Penthouse wedged under the tennis club hut. No, no, these days most pornography is viewed via the Internet.

JS. Oh don't be ridiculous Farquhar. The Internet is for terrorists and swimming hamsters and that sort of thing.

Sir F: That may be Minister, but I can assure you that if you have an interest in erm, carnal matters, the Internet is the best thing since sliced bread.

JS: What do you mean sliced bread?

Sir F: (Starting to look really quite concerned.) Again it is a figure of speech Minister. Used to denote a breakthrough, a user friendly innovation akin to the introduction of ready sliced bread.

JS: I'm not familiar. I always buy a nice cottage loaf.

A silence descends. Sir F and Bernard are at a loss.

JS: (Sadly) I've never understood what people see in these films anyway.

Sir F: Well, they can be a boon to those who live a lonely existence Minister.

JS: No I mean I don't know what they can see. How do they know what's going on when it's in the dark? Even if you had your shorty nightie on, you're under the covers two minutes in.

Sir F: Ah. I think Minister the makers of such entertainment are perhaps economical with the actualite when it comes to the depiction of..., of..., an act of love. It is likely, for example, to be unnaturally well lit.

JS: (Wringing her hands) Stop! Please! I have no desire to look into the mouth of the beast!

Sir F: (Gently) Yes Minister. This is all most trying for you. We must of course issue a statement as a matter of urgency..

JS: Of course, of course. (Checking her watch) The girls in the typing pool will be keen to catch a tram before nightfall.

BS: Actually Minister, I may have mentioned we no longer have a typ...

Sir F: Yes Bernard, we must not become mired in inconsequential detail at this most difficult and sensitive juncture.

JS: Thank you Farquhar. You have been very kind. Now I must fix myself up a bit before I face the press. (Thoughtfully..) Perhaps I should give an interview to the Manchester Guardian, they've always been very supportive... I shall plug in my Carmen rollers and be with you in a jiffy...

BS: I'm not sure if you're aware Minister but if it's big hair with a salon finish you're looking for the Babyliss Big Hair is getting a very good press at the moment...

Sir F: Yes. Thank-you Bernard. Now about those expenses for the Heads of Department strategy weekend, I think it might be best if the claims are sent direct to me....


Wednesday 23 February 2011

Food Perversion That's A Real Turn Off

Today I mentioned on Twitter that I had eaten banana on toast. I am sorry to bring this up, particularly because it will confirm the prejudices of those who think that Twitter is a stream of inanities such as "Just had banana on toast.", or "Off 2 work! LOL!!" or "Cutting up dead bodies is harder than you think." But in the end the need to share my story with the world appears to have gotten the better of me, so here we are.

My tale of banana on toast got quite a reaction I can tell you. Very soon literally* scores** of tweeters were sharing their banana on toast experiences. And there I was at the epicentre of it, like Nigel Slater at a greasy hair convention.

I'd like to be able to say that it was heartwarming and made me go all fuzzy inside, like when I see James McAvoy's forearms, but the truth is I was left rather disturbed by the whole thing. Why? Because of what it revealed about my fellow tweeters' eating habits.

For example, one person responded that they hoped I had put sugar on it. Sugar. On banana on toast. Er, yeah. Great idea. Why not go the whole hog and sprinkle it with DIAMONDS?!

This got me thinking about Great Food Perversions of Our Time. Not obvious perversions like a daylight kebab. No, something much darker which, once discovered, cannot be wished away.

You might be rubbing along quite nicely with some new acquaintance, discovering a shared love of the Doobie Brothers and candlewick dressing gowns, when they mention casually that they put garlic in their carbonara. There's just no coming back from that is there?

Growing up in Scotland the greatest barometer of food perversion was mince, for no two Mums' minces ever taste the same. It is also a truth universally acknowledged that one Mum's mince is another child's nightmare. It is the epicurean equivalent of the "smelly lobby"; that strange smell of "otherness" that hovers on the landings of certain houses not your own and enables you to experience anew the intoxicating, familiar scent of home.

For a child missing home, different foods only add to the heartache. When my Mum was in hospital having my little brother, my elder brother and I were farmed out to neighbours who, very kindly, gave us our tea. I remember well the look of anxious distress in my brother's eyes when we were given spaghetti hoops on toast. " This is all very well, " he whispered, "but where is the meal?"

It was an important milestone in our young lives to realise that not everyone ate oxtail stew with prunes on a regular basis.

I leave you with some of the food perversions which have made a lasting impact on me. I'd love to hear about yours.

When Sweet Turns Sour
Inappropriate sugaring looms large in my food perversions. Sugar on bananas on toast we have already discussed. Sugar on french toast (or "eggy bread" if you must) is another. I am not averse to french toast with, say, a caramelised pear or a wee bit of chocolate sauce, but a naked sprinkle of sugar is prime perversion.

Likewise of course sugar in porridge. If God had wanted you to put sugar in porridge he wouldn't have invented Ricicles.

Tommy Sauce; The Rules
Tomato sauce is acceptable thusly: on burgers, with chips and in macaroni cheese. That's your lot. Tommy Sauce particularly has no place near an egg of any description.

A Has-Bean Friend
I once went on a cottage holiday in the far north west of Scotland with a group of lifelong friends. Those of you who have done this will know that there is nowhere to hide a culinary peccadillo. I could only watch with horror as a woman I had known all my life tipped a tin of baked beans into, yes, you've guessed it, the mince. To say that it caused a rift would be something of an understatement.

Scotch Broth: Barley Making Sense
Scotch Broth without barley is like making love without hot buttered toast. I rest my case.

*by literally I mean not at all literally
**by scores I mean "one or two"

Wednesday 9 February 2011


For some reason my first kiss popped into my head today.

It wasn't like first kisses in the movies which happen at the Prom, or on the bleachers bathed in golden twilight. I didn't have a crush on the boy. He didn't pass me notes in class or carry my books home.

He was German and was on holiday in the little seaside town I grew up in. I think I was 13, maybe 14. We had gone to the beach, my friends and I, because someone said there were German lads staying in the Church of Scotland holiday home. This would not have been my idea. I wasn't interested in boys. (I wasn't interested in girls either). I had a proper crush on Paul Newman after watching "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and it was pretty hard to compete with that, to be honest.

I found my friends' endless discussion of boys mind numbingly tedious. I thought it was phoney and idiotic. I just didn't get it. I always wanted to say "No, he's not looking at you. Now can we go for chips?" But I didn't because I was a coward and I knew that the path of truth would lead to long lunch hours on my own at the social suicide end of the tennis courts.

Anyway, it was just as well I wasn't interested in boys because they weren't much interested in me. I had long brown hair in plaits, wore vests, played the violin and looked about 11. Let's put it this way, I was no Julie Wallace. (She became an air hostess.)

So it was all the more perplexing when we arrived at the beach and found the German boys and one of them was interested in me. I can't remember how this became apparent but it did. I don't' remember his name. I know I didn't fancy him and was frankly terrified because he was 15 or 16 and was wearing clogs.

After my friends got over their astonishment, they quickly made it their business to steamroller my increasingly desperate objections and force me at hissing point into a walk along the cliff top path with clog boy.

We walked along in silence. I don't remember how good his English was, but my German, gleaned from my brother's "Battle" comics, consisted mainly of "Raus!" and "Schnell!" which my nascent sense of diplomacy told me was probably best avoided.

We stopped at the end of the path. Panic and embarrassment swelled in my vest clad chest as I sensed that the time was nigh. I remember closing my eyes and thinking "Okay. Let's get this over with." I think I stopped just shy of holding my nose.

And then he kissed me. Who knows what it was like really? In my memory it has become a classic teenage teeth grinding nightmare, like pressing your lips against the boring machine that dug the Channel Tunnel. I do remember that he smoked and that the taste of stale, tarry cigarettes was overwhelming.

A few minutes later it was over. I said goodbye and ran home, the taste of ashes in my mouth.