The Lighter Side of a Global Pandemic

Right from the early stages of this Covid-19 Pandemic there has been a number of film and TV show selections of the schedules that have been, shall we say, interesting. I’m not sure if these were deliberate, I know schedules are worked out in advance but, as we’ve seen with the plethora of lockdown-specific TV shows, can be changed.

The ones that I noticed have included:
  Channel 5 showing “28 Days Later” regularly
  Channel 4 showing “The Return of The Black Death”
  Channel 5 showing “The Great Plague: Digging Up Britain’s Past”
  ITV2 showing “Contagion”
  Horror Channel showing “The Andromeda Strain” – the obligatory “it’s aliens” story.
  Another channel showed a documentary “Pandemic: 1918” about the Spanish Flu outbreak.
  Horror Channel showed “Daylight’s End” “In the aftermath of an outbreak that turned humans into rabid creatures” – much like the scenes in supermarkets shortly before the lockdown.
Either it’s a sick sense of humour or an attempt to say “things could be worse”… Elsewhere DMAX have been showing first Paranormal Lockdown UK and then Paranormal Lockdown US. Which I’m sure is a coincidence but if anything can be called a paranormal lockdown this can.

I have noticed that shopping has ceased to resemble Supermarket Sweep and now feels like the start of a Tour de France time trial or a World Rally stage – being let go into the aisles at intervals – at least they don’t time you, or if they did what would you win? A bottle of hand sanitiser?
  There was a man in a shop who was offered his receipt by the cashier and his reaction was to insist that she put it on the counter before he then picked it up, saying “you can’t be too careful” despite the fact that she’d already touched it, she’d put it down on a surface which could have even more contamination on it than her hand and if he’d taken it from her he’d know which end she’d touched and as such he could have just stuffed it in his wallet uncontaminated. In the same shop they’d had to put signs on the shelves where the handwash had been, and had been replaced with loads of bar soap, saying, effectively “this is soap, it works the same as handwash, it’s just solid.”
  In a light-hearted post the photographic film manufacturer Ilford suggested stockpiling rolls of film not toilet roll.

In Psychology there is an effect whereby if you touch and object you want to own it, supermarkets have now reinforced this with their instruction to not touch anything you’re not going to buy therefore if you pick something up to see what it is you feel you really should buy it – or is that just me. Ok, just me then.

The Grand National was replaced by a virtual version and bookmakers profits were donated to NHS charities. For years we’ve been saying that some motorsport has become more like a video game, in 2020 Formula One and Formula E literally did, and finally the fans who were convinced they could drive better than the professionals got a chance to try to prove it.

TV and radio have become strange as many programmes presenters have taken to the equivalent of “phoning it in”, sat in their living rooms, occasionally interrupted by kids or pets while some new shows have been made specifically for lockdown such as Jamie Oliver’s cooking tips and Kirsty Allsop doing a programme on crafts you can do while at home.
  One of the channel idents for the UK’s Dave said “Who’d have thought that staying at home and watching TV would count as saving the world?”

In a slightly mistimed new Lynx Africa advert, a young man at college picks up a can of Lynx Africa in 1996 and immediately he gets transported to 2020 where he emerges on the lawn outside in front of a young woman who sprays the Lynx on his t-shirt then drags him away. The reality of course would be he would either emerge into an empty college lawn or if she was there she’d have told him to get back and observe the social distancing – and either way he’d wonder what they hell was going on.

At mealtimes we’ve all been transformed into amateur Heston Blumenthals experimenting with what we’ve got left in the fridge and freezer until we go and queue up at the supermarkets again. All this aided by the aforementioned Jamie Oliver. After the toilet roll stage of the panic buying came the beer and wine stage while in South Africa they are looking to impose a ban on drinking hand sanitiser. Talking of supermarkets a newspaper in hull shared the amazing news, nearly a month into the lockdown, and even longer since the panic buying began, that you could get most of your groceries at shops which aren’t supermarkets, gasp. I, today ventured into a supermarket after work for the first time in seven weeks, there wasn’t a queue, it was half-past-five of course.

And we’ve gained a new phrase and concept of course – social distancing, two words that we’ll take a while to forget and a habit that we’ll probably still subconsciously maintain after this is over, I’ve even noticed that I’ve seen people on TV adverts and thought “they’re not two metres apart”…

Facebook and Twitter have been a mine of Coronavirus humour since day one, as expected.  Especially as we were told to not stay home anymore but “stay aware” – of what, nobody’s really sure as yet.

Of course there’ll always be songs to keep you going and I’ll leave this post with an appropriate one Radio 2s Liza Tarbuck played on the 11th of April by Ethel Merman, Jack Klugman & Sandra Church “Together Wherever We Go”:
“We may not go far… We’ll always get through this together”

TV Dinners

Pizza

Pizza

Earlier this year I experienced something that made me think about how we appreciate food. I tend to watch TV while eating meals, I have done for many years and on this particular evening I was watching The Worlds Most Dangerous Roads while eating a pizza, suddenly I realised that the pizza had pretty much disappeared. I didn’t remember eating it, by which I mean I didn’t remember what it was like.  I did, however, remember the TV programme.

I realised that because I’d been concentrating on the events on-screen my mind had simply allowed the eating to be done autonomously, as though it were simply food for survival rather than enjoyment.  I felt distinctly disappointed as it was a kind of food I like to taste and savour.  For some people the TV is more important than enjoying food but not me.

There are restaurants where you eat in the dark and when I first heard about the concept, about how it enables you to appreciate the food more and experience all the nuances of flavour fully without even the distraction of seeing the food I thought it was just a fad, until the lost pizza.

Perhaps this is why we enjoy food more in restaurants or outdoors, whether it be a bacon cob or a picnic, with fewer distractions.  TV is often a constant stream of events, taking your full attention as opposed to having it on in the background, or listening to music, or having a conversation with family or friends at the dinner table like we used to – all of which let you pay attention to everything in turn, including the food in front of you.

Electric Hands and Aluminium Kitchens

chisels

chisels (Photo credit: The Year of Mud)

I was watching a TV show which showed a restaurant and the customers kept talking about all this “home cooked” food, OK it was a family restaurant, owned by the same family for generations but I was sure that they just showed the food being cooked in a very shiny, very metallic, very up to hygiene standards industrial restaurant kitchen behind the counter.  Do they live upstairs?  I thought.  On other shows this pattern repeated, maybe it’s the decor that’s making people think “home cooked”, don’t they know it’s not the owner’s dining room.

Next up came the description of hand-made food items which again didn’t seem quite what I would call “hand”-made, although hands were involved in some ways, moving the ingredients, pushing the button, turning the handle.

“The meat is still prepared by hand” – the guy pushed a piece of meat into a machine.  No knife, no hammer.

“Hand-cut fries” – the guy pushed a potato into a device and pulled a handle.  Again, no knife.

It’s not just restaurants though, more and more (often expensive and exclusive) things are described as “hand-made” when they’re in fact made by a machine and assembled by hand.  A chair leg hand-turned on a lathe is still hand-made, the hand that guides the chisel, but a cabinet where all the joints are routed by a set machine rather than a hammer and chisel – is that still hand-made?

Eventually I’ve come to the conclusion that the term hand-made, along with home-cooked has come to mean the opposite of “made in a huge mass-production facility in China”.  TV shows have shown examples of some mass-production methods used by food producers, occasionally emphasising the less savoury looking aspects – the infamous “pink goo” – which doesn’t look appetising it’s true but restaurants don’t make food like factories, they mass produce just on a smaller scale, I’ve done a large spaghetti Bolognese at home but not enough for a table for ten at eight.

As well as that people know that fast-food or large chain restaurants have frozen food items shipped in nightly to be warmed up which are as such full of preservatives and evil whereas in a small restaurant the food is made properly, just like you’d have at home, hence home-made.  Even if the mass-produced stuff is 100% beef and the home-made one is just as bad for you if you scoff too many.

Maybe I’m being picky over semantics, again, but even home-made “home-made” food can come from a kit you buy at M&S these days.

In our world where just about everything is manufactured in a factory, see How It’s Made on TV, people are more often craving the hand made for its roughness, lack of uniformity – in things like cakes and chocolate bars, but if you phrase it differently “made by hand” or “hand finished by Barry” suddenly you can charge a fortune for it, whether it’s a watch or an Aston Martin engine.  The irony is that less than forty years ago Fiat ran a campaign for the new Strada expressing how amazing it was that it was Hand Built by Robots.

If you can market something as home-made or hand-made you can imply it’s more wholesome in some way, even if many of the ingredients still contain colourings and preservatives, when used deliberately this way it’s tapping into consumers’ resistance to “processed foods” which are full of salt, fat or MSG.  You can also sell to those following the current fashion of seeking out “authentic” experiences, like rustic furniture, timber sash windows, overpriced hearty bangers and mash or real ale at six pounds a pint – yes you read that right, a pub near here is offering an authentic real ale in a real pub experience for just six quid a go. Again they’re selling people the idea that the past was better, that retro is the way forward, so to speak.

I think I’ll stick to my real real pub across the town at half the price, followed by a decidedly not home-made battered sausage.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Needs for Bees

bee eating

bee eating (Photo credit: acidpix)

It is said that if you ask the question “where does our food come from?” today you’ll get the answer “the supermarket” more often than not and it’s true that many people are increasingly further along the supply chain from the raw produce than ever before – I am guilty of this myself, for convenience’s sake I eat much frozen and processed foods and it would be easy to not realise which animal beef comes from or that potatoes are grown in the ground or peas are pulled from one natural packet before being shoved into an artificial one.

The thing is that so much of our food still relies on nature to help in its production, despite irrigation systems, spray-on pesticides and nutrients.  Sometimes an apparently insignificant change in nature can have catastrophic implications that science can’t (yet) get round effectively – the most extreme example of this effect on our food being the novel The Death of Grass by John Christopher in which a devastating plant virus wipes out all species of grasses – including wheat leaving us without cereal crops for either us or our livestock to eat with the result of a rapid breakdown of society to a barbarous state of desperation for survival.

But it’s just science fiction isn’t it, we’re ok.  Aren’t we?  Well, to a point.  Bees are one of the main pollinators of plants, we need them in order to grow our food crops as well as gardens full of pretty flowers but they have been, across the world, in decline in recent years and scientists don’t fully know why.  It is thought that if we lost the bees the knock on effect would be the loss of up to a third of our regular diet. 

Various theories have been put forward such as mites like the tracheal mites that killed off all native British bees during World War I – which needed to be replaced by imported Dutch and Italian bees.   It is also theorised that, ironically, pesticides and other chemicals used to protect the crops the bees are pollinating are responsible.

So what can be done?  Well another possible contributing factor is that people are either removing wild flower areas that supported the bees or concreting over gardens and having low-maintenance patios and so on that have no flowers at all or only plants that are no use to bees whatsoever.  So while science tries to find out why the decline is happening and the debate over pesticides rumbles on consider how that humble bee sitting on your windowsill ultimately affects your life, it’s not as insignificant as it may seem.  There are lots of posts on Facebook at the moment advising helping out struggling bees with drops of sugar-water and more importantly the planting of bee-friendly plants.

At the front of our factory is an area that hadn’t been cleared of wild plants and flowers for some time and as I was making a mug of tea the other day I noticed it was a hive of bee activity, so to speak, so we’re doing our bit, in a tiny way.

Chocolate Shouldn’t Require an Excuse

This mean cat is me

This mean cat is me (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Someone who shall remain nameless said to me today that they’d opened a bag of sweets “because we needed something for the mousetrap”.  I replied that it was the best excuse I’d heard for opening chocolates and they then said “you’ll put that on your blog now won’t you.”

Yep 🙂

Also this month’s excuse for a cat picture.