Tag Archives: lunch

Chicken, tubes and toilets

In the spirit of ‘Blue Monday‘, here are three foodie sights that consistently depress me:

1. Queues outside South London’s multitudinous purveyors of fried chicken

Step forward all you Chicken Shacks, Chicken Huts, Chicken Expresses and Chicken Dinnerz. From 6pm onwards, these places do a roaring trade in low-quality, low-welfare, saturated fat-laden chicken dinners, all pitched at eye-wateringly low prices.

Perhaps more dispiriting are the trails of gnawed chicken bones, discarded on the pavement Hansel and Gretel-style, so that diners can always find their way back. Are the same people queuing day after day? Or are huge numbers of repeat customers treating themselves week in, week out? I can only hope it’s the latter.

2. People who sit down to lunch on the tube

Let me be clear: it’s not eating on the tube per se that upsets me – I hold no truck with peckish travellers who snatch snacks en route to their destination, nor do I object to a perceived lack of consideration for others (unless the all-pervasive Red Bull is involved).

What gets me down is seeing someone who gives every impression that the tube is their idea of the perfect dining location. The culprits are usually men who sit in near-empty carriages at lunchtime, with straight back and feet firmly planted on the floor. They’ll carefully arrange their belongings on the seat to their left and place a crisp, brown paper bag on the seat to their right, from which they’ll reverentially extract some item – a sandwich, a burger, or whatever – before tucking into it with gusto, as if they’ve been waiting all day for this movable feast. Park bench, anyone?

3. The misery of unusual toilet signs in restaurants and bars

I am among the people who – inadvisedly, I know – always wait until the last possible moment to pop to the loo. Alcohol only serves to hinder my judgement in such a matter. So imagine the gnashing of teeth and crossing of legs that ensue when I’m in a bar and encounter any of the following on the toilet doors: a reproduction of a curly-haired Botticelli madonna, versus a curly-haired Regency-era prince; an intricate sketch of a dapper Edwardian gentleman, complete with umbrella, paunch and Penny farthing, versus one of a fragrant Edwardian lady, complete with parasol, bustle and, yes, Penny farthing; an enigmatic letter that could feasibly be attributed to, say, either a lad or a lady; a cartoon of a male sheep/horse/earwig, versus a cartoon of a female sheep/horse/earwig…before you know it, you’ve wet yourself again, haven’t you?

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‘No, minister’

So, which government PR drone came up with the idea of catapulting health secretary Andrew Lansley into the papers by using Jamie Oliver’s name? A pat on the back for that cheap stunt.

His words are a slap in the face considering how Oliver raised the profile of the issue of school dinners and the headway his campaign has made so far. Not to mention an insult to the schools and dinner ladies who’ve now started to demand more of the food they feed to their kids than that it fills them up at lunchtime.

Imagine if something bad were going on locally that you felt strongly about. Maybe the litter in your area’s getting you down, so you corral a few like-minded people and organise a weekly litter-pick. It’s something small, harmless, cost-free and positive that you can do, and – who knows? – it could build pride in your area and deter litter bugs in the future.

Now imagine, a few months down the line, that you open your local paper, only to find the council lambasting your efforts and calling your goodwill gesture a failure. Suddenly you’re to blame for something that was never your responsibility in the first place. It’s how Oliver’s situation looks from where I’m standing.

Perhaps in the future we’ll be asked to take full personal responsibility for the consequences of our diet on our health, and if so, so be it. However, at the moment it’s the Government – not a lone celebrity chef – that’s responsible for what children eat at school. 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Is it a bird?

My favourite bit of recent food news, you ask? The story of the Hadron collider and the David that brought this particular Goliath to its knees. One unassuming morsel of baguette. Yes, baguette.

My first thought was: imagine the embarrassment of whoever was responsible for that leftover bit of lunch when it was finally located and deemed the reason for the malfunction. They must know who they are. Imagine if that scientist was the only one in the group who even ate baguettes, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind as to who was responsible. The shame! It could so easily have been me, had I pursued science instead of arts…

However – no sooner had these self-indulgent thoughts passed through my head, then the plot thickened. The Times reported a spokesman saying: ‘Nobody knows how it got there. The best guess is that it was dropped by a bird, either that or it was thrown out of a passing aeroplane.’

Oh, those birds and their lunchtime sandwich habits, always biting off more than they can chew. Was I the only one who couldn’t help but smile wryly at the thought of the poor, red-faced CERN spokesman? It’s not that I don’t believe his explanation. It’s just that I don’t want to – I love to think that this error was far more human.

Imagine the scenario. It’s lunchtime, the scientists have been working intensely all morning. They’re in need of a break and some light refreshment. In the style of the New York workers who adorn many a student’s bedroom wall, they sit together atop the collider, legs dangling, lunchboxes on their laps, enjoying the down time and each others’ company.

New York scaffolders having lunch

Scientists working on the Hadron collider

It just takes one of them to get up too quickly, or gesticulate too animatedly, or brush themselves down absent-mindedly. It just takes one butterfingers. The discarded morsel of baguette falls, out of reach, in a perfect arc, then disappears.

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