Volcano

Volcano by Tom

There’s nothing wrong with a holiday excursion, after a few days of chilling out, it’s nice to do something different, soak up some sights and sounds etc. It’s a sort of cultural mini detox for the copious amounts of drink and food you’ve consumed so far. My partner and I don’t holiday often, so when we do, we are desperate to only relax and to be as comfortable as possible. We were so adamant on this intent, that when we booked our last package holiday, we made a pact – no excursions.

Day one of our holiday, a rep asks if were interested in doing anything. I had already pre-rehearsed my excellent excuses for why we wouldn’t be indulging in their trip-based frivolities. 10 minutes later – excursion booked. FFS.

Fully committed, we now just had a few days of holidaying whilst we awaited our sentence. I looked on the bright side. We were going to be visiting a Volcano! I then saw the dark side – the reception at the hotel had informed us that they were experiencing a ‘calima’ and the temperature would be around 45 (well over 100 in old money). + Volcano heat.

We board the bus and it’s an immediate realisation we have fucked up. The bus aircon is akin to the last breath of a dying man felt from a neighbouring town. The musty smell agrees with this analogy. I’m now melting, but etiquette dictates that I cannot take my top off.  I hold an odd pose. To some it might look like I’m suffering from a stroke. But I’ll hold any position that stops the feeling of sweat dripping down the back of my neck. This is all made worse by the relatively smug comfort my girlfriend seems to be enjoying. As someone who runs cold, she’s enjoying the karma from all the times I told her we shouldn’t put the heating on at home.

I’m starting to panic. I’m now really hot. I’m looking forward to getting to the destination, being delirious I’d forgotten what that was. We arrive, ah yes, the only thing on the planet hotter than that bus – a sodding volcano.

I spot something that gives me hope; geysers of flowing water from the ground. Shooting up and showering everyone. This is cruelty as instead of cooling rain, it’s scolding hot water. People are giggling. I hate this planet.

Somehow, I get through it and we board the bus back. But not until we stop at a vineyard. Yes, a vineyard at a volcano. I don’t need to go in to depth here: the wine was shit. But wait, a gift shop! Aircon! I brush the eager tourists aside and locate a glorious air conditioning unit towards the back of the shop. Nirvana. I frequent it several times as I keep forgetting how hot it is outside. Each time I visit I audibly let out a sigh of relief and open my body up – accepting the cooling flow of the Hitachi Easyflow X1000. However, by my fourth visit I was starting to get funny looks. “Fuck em’ they are just jealous of my new found comfort” I thought as I repeated my opening up and sighing process. The stares now escalate to worried murmurs. I step back and gauge my surroundings. The position of the air-conditioning unit was unfortunate. I thought I’d been standing at a shrine worshiping the gods of air conditioning. It turned out I was actually worshiping at a shrine of phallic themed souvenirs. As I said before, I hate this planet.

Pizza Express

Pizza Express by Tom

I’m fortunate enough to live in an area of the country filled with great eats. Like wild orca whales surrounding a precariously balanced podgy seal, award winning chefs surround me, vying for me to fall off my current diet-berg and stuff my face with their delights.

Even as a self-confessed food snob, I’m spoilt for choice and the eating’s always good.

However, something grimey lurks deep within me, more specifically within my tum tum. I call it the ‘Stomach Prince’. This prince of darkness, awakens whenever I consider my next food outing. He speaks to me, whispering sweet nothings, corrupting my thoughts. He demands I consider an alternative course of action. He demands mid-90s, mid-class faux Italian mediocrity. He demands Pizza Express. I can’t explain why. I can’t answer for him. But 3 times out of 10 he wins and I take myself and whoever I can drag down with me to Pizza Express.

This presents an immediate problem for anyone who is familiar to Pizza Express. One cannot simply go to Pizza Express. No, no, first admin is required. There is ALWAYS a voucher for pizza express. I’m no coupon scrounger, but when said voucher results in a whole free course, you have to print one off or suffer the guilt your wallet demands for not doing so. This system has been the same for years and therefore must be successful for them – which says a lot about their main customer base.

Once there, I’m always impressed by how busy it is. A real authentic bustle of underpaid staff frantically scurrying around ferrying their body weight in dough balls to each, never contented, diner. Their thirst for spherical dough never sustained. Commendable. I don’t judge the patrons for this, I’ll be joining them soon enough – the prince has already whispered a need for doughy balls en route.

Balls quaffed, I move on to Pizza. Apparently they do salads and pastas too. I will openly judge anyone within a 10m radius of me who elects for one of these alternatives. Stay at home, you aren’t welcome here.

As I mentioned earlier, I am a food snob. Irregardless of the stomach prince, I am still aware of this. I want to judge the pizza, given its relatively low price and the cheap plate it’s been served on. But I can’t. Pizza Express have one thing to get right and, to their credit, they do indeed nail it. The modern fashion with pizzerias at the moment seems to be a ‘less is more’ artisan route – to the point of it essentially being toast with a bit of tomato on top. Not at Pizza Express.

Criticisms? A few: Clearly at this price point, the toppings aren’t going to be of the highest quality. We aren’t going to get artichokes hand selected by Pope Francis that have been watered with a virgin’s tear. No, we are getting the tinned, CostCo variety. But really it’s not noticed. The only real major criticism comes when it’s time to pay. The hideous moment I have to announce I have a voucher. It feels like a confession. I feel cheap. Then I look around and every other fucker is doing the same, with the same grimace.

The Dark One sated for another month or so, I am now free to go home. And I can announce my confession. There is no ‘Stomach Prince’. I just didn’t want to admit what I knew all along: Pizza Express is bloody great and I don’t care who knows.

I do maintain that the intestine dwelling ‘Dainty Duke of Macdonalds’ is real however!

Insta-Chefs

Insta-Chefs by Tom

The book store, a place the middle classes frequent when they are detoxing from Amazon and pretending to stick two fingers up to capitalism. Within these forgotten establishments, you’ll find familiar tropes; the intoxicating smell of printed paper, veneer wooden shelves, way too many staff with an almost tangible smugness and a seating area where people are supposed to sit reading books but instead sit reading their iPhones.

However, a new consistency is emerging. To the untrained eye, it looks like pile of cookery books taking centre stage like a shrine to the culinary gods. A prominent pile of cookery books doesn’t sound particularly new or something to take note of, but where are the familiar faces? Where is that chubby bloke from Essex brandishing some Italian pasta he’s pretended to cook for his pretend friends? Well he’s not there because these aren’t ‘normal’ cookery books. No, these are the Avant Garde, these are the Instagram Chef books.

You’ll have noticed if you peruse social media that the photographing of self-prepared food has become a popular endeavour. Instagram, being photo focused, is at the forefront of this and we now have Insta-famous chefs. Only they aren’t chefs, they are just attractive people who can photograph food with in-vogue filters and then hashtag the fuck out of them. Worse still is some of them preach about the health benefits of their food – capitalising on the diet fad market too. This has blown up into a massive industry and we now have hugely successful books such as ‘Girl casually sitting with bowl on lap’ and ‘Millennial in tight fitting training shirt near some inconsequential food’. These books are now best sellers and are hugely popular.

I procured one of these douche bibles to find out why.

First off is the apparent (and initially commendable) agenda of wanting to make cooking seem simple and easy – hinting the question; “Why isn’t everyone cooking like this?”. Well Joe, we aren’t all cooking like you because we don’t have coconut oil, kumquat seeds or the tears of an Eskimo. So far, so Jamie Oliver, but at least Mr Oliver can cook and come up with great recipes (once you’ve completed the pilgrimage to procure the necessary ingredients).

As I read on, the recipes are pretty terrible. I admit they look fantastic, but they rely on the overly complicated, expensive ingredients. Lazy statements like “let the ingredients speak for themselves” emerge. I personally would rather know how to cook them in an interesting way. Fundamentals are also missing – I encountered one recipe for a pie and it didn’t even mention seasoning. Wow.

I then decided to cook a recipe. This was going well, but save the expensive ingredients, I realised something – this is familiar. I’ve been cooking like this since I was a child. This isn’t clever stuff, it’s just cooking. The same cooking you’ll find in ‘Good House Keeping’ or be taught by your parents. There’s nothing new here.

So why are these books successful if they aren’t offering anything new? It’s the same reason as to why their authors are famous on social media – vanity. Popular culture has always been obsessed with looks over substance, unfortunately this ethos has now infiltrated cookery books.

Bring back my sweet, soft Essex boy. #neverenoughgarlic

Snickers Hazelnut

Snickers Hazelnut by Tom

I like a Snickers. I’ll make no apologies for it. So don’t ask for one.

With this in mind, I ventured to my local purveyor of fine, nut-based, chocolate delights (Sainsburys) to procure my favoured form of sustenance.

What’s this I see? A new, limited edition? Enter the Hazelnut Snickers. I thought I’d experiment. Dip my toe into something different. Something non-peanut based. Different nuts for different needs perhaps?

Too excited to wait, I unashamedly quaff down in the Sainsburys car park. The first thing to note, and this is true of most nut-based confection: this isn’t something that slips sensuously down your gullet. It’s sharp and aggressive. I don’t mind that. My mouth has handled worse. But there is an issue here. It’s the same issue other hazelnut based confection has – I’m looking at you Kinder Bueno – you slutty mess. The issue is sweetness. The default Snickers is great because, although the caramel and nougat are very sweet, the peanut balances this out. Hazelnut doesn’t work here. It seems to just add to the sweetness that results in a sickly, uncomfortable swallow.

I know what you’re thinking at this stage. What about Ferraro?! They make Ferraro Rocher and Nutella – Both hazelnut based. Well stop right there. Sure, I’m partial to a Rochet (a singular Rocher) but have you ever stopped and thought how come they’ve never made a Rocherbar? Well they did, they trialed it in 1989 in a small part of The Ukraine. They got too close to sun and we all know what happened next. And Nutella? Ah the Nutella conundrum. Somehow insanely sweet, yet somehow bearable and almost edible without vessel. However, if you’ve ever eaten Nutella out of a fridge, you’ll know that it just doesn’t work in a solid state.

So, ultimately the rule here is hazelnut and chocolate, never shall the twain meet. Unless they are served on a silver platter by an ambassador at a fancy function. Or are a spreadable delight.

So in conclusion: Too sweet, stick to regular. Now since I’ve bought a 4 pack I’ve now got 3 more of the fuckers to deal with.

Edit: I dealt with them. They aren’t that bad actually. Well this was a waste of time.

Aston Villa vs Ipswich Town

Aston Villa vs Ipswich Town by Tom

Over the last few months I’d been feeling un-characteristically up-beat and positive. Some close ones could even say intolerably smug. That would be rude of them to say, but I was so chipper it wouldn’t have mattered.

It was time to knock myself down a peg or two. It was time to watch The Villa.

I had agreed at Christmas to go and watch a game with my Dad and younger Brother. Today was the big day and such was my excitement that I had in fact forgotten all about it. 4 missed calls later, my Dad finally got a hold of me and reminded me of my commitment. I had 30 minutes to get 30miles to meet him at his house so we could travel to the match together. This 30 minute drive would turn out to be the highlight of the day. Seriously, it was a great drive and I should be reviewing that – gear shift ferocity n all. Maybe I will. Maybe I don’t want to incriminate myself. Or bore you.

For those who don’t follow the ‘beautiful’ game, Aston Villa are one of the most historically important and triumphant clubs in English football. They were one of the founding teams of the English Football League and have won nearly all the major trophies that a domestic team can win. Which makes watching them in the 21st century all the more depressing when you realise how a club with such a rich and successful past can be consistently so poor.

Villa were relegated from the premier league last season (a long time coming). They had been in the top flight for the same time I’ve been alive and so with the club’s sudden drop, I had declared ‘enough’ and my interest in football has flagged ever since. So, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I didn’t go to this game with high hopes. It was more out of morbid curiosity – and to please my Father.

I wasn’t as much interested in the game itself as I was with the nation’s unwavering fixation with a sport that sees 22 insanely rich men with no incentive, politely kick a ball about for 90mins, hoping they don’t get injured. Not in case they miss their next fixture, but more so they can go home and shag one of their mistresses with more effort than they put into the game. Why should we give a shit about these arseholes? Hasn’t it all become irrelevant? I understand there was a time when communities got together and once a week supported their town through their local club. But that was before globalisation. Before the internet. Before porn and better things to do.

As we entered the stadium, you get hit with a real sense of importance and energy. For a moment I got lost in this. Then I crashed back down to Earth when I thought, “I have a PS4 at home”. That sounds sad doesn’t it. But it’s not, I’d be warm, safe and having fun. I also wouldn’t be standing in a puddle of spilled Bovril. Seriously who the fuck still drinks Bovril? And that’s it isn’t it. It’s still the same, these poor fans that time forgot. Clinging onto an age that no longer exists, looking for the meaning of supporting a team that couldn’t give two fucks. The players certainly don’t.

Which brings me onto the game. When I watch football on the telly, I’m always amazed at how shit the players are verses how much they are paid. Well, it’s accentuated when you watch it live. How can someone on £30K a week miss a pass by 6ft? Surely you spend all week practicing? It’s two fingers up to the supporters, but as I look at them, they are lapping it up. Cheering, clapping, booing, chanting poorly rhyming spells. At this point I was feeling a bit lost. What’s wrong with me? Why aren’t I like this? Why don’t I enjoy it? Am I gay? No, wait, football fans are allowed to be gay now – the signs told me this when I entered the ground. Maybe I shouldn’t analyse anymore. So I stopped. A strange thing then happened. I switched off. I then started to enjoy myself a little more and engage. Suddenly I realised that this is escapism. Like a shitty Jason Statham (post Guy Ritchie) movie. I started cheering. Then I started Boo-ing. Ipswich Town scored. Then the final whistle. 0-1 Ipswich. What’s the bloody point?

Reading this back, perhaps as a review it doesn’t make sense? Neither does this fucking game.