Monday, 14 July 2008

Going Nuts

A man in retirement has time on his hands. That's a truism, if ever there was one. Nevertheless, even though it's many years since I hung up my quill, I like to think my quiet, measured voice still resonates in the corridors of power.

Or, in this case, in the aisles of my local Sainsbury's. My subject today is Nuts - or, more precisely, I'm about to let you into one of Bill's ways of saving 33% on the price Sainsbury's would like you to pay for their Pine Nuts.

Pine Nuts, as any decent Italian worth his garlic, basil leaves, parmesan cheese and olive oil will tell you, are an essential ingredient in the classic Ligurian recipe for pesto. As a devotee of pesto, you will understand if I pay more than an ordinate amount of attention to the price of pine nuts. You can't make an omelette without eggs, and you can't make pesto without pine nuts (unless you buy one of those commercial brands that seems to think it's acceptable to substitute peanuts for the real thing).

On a recent foraging trip, I noticed that Sainsbury's appeared to have re-packaged their Pine Nuts, and that the price had increased by 50p per hundred grams. Have a look at this:

As you can see, they're promoting the product as a 'snacking' nut. You'll find it near the fruit and veg, and will be invited to pay £1.99 for 100grams.

That's all very well, but if you take the trouble to walk ten yards and find the 'cooking ingredients' section, you'll find the humbler version of the Sainsbury's Pine Nut still available for just £1.45 for 100grams.

If this was Bologna, housewives would be taking to the streets in protest. And I, for one, wouldn't blame them.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

The Passage Of Time

When you get to my age - the kind of age for which discreet veils were invented - it would be nice to think that the passage of time didn't play an unduly influential role in one's life.

But the truth is, like most other people, I spend more time than is probably healthy worrying about a future that hasn't yet happened. My old uncle Jesmond used to say "Yesterday is a cancelled cheque; tomorrow is a promisary note. Today's the only cash you have - so spend it wisely, son."

And so it proved when I made the trip north to attend the 124th Durham Miners' Gala. All my anxieties about whether it would rain were in vain. The sun had his hat on, and the pac-a-mac stayed dry. A year on from my last visit, here are one or two photos of the 2008 Gala, which I hope you enjoy. I must confess I enjoyed my cup of Labour Tea. Even though the price had gone up due to rampant inflation, I think they met the Government target of selling more than last year.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Cheap Tricks

It’s a brave man that accuses Bill Blunt of stooping to cheap tricks to boost his ailing blog readership. Not for me the shoddy inducements to people to drop by to my blog, enticed by a gimmick or the strategic placement of a label or two.

I had enough of that during the infamous Stockport Circulation War of the 1960’s, which saw two fine newspapers go to the wall, and the reputation of the Stockport Leader left in tatters after it introduced its widely-copied Page 9 girl. I was working for the rival Herald at the time, and our editor (Wally Green) was firm in his belief that, while readers might flock to see such lurid spectacles at first, a reputation for truth, honesty and good writing was what would make them come back for more.

It was a long, hot summer in 1965, and many were those who tried to persuade Wally to relax his Presbyterian stance as the Herald’s circulation plummeted. But he dug his heels in, even as the Stockport Leader began to overtake us for the first time since the 1890’s. His one concession to the masses was the ill-fated introduction of Where’s Wally? - a competition which involved readers trying to spot him as he wandered, incognito, around town. Once spotted, the idea was they would challenge him and then claim the munificent sum of £5.

The game didn’t last longer than a couple of weeks, however, since the local constabulary sternly advised us to draw a halt to it. A spate of fights in pubs and clubs across the town had drawn their attention to the Herald’s competition, and the received wisdom after the dust had settled was that it was a mistake to expect punters to point at total strangers while uttering the words ‘You’re Wally – Give Me A Fiver!’

So, you’ll gather I am no fan of cheap attempts to garner readers. That’s why I don’t want my dwindling band of subscribers to read too much into my featuring Olga The Travelling Bra in this posting. I believe Olga represents a genuine cultural phenomenon – an item of lingerie that has already traversed thousands of miles in its quest to … err … traverse the globe and appear in blogs.

Here’s Olga when she visited Liverpool yesterday, in the company of 70’sTeen and Claire, two fine bloggers who had brought Olga for her day out, much to the bemusement of visitors to the Albert Dock.

I like to think it isn’t the first time Billy Fury twirled a bra strap around his index finger, but you never can tell with these pop icons, in my experience. I'd hesitate to make the same comment about Cliff Richard, for instance.

As for the Super Lamb Banana, this was already a potent symbol of Liverpool before the powers that be behind the European Capital of Culture decided to clone it and site small-scale copies across the city and the wider environs of Merseyside. I think you'll agree, Olga looks like she was made to fit the Ringo Starr version of the new icon.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Don't Rain On My Parade

It's around this time of year that I get excited about the prospect of attending, once again, the Durham Miners' Gala. It's become something of a tradition that I turn up at this celebration of all that is great and good about the north east working class. Just because I shop at Sainsburys doesn't mean I have forgotten my roots.

Next Saturday, 12 July, therefore, I'll be strutting my stuff in the streets of Durham City, following one of the brass bands as it winds its way past the Royal County Hotel. In my mind, previous visits to the Gala are always associated with a day of wall-to-wall sunshine. It's July, after all, and the British people have every right to expect a bit of sun now and again. The reality, however, is often not quite so comfortable. Many's the time I've sheltered under my pac-a-mac as the relentless drizzle fails to lift.

I've been around the block enough times to know that selective memory comes out to play whenever we look back on our own Blue Remembered Hills. Our mind has a nasty habit of censoring out the bleaker parts of our life, and that includes the dismal rains which so often accompany the Great British Summer. However, the British psyche is nothing if not optimistic. That's why we are the country in Europe which apparently buys more cabriolets than any other: the triumph of hope over experience, I suppose. And that's why I'll be packing shorts and a t-shirt - just in case.

Meanwhile, I contemplate a visit to my allotment which, after the recent rain, will most probably resemble something like a World War I battlefield. Somehow, I don't think I'll be needing any of Mystic Veg's wonderful, patented Soil Improver.