Calling All Curmudgeons

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Kiss me

Christmas is a time of joy, peace and goodwill to all men.

If you agree unreservedly with that statement, you might not want to bother reading on.

If, on the other hand, your spirits sink on that day in mid-September when all the shops simultaneously fill their shelves with all manner of Christmas tat, and only really recover on Twelfth Night when the tree finally comes down – leaving in its wake a deadly sprinkling of pine needles and shards of shattered bauble – I’d like to suggest a way to inject just a tiny bit of joy into your otherwise dismal festive period.

Get cooking.

Why? Well, I can give you three extremely good reasons.

Avoiding relatives

You’ll recognise the scene. It’s late morning on Christmas Day. Auntie Hilda, who’s been on the sweet sherry since 9.30, is already slurring her words and has taken to hanging around in disconcerting proximity to the mistletoe. Little Eddie, high on a cocktail of Irn Bru and a whole bag of chocolate coins, is in the living room, flailing away wildly with the light sabre his parents so prudently bought him for Christmas. If the telly survives the onslaught, it’ll count as a bonus. And Grandpa’s flatulence is already so noxious that you shudder at what might happen once sprouts are introduced to the equation.

Given a free choice in proceedings, what you’d really like to do is retire to your room with a good book and an enormous whisky, and stay there until sometime on Boxing Day when everyone’s finally buggered off. But you can’t do that, or you’ll be roundly decried for being the miserable git you so obviously are. So you have to grin – or at least grimace – and bear it.

Unless…unless…

Take on the role of Christmas chef and you can guiltlessly avoid all this. Better still, you’ll amass a load of brownie points as you selflessly toil away, magnanimously refusing all offers of help (but graciously accepting all offers of drinks). Your family and guests will be universally grateful for your efforts – and they don’t have to know that peeling three pounds of spuds represents unimaginable bliss by comparison with having to sit through another microsecond of Uncle Derek’s golfing anecdotes.

Music

I really can’t emphasise this one enough.

I don’t mind a Christmas carol or two. Very occasionally, I might even catch myself singing along to one. On the scale of festive assaults on the ears, they rank right at the bottom.

Worse – much, much worse – are the Christmas “hits”. These are the songs that have tormented you every time you’ve made the mistake of turning on the radio or setting foot in a shop over the past six weeks: Shakin’ Stevens, Band Aid, Mariah sodding Carey. And worst of all (apart from Cliff, obviously): Paul McCartney and Wings.

(N.B. The above link will take you directly to the offending song. You should only click it if you utterly despise yourself – or if you have some sort of aural S&M fetish, with a particular focus on the “M”.)

It beggars belief that the man responsible for some of the finest pop songs of all time could have vomited up this particular festive “classic”. Despite your most determined efforts to avoid it, sheer repetition causes its hideously jaunty melody to burrow its way into your brain, until you wake up screaming on Christmas morning, incapable of thinking of anything else. The Frog Chorus would be better than this, or even – and I don’t say this lightly – Mull of Kintyre.

Simply having a wonderful Christmas time? My arse.

So this Christmas, my playlist will comprise the likes of the Phantom Band, Camera Obscura and Withered Hand, performing songs that have precisely naff all to do with Christmas. And if someone swans in and tries to put on “The Most Depressingly Generic Christmas Album in the World…Ever!”, I shall hack the CD to pieces with a meat cleaver, take out the offending relative with my patented Sprout Cannon, and put Leonard Cohen‘s Famous Blue Raincoat on repeat until dinner’s ready.

(I do appreciate that there are some honourable exceptions to the horrors of Christmas music – but even Fairytale of New York begins to grate after the 237th listen. So the only Christmas songs permitted under my watch come from Slow Club – but to be honest, they could write songs about management accounting and still sound bloody fantastic.)

Control

Finally, being the Christmas Day chef gives you one further vital benefit: control. You can make the meal exactly as you’d like it.

Granted, there might not seem to be all that much room for originality in the Christmas meal, given all the compulsory elements.

But even if the core ingredients don’t leave you much room for manoeuvre, there’s still a surprising amount of scope for innovation, and for catering to your own tastes. So if you’ve a particular distaste for massively overboiled sprouts – and to be honest, why wouldn’t you – you can shred them and stir-fry them with pancetta and chestnuts until crisp and glorious.

And if the turkey normally turns out dry and miserable, and you’re left munching through its depressing leftovers, in the form of sandwiches and curries, for days afterwards, why not try a variation on Chicken à la Gran.

Cut the crown (the breasts and breastbone) away from the rest of the carcass and just cook that for Christmas Day. This spares you the conundrum of trying to keep the breasts moist while the legs cook through. And you’re bound to have ordered far too big a turkey, just as you do every year, so nobody’s going to go hungry.

The legs and other sundry bits can then be put to whatever use you like, making a far nicer Boxing Day meal than the usual Leftover Surprise. I’ve had particular success in the past by jointing the bird (don’t worry if this is somewhat haphazard) and using the pieces, backbone and all, to make a turkey equivalent of coq au vin.

Lastly, since we’re on the subject of control, may I remind you about the art of stopping. If everything seems to be happening too fast, and you’re losing track of the various pans, just turn off the heat for a moment and replan. The turkey (or other roast dead thing of choice) will sit very happily on the worktop, lightly covered in foil, for as long as you need to finish off the veg and gravy and get those f***ing roast potatoes to crisp up. And even if the meat ends up a little cooler than planned – that’s to say, stone cold – some hot gravy, strategically poured, will ensure that nobody’s any the wiser.

Ho ho ho

Lastly, a confession.

It might not be obvious from what I’ve written here, but I really enjoy Christmas.

That doesn’t mean that everything I’ve said so far is a lie – simply that it can be read with either a positive or negative spin. And as I’ve given you the negative spin at some length, here’s the positive one. An opportunity to cook Christmas dinner to your exact specifications, and to the delight of your friends or family, while enjoying many a festive eggnog and listening to all your favourite music, – well, what’s not to like?

Merry Christmas!

Kiss me happy

(N.B. Photographs are the copyright of Don Wheeler Enterprises. The No Recipe Man takes no responsibility for the extent to which they may frighten small children.)

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6Music Miscellany

(As you probably won’t have noticed, this site, like the rest of my life, is elaborately categorised into two: No Recipe Stuff and Other Stuff. The following definitely belongs in the latter category.)

 

What do writers do in their spare time?

Based on my own experience, they listen to the radio. And they write – also to the radio (or rather, to its presenters).

BBC 6Music is a wonderful thing. It soundtracks almost all of my work time and much of my non-work time as well. The thought that it came so close to extinction still makes me shudder. In a parallel universe, I might be sitting here listening to Radio 2 right now. Or, more realistically, I’d never listen to the radio at all (except for Test Match Special, obviously).

What’s so good about it? Well, it’s introduced me to a number of superb bands I might never otherwise have come across, such as Unknown Mortal Orchestra and the much-missed Pete and the Pirates. It seamlessly blends the old with the new and the (relatively) mainstream with the utterly obscure.

And its DJs interact brilliantly with their listeners, giving the station’s output a community feel that means it rarely feels like a one-way conversation – even though any radio broadcast (other than the hideousness that is the phone-in) essentially is.

Actually, that last sentence could be more briefly paraphrased as follows: “If they’ve got time, they’ll read out any old guff.”

A recent email clearout caused me to stumble upon some of my contributions that presenters have surprised me by reading out to the nation, or at least the more discerning part of it.

More for my entertainment than yours, here are three of them.

 

To: The Radcliffe & Maconie Show, 12 February 2013

At this time, Mark Radcliffe was particularly exercised by some of the more ridiculous, sub-Alan Partridge concepts that Channel 5 had commissioned as series or one-off documentaries, including Extreme Fishing with Robson Green and, rather brilliantly, McFly on the Wall.

Fortunately, my fictitious academic background left me ideally placed to provide some additional context. Mark was most grateful for the input of such an “esteemed academic from an august academic institution”.

 

Mark

As a qualified Channel 5-ologist, I’m currently undertaking a major research project to work out the formula used by the channel for creating its never-ending stream of generic fly-on-the-wall docu-dramas.

Most common is the “attack” formula, in which an ostensibly non-threatening animal or household item is used as the subject of a suspense-filled hour-long documentary. Examples include “When Moles Attack”, “When Toothbrushes Attack” and “When Bluebottles Attack”.

Almost as popular is the formula that places common household pets in military or correctional institutions, in such hit shows as “Puppy Prison”, “Hamster Barracks” and “Goldfish Borstal”.

The “rescue” theme is highly popular at present, but is unlikely to last much longer, as Channel 5 is rapidly running out of places or situations for people to be rescued from. Next month’s series of “Climbing Frame Rescue” and “Out Of Town Shopping Centre Rescue” may well be the last ever examples of the genre.

And as you correctly observed, the “uninspiring tranformations” category has recently risen to prominence. As a case in point, next Thursday’s entire schedule is being devoted to a programme called “Breathing Live”, in which members of the public attempt to convert oxygen into carbon dioxide using only their noses, mouths and lungs.

Should my future research uncover any further genres, I’ll be pleased to share them with you.

Best wishes

Professor Tom Wheeler

University of Leith

 

To: The Gideon Coe Show, 30 October 2012

This email was sent in relation to an upcoming food and drink special on Gideon’s show. A listener had previously suggested Frank Zappa‘s “WPLJ” (White Port and Lemon Juice), but Gideon was doubtful whether it could be aired due to a particularly filthy burst of Spanish language swearing at the end. Despite not speaking any Spanish, I nonetheless took it upon myself to do some research.

 

Gideon

Intrigued by your mention last night of the Spanish language profanity in Zappa’s “WPLJ”, I decided to do a spot of research on the subject today, and the combination of a popular online translation tool and some keen lateral thinking has led me to the following conclusions.

1) I agree that you probably should think twice before broadcasting it to the nation, although I’ve a feeling there’s a live version without the fruity Spanish bit.

2) While I don’t speak any Spanish, I’m not convinced that the final line really does translate as “Puncture, alas!”

Anyway, if it doesn’t make the cut for the food and drink special, you could always throw caution to the wind and theme a three hour programme around foreign language profanity in song?

Thanks

Tommo in Leith

(He didn’t take up my last suggestion. Or at least, he hasn’t yet.)

 

To: The Marc Riley Show, 1 February 2012

This one is largely self-explanatory. Marc introduced it with the observation that “there’s always one, isn’t there?”, and concluded by saying that he’d checked with the relevant bands, and the second of the three singles did indeed have two backs. So there.

 

Evening Marc

Was listening to yesterday’s show on the old Aye-Player, and I heard you introduce a run of three songs “back to back”.

Now, I don’t want to go all Mike the Pedant [regular Marc Riley correspondent] here, but if you put two songs back to back, it’s logically impossible for the third one to go back to back with either of them, because they’re already back to back with each other, leaving only their fronts exposed.

Unless, of course, one of the songs has two backs rather than a back and a front – like The Man With Two Brains, say, but with backs. But I have to say I find that scenario a bit unlikely.

Therefore the third song would instead have to go front to back with one of the others – or even front to front if you preferred. And thus the songs might be better described as “back to back to front” – though even that would not fully convey the true complexity of the situation.

Anyway I’ll stop there, because it’s not noy-noy Radio 4, is it? Any Phantom Band on the hard drive tonight? [There wasn’t.]

Toodle pip!

Tommo in Leith

Dear Mr Lid…

Like most people, I get my share of spam email, most of which I ignore. But sometimes, the product on offer is so absurd that it just demands a reply.

This was one of those occasions.

mr-lid-1024x732

FROM: The No Recipe Man

TO: “Mr Lid” [webmaster@digitaltargetmarketing.com]

SENT: 20 November 2013, 11.26am

SUBJECT: RE: Stop losing the lids to your food storage containers

Dear Mr Lid

Thank you for your email of 11 November, entitled “Stop losing the lids to your food storage containers”. I apologise for taking so long to reply.

I must admit, I was a little sceptical when I first saw your message. You see, Mr Lid, I’ve been having a spot of trouble with unwanted emails lately, and for a while I was concerned that yours was just another piece of spam – especially when it caused a red warning message to pop up on my browser, and when my initial reply to your address (the one beginning “bounce-66667730”, just for your records) was returned undelivered.

Imagine my surprise and delight, then, when I discovered that nothing could have been further from the truth.

Having done a little research, and eventually found a working email address for you (I hope!), I’ve come to realise that you’re simply an honest tradesman trying to make ends meet, just like the rest of us.

And like anyone else, you don’t have the time to waste reading spam.

But I understand now that you keep your contact details hidden in order to avoid receiving unwelcome messages yourself; and on this, you certainly have my sympathies, particularly with such an instantly memorable name as yours.

In fact, would it be presumptuous of me to suggest that you may have been teased at school about your surname? I’m guessing the other kids used to call you “Dustbin Lid”, or “Inva-lid” – or even “Euc-lid”, in the admittedly unlikely event they were familiar with the work of the Ancient Greek “Father of Geometry”.

If so, I just wanted to let you know you’re not alone. As a child, I suffered from the same issues. I was born and raised as “The No Recipe Man” – that’s the trouble with having hippy parents – and as you can imagine, my classmates used to have great fun taking the mickey out of me. For a while, I tried to reinvent myself as “Tom” – I can’t remember exactly why I chose that, but I suppose it was just the first “normal” name that came to mind. But of course, it made no difference, and “The No Recipe Man” stuck.

Kids can be so cruel, can’t they?

But even as an adult, things got little better. I tried my hand at various jobs – barista, male escort, paleontologist – but continued to find that my name was the butt of near-constant jokes from colleagues, customers and clients alike.

Eventually, I elected to take the same view that you seem to have adopted yourself: “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”. I decided to treat my name as a blessing rather than a curse, and began blogging on the subject of no-recipe cooking. Looking back, it seems such an obvious career move that I’m amazed I didn’t think of it before.

And as no-recipe cooking was to me, so (I presume) lids were to you.

And if I may say, what a wise choice you made. Lids play such a vital part in all our lives. Without them, peanut butter would spoil, bins would be infested by rats, and pressure cookers would be next to useless. But such matters worry us not, thanks to that simplest but most beautiful of accessories: the lid.

Moreover, I’m always losing things. Coins, pen tops, children (childminding was another of my short-lived occupations): you name it, I’ll lose it. Admittedly, the lids of storage containers are among the few items I’ve never actually lost, being relatively large and easy to spot; but as your email implies, it can only be a matter of time until I do.

For all that, though, I regret to say I will be unable to take advantage of your generous offer. My finances are somewhat tight at the moment, and I fear the cost of posting 20 lidded plastic boxes from Milwaukee to Scotland would be prohibitive.

With that in mind, might I suggest that you target future emails at people living closer to your HQ, so others do not suffer the same bitter disappointment I have – momentarily glimpsing a solution to all those box-lid woes, only to be thwarted by the grim reality of international shipping rates.

Nonetheless, I would hate to end this correspondence on a negative note. Your passion for lids is powerful and heartfelt: that much is clear from your thoughtful email. And while I must continue to walk in darkness, condemned to struggle on with detachably-crowned kitchenware, it cheers me to know that countless others will reap the many benefits of your imagination, dedication and craft.

That thought will be a source of comfort and strength as I try to come to terms with an inadequately-lidded future.

Lastly, do please give my regards to Mrs Lid. (I trust the two of you remain securely attached.)

Wishing you every success in this and all your future endeavours.

Sincerely yours,

The No Recipe Man