Bruce’s Britton

I’m no social or cultural historian, as if you hadn’t noticed already, but I do take an interest in fashions and fads; in particular the question of whether the sort of fads that seem to grip the nation are dictated by what people actually want to wear, watch or listen to, or whether there’s some kind of conspiracy by higher powers to see what people can be made to wear, watch or listen to.  I can understand the popularity (past or present) of X Factor, Downton Abbey, Masterchef, Ugg Boots, Take That in boy and man incarnation, jeans tucked into boots (Uggs or otherwise), small plates of food and pop-up restaurants and cinemas.  I can even just about comprehend the very short lived fad of staying up half the night to watch some hatchet-faced Scottish Grandmother win a Curling medal at the Winter Olympics (it was only a one-night thing, after all).  I’m not sure why my ‘Dead Pool’, in which one predicts which celebrity deaths will occur over the next twelve months has not caught on yet, but it’s got time to become a fad that’ll grip the nation, and my next blog will feature the crop for 2012.

The latest TV fad seems to be the travel + food-umentary, and it looks as though everyone’s cottoned on to this sure-fire ratings winner.  The Hairy Bikers, Oz and James, Jamie Oliver, Michael Portillo, Ade Edmondson, Rick Stein, some posh twit mates of Hugh F-W, Rory McGrath and Paddy McGuinness and the soap dodger from single-serious curate’s egg ‘One Man and his Camper-van’.

The premise is quite simple, and by this, I mean cheap.  It involves a man, or maybe a couple of men, or sometimes even three men, driving around Britain, meeting local people, usually doing a bit of cooking along the way and generally reminding us what a great place this island nation is to live.  The rules seems fairly simple, and consist of the following:

1.  A regional stereotype must be wheeled out at every opportunity.
2.  The vehicle in which the man/men travel around the country must be ‘vintage’, ideally caravan/campervan.
3.  Any cooking must be done on location, ideally using a mini-stove from said campervan.
4.  (optional) – some kind of challenge might be involved, presumably to add a competitive edge.  This might involve the protagonists needing to cook only food that they can catch/barter/work for/steal.  It is never explained why this should be necessary.

A perfect example of how one can cram all three of the above rules into just 5 minutes of television came from the truly awful ‘Ade in Britain’, starring Ade Edmondson.  This show seems to have been put together simply because someone thought the title was good, and there’s only one famous Ade out there of course, which at least keeps him in work.  One stop on Ade’s trip was Morecambe.  He pulled up in his Mini Cooper, complete with small cavannette/stove being dragged behind.  He visited a local man that made potted shrimps, obtained the recipe, re-created it from his very own camper-stove before feeding the fruits of his labour to four buck-toothed men from the George Formby appreciation society (we knew this because they each had a ukelele); all this took place in the shadow of the Eric Morecambe statue.

Why has there been a sudden explosion of TV shows of this kind?  Has there been an outcry from the public, demanding a fusion of game-show, travel and al fresco culinary travails?  Or have a group of media moguls suddenly come to the same conclusion that this is what our screens have been missing?  Or are they just cheap, and require little or no budget/planning?  I think I know which one it is.

Hugh F-W seems to have had the best idea, in that he doesn’t even appear in his latest culinary road-trip.  Instead, three snaggle-haired photogenic posh-boys hammer round the South West in (you guessed it) a camper-van, with no money, eating only food they have earned, before cooking it all up on a ring-burner in the back of their vehicle.  Hugh merely provides a voice-over, and even that looks to associate him a little too closely with this rot.

I await the next installation of the format with baited breath.  ‘Bruce’s Britton’ perhaps, featuring Bruce Forsyth and Fern Britton.  Bruce and Fern drive around the country in a 1973 Austin Allegro, compete with the sort of caravanette you used to win on Bullseye.  They visit artisan food producers, but can only eat the food if they manage an arm-wrestle win.  Voice-over by Vernon Kay.  I’d watch it.  Wouldn’t you?

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

…and if I hear that song once more in supermarket/garage etc, I shall skip Christmas, and get all Easter-ish on the nearest person by crucifying them. There’s so much to dislike about Christmas: I’m not a particularly religious person, Christmas presents are great, but only when you’re 8 (If I want something now, I’ll buy it, thanks), Christmas TV is horrendous (Rick Stein’s Cornish Christmas anyone? If I wanted to see a load of halfwit inbreds getting festive, I’d watch the Wicker Man or take a day trip to Corby) and I’ve never been a particular fan of being told how I have to enjoy myself because ‘it’s tradition’. I’m not sure why we’ve invented a tradition that involves eating more meat and root veg than should be humanly possible, before nodding off mid-fart in front of the Queen’s speech with a little paper hat perched at a jaunty angle. I do like sprouts though, which is always a bonus come December. Even the bits I like about Christmas aren’t particularly Christmassy; I enjoy spending time with my family, but TV, presents and Christmas jumpers aren’t any sort of highlight.

But Christmas is a time for good cheer, and fun of all kinds, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to help people to skirt round the pitfalls of that most heinous of all Christmas traditions: the work dinner. Even the thought of it makes me shudder. It’s doesn’t matter if it’s a team dinner, a department do, an office jamboree, the whole idea is to minimise the damage. It’s never going to be good, but if you take into account these simple tips, it’s likely to be manageable:

1. Always make sure you come out in credit cash-wise. This is pretty easy to do, so long as you assume that the bill will be divvied up equally. Pre-dinner pint? I’ll have a mojito. A la carte menu? Have everything which says ‘supplement’. Glass of wine? Make sure the bottles stay down your end of the table. Coffee? Yes, and a balloon of the 1969 Armangac. If you emply all of the above tactics, you’ll come out in credit, but you may look like you’re taking the piss.

2. Don’t drink the House wine. When some office joker orders the waiter to bring a ‘bottle of the House white and red’, nip in with a choice of something that’s actually drinkable for your end of the table. People will thank you for it.

3. Never allow anyone but you to divide the bill. People can’t do maths: ‘£400, 10 people, that’s erm…erm…no, don’t tell me, where’s my phone?’

4. Never allow anyone (almost always women) to introduce the different tariff system. This is where you’ll have different price points for the a. drinkers b. non-drinkers c. didn’t drink much-ers. d. office juniors who don’t earn as much, and would rather have been drinking MD 20/20 behind the megabowl anyway. I’ve been to a colleagues leaving do at Loch Fyne, and the bill was divvied up evenly. OK, so a pregnant wife of a new colleague had to end up shelling out £37 for a starter of mussels and some tap water, but she didn’t have to come in the first place, did she?

5. Always offer to pay far more than you should first up. This is a typically male reaction to the bill, and acts as a partial antidote to point 1 (make sure you still end up in credit though). Typical male response to the maths in point 3 is to state ‘that’s £40 each’, then to roll off 5 £20 notes, before flinging them theatrically into the centre of the table, stating ‘that should cover me’. People will demand that you pick up the money, and you manage to look generous, without having to end up out of pocket. NOTE: you must be very careful here when dining with women. Men consider it vital to offer more than they should, though women see nothing wrong in resorting to coppers to make up the £38.21 that each person owes.

6. High risk this one, though someone always does it: don’t pay. Why is it when the price per person is calculated, and everyone puts in just that little bit extra for tip, do we always hear the phrase ‘we’re £20 short’? Someone always has a big enough pair of cojones to avoid paying; you could be that person, my friend.

7. Amuse yourself by creating chaos. Most meals out now require a pre-order, but whoever is organising is unlikely to have brought the original sheet which tells them exactly who ordered what food. Your job is to order the most rank sounding starter, main and dessert, and then grab the nicest sounding ones as soon as they come out of the kitchen. Let someone else enjoy your nut roast and three bean soup.

8. Find a like-minded colleague, and give each other 3 phrases that have to be brought into conversation during the evening. I’ve yet to get in the Frankie Boyle line ‘and at the end of the night, you couldn’t tell what was poo, and what was chocolate’, but there’s something for you to aim at.

So there we are. Follow the above, and you’ll be able to turn your work meal out into something more than a night to be endured.

And if you’re wondering how to make sprouts taste nice, here’s 2 ideas:

1. Pureed with double cream and sprinkled with crisp pancetta
2. Shredded and pan-fried in butter

Happy Christmas!