I’m in London for a drinks party. The Evening Standard billboard screams “Christmas turkeys to hit £100” and I just know it’s going to be one of their classic exaggerations. When I lived in London, my favourite was always the pre-printed poster that read “Film Star Dies”. Deaths being practically the only items of news that are not written about endlessly before they actually happen, I was rarely able to resist buying a copy of the paper. Even though I knew full well that I would end up flicking through it fruitlessly, until I came across a small piece towards the bottom of page 24, revealing that an actor I had never heard of, who played a bit part in a much-loved Ealing comedy in the early 1950s, had just handed in his dinner pail.
I’ve gained enough wisdom in 53 years not to buy the paper this time, but I do look at it when I get back to my club. As predicted, certain types of very rare organic turkey may indeed cost more than £100 this Christmas, particularly if they’re personally delivered from an exclusive specialist retailer by a topless supermodel. This allegedly has something to do with the outbreak of the “deadly H5N1 variety of bird flu” in Suffolk. Though, funnily enough, a quick Internet search reveals that other papers were running the “£100 turkey” story well before this happened, and attributing it to the soaring cost of animal feed.
The frozen turkeys that the common people buy from Iceland or Farm Foods won’t be affected by any of this, as they’re already dead and in the deep freeze. It always amuses me that the better-off are willing to pay such a premium for “fresh”. Do they seriously believe that millions of turkeys can be despatched and dressed for the shops within a couple of days just before Christmas? Of course not. They’re blast frozen and defrosted. Bakers do the same thing to meet demand for hot cross buns at Easter. I’m not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with it. But having worked in my time for both frozen and fresh food companies, and for bakers, I merely present it as a curious fact.
Why is it billed as “the deadly H5N1 virus” anyway? It’s certainly deadly for the unfortunate turkeys, since men in ludicrous white jump suits turn up and gas them. (Memo: if you ever see a man in a white jump suit walking up your front path, say goodbye to your domestic pets and feel free to fill your trousers.) However, the only people actually to have died of it appear to have physically slept with their birds (and I don’t wish to speculate on whether they were doing so in order to huddle together for warmth, or in pursuit of some obscure form of sexual gratification).
The British Government allegedly has a detailed master plan for the next flu epidemic, with warehouses full of stockpiled coffins. This should pretty much guarantee that it never happens. The world will end soon enough, no doubt, but I don’t think the agency will be bird flu, Islamic terrorism or even global warming. It will be that thing no-one has thought about but which will seem incredibly bleeding obvious as we are all fighting for our last breaths. I just hope we’ll feel able to laugh about the oversight as consciousness fades away.
My local newspaper from the North East this morning included the splendid headline “Experts reassure the public”. Could this be the ultimate oxymoron?
Meanwhile, my national paper announces the forthcoming marriage of a man with the splendid double-barrelled name of Page-Turner. Please God, let him be a popular novelist.
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