Tuesday 29 July 2008

From sandwiches to a skillet

14st 0lb; 4.5 units of alcohol yesterday; 1,286 days to go; Coquetdale.

Last night I watched a Channel 4 Dispatches programme about sandwiches, out of a vague sense of duty to a client which makes the things. Millions of the buggers, by hand, in over 1,000 shops. And I cannot recall when they last killed anyone, so they must be doing something right. The object of the programme was to prove that they and all the other sandwich makers in the country are ripping us poor consumers off, and wilfully poisoning us with excessive amounts of fat and salt. My client did not come out of it too badly; about on a par with Pret A Manger in the unhealthiness stakes, but at around a third of their price. I reflected that this would at least leave a bit of money in the bank to pay for a decent funeral.

The programme makers had deliberately skewed the results of their research by excluding from their analysis the “healthy eating” ranges produced by my client and most of the other participants. No reason was adduced for doing so. Coming soon: a shock study on how the pub industry is conspiring to destroy our livers, arbitrarily excluding from the survey all the soft and low alcohol drinks pubs sell.

The one thing in the programme which did provoke genuine disgust was the north London sandwich factory, supplying corner shops and garages, which had been secretly filmed by a planted worker and did appear to have the most appalling hygiene standards. One scene showed a pest control officer reading the riot act to the workers about how disgusting their practices were, claiming that any environmental health officer visiting the place would have it closed down immediately. As a PR man, I greatly enjoyed the firm’s masterly response: they had asked the pest control guy to come in and make this grossly exaggerated speech as a way of frightening their staff into bucking their ideas up. Great stuff.

Talking of PR, the programme as a whole was a triumph for Boots, who came out top on all of the fashionable measures of low fat, low sodium etc. The only thing missing from the analysis was the small but significant fact that Boots’ sandwiches taste like … er, there is the law of libel to consider here, isn’t there? And while they are not known to be as paranoid and prone to resort to m’learned friends as Tesco or McDonald’s, they are a large and rich organization. So let us just say that, in my admittedly limited personal experience, Boots’ sandwiches don’t taste of anything much.

The importance of good hygiene was brought home to me over many years handling PR for major food manufacturers, and reinforced this morning as I trudged to the lavatory for the umpteenth time. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it probably wasn’t my best idea of all time to eat for supper last night the smoked mackerel which had been in the fridge for days and was speeding past its use-by late like the tube train in the Moorgate crash of 1975. Nor to leave the fridge door ajar for most of the hottest day of the year. Particularly given that a troupe of a dozen or so small flies, looking like scaled down bluebottles, have taken up permanent residence in my kitchen and are throwing themselves with gusto into their lifelong work of food contamination.

I pulled myself together in time to go and pay a brief visit to a website design firm which hangs out in a laid-back sort of way in an impressive farm building conversion on the other side of Rothbury. The man in charge originally told me that what I required was so simple that he was minded to do it free of charge as a favour. Yet somehow I now found myself in a meeting with his right hand man, hearing that what I really wanted was a new Content Management System which they could construct for a mere £1,200. It certainly looked very swish, but he veered off the rails like an express train striking a sleep-deprived driver’s Land Rover when he concluded with the words, “… and the beauty of it is, when it’s installed, adding new columns to the site will be as simple as updating your blog.”

I was halfway through my particularly beautiful drive home when the light bulb finally went off above my head and I thought, “Why don’t I just set up another blog, then?” An instant saving of approximately £1,150, which I could spend on whores if I were not going out with a particularly beautiful and sweet young lady. It will have to be drink, then. I was then brought back to earth by a surreal encounter on the single track road with a knackered white coal lorry which was travelling the other way and dragging an old-fashioned lawnmower on a rope behind it, with the mower swaying crazily all over the road and threatening to smash into anyone foolish enough to attempt to pass it.

My positive mood was further tested by a text message from the friend who really wants to see Hänsel und Gretel, reporting that all her opera-loving acquaintances are on holiday and she will have to come alone. Cue another wasted afternoon attempting to find a single person who would like to join us, which somehow seems to present an even bigger challenge than my original task of tracking down a couple. It is partly my own fault for not prioritizing this blog, of course. If only I were updating it daily in real time, rather than lazily adding to it a week or two in arrears, I could use this very space to issue an appeal to an opera lover to come and join us. Maybe it would be picked up by one of those perverts who keep being directed here in their quest for information about dogging in Northumberland. They could then e-mail me and express an interest in coming to Glyndebourne, if the Less Tall Cheshire Brunette and I would not mind putting on a bit of a show in the car park during the long interval. I can just picture myself running that one past her. In fact, I can almost feel the skillet crashing into my cranium as I write this. It is not a good or happy feeling. In fact, I think I’d rather eat another questionable portion of smoked mackerel and spend a day on the lavatory.

No comments: