Monday 13 April 2009

Fine claret and competitive asparagus

14st 10lb, 5.7 units. Mrs H and I made a pact on Easter eggs; we would buy each other just one each, subject to a strict maximum budget. Which should be easy enough to adhere to, I kept reading in the newspapers, because the demise of Woolworths had flooded the market with homeless chocolate eggs. As a result, the supermarkets were all awash with the things and engaged in a furious price war to shift them. Strange, then, that when I strode confidently to the “Seasonal” aisle of Chester’s Tesco ScratterWorld on Wednesday, I found that they did not have a single Easter egg in the place. True, a glance at the sagging and wobbly waistlines of their customers did not leave much of a mystery about where they had gone, but even so I found it surprising. Still, at least it allowed me to get through the great feast day without any weight gain, and enabled me to enjoy the virtuous feeling of having denied myself a pleasure which had in fact been snatched from my grasp by a quirk of the retail supply chain. Today we drove down the A49 to the stately home of one of my former clients on the outskirts of Wolverhampton, to collect what had been billed as a “perishable” wedding present. After much thought I had concluded that he must have bought us a commemorative tree, and I had spent some time in front of the bathroom mirror practising my “delighted” face and remembering that I must not mention that we lived in a tiny terraced house where the front garden had been paved as a parking space and the back yard was covered in decking. True, I could plant it at my house in Northumberland, but I am already filled with regret at the thought of selling the place complete with the commemorative tree planted by my aunt (or, rather on behalf of my aunt by my burly neighbour and his even burlier son) to mark my 50th birthday. Fortunately all my preparations came to naught when our host’s first action after we drove into his stable yard was to walk briskly from the house and load into our boot a case of fine claret. We had an excellent lunch, all of which had been grown or shot within a mile of the house, with the possible exception of the plates and cutlery. The meal included a special treat: the very first asparagus of the season from their own beds. We were also offered some valuable advice on parenting, slightly undermined when the elder of the two grown-up daughters present brought up one of the more memorable moments from her childhood, when she and all three of her siblings fell into a swollen stream by their Welsh holiday cottage and were swept away. Clearly she will remember to her dying day being one of four young, vulnerable children clinging by their fingertips to a tree root in the icy, swirling waters, screaming for help, and being brightly asked by their father if they would mind hanging on for a bit while he went to fetch his camera to capture their plight on film. Funnily enough, we were not offered a flick through the family album before we left; just a walk through the nearer part of the estate to admire a recently excavated pond. Even so, it was a delightful day out, and I was seriously impressed by the asparagus. So much so that I mentioned it in an e-mail to a friend in common from my City days, who retorted that he had been enjoying asparagus from his own beds for a full three weeks. It is somehow reassuring to know that this irrepressibly competitive spirit lives on, even as the UK plc founders under the weight of its unbearable debts. A bit like Henry VIII’s Mary Rose, in fact. Mrs H wanted to watch a documentary about that on Saturday night, entitled What Really Sank the Mary Rose. Even before the titles rolled, I told her that it was because the bloody thing was top heavy. Sixty minutes later, exhaustive scientific reconstructions and a lot of playing around with scale models in large tanks had demonstrated the staggering truth: the bloody thing was top heavy. Not that Mrs H was any the wiser for all that, as she had lapsed into a coma long before the programme ended. Rather like, I suspect, the average reader of this blog entry.

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