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Friday, 29 November 2013

Boris Johnson and the "If not" trap

London's Conservative mayor has made this well-publicised speech about elitism, equality and greed (, which I have not read in full and on which I therefore cannot really comment, in which he referred to: "human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability, if not spiritual worth".

Now, if I said to you: "I want your essay handed in by Sunday, if not sooner," it would be clear to you what I meant. If I said: "It is a good restaurant, if not as good as it might be," then you'd know clearly what I meant.

But these two "if not"s have contradictory meanings; one means "it is" and the other means "it isn't". So it is a dangerous form of words for a controversial speech about a complicated political issue - a speech in which the meaning of words matters.

I know that when Boris Johnson says "human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability, if not spiritual worth", he is referring to: "human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability, despite their obviously being of equal spiritual worth."

But the words on the page sound as if he could have meant: "human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability, and indeed far from equal in spiritual worth," which sounds like a passage from Brave New World as re-written by Sir Keith Joseph and is not what Mr Johnson meant at all.

I am surprised, if not very surprised, that his speechwriters let this line slip through.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

A Brief Encounter with SSP, Upper Crust and Ritazza

SSP (the "food travel experts" behind such railway station brands as Upper Crust and Ritazza) has an unintentionally funny website:

Who knew that SSP was adapting global food and travel trends to distinctive UK and Ireland local market needs?

I thought that they were just heating up over-priced sausage baguettes - or not as the case may be, as, some weeks ago, I was asked in Upper Crust if I would like mine heated up, said yes and received a somewhat cold sausage, complained and was sent a compensatory £5 promissory note (for which thanks), which I spent in Ritazza on a coffee and a sausage and bacon baguette (yes, alright, I know) which turned out to be full not only of sausage and bacon, but also of gucky chunks of tomato.

I don't like tomatoes at the best of times (and this, in any case, was not the best of times, as I was waiting for a delayed train to Sidcup in a branch of Ritazza) and I am not alone in this - I know of many people who ask for their sandwiches, etc, without tomatoes; nor was it merely tomato ketchup (the unsolicited presence of which I would not have welcomed either) - it was actual chunks of tomato, with an off-sweet taste that I found frankly emetic.

Had it said "Bacon, Sausage and Tomato" I would not have ordered it, but it simply said "Bacon and Sausage".

To the willing tomato-eaters among you, I would say: how would you like it if you ordered a Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich and it also contained an entirely unadvertised sausage?

So I complained again and was sent a further £5 (for which again thanks - having not had a response to my complaint about the tomatoes, I had contacted SSP's chief executive's office, and the £5 voucher was actually then delivered to me the next day by a man who asked me to sign for it; if this escalates any further, SSP's next communication will presumably arrive in a briefcase that is handcuffed to the arm of a uniformed security guard).

I this morning returned with this £5 to the very Upper Crust in which the first sausage mishap had occurred, in the hope that by travelling back in time to the moment of tragedy, I might be able to do it differently this time and so change the course of history.

Alas, having ordered the same sausage baguette, I again said yes to having it heated, and again was then handed a heated sausage that was actually quite cold.

The staff offered me my money back and the manager apologised in some detail (and it was none of these people's fault - I don't blame SSP's staff), but I declined the money and the possibility of having a hot sausage substituted for the cold one, as I have had enough of this whole sorry affair.

Cold sausages, I have nothing against at all - I yield to no-one in my willingness to often eat cold sausages.
My objection, Mr Speaker, is not to a cold sausage being cold; rather, it is to a heated sausage not being properly heated - does the public health of the nation not demand that such re-warmed delights are served, as the marketing people would have it, "piping hot"?

It is all so unlike the restaurant on the railway station's platform in Brief Encounter. I am in fact writing the script for SSP's long-awaited remake of that very film, a few sample lines of which include:

Laura Jesson: [thinking to herself while looking at her husband, Fred] Fred, dear Fred. There's so much that I want to say to you. You're the only one in the world with enough wisdom and gentleness to understand. If only it was somebody else's sausage and not mine.

Laura Jesson: This can't last. This cold sausage can't last. I must remember that and try to control myself. Nothing lasts really. Neither tomatoes nor sausages. Not even breakfast lasts very long. There'll come a time in the future when I shan't mind about this anymore, when I can look back and say quite peacefully and cheerfully how silly I was.

Dr. Alec Harvey: [hearing a trio playing in the restaurant] There should be a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Sausages.

Laura Jesson: I had no thoughts at all, only an overwhelming desire not to feel tomatoes ever again.

Dr. Alec Harvey: Could you really say goodbye? Never see Upper Crust again?

Laura Jesson: Yes, if you'd help me.

Dr. Alec Harvey: I love sausages, Laura. I shall love sausages always until the end of my life. I can't look at you now cause I know something. I know that this is the beginning of the end. Not the end of my loving sausages but the end of them being heated properly. But not quite yet, darling. Please. Not quite yet.

Laura Jesson: Very well. Not quite yet.

Laura Jesson: Isn't it awful about people meaning to be kind by hiding tomatoes in sandwiches?

Laura Jesson: Do you know, I believe we should all behave quite differently if we ate warm, scrummy sausages all the time. We shouldn't be so withdrawn and shy and difficult.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Matthew Harris, Matthrew Harris and Brian Coleman - the plot thins

Page 8 of today's Barnet Press includes a round-up of comments made by readers on the paper's website, one of which (attributed to "Matthew Harris") is: "Brian (Coleman) really must try harder to overcome the temptation to behave like Hyacinth Bucket." In the microverse that is Barnet and its local politics (a microverse in which, as one colleague used often to reiterate, "No-one knows who any of us are"), there might be someone who thinks that I made this comment - I didn't, and nor would I ever say anything like that about Cllr Coleman or anybody else. The comment was made by someone signing in as "Matthrew Harris, Barnet" - doubtless a typo rather than an exciting political conspiracy. Although, as I never tire of saying, the film Paper Mask is a thriller all about someone pretending to be Matthew Harris. Or is it about a Matthew Harris pretending to be somebody else? Beyond it starring Paul McGann and (I vaguely recall) involving a plot point about a rather lovely hip flask engraved with the name of Matthew Harris (surely a hip flask that is rightfully mine, and mine alone), I forget the details...Coming soon to a cinema near you, David Mitchell is Matthew Harris in "The Man Who Taunted Himself".