February 25: the golden key

Ever feel that you have entrusted all your hopes to the person least equipped to shoulder them? That it is like handing a key to a man with advanced Alzheimers and saying: Here is the golden key. It is very precious. Put it somewhere private where only you know it is and when somebody asks you for it don’t give it to them, but when I ask for it hand it over to me. Do you think you can remember that?…About the golden key… That’s right, the key that I’ll be giving you… The one that you have to look after for me… The golden key… The golden one… No, it’s a key… The one I’ll give you… No, you have to look after it… No, you mustn’t give it to anyone else… It’s a key…  That’s for you to hold onto… In a secret place… No, not on the table…  Somewhere secret… Golden, like gold, gold coloured…

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February 21: fluctuating allegiancies

In our own micro-ways we all participate in the high Hollywood of everyday life. Recently I have been dealing with the troubling presence of a new cafe on the high street. Now, I have always remained faithful to another cafe where I have a certain privileged reception (oh, nothing too grand you understand, a place by the window, the preparation of my preferred coffee type without me needing to order it, table service where less favoured customers are required to queue at the counter to make their order). Yes. I am a kind of petit bourgeois notable of the establishment as they would say in a Flaubert novel. But now a new cafe sails into my formerly smug, untroubled life. A new cafe next door where the coffee is better and where in winter the heating is actually switched on. Now pressing questions of allegiance arise. Firstly, moral: do I transfer my allegiance? Secondly, material: how do I sit next-door without being seen by the staff of the first cafe, the staff that cradled me for so long with that remarkable set of privileges? Fortunately, there is a block I can go round to enter cafe number two without passing by the shop front of cafe number one. There is also a downstairs area to the new cafe where I would be invisible to the street should the waitress of cafe one pop out to adjust the sign adverising coffee and croissant for the special price of £2.5o. But the moral dilemmas do not stop there. What if I should meet in the new cafe customers of the old cafe, potential informers like myself, spies playing for both sides, collaborators with the enemy? I can only hope that their desire for their identity to remain unknown accords with mine and that we both tacitly agree that the terrible knowledge of our infidelity must remain undivulged. These are the same issues as you find in the more rarefied echelons of the world of espionnage. We are all playing roles in a domestic version of Tinker…Tailor…Soldier…Waiter, where for a better blend of black americano I and many like me are willing to trade our past, our conscience, our peace of mind, yea our very soul.

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February 16: tinned fish

I like some tinned fish. I especially like tinned salmon. Red salmon which is pink, not pink salmon which is grey. Tinned salmon is better than fresh salmon which is mostly tasteless. At this point one should talk about farmed salmon but I have no opinion on this. Smoked salmon is a poor man’s poshness. Overrated. Tinned salmon is best. There is also tuna. For me with tuna it is the opposite. Tinned tuna I don’t like though I do like fresh tuna. The problem with fresh tuna is the price. I can’t concentrate when I’m eating fresh tuna because it feels like I’m chewing a ten pound note, which is what it can cost. My friend Emma says she has another problem. When she’s eating fresh tuna if she doesn’t concentrate properly it feels like she’s eating tinned tuna, which defeats the whole purpose of spending the cash in the first place.The key is to keep your eye on the fresh fish left on your plate as you are chewing. That way you remain convinced that you are eating something expensive. There are other tinned fish. Pilchards, now unpopular because of their rebarbative name. Who wants to eat a pilchard? Which is basically just a sardine. As for sardines, you have the choice of sardines in tomato sauce, which is what we had when I was little, so must be best. But there is also sardines in olive oil, which unnervingly leaves the sardines tasting like fish, which is a definite no-no. There is also brine. Don’t bother with brine.

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February 8: who is mr anagram?

I don’t know who invented the anagram. Maybe it was Mr Anagram, which may not be his real name. His success has been great. He has figured in IQ tests and quiz shows for many years now and, like the emperor with no clothes, audiences have accepted him, pretended he is fully clad, and laughed at all his tedious jokes. For some reason they have imagined that the ability to rejumble a set of letters into a new word is a literary feat. In the IQ test it is practically the only task that concerns words but as a skill it has no interest and no application. Mr Anagram can also lick his nose with his tongue but that doesn’t make him a genius either. Mr Anagram, you’ve had a good innings for a terrible old bore. Now ucfk ofo!

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February 7: the first of my class betrayals

When I passed through Burgess Hill (just outside Brighton) on the train today, I was reminded of an old school friend of mine, Iain Bell, who left primary school aged ten to go and live in Burgess Hill or as his Scottish mum called it sunny Brighton. He was probably not my best friend at St Joseph’s. That honour probably fell to Christopher Hylands, but Iain Bell represented an alternative strand in my friendship network, less edgy than Christopher Hylands who lived on the Offerton estate. Iain Bell lived in a relatively posh house on Curzon Green. Christopher Hylands and Iain Bell didn’t get on. They fought for my favour. One Sunday morning, on a visit from sunny Brighton about a year later, Iain Bell appeared at my house. For some reason the question of jam butties came up. My brother used the term and my mum said we should say jam sandwiches and not jam butties. This was all in aid of Iain Bell who was a Southener now and posher than us. I was called upon to adjudicate. In the first of my class betrayals, I plumped for jam sandwiches.

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