Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Blog off?!


Lurking amongst the tongue-tied first daters, confused tourists, fussy eaters, expense-account executives, quarrelling couples and discomfited conference delegates that go towards making up the bulk of any restaurant’s clientele, a recent arrival to the throng is set to fascinate people watchers - in themselves another discrete social subset - everywhere.

The Food Blogger is the food world’s equivalent of the train spotter, lurking feverishly in the waiting room on any given prandial platform until the gravy train gives them (and their followers, via the tannoy system that is twitter) something to tweet about. Some Food Bloggers herald their arrival by dropping a notebook on the table before they’ve even taken their coats off, when even a ‘traditional’ restaurant critic knows that notebooks are the sole preserve of those who attempt to scam discounted meals by posing as a reviewer. All of them, however, identify themselves by using their cameras to take endless shots of the table, the menu, the food, the cutlery and the aftermath of the meal itself rather than the grinning maws of their fellow diners, using the images to illustrate a fresh post that will be rattled out immediately after the event and posted online often before the dishes they ate from have been cleared away.

Many food blogs constitute a lively, informative alternative to the mainstream media, but for every insightful, original self-styled food writer there are reams of sites operated by egotistical, delusional, pompous maniacs who start every sentence with the word ‘I’ and think ‘delicious’ is sufficient description for any dish they were impressed by. But don’t confuse the folk who post pernicious, mean-spirited barbs on sites such as tripadvisor.com with genuine FB’s; these comments are in fact generated by restaurant owners with an appetite for destruction of the enterprise next door.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Great Balls of Boredom


Exactly what do people honestly, really like about watching a bunch of overpaid drama queens (albeit, I’m sure, highly skilled drama queens) doing exactly the same thing week in, week out? I’m not down on anybody who watches - or plays - football; I just honestly can’t see the attraction. Is a clear, concise explanation detailing what the attraction is really too much to ask for? Is it an addiction - like smoking, or crack? Or is it merely a male bonding thing: a chance to be with your mates without having to do anything uncomfortable like actually talking to them about something other than Rooney’s latest medical melodrama or whether or not Frank Lampard’s ball was offside?

It surely can’t be a patriotic thing but, if it is, that motivation alone gives cause for serious concern (I’m with Paul Gomberg when it comes to the sociological theories behind collective displays of national pride). But neither is it any longer what John Betjeman condescendingly called a ‘panacea for the working classes’; today, the majority of the super strikers (and defenders, and mid-fielders, etc) are glossy Euro boys paid millions of pounds to swoop, dive and maintain their glossy manes, while supporters are charged the equivalent of the average mortgage payment for a season ticket. And I’m not even going to attempt to offer a pseudo-theory on that hackneyed, clich├ęd “it’s a latent gay thing” insinuation (although this point recently raised much confusion in an ensuing debate: apparently, men who don’t want to watch a bunch of scantily-clad men get sweaty in a pool of mud must therefore be gay. Oh, how confused today’s heterosexual boys get!). So what is it, then?

In a brave attempt to give me a clearer understanding of his (controlled) passion for football, my boyfriend likened ‘The Beautiful Game’ to one of my own favourite leisure pursuits: theatre. Nice try! But there is simply no correlation. Theatre tells a story, offers a perspective, food for thought, human association - and a conclusion. “Football offers exactly the same experience!” he remonstrated. If he’s right, I can only liken it to the equivalent of watching ‘We Will Rock You’ - the most unimaginative, pompous debacle to ever disgrace a stage - over and over again; what kind of nutter would want to do that? The kind, I guess, who are about to spend thousands of pounds making the 6000 mile trek to South Africa, sacrificing and forfeiting both their credit ratings and the chance of a real holiday for years to come as they head off for a month-long, beer’n’footie-related kick-about in one of the world’s most politically complex destinations. While it’s a fact that many thousands of South Africans will undoubtedly benefit from the massive influx of tourist industry dollars that they’re about to be bombarded with, many thousands more will be magically hidden from view just for the occasion (the 25,000 homeless children, for example, that the Durban Municipal Police have deemed to be ‘unsightly vermin in need of urgent removal’ among them). Meanwhile, UNICEF estimate that the 10,000 teenage prostitutes currently working in the shadow of Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium will have their ranks swelled by 20,000 more come the height of the competition; come on, Eng-er-land - let’s propagate the pimps? Call me a killjoy for bringing up the reality behind the hoop-la of this year’s World Cup epicentre, but if football fans are exempt from being concerned about human rights, that means they inadvertently sanction some pretty serious human wrongs....all in the name of The Game.

But still, the coming weeks are set to be dominated by World Cup no-news across the media, on the streets and down the pub. Men will spend hundreds of hours glued to dozens of games on wide-screen TVs brought especially for the occasion. Across the land, the faces of innocent children will be daubed with clumsy red and white smears as faux-jingoistic fathers inadvertently replicate the genuine jingo ritual of smearing the faces of their own offspring with the blood of the fox torn to pieces at their first hunt. Team managers, the players and their fans will claim to be heartbroken, ecstatic, over the moon, shattered, distraught, elated - whatever. Thousands of church, stage and juke box classics, from ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ to ‘Guantanamera’, ‘Knees Up, Mother Brown’ and even ‘That’s Amore’, will be bastardised, strangulated and forever tainted by supporters (and detractors) across the globe. The wags will drag their wardrobes out to play, and supermarkets will run promotions on everything from beer and burgers to T-shirts, underwear, homewares, toys and car cleaning kits, all especially branded for the occasion - and all destined for the charity shop come the end of July.

And then, just when you think it’s all over (which, according to my sources, it already is, for the England team at least), the football season will kick off again - and not a single soul will be able to tell me why that’s so exciting.