Food-lovers delights and sights of York (not Berlin)

Have you checked the expiry date on your passport recently?  In case you were wondering, no, you will not be allowed to travel with your expired passport, even if you pack your bag, check-in online and turn up at the airport ready for your birthday-treat short break in Berlin, with hotel booked and Pearl Jam gig tickets in hand.  You are not leaving the country anytime soon!

My partner was devastated on discovering her passport was invalid – especially as the whole trip was planned for my birthday and I’d been excited about the holiday and about seeing Pearl Jam play live for months.  On top of that I was run-down and exhausted from the final year of my PhD studies, and was desperately anticipating this trip as a much-needed break.  Yes – there were tears, but they didn’t really change the situation, as we stood forlorn in Liverpool John Lennon Airport.  The only sensible thing to do was to say ‘hey – we have time booked off work, we have a bag packed with clothes – lets go somewhere else!’  A quick scan of the internet to find places accessible by train and within a 3 hour radius of home, and we were off and traveling again – on our way to a short break in York.

The Dalai Lama once said “remember that not always getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck”. 

My disappointment about Berlin was a direct result of unmet expectations about what I thought I was going to be doing that week – I had denied the possibility of there being circumstances that I couldn’t control.  My visit to York however was unexpected, and therefore unanticipated – how could it disappoint?  There were no expectations or preconceived ideas about what we would find, what we ‘should’ do while we were there and no planned itinerary to stick to.

We could discover the city as it unfolded before us.  We were free to decide where to go and what to do from one minute to the next.  When we arrived off the train, tired and hungry, with no idea of where to find the city’s main restaurants, we discovered quite by accident the best curry we’ve ever eaten outside India.  The Kings Ransom curry house wasn’t flashy or expensive, but impressed with its soft fluffy naan bread, fragrant pilau rice and their willingness to make a vegetarian version of any dish on the menu (I’m reliably informed their Rajasthani Tikka Gosht was pretty special too).  Actually that is the only bowl of rice that I have ever wanted to eat completely on its own, just to enjoy the flavours and spices skilfully woven into it.

When the heavens opened, we dashed into the nearest pub for shelter, enjoying a spontaneous pint in what turned out to be Guy Fawkes’s birthplace (although I recommend the pub we found in similar drizzly circumstances the following day – the friendly Three-Legged Mare with its fantastic selection of real ales).  I had time to settle down with a (non-academic) book for the first time in months, and made the most of the browsing opportunities in the multitude of bookshops we stumbled upon.

The next day we couldn’t get a seat in the first cafe we chose – so continued up a quiet street only to discover the most amazing deli stocked wall to wall with barrels full of every type of olive oil and balsamic vinegar imaginable.  We squeezed into the last available table in their tiny back room cafe.  If that first cafe hadn’t disappointed us with its overcrowding, we’d never have discovered the gastronomic delights served up at the Hairy Fig – one of the most satisfying lunches I’ve ever enjoyed!

Oils and vinegars at the Hairy Fig Deli

One of the highlights of the trip was the moment the sun came out – after weeks of incessant rain and heavy flooding in that part of the UK.  We simply sat in a park, determined to make the most of it.  That hour of people-watching and sky-gazing was the most relaxed I’d felt in weeks.  And I know myself well enough to realise I don’t ever ‘plan’ to do ‘nothing’ – so I wouldn’t have enjoyed that sunshine break had I been consciously trying to pack the most into my trip.

It turns out that York, England is quite a different place from Berlin, Germany.  But its independent shops, foodie-delights, real ale pubs, bookshops, city walls walks and medieval streets offered something new to discover on every corner.  You just need to be open to enjoying the moment, rather than missing something you never had.  I could have got angry with my partner about the passport or I could have spent days moping around feeling sorry for myself because I missed out on the trip I’d been expecting.  I preferred to enjoy time together in a new place, seeing new things, and remembering what holidays are actually for – relaxing!  The sky over York was filled with clouds that week, but they definitely shone brightly with their silver linings.  If you ever happen to find yourself without passport but wanting a nice weekend away – I would recommend York without hesitation!

I’d Like to Have an Argument, Please.

or

“A Ulyssean voyage through the wilderness of daytime TV!”

I must be the only person who benefits from watching loose women. It gives me energy. Loose Women’s brand of feminism is all about left-up-toilet-seats and botox. It might actually be a brilliantly conceived anti-feminist platform. Several weeks ago, they heaped praise on a celebrity mum who was back in a bikini (and looking great) 6 weeks after giving birth to her first child. This is not feminism. It’s the reinforcement of misplaced values. The panel has a universal belief that what’s inside only counts, if what’s outside ‘looks good’. This panel is not representative of women in general.

Although the uncelebrity panel of Loose Women seem to get what they want out of the show, I doubt anyone genuinely benefits from appearing, the panellists just bolster their warped values against one another. In yesterday’s edition they set the world to rights on whether the UK should scrap GCSEs and return to a two-tier system of ‘O’ Levels and CSEs. The potential impacts of such changes are complex, but two of the panellists threw two millennia of Western Reason to the wind and dove straight in with strong views for and against.

I’m uncomfortable with the certainty of these ready-made unopinions. The unstrategy is to make a snap undecision and stick to it at all cost. This is not a real debate -winning comes first and learning is distinctly second. This isn’t ‘a collective series of statements to establish a definite proposition’ (thanks Monty Python), it’s contradiction.

No further details about the proposals are given or asked for. Nobody learns anything. In fact, a very great effort is made to hold onto preformed opinions and gut reactions. I realise that Loose Women is (in theory at least) an entertainment show, but it must be noted that panellists take they own unopinons very seriously.

The panellists dive straight in because they want to project a strong image of a strong viewpoint. Even the shortest clip of these meaningless exchanges reveals two basic characters, the heart on sleeve character, pitted against the logical, knowing character. You might think that the feeling character fulfils their own needs by feeling, and the knowing character fulfils their own needs by knowing, but the needs that are being fulfilled are those of image. Of spin and PR. The needs of the panellists to portray some deeper understanding.

It’s not a new idea. In Erving Goffman’s book ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’, Goff posits that individuals present a positive side of themselves in situations of any social impact, which he terms the ‘front stage’. There is a contrasting ‘back stage’ too.

The 1992 UK general election is regarded as one of the biggest surprises in 20th-century British politics, for the reason that opinion polls leading up to the day of the election showed Labour to be consistently ahead. John Major was nevertheless confident of a victory, because opinion polls conducted by the Conservative Party told him that his party were in the lead. Major’s campaign team correctly concluded that during independent polling, many voters interviewed were too ashamed to say that they planned to vote for The Conservatives, but would actually vote for them out of self-interest. This effect is more fully discussed in Adam Curtis’s great BBC documentary ‘The Century of the Self’.

The game face becomes so well worn, that people can invent a strong viewpoint at the very beginning of an argument about an unfamiliar (and often previously unencountered) subject matter and express a strong moral angle. Perhaps this is why the adjective for a strongly held opinion is Heartfelt rather than Headfelt. It’s well understood that many people become unobjective when they get impassioned about something. The term blind rage is a perfect description.

Often individuals continue to fight, even after it emerges that the other party is essentially agreeing with them. With grand negative gestures of dissociation, fuelled by the thrill of projecting a strong opinion, people lose themselves to the heat of the row and a reassuring sense of rightness. Keeping hold of the wrong end of the stick with all they can. Supposedly some subjects (e.g. Paedophilia, Immigration) are safe bets. TV debate has become little more than a platform to demonstrate conformity in an impassioned zealous manner. Essentially it’s pointless to try and authentically debate anything on TV. The only purpose of opinion is to provide cheap filler for daytime TV and rolling news.

Top marks then for Jeremy Kyle, arch advocate of nothing but the pontificatory delivery style. Jeremy Kyle gets ‘high on his own supply’ of rage and moral certainty. I wouldn’t ask this guy for help if I had an addiction problem. With a degree of front-staging and messianic rage, far exceeding that of Loose Women’s debates, Jeremy’s guests are only a backdrop. The conveyor belt of new guests is a desperate ploy to give the audience an impression of real, grounded opinion. This is why Jeremy doesn’t apply his opinion to current affairs. Jeremy won’t rant about something unsafe. He needs the dust to settle and the opinions to be received in advance.

Looking back at the celebrity mum back in her bikini, it’s no surprise the Loose Women panel was so impressed… what’s inside only counts, if what’s outside looks good.