I Wish To Meet Your Inner Child. (Then put a plastic bag over its head.)

Kid

School holidays are with us again and small children are everywhere. Some noisy, some quiet, but all with demands. Lots of demands. Food, treats, toys, stimulation, you name it. Children need LOTS of stuff and demand it the only way they can. With endless repetition and the threat of tears and copious quantities of mucus and noise if their requirements are not instantly met. It’s horrible, but it’s part of growing up.

“Oh God,” you’re all thinking, “That beer bloke is going on about kids again. What does he know about it? He doesn’t even have any!”

Well bear with me because that is NOT where I’m headed with this. I know you all love your offspring. You give them names and dress them up in little clothes and so on and that’s lovely I’m sure. But its ADULTS I want to look at today. Adults that employ the tactics of toddlers because somehow the world has bent out of shape enough to make them think they can get away with it.

I was drawn to this subject by a curious article that appeared on the net yesterday. You can find the link here;

http://news.distractify.com/culture/craigslist-surveillance-restaurant/?v=1

The gist of this is that a New York restaurant found itself facing complaints about service. It reviewed security footage from ten years before and discovered that it was doing the same stuff, just as efficiently, but that the CUSTOMERS had become less efficient. Their obsessive use of mobile technology meant that everything took longer. Rather than order food politely, wait patiently for it to arrive, eat it and then bugger off again tidily, most restaurant patrons are deep into their online lives and everyone else can damn well wait until they take a break from tapping ‘LOL’ and so forth into their little electronic chums.

Of course it is a common complaint these days that people really do spend too much time looking at phones and tablets so I’m not going to add to that. Besides, I am far from innocent of such behaviour myself. I simply LOVE my little Black Mirror and use it a lot too so I can’t take issue with people who do it excessively.

What shocked me more than anything with that article was not the electronic bad manners but the revelation that in 2004 just three people out of forty five were rude and arrogant enough to demand a different table while ten years later that figure had risen to EIGHTEEN out of forty five. My limited grasp of mathematics is not up to working out the percentage increase in people being ill mannered but then it hardly needs to when faced with a rise of that magnitude in just a decade. That figure is simply astonishing, not to mention deeply disturbing. There have always been people for whom having more than enough money acts as a substitute for being polite or considerate. The sloppy rich twit who thinks being rude to waiters is clever or endearing will always, alas, be with us. But, given that the ordinarily paid have grown poorer in the last ten years, what are we to make of the fact that BEHAVING like a spoiled, rich wanker is growing more popular even if these folk don’t have the money to make the rudeness genuinely gold plated? What on earth has happened to us in just ten years to make us think this is a fine way to carry on?

If there is one thing any sensible adult knows it is that being rude to people in shops, restaurants, airports and other such places is really dumb. I have a friend who never grasped this and was always full of bracing tales of how forcefully he demanded better service on airlines during his many business trips abroad. He seemed to think this showed some sort of prestige. I just smiled quietly during his bumptious monologues on the subject and imagined just what hijinks went on in the aircraft galley as the flight attendants added bodily exudates to his meals.

Because, make no mistake on this point, THEY DO. So do waiters in restaurants and if you believe otherwise then you are deluded. The old axiom of ‘Always put a little of yourself into every job’ has a very specific meaning to service industry staff who have to smile politely out front during some childish rant from a customer with an inflated sense of self importance. Once those harried waiters get behind the scenes then THEY are in charge and the rude customer will find their smiles just that bit more genuine once that specially treated meal is placed before them.

All of which should be perfectly obvious and if the wealthy and inconsiderate find themselves dining on the contents of a waiter’s nose then this is right and proper and all is well with the world. But, this is going off topic just a bit. Let us get back to the way in which even the most runny nosed service industry staff are finding themselves hard pressed to keep up with demand for their nasal contents and having to fall back on good old fashioned spit in the coffee.

Help me out here. I’ve worked in various service industry jobs and as a result I have NEVER gone into a restaurant or café and demanded a different table to the one I was offered. It has simply never occurred to me to do so. It’s just a bloody TABLE for heaven’s sake. I’m not planning on buying it. I’m not looking for a relationship with it. I just want somewhere to sit as I find eating food while standing up to be disagreeable. But surely someone reading this must have done it and I’d love to know why. What was it about standing there like a huge toddler and saying “I don’t want that table! I want THAT one!” that met some need in you? Looking back at that figure of three complaints rising to eighteen complaints indicates that behaving like a confused infant in public is far more popular than it used to be. The average article on this site gets fifty or so readers, so statistically at least a few of you reading this have sunk to this level of public nastiness. ‘Fess up. Let’s hear WHY.

Until I get a different explanation from someone who behaves like this then I can draw just two possible conclusions. Firstly, it is possible that, as chaps like Desmond Morris explained so well, humans copy behaviours from the more powerful of their species. We indicate status by adopting clothes and mannerisms from those we perceive to be more successful. For example, a hundred years ago, the wealthy viewed suntanned skin as being a mark of manual labour and stayed well out of the sun lest they end up looking like a navvy. Yet within a lifetime suntanned skin had changed its social signal entirely and the poorly paid were rushing off to destroy their complexions in horrible sun beds so as to give the impression of having been overseas on an expensive holiday. Styles of clothing and the naming of children follow the same top downwards trajectory. So it might be possible to infer that the arrogant and puffed up attitudes of some wealthy folk towards their social inferiors has become something that the less well paid seek to ape in order to appear better off than they inevitably are.

Which is pretty bloody tragic.

Personally though, I have another suggestion. It’s not a nice thought but I have to say it. We are becoming infantilised as a society. The idea that we should laugh and play like children has always been a pleasant one. It IS nice to do so from time to time, but we seem to have grown more accepting of the darker side to this and begun to believe that screaming, pouting and yelling like children is also good. Sadly the proof of this is becoming more apparent.

I was a child at a time when the retail industry hadn’t quite figured out what we now call ‘Pester Power’. Back then, the good stuff that we kids could throw a tantrum over was all kept in sweet and toy shops that our parents had the ability to keep us out of if they chose. The rudimentary supermarkets of Britain in the 60’s simply hadn’t got round to filling the shelves by the checkouts full of sweet and colourful things that drew our eyes and made us fractious. But by the late 1980’s the first pester power kids were entering adult life and the results were not always pretty. I particularly remember a tubby lad from Montreal that I used to work with. Ten years younger than me, he’d grown up as the youngest child in a large family and appeared to have been wretchedly indulged. The smug look of a kid whose mother gave in every time he screamed was writ large upon him and it was a sad thing to see. For now he was discovering that adult life was full of people that couldn’t have cared less for his sense of entitlement and who simply laughed in his face or ignored him when he drummed his heels and pouted when things weren’t exactly to his liking.

But that was twenty five years ago and nowadays he and his type are a lot happier. Because now there are enough overgrown toddlers infesting the world that commerce has found it profitable to embrace them. Fast food chains in particular have discovered that enough adults exist in a perpetually infantilised state to make their businesses flourish. Bright and gaudy colour schemes combine with squashy burgers packed with sugar and fat to create a dining environment in which four year olds of ALL ages can feel entertained and satisfied.

Now that would be fine if they stayed at McDonalds, but the overgrown toddler mentality is creeping out all over, and the result is the unpleasant statistic discovered by that restaurant in New York. And it’s the same here. Businesses run by grownups FOR grownups are having to tolerate the infantilised market in order to compete and this is a tragedy. For it is not just the sugar and fat eating crowd that we have to listen to these days but that other dreadful manifestation of the spoiled infant, The Food Faddist. The snivelling, self-obsessed little twerp for whom no meal can possibly be acceptable until their gamut of obsessive high fibre/gluten free/organic/lactose intolerant bullshit has been run through in front of everybody. I think I despise these types of overgrown children the most.

How nice it would be to visit a restaurant in which a fatuous ninny at the next table was simply called on his toddler-like behaviour! Imagine the scene if you will…. Screen goes all wavy…..

“Excuse me! Excuse me! Waiter!!!!”

“Sir/Madam?”

“I don’t like this! The table is the wrong size and in the wrong place. I want to sit by the window on a better chair and I want my egg cooked like that person’s over there and whatever those green bits are in the quiche look yucky! There’s a salt shaker on my table which is offensive ‘cos I’m on a low sodium diet and this coffee tastes like it still has some caffeine in it and I don’t do caffeine. There should be more gluten free items on the menu ‘cos I’m eating gluten free now since I read a thing on the internet about Gwyneth Paltrow doing it. Basically, I want everything changed round and I don’t want to have to pay my bill ‘cos you didn’t do any of the things I want properly.”

“Sir/Madam?”

“What?”

“Now, what we are going to do is this. You are going to leave now. Go away,and don’t come back until you’ve learned to behave in public like a grown up. If you can manage that and do wish to return then bring a fucking note from your DOCTOR proving you are intolerant of certain foods or we’ll just assume you are a wanker who just likes whining about stuff instead. Your infantile behaviour falls below an acceptable standard and all the other patrons around you think you’re a fuckwit and can’t wait to see the back of you. Are we clear on this? Good. Now, off you fuck.”

THAT, I believe is a restaurant I’d be proud to visit.

I would like to add that if anyone is ‘offended’ by any of the above then I am delighted. Feel free to let me know how much my observations have annoyed you as this will amuse me greatly.

In conclusion I would like to sign off with this list from the great journalist Michael Bywater who has written an entire book on the tricky topic. In order to appear publicly as at least vaguely adult he makes the following suggestions;

How to be an adult.

Don’t be affronted.
Being affronted (or offended, or complaining about ‘inappropriateness’) is no response for a grown-up. Only children believe the world should conform to their own view of it: a sort of magical thinking that can only lead to warfare, terrorism, unmanageable short-term debt and the Blair/Bush alliance

Mistrust anything catchy, whether it’s the Axis of Evil, advertising slogans, or blatant branding (‘New Labour’). Catchiness exists to prevent thought and to disguise motive. Grown-ups can think for themselves

Ignore celebrities, except when they are doing what they are celebrated for doing: acting, playing football et cetera. Skill does not confer moral, political or intellectual discrimination. (Except in the case of writers. Writers know everything and can lecture you with impunity.) If a celebrity is not celebrated for doing anything but being a celebrity, smile politely but pay no notice

We should not assume that market forces will decide wisely. The market is rigged by manipulation and infantilisation

Consider our own motivations. We may rail about being treated like children, ordered about, kept from the truth, nannied and exploited… but are we complicit in it? Could the reward actually be infantilisation itself?

Autonomy is the primary marker of being grown up. Babies, children and adolescents don’t have any. We don’t want to be in their boat

Suspect administration.
Its purpose is to free the organisation to do what it’s meant to do: but the triumph of the administrators – the lawyers, the accountants, the professional managers – means that too many organisations now believe that what they are meant to do is administer themselves. This is a profoundly infantile attitude

Do not love yourself unconditionally. Such love is for babies and comes from their mothers. Ignore fashion, particularly in clothes. You don’t want to look like a teenager for ever

Never do business with a company offering ‘solutions’ as in ‘ergonomic furniture solutions which minimise the postural strain associated with sitting’ (chairs) and ‘Post Office mailing solutions’ (brown paper). The word suggests we have a problem, but since we are grown-ups, that is for us to decide

Denounce relativism at every turn. Shouting ‘not fair’ is childish. Demanding respect without earning it is childish. Don’t fear seriousness. Babies aren’t allowed to be serious

Watch our language.
Is there really much difference between a six-year-old in a fright-wig and his father’s waders shouting ‘I’m the Mighty Wurgle-Burgle-Urgley-Goo’ and an ostensible grown-up demanding to be called ‘Tony Blair’s Respect Tsar’?

Hide.
Grown-ups are not required to be perpetually accountable, while the instincts of government and big business, both of which are, almost by their nature, great infantilisers, are to keep an eye on everyone all the time

Eat it up.
There is nothing more babyish than having dietary requirements

Never vote for, do business with or be pleasant to anyone who uses the words ‘ordinary people’

Let Us Speak Of SPAM.

Spam 1

The other night I was talking, over an ale or two, naturally, to a friend who has just returned from a holiday in Hawaii. He was explaining how popular Spam seems to be over there and how this strange and frankly horrible product is now being made in assorted ‘gourmet’ flavours. Somebody decided that Chorizo flavoured Spam was a good idea and others seemed willing to accept this strange decision and actually eat it. Not only that, but he even saw macadamia nuts, (Which Hawaii produces in vast and delicious quantities) available in Spam Flavour.

This revelation produced a horrible moment of shared disgust among the assembled company and we all took that half gulp, half deep breath that all humans do when faced with something too vile to contemplate. Spam is not something that any of us present had eaten in decades. As a foodstuff it rates only very slightly above pet food in most people’s perception.

I first met Spam at the age of four. I went to a very good primary school and I can think of half a dozen friends and relations that went there too and I am sure they will remember this as vividly as I do. The school took its teaching responsibilities seriously and while it went to great lengths to show us kids that the world could be full of colour, fun, music, games and shouting for joy, they also took similar care to demonstrate to us that the world could also be a bleak and joyless place in which sadness, adversity and gloom had to be met head on and accepted. This they did using Spam.

At least once every two weeks we would troop hungrily into the hall for lunch and be faced with the horror of Spam. It was clearly taken from some huge catering pack and served in perfectly round slices along with the scraps of greenery that passed for salad in 60’s Britain. It was, quite simply, inedible. It was a depressing synthetic pink in colour, smelled of chemicals and tasted of sadness. We’d sit and cut faces or shapes into it, putting off the horrible moment when we would have no choice but to eat it. And eat it we would, since this was post war Britain. Rationing had only, finally, been abandoned less than a decade before and the country still ran on the ‘Food-is-Fuel’ mentality and you were still meant to be pathetically grateful for anything not actually poisonous.
“You’ll eat it and like it!” “That’s good food! You can’t let it go to waste!” “There are starving children in India!”, and of course the terrible; “No pudding until you’ve eaten your MEAT!”

Once I left primary school they found other ways of showing us how crap life could be such as compulsory rugby and beatings and I was never again to eat Spam. In fact I had almost forgotten that it still existed until Monty Python suddenly gave it a boost in their unforgettable ‘Spam Sketch’. The hilarious spectacle of Terry Jones as the proprietor of some gloomy café, reeling off the endless list of meals containing more and more improbable quantities of Spam while a table full of Vikings in the corner broke into song about the stuff suddenly made it seem at least funny.
spam 2

Almost iconic in fact. Though neither funny nor iconic enough to make me want to eat it again. Indeed, during my impoverished and drunken younger days I ate many revolting things, especially late at night. I’ve even eaten saveloys and doner kebabs (and kept them down too) but I have never been hungry or degraded enough to have touched Spam.

(Just an aside here. My research on the internet into Spam reveals that the famous Python sketch led to the name Spam being applied to unwanted email, though who first decided this is unclear.)

Many countries boast revolting foodstuffs. Scotland has Haggis, which, despite its seemingly disgusting provenance is actually delicious. In Iceland they eat rotted shark which people have weed on. Yet these ‘delicacies’ are presented with swagger and a knowing grin. There’s something defiantly fun about them. But Spam makes no such claims. It is simply nasty, cheap canned ‘meat-style’ food substitute, cheaply packaged and without flair of any kind.

So where could it have come from? Personally, I was AMAZED to find my own country guiltless. I had always simply assumed that anything so deliberately joyless could only have been developed in Britain. But no. Spam is as American as apple pie and school shootings. It was invented by the Hormel Foods Corporation in 1937, and while its brand name is taken to mean ‘Spiced Ham’, it appears that the name actually means something else which they don’t want to tell us and I don’t want to think about.

The American do produce a lot of CRAP food. But, no matter how squashy, fake, horrible and unhealthy these foods may be, our American cousins usually manage to package and advertise them as if they were wholesome, nutritious and fun. The Big Mac is the ultimate example of this on the worldwide scale though a visit to an American supermarket will turn up foods even more unlikely and appalling. Yet even the worst of these will be presented in bright and irresistible packs, hinting at untold gastronomic delight.

Not Spam though. Oh dear no. Spam is, for all its horror, presented in dull and honest tins that promise nothing save for disappointment and self-loathing. Spam is the ultimate anti-fun food.

Yet it is still made, and, we must assume, sold. A look at the tinned meat shelves here at our local supermarket shows that Hormel’s Spam occupies a standard one metre shelf and is available in standard ‘Inedible’, ‘Inedible Low Sodium’, ‘Bacon’ and ‘Turkey’ flavours. Yet just a few feet away lie the inexpressible delights of a New Zealand meat chiller, containing meats of a quality unheard of in many countries. Ten dollars will get you a rump steak so tender you’d think it came from a cow tended by angels, pork chops so rich and flavourful they look like they’ll cook themselves for you, and of course the best lamb available anywhere on Earth. Yet enough people are prepared to bypass these fresh meats and buy Spam instead. It defies belief.

Over the last couple of days I have asked pretty much everyone I’ve encountered if they have eaten Spam recently. None of them have, which came as no surprise. But every single one of them reacted as if I’d asked them if they’d eaten dog roll. Or drunk from a puddle. But then the kind of people I know tend, like me, to be serious about food. So I decided to sit down, write about my curiosity and see if anyone else feels like saying, as Eric Idle’s character did in that sketch; “I LOVE SPAM!”

Who still eats it? Do you have favourite recipes for it? What is it that draws you to its jellified and synthetic delights? Do you feed it to children? (And if so, what did your children do to deserve this?) Answers below please. I’ll even waive my normal refusal to allow replies from anonymous responders in this case. I can see why you’d want to keep this habit a secret.