Heston Services

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Hmm, Felicity, March ’86. That should do it.

If you shop at Waitrose (and dear reader, it is a truth universally acknowledge that one does not admit to shopping anywhere else) you’ll have seen Waitrose Weekend, the free newspaper-style magazine with cooking tips and as they would never say in public, so much more.

This week along with the butterflied lamb with fig glaze (What? No, if you’ve got something to say then just say it. I’m waiting….) there’s a feature on how utterly crap, damaging to reality, truth and a genuine business culture The Apprentice actually is along with a thing about Aggers and cricket. So far so excellent. Cricket, and in particular Radio 4’s surreal commentaries on it where the on-air appreciation of cakes baked by deranged listeners and sent to the men in their 80s broadcasting as they chortle over a cup of tea at world-class schoolboy humour (“the batsman’s Holding, the bowler’s Willy”) is far and away the best athletic sport, chiefly because sloggers like Botham aside it doesn’t look very athletic. Sitting in a deckchair it all looks so gentle any spectator can think ‘I could do that. If I could be bothered to stand up. Maybe I’ll have another cup of tea first.’ I once tried to introduce a Scottish woman to the serene loveliness of an English village cricket match. It was the first time I’d really appreciated how much Lewis Carrol had put into the game.

‘Why’s that stupit man with all the hats wearing a dress?’

The umpire had decided to wear the hat of everyone who had decided their hat was too hot or got in the way and handed it to him. He’d also decided to wear shorts, a deplorable practice in cricket but let’s face it, they weren’t playing at the Oval. He’d then worn his white warehouse coat, as umpire and the hem of the coat was longer than his shorts. Not a dress. But it did look as if the local transsexual had branched out with a multiple hat fetish, to be fair. The next comment was much more damning.

‘If they put their back intae ut this could be over in haffanoor.’

I tried to explain that running when you hit the ball, well, that was really for professionals on TV, and that running was antithetical to cricket, where the cucumber sandwiches and the gossip around the pavillion, where the tea-urn is probably more important than the urn the Ashes are kept in, is all much more important than the crass vulgarity of actually winning the game. Cricket is – well cricket is for sitting on a deckchair in the sun and languid clapping, reflecting on the inanities of sports that involve strenuous effort like cheering. The Zen contemplation of the red, white and green. If the Rastafari flag is gold for the sun, red for the blood of the martyrs and green for the green fields of Ethiopia (notwithstanding that Hailie Selassie, the Lion of Judah, spent a fair bit of time in a nice early-Victorian stone villa in Bath) then cricket’s iconography symbolises the red of the ball that hit you in the side of the head on a playing field when you were fourteen and looking at Teresa Powell playing volleyball instead of fielding properly, (if you kept your eyes open Bennett this wouldn’t have happened. You’re letting your team down. There’s nothing wrong with you…), white for the colour the knee pads used to be, the only pad you could find that had buckles on all of its straps and green for the grass stains you hoped you might get on your whites when volleyball was over in a summer long ago. The smell of long-dead bowlers and boyhood and loss and the wheel of life anthem for doomed youth that gently haunts every cobweb in every village Pav. I tried to translate this into Scottish but I think it lost something along the way.

No. What irritated me about Waitrose Weekend (and let’s face it, so far so lovely) was Heston Blumenthal. To be fair, either of those two words irritates me intensely, let alone both together. Heston Blumenthal is a self-consciously ‘wacky’ (no, there really isn’t an N in the word, officially) celebrity chef who looks like a dick and plays with food. You won’t hear anything about provenance or terroir or grass feeding or ethical standards in Heston’s cooking. Or the food poisoning that sent literally hundreds of his customers to the bathroom all night that the local Environmental Health Officers in Bray felt shouldn’t close his restaurant but one hundredth of which would have shut a burger van for good. All you ever hear about “Heston’s” food is exactly that – how he’s put his own unique stamp on it. Because that’s obviously the most important thing.

“In his Heston from Waitrose Salted Caramel Popcorn Ice Cream the chef manages to contain everything that’s great about the movies.’ Does he? Does he really? He combines the burning, corrosive madness of the English Patient with the whimsical fun of banditry in Butch Cassidy and the seen-it-all Bogart and the beautiful-and-dead appeal of James Dean and the institutionalised crushing brutality of The Hill in a bag of popcorn? Not bad going, Heston. Maybe next time you could add a soupcon of Bad Wives from the Vivid studio. That might lend a little ‘ow you say, piquancy.

“In a television advert for Waitrose… the chef is shown being inspired by popcorn-like meteors on a trip to the cinema.” I think Waitrose will find they’ve actually paid for an advert for the chef, not for themselves at all, notwithstanding that after The Triffids a lot of people look at meteors with a distinct unease. But that could just be the popcorn, of course. Exactly what a popcorn-like meteor is, or how it inspires anyone is quickly brushed aside.

“The chef, who is famous for molecular gastronomy” (like every other chef on the planet, but let’s put that aside too, along with food poisoning, which is obviously now officially in the Rude To Mention It category) ‘reveals…he had this idea. Why not take my love of ice-cream and my childhood love of cinema and just stick them all together?”

No Heston. Just stop right there. The real question is why do that, not why not? Let’s ignore the fact that corn is one of the very worst things you can eat, in terms not just of the economics of its production but also what it does to you. Corn syrup, anyone? With a side order of Type Two diabetes? Coming right up.

It’s the sheer mind-warping inanity, the look-at-me-look-at-me playing with food I object to. Why not take my love of Biggles books and rice and um, eat it on an airplane? Oh wait, that’s been done. Ok, here’s one. Why not take my love of Gerry Anderson’s puppets and sandwiches and er, make a balsa wood sandwich with a string filling? Yeah baby! Behave! Now we’re cooking with gas. Molecularly. Like no-one else does.

Next week Heston shows us a protein shake any man can make in five minutes with an old copy of Penthouse. As Waitrose Weekend hopefully doesn’t say.

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