Tuesday 1 January 2019

The art of giving

New Day, New Year, looking forward to a year of Enough Already.  We were down with Pat the Salt, the Ancient Mariner, from Christmas Eve until the end of the week. It being Christmas we probably over-catered but I haven't thrown anything in the bin yet. Given the importance of meat in the traditional spread, it doesn't help that half the family are vegetarians. No way could I persuade Dau.II aka Cookie that chicken OR ham was a valid Boolean alternative to chicken AND ham. I have therefore spent the last week eating, not what I want, but what will go off soonest - it is part of the penance which I make of the Festival of St Mammon. On Christmas Eve, The Beloved popped out with a bag of small gifts for the immediate neighbours, who looked out for Pat and Souad when they were a potentially vulnerable elderly couple. When she returned with the bag filled, I assumed it was because the neighbours were Out. Not so: they were In but had a reciprocal gift waiting in the hall. That was a sweet [literally! biscuits and candies are safe bets in such transactions] thought and part of the tradition but really we didn't need more calories in the house. That festive almond, marzipan and cherry roulade which I made the weekend before Christmas? it weighed a kilo and I had to eat it all - because the family preferred to fill up on nut-cutlets, hang-sangs, and Christmas cake. But for the fact that I spent Th and Fr hauling brash for a tree-surgeon, I would be like a balloon now.

My mother, for as long as I've known, has used the bottom drawer of her side-board as a holding pen for house-gifts: all those chocolates and biscuits and candles which you get if you invite normal folks to dinner. If the Village Hall Committee comes round looking for donations for the fund-raising raffle, m'Mum doesn't need to go to the shops; just as far as the dining room. I suppose if she hadn't been brought up in the Hungry 30s by my thrifty Scottish granny, she might just have horsed into the sweets as soon as her guests had gone. By not adding a kilo a month to her waist from the unmetabolised calories she is still with us. But her regifting is not doing much for the economy.

In the run-up to Christmas, Dau.I aka Donata got swept up in Basket Brigade. Her local BB was not obviously associated with Tony "Motivator" Robbins: she was recruited by the local chapter of the Repeal the Eighth campaign. Having Saved the Gays and Saved the Autonomous Uterus, the rads of Dublin NorthWest set their sights on saving the dispossessed. In particular those who would otherwise be feeding on a bag chips in a hotel room over Christmas. By actively canvassing in November, they raised €3,000 to fill 100 Christmas boxes for those who had buggerall to celebrate this winter. They also leaned on the manager of the local Supervalu store to donate 100x of suitable festive fare. On Sat 15th Dec, a couple of dozen volunteers filled those 100 boxes with a chicken and ham and a bunch of other stuff to eat. You might think that an uncooked chicken is as useful in a bedsit as a dead rat, but it seems that almost every homeless family has someone who'll have them home for Christmas.
[aside: as the 1967 foot-and-mouth epidemic in Britain continued onto December, Brits were exhorted to Have an Irishman for Christmas dinner because the lads were being discouraged from going home. The waggish riposte was "No thanks, I'd rather have a turkey like last year"]
As well as the ham and chicken, the BB basket had fresh vegetables, tinned fruit, trifle, custard, a box of fancy biscuits, some paper towels, tea, instant coffee, and some candies for the very young and very old. Normal food for normal people with perhaps an edge of healthiness: Carrots and sprouts can seem like a rare treat if you've eaten nothing but take-out for months.

Just as we were packing up to come back to the mountain after Christmas with Pat the Salt, there was <bing bong> a delivery of a Basket's Galore BG hamper from one of our Rellies Abroad. These things are not designed for the dispossessed but rather for "What do you give to the man who has everything?".  I guess the cognitive dissonance clanged loudest when I found that BG hampers <not ours!> often include Heart of Lincolnshire cheddar cheese. I hate madey-uppy designer cheeses: cheddar is a supreme treat; cheddar-with-cranberries is an unnecessary travesty; cheddar pressed into a shape and covered with wax the colour of strawberry blancmange is an insult to the senses. I had a look at the BG website and was taken by their Gourmet Xmas Basket because it was 40% off. There is very little which is honest food in the table of contents:
Grace's All Butter Oatmeal Biscuits 135g
Ducs de Gascogne Authentic French Pate 90g
Lily O'Brien's Creamy Caramels Sea Salt 120g
Ditty's Bakery Savoury Oatcakes 150g
Louisiana Hickory Smoke Almonds 40g
Nim's 100% Fruit Crisps 20g
Crossogue Country Fruit Chutney 225g
Bandon Vale Vintage Cheddar Cheese 200g
Heart of Lincolnshire Mature Cheddar 200g
Glandor Red Leicester Cheese Truckle 200g
Wyndham Estate’s Bin 555 Shiraz 750g
All those fancy-sounding names speak added-value for the shareholders but not-so-much added-value for the consumers. Happy New Year. There is a no greater treat than a baked potato, slashed open and filled with a normal grated cheddar and a dob of butter.

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