Home Alone?

                An item on a radio magazine programme recently concerned people who, by accident or design will be spending Christmas alone. Listening to these individuals explaining their situation, one stand out feature came across. The women had made a deliberate choice to spend the day in solitude, whereas the men felt themselves to be ‘shut out’ through no fault of their own and felt aggrieved. Some of the stories were painful to hear, such as the father who’d split from his wife and would not get to see his only son due to his ex having a new partner.

                There is a strange irony to all this. Even in this era of [slowly] increasing emancipation it is, at best unusual to see a woman sitting alone at a bar or a restaurant table, whereas a man in such circumstances would not be considered out of the ordinary or an object of speculation. The Dad who felt abandoned could simply take himself off to a hostelry. He might not know anyone but would at least be able to observe the revelries from the fringe or even get involved. The women in the programme had all planned their solo day already. They would not be leaving their homes, but knew exactly what they would eat, watch and do, and all were eagerly anticipating and expected to relish their time alone.

                During a mid-life period of singledom I took the bold step of booking, not one but two holidays as a single traveller. Although this rash action was partly a result of a messy relationship break up I forged ahead with the first- a week long skiing trip- not without a modicum of self doubt. ‘Think of it as a course you are going on’ encouraged a friend [I was a virgin skier]. I will never forget boarding the coach to the resort and explaining to the puzzled holiday rep that there was one in my ‘party’, or descending to the dining room at the hotel and forcing myself to ask if I might join a couple at their table when there were no empty tables available, then the continuing, painful experience with a lone breakfast supported only by a book as a prop. When I descended to the basement to join a beginners’ ski class the holiday underwent a miraculous conversion. My fellow beginners were a charming, friendly, inclusive bunch who invited me to join them for meals, après-ski, breakfast and outings for the entire week. The encouraging friend came to collect me from the airport, finding me cheerful, refreshed and hopeful-hopeful enough to approach the next lone exploit with confidence.

                I went to The Gambia, without the support of a ski class, but with a ‘go-for-it’ attitude. I engaged fellow travellers in conversation, chatted to fellow diners, went for tea with stallholders in the market, booked excursions, including a two day trip up river to stay in a thatched hut with a party of Netherlanders. Everyone I met was friendly and kind.

                These days, as blog followers know, I travel, dine and spend Christmases with Husband, a companion who, on balance, I prefer to be with than without-but I wonder when lone women diners and travelers will ever be a natural phenomenon?

Muckdonalds and Yucky Fried Chicken

                Fast food is too cheap. It is also too easy to obtain and too gratifying. It creates weight gain, litters the streets with non bio-degradable cartons and contributes to health problems.

                When you walk past a ‘Macdonalds’, a ‘Pizza Express’ or a ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’, how often is it unoccupied? The abundance of food takeaway outlets in any shopping street is testament to how popular they are. Not only does the country need to raise revenue to address the debt left by the bankers [who have not been asked to make recompense-but that is a different issue], but it needs to reduce the burden on the National Health Service. So why isn’t there a substantial tax on fast food?

                If fast food were taxed so that prices were in line with average restaurant prices, the revenue could be used in any number of ways. It could, for instance be used to subsidise the cost of fruit and vegetables; or it could supplement the support we currently provide to developing countries, where finding enough to eat is their problem, not overeating!

                It may be a generational thing, but I’m not tempted by Macdonalds or Burger King. I did try a ‘Big Mac’ once or twice, but the experience was akin to chewing on a piece of lumpy rubber sandwiched between two bath sponges, accompanied by a bag of nasty, salty, fatty, greasy little sticks. I tried the ‘root beer’ –a strange, straw coloured liquid tasting vaguely of chemicals. We have been lured into Macdonalds on occasions when travelling by their claims of free internet access. We would only need to purchase a coffee to use the facility. Sadly, though, the access is rarely available. It has usually ‘crashed’ or the signal is too weak to get an email or anything else. The coffee, to be fair, is palatable.

                Similarly, I tend not to choose pizza when dining out. What an incredible profit there must be on these large circles of stodge and fat, for there to be so many pizza outlets and takeaways! It must be the easiest, cheapest way to make a buck in the food world! A couple of weeks ago, on a whim, I thought I’d give pizza making a go. I’d made versions of pizzas with children before, but using bread mixes, grated cheddar and such items as might be transfigured into ‘faces’ and so on. This time I was going to make proper, grown up pizzas with mozzarella et al. I used a BBC recipe. Reader-it was easy. Even the bases, formed from a yeasty dough mix, were simple.

                And what about the famous Colonel’s chicken? The advertising alone is enough to induce a grimace. There is nothing recognisably ‘chicken’ about the images, which portray blobby orange lumps protruding from bags or boxes and accompanied by the ubiquitous, greasy, stick-like ‘fries’.

                I believe if apples were to be individually encased in gaudy packaging that also included a plastic action figure toy they would become objects of desire to children. But shouldn’t kids be wanting to eat because they are hungry and because the food they are offered is delicious?

OK. Rant over. Blogging makes me hungry. I’m off to see what’s in the fridge…