Sunday, 25 May 2014

Aural assault and visual distortion

As we rounded the corner we spotted a small crowd gathered and we went to see what the attraction was. Just as we drew near, we were hit by a sonic wall as the top fuel dragster was kicked into life, causing everyone to clap their hands to their ears with enormous grins spreading around the faces of the assembled petrol heads. A moment later came the glorious smell of burnt nitromethane - the smell of power. Unfortunately the good feeling didn't last, as it suddenly became apparent that nitrometh fumes are a tad unfriendly towards the eyes. Along with everyone else,  I ran away blindly in the hope that as long as I was heading away from the noise, I would also be heading for cleaner air and the chance to rescue my eyes before any lasting damage was done. And how did I feel about the experience once I was able to see again? Awesome!! These machines truly are a wonder to behold. To the uninitiated they would seem a colossal waste of time and money for the sake of going very fast in a straight line. Now nobody can deny that dragsters aren't much good at corners which is probably a good reason you don't see them racing at Mugello, but what they do they do very well indeed. If you were to watch them on the telly you'd be likely to get rather bored quite quickly, but on TV you're kind of missing out on the experience - perhaps more so than any other motor sport.
Even with ear protection in place these 10,000 horsepower monsters have the ability to rearrange your senses. When the throttle is planted the ground shakes, your chest feels like it's going to cave in, you can't breathe, and your vision becomes distorted. Then a moment later the physical assault fades as the outrageous machinery hurls itself towards the horizon, passing the timing lights a quarter of a mile away at over 300mph, less than four seconds later. These things are so fast, they're already doing over 100mph as they pass the 'christmas tree' at the start line. Seriously, if you've never been to a top fuel event - even if you're not much into motorsport - you really wouldn't regret having the experience.
Sadly, this isn't something you're likely to be able to have a go at yourself unless you're in a seriously privileged position. Drag racing in this form is definitely a hobby for the rich boys. While it might be easy to throw any old car or bike up the drag strip on one of the numerous 'Run What Ya Brung' days, to really take it to the top level you need major financial backing. The nearest I'm ever likely to get to taking part in motorsport would be to try lawnmower racing, which is basically an excuse to spend the weekend having a laugh and getting pissed. Otherwise, my place is firmly on the other side of the tyre wall watching the show, and I'm fine with that.
I suspect that my thrill-seeking days are behind me now. The end of my motorcycling after the wrecked knee situation has seen the end of all that, although it has been on the horizon for some time now. I've always loved rollercoasters - the faster and more insane the better - but the last time I went to Alton Towers which was just a couple of years ago I found it all a bit hard to deal with. By the time that day was over I'd decided that I no longer needed to do it any more.
Even with bikes I was getting to the point where I wasn't feeling quite as comfortable or confident when I was wringing the 1200 Bandit's neck around the country roads and was considering changing it for something a bit more leisurely. In the end, fate had a more radical idea in mind for me so it was more a case of a sudden end to my two wheeled adventures, rather than tailing off into the murky pipe-and-slippers area of motorcycling, populated with leaky classic British bikes and a few more for spares.
So now I sit, a husk of my former self with only a tedious Mitsubishi Colt fitted with the world's worst automatic gearbox, and little chance on the horizon of making it all any more exciting.
However, having the odd day out experiencing things like I did today at Santa Pod, somehow makes it all seem okay.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

More fantasy Vs reality

OK, it's confession time again and this time I'm afraid I have to admit to having been on the edge of my seat during the semi-finals and finals of Masterchef. I was particularly pleased that the competition was won by Ping because I felt she thoroughly deserved it due to her consistent ability to turn out amazing food and remaining cool, organised, and generally unflappable regardless of the pressure she was under. I have no doubt that all the finalists will quite rightly go on to fabulous careers on the strength of their performance on the show, and good luck to them all.
The Masterchef programme has a habit of encouraging people to reconsider their cooking abilities and try to do something different. And that's where the trouble usually starts.
I generally consider myself to be pretty reasonable in the kitchen. From an early age mum had me learning stuff in the kitchen and I was always keen to try and do things myself. I seem to recall starting off making jam buns, and once I got my head around following recipes there was no stopping me.
Time moves on and after a while you sink into a bit of a rut with the meals you make; always doing the same old dishes week after week because at least you know everyone likes them and there's no waste. But every so often you step back and take stock of the situation, realising just how dull it has all become and go on a mission to reinvent the weekly menu. So you drag out the cookery books and fire up the BBC Food website and trawl through in desperate search for inspiration.
Initially it's all a bit overwhelming, but once you settle down you end up with a great long selection of new recipes that look and sound wonderful. Next comes the task of paring this list down by discarding the ones that use a rare and very expensive ingredient that you know damn well will never get used for anything else and get lost at the back of the cupboard until you throw it out because it's two years past its sell-by date, and the same goes for anything that looks like it'll just take too much effort to do.
By the time you've done this and thrown out the recipes that contain ingredients that someone doesn't like or has an adverse reaction to, your initial collection of thirty or forty potential culinary adventures has been whittled down to about four. Then it's off to the dreaded supermarket for the weekly grocery run where you discover the bill has inexplicably risen by ten percent. Actually, you can explain it, because your chosen experimental recipe involved fresh langoustines and you just knew that a rather good Chablis would go with the dish very nicely indeed thank you very much.
So you're all set to wow the family with a new and exciting meal that will have them salivating like a rabid dog and, having consumed this amazing repast, be pleading for more like some modern day Oliver Twist. The feeling when something like this happens leaves you with a wonderful glow (although that might be down to the quantity of Port consumed while you were cooking), but this is usually tempered by the enormous mountain of washing up left behind because you've used every utensil you own, plus there's the fact that having spent three hours preparing such a culinary delight it was polished off in six minutes flat.
The alternative to this of course is the times when the plates are pushed away half-eaten with mumbled comments along the lines of "Perhaps we won't have that again", or "Can we go back to having chilli on a Thursday?", followed by a quick trip to the local corner shop for a tub of lemon sorbet to take away the taste.
This is the problem with experimentation. You see Masterchef and get inspired to do something new, and when you try it sometimes becomes clear why you do eat the same stuff all the time - you know you can do it right. And if it's something like a casserole in the slow cooker that creates the minimum of washing up then so much the better.
On Masterchef they work with top quality ingredients in an amazing kitchen with every conceivable gadget and gizmo, supplemented with a level of talent that far surpasses Joe Average even on a good day. Whereas I struggle with a cantankerous and occasionally downright vicious fan oven that conspires to screw up my cakes at every available opportunity. That thing is a vindictive bastard that's determined to undermine my confidence in the kitchen to the point where I could actually consider keeping a supply of microwave ready-meals in the freezer just in case dinner goes horribly wrong, but that would be a step too far because even an overcooked and underseasoned brown disaster is still preferable to the crap in those things.

Ping Coombes. She can. I can't.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Instant lifestyle - just add lies

For the majority of people there's a clear dividing line between fantasy and reality, but there's one area where that boundary seems to be somewhat less clearly defined.
For today's little rant I'm going to be considering 'lifestyle'. To me this has become perhaps the most overused word of recent times and it's all the more irritating because of what it represents.
Every time you open a magazine or turn on the TV or radio there's someone trying to convince you that it's absolutely essential that you buy this that or the other to enhance your lifestyle. What the hell does any of this mean and what makes it so damn important? As far as I can tell I've made it through the last 43 years without a lifestyle and I fail to see why I need to purchase one.
After a great deal of deliberation I've concluded that 'lifestyle' is nothing more than an advertiser's wet dream. Lifestyle is the contents of every glossy magazine in the doctors waiting room and every advert shown on commercial television, apart from the one telling you to go to the doctor if you've had a cough for more than three weeks, where you can read more about lifestyle while you wait.
Lifestyle is the leaflets the postman shoves through your letterbox whether you like it or not, it's the billboards in town centres, and the cherry on the cake is the appearance of specialist 'lifestyle' shops. Seriously - what the fuck is that all about? All these things have one goal in mind. They're trying to persuade gullible people to part with extraordinary amounts of cash in exchange for a dream.
There is no way that the tacky crap sold in any of those 'lifestyle' boutiques will have any positive impact on your life (stylish or otherwise) so just don't fall for it.
The selling of dreams is everywhere. Take barbecues for example. It's a gorgeous summer day and you see the advert for the barbie full of happy beautiful people eating perfectly cooked food, and you could so easily fall for it. Would you be equally tempted if the picture on the box was a more realistic representation of the barbecue experience, featuring a sunburned bloke with soot on his face, clutching a beer in one hand and using the other to serve sausages that are essentially raw meat in a hard carbon case to a bunch of friends and relatives who wish they'd actually had a meal before coming or better yet, not come at all.
Adverts for posh cars would have you believe that owning one will transform you from the sad little numpty you really are into a suave, sophisticated, handsome chap with hundreds of friends (real ones, not Facebook ones) and with so much sexual magnetism you'll be beating off crowds of beautiful moist young women with a shitty stick. The reality? You'll be the same sad numpty sitting in the same traffic jam as everyone else, but with a huge monthly repayment for the next ten years.
Nothing is safe from the interference of the 'lifestyle' pushers. With sanitary towels that change women into overenthusiastic athletes, and nappies that ensure that every baby is a happy joyful soul with it's mother chuffed to bits to be changing yet another nappy in her perfect soft-focus world, the 'lifestyle' people are determined to dispatch the reality of cramps, irrational mood swings, and sleep-deprived mothers trying to calm a screaming baby at 3AM.
The worst examples of all this are to be found in those nasty celebrity-obsessed magazines that make the terminally stupid believe that they can live a life just like multi-millionaire footballers, actors, and pop stars even though they're on an income somewhere between minimum wage and the supposed national average. Consequently there's a whole sector of society with a 'lifestyle' that includes enormously extravagant weddings, exotic holidays, flash cars, designer clothes, and an inevitable collapse into financial destitution. Meanwhile, those who were savvy enough to not fall into the 'lifestyle' trap may not have been showing the visual trappings of perceived 'success', but in working themselves into a comfortable little rut have managed to clear themselves of debt and become content and confident enough with themselves as individuals to not care what others think of them. Lifestyle is a myth created to camouflage those with immense personal insecurities; a net of lies draped over the mundane to make it look more glamourous than it really is.
I've decided that I'm not going to have a lifestyle because I'm simply not rich or shallow enough to possess one, and I'm absolutely fine with that. I'm fine with anything that doesn't mark me out as someone who thinks that what's on show externally is more important than who you are inside.
After all, there's no point having an impressive window display when there's nothing in the stockroom.