Sunday, 6 February 2011

Prince of Biscuits

Here at the Pouch, it has long been a bone of contention that not all Custard Creams are created equal. Indeed, Yours Truly has since childhood been of the opinion that the finest incarnation of this prince among biscuits hails from the aisles of Sainsbury's alone. A tick in the plus column for a supermarket chain that, as you may recall, has earned my displeasure for subdividing its cereals into Adults' and Childrens' thereby daubing me, the sprogless grown-up, as some kind of cereal groomer whenever I slink over to the Frosties shelf.

But enough of Sainsbury's crimes against breakfast. We're here today to talk Custard Creams, the most fabulous, most dunkable, most ornate of all tea-time, indeed anytime, snackage. What other other biscuit can boast the intricate curlicues and flourishes of the Custard Cream? Not the rough old digestive, the MDF of the biscuit world. Not the chocolate hobnob, that painted strumpet. Not even the weird pink wafer thing whose name escapes me. No, for sheer design and elegance, the rococo majesty of the creme de la creme anglaise has no equal in all of bicciedom.

Do not gaze at its weird angles overlong...
If Dan Brown were to conceive of a plot wherein the secret lore of the Knights Templar / Illuminati / Freemasons / Tufty Club (delete to taste) were hidden in (gasp) plain sight, he could do no better than to suggest that the strange, twisting symbols embossed onto each and every Custard Cream pointed the way, in the form of a visual map that only Dr Robert Langdon (and millions of readers across the world) could decipher. Surely there is something of the zodiac in those markings, the alchemical? Do they not also suggest the ancient astronaut carvings of Meso-America, and the Nazca Lines of Peru? Did not those queerly writhing frondlike pictograms inspire old H.P. Lovecraft himself when composing the language of the Elder Things in his novella At The Mountains Of Madness?

No, they did not. But they're bloody tasty all the same.

To return to my original contention, I put it to Herself that Sainsbury's taste the best. Moreover, I claimed that I could identify Sainsbury's Custard Creams by taste alone. A bold assertion made on the back of the previous week's Blind Cola Taste Test, in which I successfully picked out proper Coca-Cola from Diet, Zero and Pepsi Muck variants. Clearly I am like the blind superhero Daredevil, whose superhumanly enhanced tastebuds enable him to distinguish foodstuffs that mere mortals cannot detect. This will doubtless prove useful should I become a crimefighter (or royal taster, whichever pays better).

And lo it came to pass that we carried out a proper scientific blind taste test on a variety of Custard Creams from local supermarkets. Sadly this did not include the venerable Peek Freans as they seem to have been subsumed by the Kraft kolossus some time ago, but as I seem to remember, they were crap anyway. Herself, being very nearly a proper scientist at this point, and having watched one too many episodes of Mythbusters and Brainiac, was only too pleased to do all the hard work of schlepping round the different shops and preparing the test under rigorous laboratory conditions (at the living room table).

The test conditions were as follows:

The test subject (hello) was blindfolded and presented with randomly selected Custard Creams from seven different retail brands. This necessitated an element of trust from Yours Truly, especially when it came to Herself popping said biscuit into my mouth, and not sticking it up my nose or substituting it for a stick of celery or some other foulness. Mercifully her scientific zeal overcame her natural propensity for scampishness, and the tests proceeded free of hilarity.

Each of the seven biscuits were dunked in a cup of scientific tea and presented to me for nibbling. I then judged each for taste, texture and structural integrity with a mark out of five. (Thinking about it now, I should have awarded three different scores for each biscuit - we could then have played Custard Cream Top Trumps later. But sadly too late now.) Finally the seven biscuit samples were randomly mixed up again and offered to me for a second time undunked, just in case they performed differently au naturel. Again, I awarded points accordingly.

And here are those results...

The Custard Cream blind tasting test:
                     (Dunked / Dry)

Asda:                       4 / 4
M&S:                       4 / 4
Morrisons:              4 / 4
Sainsbury's:            4 / 4
Sainsbury's Basic:  4 / 3
Tesco:                      2 / 2 (appalling and fell apart)
Waitrose:                3 / 3 (different, just different)

As you can see, Sainsbury's scored among the highest, but was no better than Asda, Morrisons or M&S, causing us to suspect that perhaps these chains are all scandalously subcontracting the Custard Cream production to some unsung hero of the biscuit industry. So while my contention that Sainsbury's taste best has been sort of borne out by our scrupulous experimentation, I cannot say hand on heart that they are uniquely the best. On the other hand, it does mean that I can spread my patronage wider and obtain my fix from whichever dealer vendor is closest at hand. Huzzah.

And for some slightly less subjective numbers, here are a few health facts and figures cribbed from the packets of said biscuits. Some of those packets had already been in the kitchen bin for a day when I thought to do this next bit, so I hope you appreciate the lengths I have gone to in order to pad substantiate my article with cold hard factosity:

Custard Cream health facts per biccie:
                              (Calories / Sugar / Fat)

Asda:                       60 kcal / 3.5g / 2.8g
M&S:                       60 kcal / 3.2g / 2.8g
Morrisons:              59 kcal / 3.5g / 2.8g
Sainsbury's:            59 kcal / 3.5g / 2.8g
Sainsbury's Basic:  56 kcal / 3.2g / 2.6g
Tesco:                      65 kcal / 3.7g / 2.7g
Waitrose:                 59 kcal / 3.5g / 2.8g

I've no idea what we can make of those figures, apart from that Tesco's Custard Creams are not only the nastiest and least structurally coherent, but are also the most calorific and sugary. So they might be good for an emergency sugar boost, but to paraphrase Jules Winnfield, I won't eat the mofo.

A final sobering note: the Wikipedia entry for the Custard Cream warrants a mere eight sentences. This is the equivalent of reducing the entire history of the planet Earth to 'Mostly Harmless'. Shameful. I expect the authorities to rectify this sorry state of affairs as soon as they receive my letter of complaint.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Commie Ceratopsians vs earthbound Pterodactylia

I'm bored. Or as Mr Igward Pop would have it, I'm the chairman of the bored. It is 10:43 am. I have been in the office 27 minutes – yes, I am a terrible slacker for not getting in before 10:00 am – and I have run out of things to do already. The sum total of my email inbox was as follows:

  • 1 test environment availability notification
  • 1 train service alteration notification from the tweet-happy National Express East Anglia.
  • 2 'working from home' emails from people with better sense than I.
  • 1 'book in to your hot desk' reminder – already redundant as my pre-booked desk has been inevitably gazumped by one of the teenage laptop-jockeys that have invaded the office this week as part of some appalling 'cash in on the iPhone app market' project that's just been launched. Damn them and their promising career prospects.

So yeah, I'm bored.

I did just manage to kill about 2 minutes looking up the actor Neil Dudgeon on Wikipedia (so much more readable than IMDB). He replaced John Nettles as 'the new Inspector Barnaby' in the closing minutes of last night's Midsomer Murders in the most clumsy passing of the baton since the deceased El Bandido was swiftly replaced by his newly discovered son El Bandissimo.

El Bandido anybody? Bernie Clifton? Anybody?

Sigh. Am I the only person to remember this musical tour de force from Bernie Clifton's Comedy Shop (Radio 2, 1986)? Apparently I am. Poor Bernie. Poor me.

Tum te tum.

The spellcheck's been turned off of Word on this fershlugginer PC. It just let me get away with the 'nihgt'. Shocking. Can't seem to turn it back on neither. It says 'The spell check is complete'. Yeah, complete but bloody wrong. What am I supposed to do – check it myself, using my eyes? Oh, the pain, the pain.

I did once meet Jonathan Harris you know. He was very old. What do you mean you don't know who Jonathan Harris is? Does the phrase 'You bubble-headed booby' mean nothing to you? Tch, I say. Tch.

It's 11:10 now. 1 hour and 5 minutes until lunch time.

I was very keen to show you how I spent my day on Tuesday, by retrieving my Internet Explorer history and breaking it down by website and category. This would have been followed by a detailed review of each web page for interest and content, possibly accompanied by some sort of Excel pie chart representing that day's web-usage. But I can't do that because of the aforementioned youth squatting at the desk I used on Tuesday. So I can't get at the PC and retrieve my history. My great boredom alleviating plan has been thwarted by malign forces. Maybe I can get him to move.

I'm thinking of setting up a kind of Scooby Doo fake monster scam, to frighten him off so I can get at the PC. I'll have to improvise the creature from materials readily available in the office, mind, so the likelihood of fashioning a glowing diving suit or trapjawed robot is slim. From what I can lay my hands on, the monster is likely to be The Plastic Cup Ghoul Of Desk BO19, which I doubt will generate the levels of stark terror needed to scare that meddling kid away. Bum.

I have now established that dour 1970's sitcom I Didn't Know You Cared was written not by David Nobbs (he of Reginald Perrin distinction) but Peter Tinniswood. Though they did collaborate on The Frost Report. So.

Have decided to compile a list of British sitcoms that have been remade in America. So far I've come up with Reggie (starring Richard Mulligan from Soap), Sanford And Son (which is a black Steptoe I think), Dear John USA (I suspect it wasn't called that in the USA though), and Coupling (which bombed unsurprisingly, being a remake of a remake of Friends).

Am thinking of coming up with a few more sitcoms for Americanization, such as Pa's Army (a platoon of overaged Californians stumble around harassing immigrant Japanese in the wake of Pearl Harbour), Y'All Being Served? (set in the unreconstructed deep south, where Mr Humphries is viciously beaten for being a good fer nuthin' faggot in episode one), and The Minister Of Dibleyville (where the main character is a painfully thin woman).

11:44. Half an hour to go.

Have just learnt that Jon Bon Jovi's first record appearance was on the Star Wars Christmas Album. Also, Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby from Fawlty Towers once appeared in Only Fools And Horses. So the morning hasn't been a total waste. I wonder what useful knowledge has been pushed out of my head by these recent additions? Probably something to do with traffic signs or how to cook vegetables – stuff I rarely use anyway.

Lunch comes. Lunch goes. Time stretches before me like a trackless ebon void, much in the style of popular 80’s video game Tempest.

2:23 pm. Things I have learnt to fear from films:
  • Being lost in the trackless desert and trying to walk out but ultimately ending up walking in a giant circle because of my uneven stride length (and grotesquely fat right foot).
  • Turning my back on any domestic appliance or kitchen implement without first unplugging them or locking them in a drawer. I've seen Final Destination, which makes my ironing routine a tad more health and safety conscious than it otherwise might be.
  • Watching meteor showers, shooting stars or other celestial lightshows. I am genuinely convinced that the result will be total blindness within 24 hours, which will coincide with a disastrous upsurge in the number of ambulatory killer plants loose on the streets.
  • Plastic bags blowing loosely in the street. First one will innocently tumble along the pavement next to you, then it will wrap around a foot, then another, then another, until you're completely smothered, just like Robert DeNiro. Brrr.

Have managed to kill some time reading a spirited debate on the accent of the new Worgen player race in online game World Of Warcraft. Is it 'fake Cockney' or 'standard British'? Apparently the cocks on the bulletin boards just can't agree. What is it about bulletin boards and forums (fora?) that bring out the arse in anyone who posts?

3:00 pm. Tea time. Blessed relief. Exchange thirty seconds of pleasantries with charming Polish girl behind the counter of Starbucks. This constitutes the longest conversation I’ve had outside my head in several hours.

Spend some time watching the ongoing chaos on the streets of Cairo, courtesy of Sky News and its shamelessly padded coverage (I stopped watching when I realized the so-called live feed had looped around after 10 minutes. Either that or two identical Egyptians just got two firecrackers lobbed at their feet exactly 10 minutes apart.)

Riveting as the running street battles and synchronized rock throwing events were, I can't help but compare them unfavourably with yesterday's excellent equestrian demonstration in Tahrir Square. Is it wrong of me to have got unhealthily excited at the sight of a man on camelback whipping his way through the mobs? Of course it is. Bloody entertaining though.

Right, there's nothing for it but to comprise a list of something to keep me occupied.

It was a close run thing between the two front-runners, but I've chosen My Top Ten Fictional Dinosaurs over My Top Ten Fictional Ghosts. Better luck next time, you spooks (as Mr Meaker would probably say).
  1. Devil Dinosaur. Obviously. If only for his excellent dentistry and furry little chum.
  2. Godzilla off the old Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Coz he was heroic and came to the aid of the crew of the Calico whenever they needed him (or whenever the bearded guy pressed the electronic Godzilla-signal, which suggests a questionable element of dino-brainwashing which I prefer to gloss over).
  3. The excavator-dinosaur at the beginning of The Flintstones. I always wanted to slide down his back like Fred did at knocking off time. I've tried it with one of the larger chaps at work but it's not the same.
  4. Droog. What do you mean you've never heard of him? Well, he was a big orange triceratops who spoke in rhyme and appeared in one issue of The Incredible Hulk in the 1970's. He was technically a bad guy as he was the loyal pet of the communist super scientist known as the Gremlin, but he was very cool, and I'm lobbying Marvel to give him his own mini-series, or at least a cameo in Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers.
  5. Gwangi from The Valley Of. I pronounce that with two hard 'G' sounds, by the way. He held his own against a posse of cowboys and a circus elephant if memory serves, which is quite a stretch genre-wise. Well done to him.
  6. Pterry. He of Jigsaw fame, home of Adrian Hedley and his tall hat, Janet Ellis and her big bosoms, Jigg the crap animated jigsaw piece, Biggun the unconvincing giant, and the nightmare made form that was Mr Noseybonk. Anyway, Pterry was a noble Pterodactyl, or possible Pteranodon. I'm unsure of the difference. He had trouble flying as I recall, not unlike Orville but minus the suspect relationship with Keith Harris.
  7. The Chewits dinosaur. For his sheer voraciousness and fabulously mobile claymated mouth. For years I kept an increasingly squishy packet of Chewits with me, just in case I had the bad luck to be passing a major world attraction when the ever-hungry monster turned up.
  8. Big Hungry. He was a nothosaur from the second book of the series Flesh in 2000AD, and spent his idle hours munching up prehistoric sea-life and menacing time-travelling fishermen, before being flung 'up the time lanes' as we Flesh-o-philes say, and plopping down in Loch Ness. Much to the annoyance of the Skarasen I should imagine.
  9. The T-Rex in the original Tomb Raider game. My God, that was scary when he came round the side of the valley and charged Lara. But at least he forced me to learn the awkward 'backflip whilst firing' combo.
  10. The brachiosaurus at Blackgang Chine. I believe he still looms over the treetop walkway as you enter the chine, which is both marvellous and a little intimidating. Even better his old head, the less impressive 'Ducky' as he is known, can still be seen smirking his big green face off nearby.
Feel free to contribute your own.

5:27 pm. Realize I have become far too engrossed in pondering the relative merits of rhyming commie ceratopsians versus tragically earth-bound pterodactylia, and should really make plans to slope off home, another productive day of work complete.

Annoyingly, workaholic colleagues surround me on all sides, having got into the office before me and are now seemingly intent on working into the evening out of some sort of misguided sense of corporate loyalty. Thus am forced to twiddle thumbs (in reality, rearrange my favourites on Internet Explorer into alphabetical order) until the desks have been sufficiently vacated that I can nip off without looking like a total slackpants.

Belatedly notice that my screen has been unwisely angled so as to be on view to the majority of the office all day and must now hope vainly that nobody noticed that the ‘design document’ I’ve been hammering away at all day has the unusual title of Bored. Tch.