November 26th, 2004


Notes from a small badger

Things I have learned this week:

* I need more than 4 hours' sleep a night.
* It takes about 25 minutes to cycle from the station to work.
* There is only so far I can get in the process of learning a skill without actually practising it between lessons.
* I have been spelling "irresistible" wrong for years (there's no 'table' in it) without even realising it.
* Tuna, pine nuts and cumin make a bizarrely good combination of Stuff to go with pasta.
* You can make a passable imitation of teriyaki sauce from soy, sherry and coke.
* The French for 'email' is 'courriel'.
* The Latin for 'Bacardi Breezer' is almost certainly not 'flabra bacardorum'.
* Maplin sell some really tacky stuff
* If today is Friday, tomorrow is not Tuesday.


Yesterday I bought a Sainsbury's "heat & eat" panini.
Today I attempted to eat it.
My verdict: RUBBISH.

The packaging is a typesetter's screaming drug-crazed nightmare. There's about thirty different fonts, font sizes and colours all clamouring for attention like teenagers on tartrazine. I'm sure I remember a time, a Golden Age long ago, when text was expected -- encouraged, even -- to have some kind of meaning. That time has gone, steamrollered over by a viral proliferation of text in lowercase sans-serif which appears to have been generated by an infinite number of monkeys which are not just on typewriters, or rather (these days, probably) on Powerpoint, but also on crack.

Let's take the text one bit at a time. First, "heat & eat". (Red and dark orange on light orange background.) As brand names go this does at least bear some relation to the reality of the sandwich experience. I heat the sandwich, using the microwave, and then I eat it. However, I do object to the fact that it no longer appears to be possible to buy food which hasn't already been funnelled through the ACME Dr-Seuss-ificator. "Heat & eat! Heat & eat! In the office, on the street!" If I buy a sandwich, I do not need it to rhyme. It's the sort of thing that a small child would chant, delighted with its discovery of rhyming words; what may be endearing in a toddler is markedly less so in a national supermarket chain. If I wanted childish verse (or worse) for lunch, I'd go to Hallmark and start chewing my way through their "birthday" section (now the smallest section in the shop because nobody except the little baby Gee-whiz is allowed to have a birthday in the Christmas season). Darling, your dinner's in the doggerel.

Second, "panini". No problem with this. On the next line, however, this minimalist yet adequate description (white text on black background, different font) is expanded:
free range egg mayonnaise with sweetcure bacon, pork sausage and fresh tomato in a panini. Enjoy hot from the microwave
Now, look. I do not wish to be ordered to "enjoy" my lunch. If I want to eat it grudgingly and miserably, resenting each mouthful, that is my inalienable right as a consumer. On the other hand, by 1pm I am hungrier than a box of wolves; if the sandwich actually tastes better than a piece of marmite-spread cardboard I'll probably "enjoy" it, or as near as I can get to enjoying anything, without being told, thank you. But it's not just the enforced jollity that bothers me; it's the punctuation as well. This texteme begins with a lower-case letter, has a full stop and subsequent capital letter in the middle, and then ends without a full stop. Make your minds up, chaps! Either this is an answer-in-full-sentences paper, or you're allowed to write in note form. Or perhaps... they're hiding something from us? Perhaps this is only a fragment of the full explanatory text concerning the contents of the packet? But if so, why didn't they use ellips... no, better not suggest it.

Third, "brunch". One word, black text, in the centre of a large purple circle. The style suggests we're looking at a clever piece of colour-coding -- that by glancing along the shelves you could easily identify sandwiches suitable for "brunch", "lunch", and ... well, what else? How many classifications of sandwiches do you need, for heaven's sake? What horrors will befall you if you eat a brunch sandwich for lunch, or vice versa? On the other hand, if this isn't a classification system, then it's just a big purple dot containing the word 'brunch'. Is this supposed to entice me? Would it be so difficult, without the prominent placement of the word "brunch", to work out that a hot sandwich might be a suitable late-morning meal? Or is the word supposed to brainwash me into believing that this sandwich is not just recommended to me for my brunch, not just the best brunch, but in fact brunch incarnate, the Platonic ideal of brunch?

Next text: underneath the purple spot, "Delicious eaten hot or cold". Now wait a minute. Immediately above the brunch blob I was being told to "Enjoy hot from the microwave". Now suddenly the rules are relaxed, and I can enjoy it hot or cold? I can't cope with this uncertainty! Best to just turn the packet over and look at the cooking instructions... but before "How to heat" (by this point I'm almost disappointed that there's no corresponding "How to eat") there's another slurry of description to wade through:
'Panini' meaning 'small bread', referring to a sandwich or roll, has become part of the snacking tradition in Italy and the word is synonymous with sandwiches. Our ciabatta is filled with breakfast flavours, making it a perfect hot eating snack on those cold winter days! Our creamy free range egg mayonnaise is teamed with pork sausage and sweetcure bacon with slices of juicy tomato.
I don't even know where to start with this. I read it, and I have this unshakeable feeling that I'm not actually reading text in my native language. I'm struggling to see the sense in telling us that "panini" refers to "a sandwich or roll", then telling us that the word is "synonymous with sandwiches" as if this added new information. And what is "the snacking tradition"? What are "breakfast flavours"? What is a "hot eating snack"? What kinds of snack are there other than eating snacks? And the exclamation mark after "those cold winter days" is, frankly, just asking for a smack in the mouth. Throw another cliché on the fire to keep warm this winter!

But that's not the worst of it. The worst of it, in fact, is the sandwich itself. The picture bears no relation whatsoever to the contents, but we've come to expect that. "Serving suggestion"? More like "throw away the contents of the packet and buy the thing in the picture from a real shop" suggestion. And it's not as if "put it on a plate" is actually a method of serving that we couldn't have invented ourselves. So what we're expecting is not the glorious ensemble of golden bread and posh fried nosh that features on the packaging; but we still have some expectations -- we still hope for a hint of the creaminess, juiciness, goldenness, porkiness, freshness and general adjectivity that the description promised. But what do we actually get?

Well, reader, what we get is a cardboard packet that's too hot to pick up. When we've left it to 'stand' for the statutory 1 minute, we have a cardboard packet that's still too hot to pick up. When we've left it a little longer, so that we're only sustaining minor burns when we pick it up, we have a slightly soggy cardboard packet which, when opened, turns out to be a stealth steam grenade. More scalding ensues.

Gingerly tugging at the end of the sandwich with the tips of my scalded fingers, I manage to ease it out so that the ciabatta protrudes over the edge of the packet. I've left it there for a few seconds, allowing my fingers to cool down, when I realise that there's a slightly slimy mound of sausage and egg on the surface in front of me. The sandwich, soggy and structurally unsound, has collapsed gracelessly, depositing its over-hyped contents on my desk. The lower half of the ciabatta lolls out of the cardboard like a dog's tongue, laughing at my efforts. Once I have managed to extricate sandwich and contents jointly and severally (but mostly severally) from their packaging, and to pile the components up in some approximation to its original state (receding ever further from the vision of sandwichly bliss in the photo), I am left with: a bacon butty. An oversized, over-microwaved, sausage-enhanced bacon butty, with a few shreds of egg clinging to the assorted pig-based detritus.

It falls through my fingers as I try to shovel it into my mouth. It tastes of greasy spoon. I feel cheated.