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Food tech isn’t what it used to be
There are many advantages to being a freelance journalist, but getting out of the house isn’t one of them.
If your office doubles as your spare bedroom or the corner of your kitchen table that isn’t littered with Rice Krispies, you can spend all day in your pyjamas, mainlining coffee, without anyone noticing.
You get out occasionally of course. There’s washing-powder to buy and mince for tonight’s spag bol and besides, even a trip to the supermarket can be good fodder for your next column.
Take the exotic ingredients my daughter requires for this week’s food tech lesson for instance.
In my experience, 1970s school cookery classes were taken by women who had grown up with ration coupons and for whom haute cuisine meant shortbread and shepherd’s pie. Domestic science teachers were invariably sarcastic, with varicose veins and a moustache, but at least the recipes they taught us were made from scratch.
In today’s ‘food tech’ however, it’s basil and tomato soup, made from a carton of passata and a jar of pesto sauce; and Thai curry from a sachet of ready-made paste, that make their way home in my children’s school bags (ideally in an old ice-cream carton, though not necessarily, as one memorably messy incident involving my daughter’s maths text book and a bowl of vegetable couscous will testify).
I remember being taught to make white sauce or short crust pastry and what to do with leftovers, but the only technology the kids seem to learn these days is how to wield a tin opener. Oh, and their teacher wears stiletto heels.
What surprises me most about food tech, is that the ingredients are always required tomorrow, Mum, and you are only informed of this at 7.50pm, just 10 minutes before the supermarket closes.
Still, it’s one way of leaving the house.
Getting out of the house for a journalist also means you risk being accosted by someone who took exception to what you said in a previous column about, say, caravan owners or men with beards.
I say this because I once managed to ruffle the feathers of a reader who objected to an article I wrote on why I prefer Easter to Christmas.
Briefly, I like Easter because, unlike Christmas where a sort of festive fascism takes over, you can do what you please. No presents to buy for your ghastly sisters-in-law or bolshie teenage nephews who never thank you anyway, no Wizard of Oz to sit through for the umpteenth time and no one to tell you that it just won’t be the same if we don’t have turkey.
If you’re traditional, you’ll have fish on Good Friday and roast lamb on Easter Sunday, but if bubble ‘n’ squeak and chicken vindaloo are more your thing, who cares?
I didn’t think I could possibly cause offence by saying that Easter is how Christmas should be: a time for getting together with loved ones and relaxing, family harmony (if you’re lucky) and, if you choose, a time for reflection on why we celebrate Easter in the first place.
To this end, I went to great lengths in my article to interview a C of E primary school teacher and a Baptist minister on why they too prefer Easter.
No shopping frenzy, no family arguments, no over-eating and the chance to say something meaningful in school assemblies and church services, was the gist of what they said and as a mother, I heartily agreed with them and said so in my article.
But there’s no pleasing some people. A few days later, a disgruntled reader thanked me for mentioning the religious side to Easter, but chided me for not taking it seriously enough.
So dear reader, I hope to put it right this time.
You know, Scrooge had a point. Much of Christmas is humbug; we spend far too much money celebrating the birth of a man who spurned earthly treasures.
By contrast, Easter is a more modest affair that doesn’t cost most families more than the price of a few chocolate eggs. Yet it is precisely for this reason that it has more significance.
Easter is Christmas without the hoo ha; its meaning isn’t eclipsed by the festivities that surround it.
The blossom is out, people smile at you in the street, there’s the summer to look forward to and you don’t have to spend hours queuing in department stores or garden centres with fractious children to see the Easter bunny.
Instead of arguing, people of all denominations get together on Good Friday for their walk of witness. This Easter, I know, for instance, churches in Rickmansworth and Chorleywood will be using these processions to pick up litter as they go.
This is a profoundly symbolic act; making a fresh start by cleaning up our lives is the central message of Easter and what better way to get the message across than by carrying out an act that combines consideration for others with civic pride? Surely that’s serious enough, isn’t it?
We will be staying with friends in the country over Easter weekend. I hope their local Easter Sunday service (and church services in the Watford area) will be full on Easter Sunday - full of believers and doubters, of glorious spring flowers and of the rousing hymns we learned as children.
In other words, I hope it’s a service that’s worth leaving the house for.