Tuesday, 29 January 2013

In which it's my food and I'll Instagram if I want to

According to The New York Times this week, the trend for amateur food photography has reached unacceptable levels, leading some of the city's top restaurants to ban it altogether.

NY hotspots Momofuku Ko and Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare have been some of the first to implement a ban, arguing that over-zealous camerawork is distracting for the chefs and other diners, with happy snappers using flash, standing on chairs and even bringing tripods to dinner, all in an attempt to capture the ultimate gastro-boast.

While some might applaud a backlash against our Instagramming impulses, I've added to my ever-increasing list of Things Restaurants Need to Get the Hell Over (alongside no-bookings policies and 'foam'). In our shaky economic climate, shouldn't restaurants be glad of a little free publicity - even if it's via someone's Pinterest page rather than a critic's column?

Besides, manners work both ways. While watching the person next to your laboriously photograph every course might be irritating, I'd say shaming any customer who reaches for their camera phone is far more damaging to the ambiance. Just like those stories of the Queen drinking finger bowls to avoid embarrassing her dinner guests, I've always thought that the mark of a truly classy restaurant is staff who make you feel at ease, whatever the total bill.

Last year at both haute cuisine Roganic and the notoriously booked-up Dabbous, waiters were perfectly happy for me to snap my food and preserve the memories. Likewise at Heston Blumenthal's Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental, where staff also looked on smiling as we all rotated plates every third bite to make sure we'd tasted the whole menu.

Of course, I'm arguing for discreet iPhone snapping, not a half-hour session with a lighting director. Truly antisocial behaviour deserves a ticking off; if you're going fully Blow Up over a plate of pulled pork then it's fair for staff to have a quiet word, just as it would be for any other activity than genuinely disturbs other diners (here I'd like to nominate tableside frottage, and that drunk guy who once threw up next to me in Pizza Express).

But banning photos altogether smacks of self-importance, of a sort that usually has me running for the nearest burger van. How about just, y'know, trusting your paying customers to conduct themselves properly?

Besides, our slavish Instagram devotion won't last forever. Sooner or later amateur food photography will lose its novelty and we'll move onto something else, like virtual pottery or a microblogging site that features only facial expressions.

The self-important restaurants had just better hope we get bored of food photography before we get bored of them.

Football: a short play

“Shall we get some sweets for the match?” I ask.

“No,” says my boyfriend.

“Why not? You know, like at the theatre.”

“This isn’t the theatre.”

“What about the artistry? The drama? The tears? Look, they have programmes and everything. Do they say what else the footballers have been in before this? Like, The Bill?”


“That’s a shame.”


“I think I’ll buy some Haribo. And some Minstrels. Then we’ve got a choice of chewy and chocolatey to keep us going. Perhaps I’ll have a Haribo if one team scores, and a Minstrel if the other one does. That might make it fun. Not that it won’t be fun anyway. It will be SO much fun. Yay, football.”


“Look, there’s a young hipster couple. They have dip-dyed hair and drawstring rucksacks. Let’s stand near them.”


“Do people still use clackers?”


“Clackers. Dangerous balls on a string. From the 70s. Clackers.”

“You mean rattles.”

“I mean clackers.”

“No, rattles. People have rattles at football matches.”

“Oh. Do people still use rattles then?”


“What about orange slices on a tray?”

“No. Have you based all of your football preconceptions on Gregory’s Girl?”



“Wait, was that a goal? A goal! Oh, in the wrong goal. Oh dear. Fiddlesticks. That was very quick.”

“Two minutes.”



“When does the singing start? Shall we sing now, or do we have to wait until someone falls over? We could do ‘you’re not singing anymore’, except they haven’t started yet so it would feel incoherent. ”


“Why wasn’t I allowed to wear my leopard print coat?”

“I was worried people might sing at you.”

“That could have been brilliant. We could have had a musical showdown, like a snazzy Mancunian version of West Side Story. Perhaps we could be the leopards and they could be the… zebras. We could harmonise th- ooh was that another goal?”


“In our goal?”




Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The greatest things I ever bought in HMV*

 Steps – 5,6,7,8

Whenever anyone claims the first record they ever bought was something even vaguely credible, I instantly assume they are lying. Nobody’s first record was Boys and Girls by Blur. Nobody toddled to the shop with their pocket money to buy Blondie’s Heart of Glass. Even in the 60s, when it must have been fairly hard to buy anything that wouldn’t at least gain a kitsch charm over the next half a century, I don’t believe your first record considerations branched beyond the Sound of Music soundtrack or Surfin’ Bird by The Trashmen.

So it is with no shame and a proud heart that I tell you the first record I ever bought was 5,6,7,8 by Steps. It was on cassette (99p in the first week of release, as all children of the 90s are wont to wail during quieter moments in the pub), and we performed a dance to it in Year 5 assembly.

The Tamperer – If You Buy This Record (Your Life Will Be Better)

The genius of this CD (for I had progressed to CDs by then, and even to cutting up old ones and blue-tacking them onto picture frames as a low budget mosaic) was that once you had bought it, you would have no idea whether or not it had worked, for you didn’t know what your life would have been like had you not. It was the Schrödinger’s Cat of millennial Euro pop. I performed a dance to this one in the church hall.

The Strokes – Is This It

And it WAS it, at the time and for quite a while afterwards. It remained it, until every skinny-jeaned big-haired indie ensemble had melted into one and we all ran out of energy to work out which was the real deal and went back to listening to songs from adverts and cab drivers’ radios instead. Even now the opening chords of that album still make me feel moony and adolescent. I performed dances to it, but only in grimy basement bars in my head.

The Chronicles of Narnia DVD boxset

Not the whizzy CGI faun-fests of recent years, mind, but the proper stuff. The good stuff. The 1988 version where Aslan is a dusty puppet with big glass eyes and Lucy has buck teeth and the Turkish Delight was almost certainly from Safeway.

It was bought while I was at uni, in it a fit of nostalgia for old times. Times when everything was – well, not necessarily nicer, but different. Which I suppose is how we’ll feel about HMV now, too.

*For the purpose of this article we will pretend they were all in HMV, when the real mourning should also be distributed between Woolworths, Our Price and in moments of supreme extravagance, the upstairs bit of WH Smiths.