Tag Archives: food

thebadrash.com and branching out

Hello there! Long time, no see!

Over the years, this blog has evolved. At first I shared links (that’s what blogs used to be for), talked about books and music, and explored some of my innocent ideas about politics. Some time after March 2004, I felt inexorably drawn into the debate on Catalan language policy and the Catalan national question in general. And we’ve had some fun debates here. Who could forget the heady days of the Spain Herald folding, and Iberian Notes closing down? Or the excellent response I got to my ‘Some questions…’ posts?

The problem was that whenever I wrote about other topics – books, music, links, food, travel, etc – I’d get hardly any response at all. Which is pretty frustrating because of all the topics I ever write about, Catalan independence is… well, it’s not the one that interests me the most.

Over the last few months, I’ve been toying with different solutions to this problem. I decided that I’d either rebrand this blog and try to branch out into other topics of discussion, or I’d keep thebadrash.com for Catalan politics and related topics and start another blog for stuff that everyone else in the world is interested in. I’ve gone for the latter option.

tombcn.com is my new ‘homepage’. It’ll be about just about any topic I can think of, except Catalan and Spanish politics. It needs some maquillage pas cher design and lots more content but it’s fresh and new and exciting*. Look, it already has a short post about Martiniquan jazz!

Meanwhile, I do intend to update this place from time to time. Però, poc.

See you at the other place. Until then, adéu siau!

____

*OK that’s pushing it a bit.

Mens’ Health

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed that I went to the doctor the other day. Apart from very occasional trips to get the baixa/alta when I had flu, and once when I broke a rib, I generally avoid doctors. In fact, this was the first scheduled appointment I’ve ever had in Spain… the first, certainly, for more than 10 years.

The reason for my appointment was simple enough: my ears are blocked up, to the point where I’ve lost quite a lot of hearing in one of them. Having assumed that this issue would fix itself, in the way the body generally seems to, I arrived at the point where I could hear nothing in my right ear when I got up in the morning. Not good. So I went online and booked an appointment. Everything was going very smoothly.

Until, that is, the nurse called me in to answer some questions about my health and lifestyle. Physical dimensions baffle me: I never remember how tall I am or how much I weigh. Similarly, I’ve no idea when I last had a tetanus shot. I told the truth about how much wine and beer I drink, and how many cigarettes I smoke (about 5 or 6 a day, to which the response was “well what’s the point, then?”). Then she said she’d take my blood pressure. Ah….

The truth is, I was pretty sure I had high blood pressure anyway. I’d probably been avoiding medical checkups partly because I suspected I’d be told something like this. So, yes, she took my blood pressure and frowned. “Have you had your blood pressure read recently?”, she asked. “Not for ten years or so,” I replied, “Why? Is it very high?”. “Not very. But it’s high”. She took it again to confirm the first reading. It was the same (I’m so bad at this kind of thing, I have no idea what the reading was). The upshot is that I have to go next week and the week after, to properly confirm the result… not that there’s probably any need.

The funny thing is that this coincides with a general feeling since I turned 30 that I probably ought to be taking better care of myself. A tasty sandwich every morning, as much coffee as I could stomach, bread and salt as staples… I knew I’d have to knock all of this on the head sometime. But I hadn’t really bothered to do anything until the nurse told me what I already knew. So here’s my resolution: less salt and bread, more exercise, healthy cereal or yoghurt for breakfast, bacon and eggs (and any type of fast food) only an occasional treat, pâte, foie and embotits in minuscule quantities, decaff when possible, tea without milk in the morning, etc etc.

My ears can be cured with boric acid and some other drops (and yet another visit to the nurse and her pliers). My blood pressure is something I accept that I should manage better now, rather than suffer from later on. My youth, an age of carelessness, is replaced by a bit of responsibility. The worrying thing is: I’m quite happy about it. There must be something wrong with me.

Some reasons why you should boycott Lidl

There are lots of reasons I could offer for avoiding Lidl like the plague. The design of their logo, for example, or the way their shops make you feel like you’ve stepped into some sort of future/past hell where they only sell unrecognisable foodstuffs in a great concrete hall at slightly lower prices.

But the real reason you should boycott this company is the abysmal way it treats its employees. Labour rights for Lidl workers are practically non-existent and there are dozens of accounts of the firm’s frankly astounding abuses of workers. Things like:

  • A culture of terror in many Lidl stores, which forces employees to do what they’re told or face loss of shifts
  • Regular, unpaid overtime (resulting in sometimes absurdly unfair working hours)
  • Intimidation and humiliation of women (including a special cap given to a menstruating woman)
  • Pressure on workers to prevent them organising or joining trade unions
  • A campaign of spying on employees during breaks
  • Denial of sick pay by moving shifts when a worker is ill; invasive ‘checks’ at workers homes by management

Now, any one of those reasons should be enough for anyone interested in solidarity or workers’ rights to stop shopping at Lidl. I’d add that from what I’ve seen, the majority of their products are of very low quality and are generally of the processed variety. If you value your own well being and that of your fellow workers, shop somewhere which sells locally-sourced, quality food. It may cost a little more but food is so important that spending a little more in exchange for much better quality makes complete sense.

Look after yourself and your fellow worker: avoid Lidl and eat healthy, natural food.

Some further reading:

Cheap but not so cheerful

Every Lidl hurts

Lidl international campaign

Lidl accused of spying on workers

The Lidl shop of horrors

My life as a door to door salesman

Some time back, I spent the best part of a year living in Australia. The majority of this temporary residence was spent living at Gun House, a military residence in Fremantle, Western Australia. I was an exceptionally lazy young man and spent most of this ‘gap year’ spongeing from my father and stepmother, listening to music and chatting with girls rather than finding gainful employment. I like to imagine that this is what most 19 year-olds will do, given half the chance… but I was probably worse than most.

The only job I did during my 8 months in Fremantle was a 3 1/2 month stint working as a door to door salesman for Primus, a company which offered cheaper phone calls in comparison with Telstra, the Australian national phone company. I’d like to state for the record here that we weren’t selling moon dust or snake oil. There was a genuine opportunity for people to save money on their phone bills by opting for another company when phoning interstate or overseas. That said, I probably would have done the job even if it was a scam. It was one of the best, and one of the worst, times of my life. I’ve been thinking about it again recently, so I thought I’d try to collect my memories of the time.

Aparna, my stepmum’s cousin helped me get to the interview which was somewhere near the Northbridge district of Perth. I know that as part of her task to help me settle in in Perth, she had also to try and get me employed. I turned up at the interview in baggy jeans and t-shirt and although the interview was full of warnings about hard work, commitment and so on it was pretty obvious from the start that if I could write, recite the pitch and above all, walk, then I had a job. They asked me to start immediately and so the next day, I was there in cheap trousers, cheap shirt, cheap tie and trainers. My training consisted of half an hour’s orientation and then we were in the car. There was myself, Will, an ambitious Cambodian-born Australian and a couple of other guys who were just starting out.

Will was my mentor for a few days, taking me along with him as he convinced the citizens of one district after another to sign up for cheaper interstate calls. As we started our beat, he immediately criticised my tie, letting me know that it looked cheap. He was wearing a $100 suit, with a nice tie and probably some cufflinks. His shoes (every door to door salesman needs strong, easily polished, durable shoes), were sturdy but showed signs of wear. He signed about eight households up to the service, using the same pitch each time, “Good afternoon, my name’s Will and we’re just in the neighbourhood checking that everyone’s signed up with Primus for cheaper phone calls. Oh you haven’t? Well I’ll tell you about the service and then we’ll get the paperwork sorted”. The pitch was cunningly engineered to make people think it was something that they’d almost forgotten about. Something they’d meant to do, even if they didn’t realise or remember.

I can’t be sure but I suppose we visited a hundred houses or so each day, of which we were expected to sign up about 12-18. Each sign-up was worth around $12 to us, on which we paid no taxes or social security (‘self-employed contractors’ as we were). We used the same pitch on each house, giving the person who’d answered the door little chance to speak or even think. We launched straight from the pitch into the sign-up process as an attempt to get the hapless customer to believe that they’d already agreed to the deal. Sometimes that worked and other times, we’d have to answer their questions about how much it would cost to call Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, England, China, India, New Zealand or Vietnam.

It wasn’t hard to pick up the pitch, or the attitude you needed to use with it. Grinning, chuckling, smarmy comments and winks were, perhaps surprisingly, as useful as they are in the movies. I guess that having grown up in Devon, where very few (if any) salesmen came to the door, I was more surprised by the way the stereotype really applied than I would have been had I grown up in a big town.

Every day at about 11am, we’d leave our office near Northbridge in Perth and set off for the suburbs. We worked from Rockingham to Two Rocks, and covered much territory in between. Some areas we covered were well-to-do districts (not great for doorstep sales), some were fairly built-up (lots of flats equals lots of sales) and some were low-income outer suburbs (redback spiders above the doors). I saw it all, from swarms of bees to bored housewives, from kangaroos to gold miners (a trio of whom once insisted on giving me a bong before they signd up… I was so stoned for the rest of the day that I didn’t make any more sales in the remaining two hours). I stopped at Aboriginal houses which were empty, as all life went on in the garden, and plush beach villas, most of which were empty just because it wasn’t the holidays. But most of our targets were in the low-income white suburbs… these were the people who really wanted to save money, after all.

Abuse was a fairly common thing. This ranged from the odd, simple “Fuck off!” to a man threatening that he’d “have [my] balls for breakfast”, to an Asian colleague being chased down the street by a gentleman with a metal bar. Some triad boys once threatened me with knives. But I also experienced a lot of kindness. The kindness of strangers is, to misquote, oddly reliable. I was treated for sunstroke by a kindly widow, I was given a bellyful of beer by a couple of proper ockers who asked me what I thought of their wives; I was given a cuppa and a chip butty by some Yorkshire expats. In fact, kindness definitely outweighed abuse. But abuse gets to you.

What really ended up pissing me off about the job was my colleagues. Some of them were lovely: Simon, a fellow Englishman who became a good friend, for example. But then there were the wide boys, like Miguel and Jermaine. These two wanted to be gangsters (one of them probably is now, if he’s not dead), and pushed my patience to superhuman levels. And my boss, Alex. This guy was getting about $16 for every sale I made. For every sale I got $12 and he got $16. A good business for him but utterly demoralising for me.

All we did with our pay was drink, party and eat fast food. We went to a karaoke bar called Seoul Karaoke and nicked bottles from the storage area by the loos. Everyone took speed and ecstasy at the weekend and many of us would start work hungover… it was a highly unhealthy lifestyle. And that’s without mentioning my unpleasant experience with Rohypnol.

I’m not sure why I’ve written this, other than to relive an experience I’ll hopefully never have to go through again. If any prospective door-to-door salesmen read this, I have one piece of advice: if you must do it, do it. But get out as soon as you can. Doorstep sales is a depressing, dehumanising job.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

Donald Trump: Housing market is still alive!

Those of you struggling to meet your mortgage payments, terrified of what might happen if food and fuel get even more expensive, calm down! There’s a man here who’d like to show you that it’s not all doom and gloom.

Donald Trump, a well known and very rich man, has just sold his 5km sq. beach-front property to another very rich man for a record breaking $95 million. Trump said of the sale:

In an age of so many people getting hurt in real estate, it shows that you can still do well in real estate. I think it’s a great sign for the area, a great sign for Palm Beach and all that Palm Beach represents.

So next time you start to moan about your rent and food bills going up, or the fact that you can’t take a holiday this year, just remember: maybe if you worked a little harder, you’d be in possession of a $95 million mansion in Palm Beach. Think on.

(Coming next week: I will explain why banks deserve billions of dollars of government handouts but the working poor don’t. And I’m reliably informed that Iberian Notes isn’t frothing at the mouth about ‘nationalising the banks’ which always used to be his yardstick for the end of the world and the rise of the Bolshevik terror. I guess it’s OK when it’s done by people with whom you share what amounts to being a kind of a political philosophy).

Christmas in Foreign Lands

“Instead of the placid ox and ass of Bethlehem, we have for companions the ravening tiger and exotic camel, the furtive jackal and the ponderous elephant” (Evelyn Waugh, A Handful Of Dust)

Christmas in a foreign country is always slightly absurd. Traditions, food, the correct time for opening gifts – everything is turned on its head so thoroughly, you could almost believe that Christmas isn’t an English festival.

But Christmas is English, just like Hallowe’en and Guy Fawke’s day. What could be more English than roasted meat, boiled vegetables, gravy, silly hats and dodgy jokes? As Orwell wrote, “Yes, there is something distinctive and recognizable in English civilization. It is a culture as individual as that of Spain. It is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillar-boxes. It has a flavour of its own.

This passage always reminds me of Modbury, Devon and home. Old fashioned? Yes. Stereotyped? Absolutely. But like it or not, that is a major part of the England I grew up in – a place which still has a feeling of continuity which I only rarely sense in Barcelona. If we travel to some of the more remote country towns here in Catalonia, I sometimes get a whiff of that continuity. Cerdanyola, however, has no redeeming features – especially not at this English time of year.

It seems to me that the reason Christmas seems so quintissentially English to me is that most of the ‘classic’ images of Christmas (except for those odd nativity scenes) are themselves quintissentially English. The snowy village with Victorian streetlamps, the frosty roofs and windows misted up, glowing with warmth against the bitter winter, holly and mistletoe, fights in the pub – all images typical of England. Well, my England anyway. And that’s the problem. When you grew up in a town so staid, traditional and olde-worlde picturesque like Modbury, Christmas actually is exactly like an old fashioned Christmas card to the tune of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’. And Christmas in Tarragona isn’t.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining about the opportunity to spend Christmas with Gemma’s family in the family town. I enjoy that. All I’m trying to do is explain how whatever they do, however much fun we have, however many fights they have in the local cerveceria, Christmas for me is English and old fashioned. I’m all for change but I’m really looking forward to next year.


Bon Nadal!


[This post was edited and updated on December 15th 2010]