The first of these pet hates, minor annoyances, frustrated exasperations, petty irritations, irate irascibilities or volatile vexations is to do with a TV programme that we shall simply call ‘Big Schemes’ which is all about unusual building projects by architects, designers, engineers or simply those who have a zany idea for a new house. Give the presenter his due, it is a well produced and really fascinating programme where you are shown a computer mock-
But here is the annoying part. By their very nature many of these buildings are unusual to say the least and often they are placed out in the countryside and this ‘unusual’ building stands there in its sometimes stunningly ugly glory while our famed presenter waxes eloquently about what a staggeringly beautiful building it is. No it isn’t! It is a blot on the otherwise beautiful countryside, a carbuncle on an otherwise chunk of paradise. Be honest, it is an eyesore, a horror, a monstrosity, a blemish on the landscape with its square shapes, horrible materials and pretentious everything!!! But our otherwise excellent presenter insists on warbling on about how beautiful it is. Would I live in it? Not in a million years! Would you live in it? Probably not! So why insist on how beautiful it is? It has to be because he doesn’t want to offend the designer-
Beauty. Definition. Well an online definition was “the quality that gives pleasure to the senses” and as they say, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, but is that really true? Aesthetics is about taste and beauty and it was Prince Charles who, acting like the boy from Hans Anderson’s story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, dared to call one piece of London architecture a carbuncle. I suspect his reasoning was that this particular building stood out like a sore thumb and was in no way pleasing to the eye. Put a sharp angled building with various clashing colours and materials in the midst of the staggering beauty of nature and we see what it is that I am acting like a grumpy old man about. Interesting? Yes. Challenging? Yes. Beautiful? No way!
But let’s move on. You may have agreed with me about my first one, but my second one may leave you blinking and wondering. It is about scones, and if you can’t believe your eyes, yes, scones! The Internet insists on defining a scone as “a small unsweetened or lightly sweetened cake or sweet bread made from flour, fat, and milk and sometimes having added fruit.” My gripe is about the quality of scones found in cafes, teashops or restaurants. (Health warning! might name names!)
Now you may not be a scone person; my wife is a toasted teacake person, but once you have had a truly excellent scone you can never be indifferent about scones again. (yes, I do get bothered about child poverty, world slavery and other such world concerning issues, but this is the lighter version of my major world concerns!!) It was the coffee shop or restaurant at Hereford Cathedral that ruined me for scones thereafter, first encountered there a number of years back and the cause for subsequent pilgrimages to that place! (the building is pretty good too). They were staggering and if scones are on the menu in heaven those scones would be there! The other place I have encountered these amazing culinary delights is in a café in Danbury that in the summer at least does the most amazing cream teas. Now for those of you lacking in these things a cream tea consists of probably two scones, butter, lots of jam (probably strawberry) and lashings of cream to be piled on top of half a cut scone, and a pot of tea.
Now I think we need to narrow the area of consideration here. I am not on about Cream Tea’s, I am on about Scones. If you are indifferent to scones it is probably because you have only come across indifferent scone lookalikes. There are many things out there that go by the name of ‘scone’ on the menu and which are handed to you at your table.
Here is a real scone. It is at least 70mm diameter and at least 35mm deep. (thinner than that makes it difficult to cut and spread butter). It is evenly light brown with a slight glaze. It is not dense or dry or crumbly. It is light and not quite moist, slightly sweet and may contain sultanas. Shape is important. It is not a collapsed heap but a round even shape without bumps or knots. Café people, shape and appearance is important! A collapsing heap is an indication of a mix that was too wet. Pale scones are under cooked and are likely to be soggy inside. Burnt scones are over cooked and are likely to be hard and dried out. In the real article, taste can vary from slightly yeasty to slightly sweet, and consistency should neither be cloying nor crumbling – both an indication of wrong balances of milk and flour. To the pure, scones are not eaten with jam which only detracts from the scone itself. Yes, butter or spread add to the experience, butter preferably.
So why do so many cafés, restaurants or tea houses turn out such poor products? I can only assume they know no better, care nothing about standards and the chef is in too much of a hurry to bother about creating something of quality. Let me tell you of two of the places where we’ve stopped and had tea and a scone; both of which have been over the last two months. I would point out that this is not to run down the restaurant because otherwise some of the places I could name are excellent. In fact, because I appreciate them so much, I will not even name names but you may guess if I just give a couple of examples. This is about scone production and only scone production which, clearly, many restauranteurs care little about.
Most recently we dropped into somewhere near the bottom of the High Street in Southend. Now we have had many a fine meal there and they are a place we would always recommend but just a little while back we paused up from afternoon shopping and while the service was excellent the scone was possibly one of the worst I have ever eaten. Poor shaped, pale, dry, crumbling and nigh on tasteless. 2 out of 10 would be generous. A certain teashop in Rayleigh High Street is great for its variety of teas but their scones are a consistent five out of ten. Poor shape but not bad tasting and slightly variable consistency. Difficult to spread. The reason I mention poor shape is because if the scone has collapsed it makes it very difficult to cut horizontally in two and to be able to spread butter without it crumbling in pieces. Not wanting to be too hard, I will restrain going on about those places who serve up HARD butter in paper which is impossible to spread. Ten out of ten for those places who serve your scone with a small pot of slightly soft butter that is easy to spread.
OK, I’m getting a grumpy old man but I could name a dozen restaurants and cafes in south east Essex that we have used and I have to say that it is in probably only one or two that have I found scones that merit more than seven out of ten; more often than not a true score would have been 4 or 5 out of 10. It’s not a major life shattering issue but, hey, if you are going to serve up scones, why not make them look like real scones and taste like something that is pleasurable and does not leave you chomping on a dry and arid mouthful of who knows what?
So there you are. Two gripes. We all have them. I wonder what yours are? Actually, to tell the truth, neither of these things really bug me; they sadden me when I think about it, that we either don’t have the courage to call an architectural monstrosity a…. well perhaps that we don’t have the courage to stay quiet or just go, “Veery interesting!” or that we tolerate such poor standards in little things that could be so different. So to the ladies who make scones in Hereford and Danbury, I salute you. Thank you for such pleasure you create!
And, as always, some light hearted quotes to finish with.
Some people have told me that I'm grumpy; it's not something that I'm aware of. It's not like I walk around poking children in the eye... not very small ones, anyway. Dylan Moran
There's a fine line between angry and grumpy. Angry isn't nice, but grumpy is funny. Rick Wakeman
Respect old people: they graduated high school without Google or Wikipedia! Anon
Never ask old people how they are if you have anything to do that day. Anon
There's one more terrifying fact about old people: I'm going to be one soon. P J O'Rourke
The other day my wife and I came out of a shop to see a parking meter warden writing out a ticket. “Oh come on fellah, how about giving a senior citizen a break?” He carried on writing and then put the ticket under the windshield wiper. “You miserable old toad,” I couldn’t help myself saying. He walked round the car, looked at the tyres and wrote out another ticket and put it on the windscreen. “You are a miserable old boot, aren’t you,” my wife joined in. He looked closely at the windscreen wiper and wrote another ticket. We couldn’t let it go and so abused him for another twenty minutes and the stack of offences tickets got bigger and bigger, and then our bus arrived and we jumped on and we went home.