Pop justice

Since when did Radio 1 become so nice?

"We're focusing on families tonight," says Aled Hayden Jones. It's Radio 1's Relationships Campaign Week, "and there are lots of people queueing to get on air who are arguing with their parents. Paul - do you have a message?"

“Yes," says Paul urgently. "Appreciate what you've got. I never got to say to my dad how much I loved him."

“God," says Gemma Cairney in the studio, "now we're all sitting here thinking about our dads. OK. Hello, Zoe - how can we help?"

“I just want to get some advice on my mum and dad getting a divorce. Erm, yeah." Zoe has the smallest voice I've ever heard. "I'm scared. Will it go to court? Who will I stay with? I'm nervous of what to say to them. I've only told a few friends. Well, a couple, almost."

A state of grace overtakes Gemma. "Everything you have taken for granted has been taken away," she persuades, "but your feelings do matter, Zoe. Your parents may not love each other any more but they love you to bits. I know, I know - it's terrifying."

“Yes, it is," peeps Zoe. "Thanks."

Cut to Usher for a breather. I don't think I can take any more of this. Radio 1 has never been so nice. It's weird. This station was dire - I'm talking right down to the poozwack - but recently, in the late evenings, it's like it's completely accepted its innocence. Consider the other night, when two of its DJs, Jaymo and Andy George, travelled to Warsaw to report on the club scene there. "It's super loud in here!" said Andy, as though surprised, at a festival.

“Welcome," laughed a sexy woman. "We have hot music, Polish vowdka . . ." There was a silence as your correspondent visualised Andy wearing a school blazer, his hair greased into an approximation of spikes, and Jaymo sitting on a chair, his feet barely grazing the floor.

“We are prepared," said Andy seriously. "We're gonna be meeting the cool kids, the artists, the trendsetters . . ." They hurried back to their hotel in a cab. ("Basically we just jumped in a taxi. This is bonkers!")

The following day they go to meet a musician called Norbert at a popular eatery. "It's a capitalist/communist style of café," drawls Norbert, rather unhelpfully. It strikes him, looking at Andy and Jaymo, that he might have to clarify further. "Alcohol," he says. "An old school smell." One imagined the too-long ash on the end of Norbert's cigarette falling and hitting the tiles. He sounds like someone short, and mad about it all the time.

“How has the country changed in 20 years?" asks Andy, getting out his jotter.

“Oh, it's much better," allows Norbert. "Before, we had no club music. No vinyl."

“Wow," breathes Andy, sympathetic.

“Oh my goodness!" interrupts Jaymo, looking at his newly arrived plate. "Am I gonna like it, Norbert? What is it?"

“Meat and gelatine."

“I'm killing it with lemon!" says Jaymo. Later, they arrange to meet Norbert at a club. "Be there or be square!" says Jaymo in a voice
so sweet it ought to be liquidised and rubbed on malevolent molars.

“Hmm," returns Norbert, snootily.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 December 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Vietnam: the last battle

Show Hide image

For the last time, please, bring back the plate

The slight lip around the edge is no mere bourgeois affectation; it keeps the food contained in its proper place.

The much-vaunted tech revolution is not without its casualties, as I discovered first hand last weekend. The album format, creative boredom and now my favourite skirt: all collateral damage in the vicious battle for our waning attention span.

The last met its end in a pub, when it found itself on the wrong side of a slate slab full of Sunday roast. Once gravy got involved, things turned pretty ugly; and when reinforcements arrived in the form of a red-hot jar of plum crumble, I abandoned all hope of making it out with my dignity intact and began pondering the best way of getting a dry-cleaning bill to Tim Berners-Lee.

I lay the blame for such crimes against food entirely at the feet of the internet. Serving calamari in a wooden clog, or floury baps in a flat cap, is guaranteed to make people whip out their cameraphones to give the restaurant a free plug online.

Sadly for the establishments involved, these diners are increasingly likely to be sending their artistic endeavours to We Want Plates, a campaign group dedicated to giving offenders the kind of publicity they’re probably not seeking. (Highlights from the wall of shame on the campaign’s website include a dog’s bowl of sausage, beans and chips, pork medallions in a miniature urinal, and an amuse-bouche perched on top of an animal skull – “Good luck putting those in the dishwasher”.) Such madness is enough to make you nostalgic for an era when western tableware was so uniform that it moved an astonished Japanese visitor to compose the haiku: “A European meal/Every blessed plate and dish/Is round.”

The ordinary plate has its limitations, naturally: as every Briton knows, fish and chips tastes better when eaten from greasy paper, while a bit of novelty can tickle even the jaded palate at the end of a meal. Watching Jesse Dunford Wood create dessert on the tabletop at his restaurant Parlour is definitely the most fun I’ve ever had with an arctic roll (there’s a great video on YouTube, complete with Pulp Fiction soundtrack).

Yet the humble plate endures by simple dint of sheer practicality. The slight lip around the edge is no mere bourgeois affectation; it keeps the food contained in its proper place, rather than slipping on to the tablecloth, while the flat centre is an ideal surface for cutting – as anyone who has ever tackled sausages and mash in an old army mess tin (“perfect for authentic food presentation”, according to one manufacturer) will attest.

Given these facts, I hope Tom Aikens has invested in good napkins for his latest venture, Pots Pans and Boards in Dubai. According to a local newspaper, “Aikens’s Dubai concept is all in the name”: in other words, everything on the menu will be presented on a pot, pan or board. So the youngest British chef ever to be awarded two Michelin stars is now serving up salade niçoise in an enamel pie dish rightly intended for steak and kidney.

Truly, these are the last days of Rome – except that those civilised Romans would never have dreamed of eating oysters from a rock, or putting peas in an old flowerpot. Indeed, the ancient concept of the stale bread trencher – to be given to the poor, or thrown to the dogs after use – seems positively sophisticated in comparison, although I can’t help seeing the widespread adoption of the modern plate in the 17th century as a great leap forward for mankind, on a par with the internal combustion engine and space travel.

Which is why I have every faith that all those tiny trollies of chips and rough-hewn planks of charcuterie will eventually seem as absurd as surrealist gazelle-skin crockery, or futurist musical boxes full of salad.

In the meantime, may I recommend the adult bib?

Felicity Cloake write the food column for the New Statesman. She also writes for the Guardian and is the author of  Perfect: 68 Essential Recipes for Every Cook's Repertoire (Fig Tree, 2011) and Perfect Host: 162 easy recipes for feeding people & having fun (Fig Tree, 2013). She is on Twitter as @FelicityCloake.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide