The other day in a questionnaire on the food and drink pages of a Sunday newspaper, asked which kitchen gadget he couldn't live without, a farmer called Tim Wilson, owner of the Ginger Pig butcher group, identified his Aga, the "hub" of his kitchen.
Until I read on a couple of sentences, I could identify with this answer, since our oil-fired Aga is also the hub of our kitchen. It's an old one, already the best part of 40 years old when we moved here nine years ago, but it represents the core not just of the kitchen but the entire house, heating the water, providing the toast, harbouring vats of simmering beef or chicken stock sometimes for days, and offering year-round sanctuary to those in need of warmth. Even in the summer months there is ofteneither a child sitting on top of it, or a dog lying against it.
At first, however, as émigrés to the rural Welsh Marches from urban north London, we viewed it with wariness. We had countryside-dwelling friends who positively rhapsodised about their Agas, welcoming us to the club almost as owners of carefully preserved Morris Minors might embrace new-found enthusiasts. There seemed no doubt at all that if the Aga were roadworthy, certain A-roads every summer would be clogged by long lines of them, being driven to the seaside by middle-class hearties in flat caps and goggles, flapping their hot-plate lids.
We never quite saw ourselves getting that keen on our Aga, and indeed we took a belt-and-braces approach to the kitchen, installing an electric fan oven as back-up. This has proved an astute move, for there have subsequently been many occasions when the Aga couldn't cope with the sheer number of dishes that needed cooking, or wasn't big enough to accommodate a really big joint of meat, as well as times when the oil supply ran out, or when the dear old Aga needed servicing.
All of which brings me back to the Ginger Pig man, Tim Wilson, who completes his encomium by telling us "I hate people who say 'we've got an Aga but we also have an electric hob'." This, I confess, took me aback. Mr Wilson has never met me but apparently he hates me. He hates my wife too. It is his view, assuming he has been correctly quoted, that we are hatefulpeople.
Now, I'd like to think that, if challenged, Mr Wilson might concede that he rather overcooked his sentiments by using the word "hate". On the other hand, he might not. Either way, is there a more devalued word in the English language, a word more stripped of meaning by indiscriminate, intemperate and frankly incoherent use?
Children, of course, are great haters. They hate beetroot, fish with bones, long car journeys and the Six o'Clock News. Sometimes they even hate their mums and dads. But there comes a point when they need to be educated out of hating things, so that by the time they are adults they will understand the word's proper definition and rightful context. After all, if you hate people who say they've got an Aga but also an electric hob, what do you feel for Adolf Hitler?
In Mr Wilson's defence, that childlike use of "hate" is by no means restricted to children.Hatred is invoked all the time, by plenty of folk old enough to know better, to signify sometimes scarcely more than mild annoyance. More or less the same thing has happened to love. We "love" and we "hate" when actually we merely like and dislike, and in doing so, we boil away just a little more of the power of the English language.
Does Tom Watson MP know anything about golf?
Tim Wilson, coincidentally, is just two vowels and a consonant away from being blessed with the name of the week. Last Saturday, in the Open Championship at Royal St George's Golf Club near Sandwich, a 61-year-old Kansan by the name of Tom Watson played through just about the worst weather that a Kentish summer could ever summon, scoring a remarkable 72 to reinforce his stature as one of the game's all-time greats and perhaps its ultimate evergreen. With another 72 the following day Watson finished only just outside the top 20. It was a marvellously doughty performance.
A couple of days later, bizarrely, an altogether different Tom Watson performed no less doughtily on the House of Commons Culture, Media & Sport Committee, in a setting rather less exposed to the unpredictable elements except for stray comedians bearing plates of shaving foam. The Labour MP for West Bromwich East was by popular acclaim the toughest cross-examiner of Rupert and James Murdoch, and I should think even his more famous American namesake now knows who he is.
What I don't know is where Tom Watson, golfer, stands on the tenacity of Tom Watson MP. What, for that matter, did Ted Heath, bandleader, think of the politics of the other Ted Heath? Did mighty rugby union international Gordon Brown support Scotland's other Gordon Brown? Conversely, does Tom Watson MP like golf? Did Ted Heath MP like swing? It can't always be easy, when you're trying to make a name for yourself, to find that someone else has made it already.
Vaccination dilemmas don't end with babies
My 16-year-old son Joe has been told by the school that he needs a rabies shot before he goes trekking in Nepal later this year. The nurse at our local health centre has advised against it, saying she wouldn't give a child of hers an injection that wasn't strictly necessary. As parents, we thought the should we-shouldn't we debate had stopped with the MMR vaccine. What to do?