I'm a big fan of easyJet. Unlike other writers on this newspaper, I'm not going to use my column to bash Stelios over the head because now and then the planes are late. Every form of transport I use has been late over the last year, from the Circle Line to GNER to British Airways. The only irritating thing about easyJet is the stewards.
Stripped of their catering role (easyJet only sells drinks and a few snacks), they have had to invent other ways to make their job more rewarding. So now easyJet is home to all those eager young men who would once have been Butlins Redcoats or local radio DJs. In other words it's a launch pad for would-be showbiz stars. They like to be the life and soul of the flight, with a ready supply of jokes so tired they make me long for the repartee of Alan "Fluff" Freeman and "Diddy" David Hamilton. Obviously hoping that one day Trevor Nunn, Cameron Mackintosh or Greg Dyke will be on their flight to pluck them from obscurity, they keep up the badinage until you long to rip off your seat belt and shove the oxygen mask down their throats.
I was on a 6.30am flight to Nice last year when one of these jokers struck. The man next to me was wearing a skin-tight white vest with long, tousled, artfully arranged hair, white jeans and nasty hairy armpits. The combination of this extraneous foliage and the steward's bravura repartee suddenly induced a severe dose of early-morning nausea, and I grabbed my bag and lurched to the solitude of row 33.
To my astonishment the steward followed me and hissed in a loud stage whisper: "Do you realise who you were sitting next to?" When I replied that I couldn't have cared less, I just wanted peace and quiet, he retorted: "That was David Ginola. Haven't you seen him on TV?" I replied that the sooner Mr Ginola stopped wearing revolting vests, the better; as for me, male armpit hair is the masculine version of a VPL. But it proves that easyJet attracts stars and so these desperate trolley pushers are right to live in hope that one day their showbiz moment of fame may arrive.
Every day of our lives we come across people who think they're in the wrong job and are determined to let us know. You can't go to a country fair without a would-be Terry Wogan or Murray Walker gaining control of the public address system. I was asked to present some prizes at the Upper Wharfedale Show in Yorkshire once. The man on the Tannoy kept up the running commentary through the heavy horse display, the fell race and the parade of prize-winning cattle. Finally, he introduced me and thanked the Bishop of Leeds for attending, adding a string of tasteless quips about how he hoped his holiness would ask the powers above for a fine afternoon. God obviously found this man as unfunny as I did. Twenty minutes later it started to pour with rain.
Then there are the aspiring writers who take food and drink packaging as a chance to impress us with their script-writing abilities. Here in New Zealand there are obviously few outlets for their talents, so they've taken to sauce and soft drinks bottles and cereal cartons to get their message across.
Samson's sauce (the local answer to HP) has a comedy label, including the following: "Excellent for steaks, hamburgers, barbecues etc ... also used for baldness, hangovers, aphrodisia and amnesia. Not recommended for shortness of breath or haemorrhoids." Side-splitting stuff, isn't it?
On the bottle of a nasty caffeine-based drink called Contour is an outline figure of a little man with lightning bolts striking his brain and genital areas, with the legend "may improve sex drive ... kicks serious ass".
But all these would-be witticisms pale in the face of New Zealand's most famous food evangelist, Dick Hubbard, the breakfast cereal guru. This man can't just stick his fruit flakes in packets and make a fortune – he wants to talk to you personally, to bring you into his religious mission to get us all eating Fruitful breakfast toasted muesli and leading happier, more rounded and fulfilled lives. Each packet contains his newsletter, readers' letters and poems, a short story and the latest thoughts from chairman Dick. Number five starts: "Recently, and without wishing to appear too melodramatic, we experienced what I believe is one of the most historic occasions in the history of Hubbard Foods ... the publishing of our first Triple Bottom Line report ... A lot of people have been talking about TBLs recently... (even our Prime Minister knows about this concept) ..." Dick goes on to explain, at length, this economic breakthrough that has so changed his world. The second and third BLs are "social" and "environmental".
So inside your cereal packet you've got a lesson in the latest business thinking and a touch of editorial. Dick continues: "Another description of TBL is the three Ps of People, Planet and Profits." He likes that, especially the putting people first bit.
"Give me a break!" I hear you cry. "Why can't we just shove down our muesli bleary-eyed and gospel-free?" The answer is that the sooner Mr Hubbard is given a job writing newspaper leaders, the better. In the meantime he is simply taking advantage of the fact that many people in New Zealand live so far from shops there's no chance of reading a paper with their breakfast. So he's stepped in and filled the gap. Can he be distantly related to the L Ron Hubbard of Scientology fame? I think enquiries should be made.
I thought I'd reached paradise: an empty beach, half an hour from the nearest petrol station and small shop, car-free dirt roads and locally grown fruit and vegetables. A sign said "Killing hens and perching pullets". Perhaps you have to kill your free-range dinner yourself. I didn't bother to find out. At the store, my big mistake was to buy the local newspaper, which informed me that Michael Barrymore arrives in New Zealand any day now and plans to visit a local drink and drug-abuse centre. New Zealand is a nuclear-free zone. And they've disbanded their Air Force. Is it too much to ask that they introduce a rigorous new form of vetting at immigration? Anyone who's sold their story to a British tabloid should be refused entry. Then the country would really be pollutant-free.
An intellectual feast
Jonathan Meades is a brilliant broadcaster – intelligent, verbose, ruthlessly judgemental and not afraid to take risks. No wonder we don't see much of him on BBC2 these days. He's far too outrageous and upmarket. The other day I tuned in to a ghastly BBC2 programme about style, presented by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen from Changing Rooms with a new bobbed hairstyle. Talking to men at Colefax and Fowler who make wallpaper by hand, Laurence managed to take every thrilling fact and render it utterly banal. We could have been in the wallpaper section of B&Q.
Jonathan is the complete opposite. Even though he has lost at least three stone on a miracle diet, he is still a mighty presence. His latest novel (The Fowler Family Business) is a hoot, a thoroughly nasty tale about a family of undertakers, set in south London and with a completely unexpected ending.
Once a year, Meades and I have what we call "a big dinner". Last summer I cooked a massive fish stew. The year before, Charles Fontaine from the Quality Chop House (another big personality) prepared a gargantuan couscous. After five helpings and many bottles of wine, we declared it a triumph. A few years ago we demolished a whole suckling pig. Jonathan then put the severed pig's head on top of his own – very surreal. It emptied the restaurant. Somehow I think dinner with Laurence would be so very different.
'The Fowler Family Business' by Jonathan Meades, Fourth Estate, £10.
Dick Hubbard has a website: www.hubbards.co.nzReuse content