Big Fat Fail, Lidl Supermarkets

I’m going to be persnickety. Two things about Lidl (a European discount supermarket for my American readers) are seriously annoying me. One is kind of petty. The other is actually pretty important.

Let’s start with the petty one. Lidl in Hungary has normal trolleys and also smaller baskets on wheels. I like to use the smaller baskets on wheels, mainly because you don’t have to fiddle around finding a coin (100 forints or 1 euro) to put in the slot so you can release the trolley from its chains and start trundling it round. I never never have a 100 forint piece when I need one, or I have it in the form of two 50 forint coins etc.

Hungarian supermarkets also generally have a nice custom whereby they provide a small shelf near the checkout where you can put your basket after you’ve paid so you can sort out your plastic bag and avoid putting the eggs under the cabbage, while not holding up the queue.

All was fine with Lidl until this year when some kind of order clearly came down from on high, saying that you could no longer keep your little basket when you went through the checkout, you had to leave your basket before the checkout. So you couldn’t just put your shopping back in your basket after you’d paid for it, and trot over to the shelf to sort yourself out. No, after you’ve paid, you have to either a) put all your shopping in your bag immediately at the checkout which slows down the queue a lot and can be stressful for people who worry about that kind of thing; or b) you have to carry your shopping over to the shelf, requiring several trips, meaning you might drop the eggs, and anyway slows down the queue.

I told you this was petty, didn’t I?

It’s one of those stupid little rules that higher management love to invent. Probably they don’t want to pay the lad who collected up the baskets and took them to the entrance. Maybe it’s a fire hazard. Whatever. The fact that this rule is encouraging the Gauleiter element among the checkout girls and boys, is also irritating. I had a snotty girl order me to take my basket back to the other end of the queue the other day. Instantly reverting to childhood, I put the basket on my head, shouted “coming through!” to the uncomprehending queue and did my best to damage the basket when I dropped it into the pile. Then it took me a remarkably long time to put all my shopping in my plastic bag after I’d paid for it, while the girl sat back and rolled her eyes, the way Hungarian checkout girls often do. I’m not proud of this, by the way. But what do they expect? It’s a stupid irritating petty rule, impacts old ladies more than anyone else, plus you slow down the queue whatever happens and the queues are slow enough already because Lidl clearly doesn’t believe in making it easy to pay.

Remove this silly rule, Lidl. Find another way to save the basket-collecting lad’s wages.

So that’s the petty complaint. Here’s the far more serious complaint and here I’m really being unfair to Lidl because every single supermarket does it. But Lidl have pissed me off, so it’s them.

Do you have to put sugar in everything? I mean, the chocolate and the creamy puddings, that’s fine. I’m trying to cut down the sugar I eat and I’ve taken to reading ingredients lists. Ye gods. EVERYTHING has sugar (or artificial sweeteners which are worse) in it. Not just breakfast cereal and meusli and salami and tinned sweetcorn and sauces and seasonings and pickled cucumbers and bread and coconut milk and…

Frozen seafood? OSTRICH STEAKS? Why in the name of the gods of food do you feel the urge to put sugar in ostrich steaks? Aren’t they sold as healthy meat because low fat? Seafood is ALREADY sweet, do you have to put sugar in that? Why?

Well, I know why – it’s because sugar is addictive and you want us consumers to come back for more ostrich steaks and that’s the quickest and cheapest way to do it.

That’s not good enough, Lidl (and all the rest of you cheating crowd of big grocers). People are wising up to the dangers of sugar and in particular the dangers of sugar that you don’t know is there (ostrich steaks!) I’m not the only person cutting down on sugar. Sugar is quickly becoming the Supervillain of food, not poor old fat. It’s implicated in heart disease, high blood pressure and the pandemic of obesity sweeping the globe, not to mention it causes Type 2 Diabetes. And possibly Alzheimer’s, since it may be that Alzheimer’s is just Type 3 Diabetes of the brain.

You’re going to say you only put a teensy amount in the ostrich steaks. Well it mounts up. Take a look at the USA if you want an awful warning on what happens when you add a little sugar here and a little there. Their obesity levels are at 1 in 3 and their Type 2 Diabetes stats are following up the curve into the stratosphere.

Here’s my suggestion, Lidl. Be at the forefront of the grocery revolution. Introduce a line of products which have neither sugar nor artificial sweeteners in them. Like ostrich steaks and seafood without sugar, vitamin pills without sweeteners. Don’t add anything else like fructose and maltose which are also sugars. Just guaranteed no-sugar no-sweetener food. You can charge a bit more for them, I realise it’s going to be hard NOT adding sugar.

You remember. Like food used to be. No sugar in it unless it’s a pudding. Do it Lidl, your competitors will laugh and then they’ll follow you.

Oh and let  us keep our baskets, eh?

Why I love Hungary.

I’ve now been in Hungary for 18 months – and I love it. Here are a few reasons why.

Men offer to carry my bag for me. I’m not Scandinavian so I don’t tell them off. I just give them my backpack and laugh as they stagger.

They have palinka.

Women say nice things about your clothes and hairstyle, shoes etc – perfectly genuinely. This is great because women are far more likely to notice those things anyway.

They kiss on two cheeks and the men do too, but in a properly distant way.

They have wonderful cakes. No, really, they do. Old fashioned cake shops are a little bit heavy, modern ones are heavenly (Central Kavezo).

Everywhere you go, even in the ciggy shop in a little village near Miskolc, they have excellent coffee.

They have an absolutely wonderful public transport system in Budapest (BKK) and a berlet (monthly pass) which you can use everywhere, even the Danube boats, for about 25 quid.

The trains have been known to run on time away from Budapest too.

They have Tokaji.

All the children I have met have wonderful manners.

People are generally, habitually polite. They say “koszonom” (thank you), “szivesen” (you’re welcome), “bocsanat” (excuse me), a lot. They say “Jo etvagyot” (Bon appetit – there IS no English translation) whenever they see you eating, even if it’s just a Twix.

They have four different ways of saying “you” both singular and plural: friendly, formal, friendly-formal and courteous. So eight. I’m still disentangling how this works and despite experience with French, I haven’t got the hang of it yet.

When two adults decide to stop addressing each other in the formal mode and use the “te” form they entwine their arms and drink palinka.

They do have dumb politicians who put up posters telling immigrants to go home (in very complicated official Hungarian). But they also have civil rights groups who put up posters in exactly the same style and colour, except these say in English: “We’re sorry about our prime minister.”

They are very affectionate and family-loving.

They are also capable of acting with amazing courage – as in 1956 when they took on the old Soviet Union and also in 1989 when they did it again… And won. Theirs was the honour of the first major breach in the Iron Curtain.

Boy, do Hungarians know how to party.

They genuinely love guests and although they’ve stopped taking the wheels off your coach so you’ll stay longer, if you can walk after a proper Hungarian dinner you’re… well, you’re a freak.

They are extremely good at the fighting sports like fencing, taekwondo and judo. However I have never felt the least bit threatened anywhere in Hungary.

They are very musical and have no snobbery about classical concerts only being for old rich people.

Their countryside is beautiful and so is Budapest.

Slouchy sullen young men with piercings in every pierceable bit of their face, get up immediately for old ladies on trams and offer them their seat.

They also do handicrafts at parties – very well. This is surprisingly fun.

They have a national health service which has similar problems to ours but worked very well when I had to use it.

They are brutally honest about themselves and will be brutally honest with you if you show you won’t be offended.

 

Why I don’t like Hungary.

The food is a bit heavy and can be a bit salty for an English wuss.

The children speak much better Hungarian than I do.

They have a special official government way of writing that is totally opaque, even to a lot of Hungarians. However the actual bureaucrats are often quite nice.

People in Budapest, when you ask them anything in Hungarian, immediately respond with a flood of excellent English which is a tad depressing when you’re trying to learn the language and have been told that your accent is really good.

Stroke tales – food, glorious food!

I was getting better in Kutvolgy hospital. The craziness of the first day was over and I was sleeping and waking, getting up, moving around very carefully because my right side still felt a bit not there and was numb, particularly to heat. I seemed to be doing an awful lot more of the sleeping thing – being anally retentive I started to time myself and discovered I was doing up to about 18 hours asleep in the first few days.

That’s about the amount a cat can sleep, by the way, if nothing more interesting is going on, which just shows you.

It took me a while  to notice the first major change. In fact it sort of crept up one me because the hospital food at Kutvolgy is… Well, it’s terrible. In a heartbreaking way.

I’ll give you the outlines. At 8 o’clock a nice nurse comes round with a big bag of rolls and some little packs of food. Healthfood like three slices of turkey ham, or three slices of completely flavourless cheese and some cucumber. Each patient got two rolls and a little pack. At 5 o’clock in the evening she does exactly the same. If you make the mistake of asking for a gluten-free diet (guess who?) you get two slices of “bread” that makes styrofoam look appetising.

The nurses and the doctors all wear bright white, by the way. It’s a caste thing and I didn’t have time to work out the rules, but essentially the whiter your clothes, the more important you are, and if you also wear a white coat, you’re a doctor.

The main meal of the day is lunch. Someone comes in with a big tray with two covered dishes on it. The smaller one contains some kind of soup – thin soup with veggies in it, usually, a non-negotiable start to most Hungarian lunches. This is dull but drinkable, especially if you got the floating carrots down quickly.

And then there was the main course. There was usually a lot of it, which was a mixed blessing, because it tasted awful. It was always overcooked. Occasionally it was completely unidentifiable, like the sort of bready loaf with some meat in it. Sometimes it was readily identifiable, as with the meat and two veg which I kept getting, although that doesn’t mean you could identify the meat. The veg was always mushy. Sometimes it got quite exciting: there was one occasional when my roomies got meat with sour cherry sauce, thick with cornflour. Awful. There was even tarhonya which is usually a nice kind of pasta with meat. Awful. How do they make everything taste like last weeks’ leftovers?

And yet, someone down in the kitchens was clearly trying. There were lots of different ways of serving it, though it all tasted pretty much the same. You never knew what you were going to get, in a boring way.

I didn’t really care, because a weird thing happened when I had my stroke: I completely lost my appetite and my consuming (in all senses) interest in food. It’s still just not there though I’m trying to remember to eat at regular intervals. Food also has a thoroughly nasty taste after a few minutes. Apparently this is a common side effect of stroke, which means it’s only a matter of time before some supermodel or starlet tries to induce a stroke to get the cool no-appetite effect.

But it wasn’t just me: my roomies and I bonded over the question of what would arrive for lunch and how awful it would be.

I puzzled over this and I came to a conclusion, prompted by some of the doomed television attempts to improve the food in our own lovely NHS. The ingredients were usually fine and the people cooking them not bad or evil people at all. They just couldn’t tell the difference between good food and bad food. They would make something revolting and think it was delicious. As they went about making their appalling lasagne they probably felt all warm and cuddly as they imagined the poor sick people eating it. Everybody laughs at hospital food, they’re thinking now as they stir, but mine is delicious and wonderful.

It’s an unsettling thought. At the moment, I’m one of them.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I love \”A Girl Called Jack\”!

A girl called Jack – Jack Monroe. She proudly calls herself a leftie liberal lezzer. She\’s a poverty campaigner, thanks to her own experience of the real thing. Richard Littlejohn of the Daily Mail takes a nasty underhand swing at her and she fights back, point by point, and wins loads more followers in the process.

She takes the piss out of him for NOT knowing she\’s a lesbian and failing to attack her on that point, which was at least true, as opposed to all the other points he did attack her on, which weren\’t.

She is doing her best to manage her fame in a responsible and honest way, and seems to be making a better fist of it, so far, than Jamie Oliver. I have to say that I\’ve never successfully cooked a Jamie Oliver recipe, although I\’ve cooked many from Nigella and even Gordon Ramsay. The fault is almost certainly mine because he expects you to be as skillful as he is. This may make me prejudiced.

Normally I\’m also prejudiced against leftie liberals because I grew up in the 70s in a school (grammar, selective, single sex and in a very expensive part of London) that was absolutely infested with ardent Socialist Workers Party girlies and painfully sincere Trotskyites. The only possible option was to become a staunch Tory. Eighteen years of Tory rule then turned me into a dangerous leftie, such that I even voted Labour for the first time ever in 1996, helping to inflict Blair on the lot of us. (I\’m sorry. I really am. Please forgive me.) I have now officially joined, and am the first member of, the APOBYH party (a plague on both your houses).

Her account of her experience of Really Not Having Any Money At All \”Hunger Hurts\” has apparently had 20 million hits and deserves it. It\’s powerful writing that reminds me uncomfortably of some bad times in my own life, though I was luckily never in as much trouble as she was.

And she makes the point well: yes, it\’s a middle class point, but so what? We\’re all middle class, really. The point is that in the UK in 2014, it is UNNECESSARY for anyone to go through what she did. With her, as it is for many thousands of people, it was the punitive, disorganised and stupid meanness of the benefits system. With other people it\’s crushing debt or the loss of their house or mental illness or whatever. In my case it was because if you\’re married to a self-employed barrister who\’s ill, and you\’re self-employed yourself, you can\’t get any kind of benefits until they\’ve finally diagnosed the lung cancer (which took about five months during which time I ran a family of five on my autistic middle son\’s Disabled Living Allowance until a charity stepped in).  Thank God, so far, despite Cameron\’s efforts, medical bills aren\’t in that list – as they so often are in the USA.

Despite the recession (six years and counting), despite the dangerous widening gap between the super-rich and the rest of us, Britain is still a wealthy country. Much of the hunger in this country is an artificial creation by bureaucracy. This annoys me not just because it\’s wrong, but because it\’s monumentally stupid even from the point of view of the people causing it. Children who grow up watching their parents not eat supper because they\’re giving it to their kids do not forget. Do you think that any of them will vote Conservative? Ever?

Jack Monroe has also written an excellent recipe book on feeding two people on £10 per week, full of useful stuff and great ideas, which I meant to review here but got carried away. My only quarrel with her is that the laws of supply and demand will mean that baked beans will go up in price (who\’d a thunk that you could wash off that nasty orange stuff and just use them as, well, beans) and so will tinned mandarin slices.

January Brings the Diet… 3Steps to a Great Eating Habit

Yes, this is the result of a New Year\’s resolution but it\’s also because I want to brag – I\’ve just delivered another book for Kindle called \”3 Steps to a Great Eating Habit\” which is a book I\’ve actually been intending to write for about thirty years.

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This is my take on how to install a normal eating habit when you\’ve been pogoing between diets and binges for years. It\’s based on the latest research into our metabolisms which pins the blame for our blubber on sugar. I don\’t have a link for it yet, but when I do I\’ll post it here.

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I\’m my own experimental subject (again) so I\’ll be following my own recommendations from the book – starting with Step 2, stage 2 – come off sugar. I\’ll let you know how I get on!

 

 

Happy New Year. Happy Epiphany as well!

More about the Glorious Battle of the Hill House, Ross on Wye

I can\’t stand minimalist hotels and painfully tidy guesthouses. They fail the very first test of compatibility – which is books.

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If I go into someone\’s house and there are no books visible, I sort of prowl around looking for them. Where\’s the loo? I ask. Oh dear, I didn\’t mean to go upstairs, I didn\’t realise you had one downstairs… Amazing décor, I say, however did you do it? Yes, I\’d love to have The Tour.

***

What I really want to know is, what books do you have and where are they? Are they in the bedroom only? In the hall? In the dining room? In the living room, kitchen, loo, spare bedroom, with overflow in the garage and garden shed?

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What do you mean, you don\’t have any books? At all? Just a Kindle?

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Not even a Kindle?

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I hope I\’m not a total intellectual snob, but I have no idea what to say to someone who doesn\’t read. Or only reads magazines which they call books. I don\’t think they\’re stupid or bad, I just don\’t share their culture and it\’s going to be a bit of a struggle finding things of mutual interest to talk about.

***

So going into the Hill House, Howle Hill, Ross-on-Wye for the first time, I was immediately reassured. I only know about it because of watching a particular episode of The Hotel Inspector a few years ago and then blogging delightedly on the way the proprieter saw off Alex Polizzi. That blog apparently brought in some new guests and the heroic proprieter, Duncan Stayton, got in touch via my website… End result, here I am, staying overnight on the way to Hay Festival with my games-designing genius daughter.

***

I once had dinner years ago at the Hotel Tresanton in Cornwall, owned by Olga Polizzi, Alex Polizzi\’s mother. I remember a beautifully designed space and some excellent food – but where were the books?

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At the Hill House, there are books everywhere and a lot of them are books I own too (the entire series of Patrick O\’Brien books? Didn\’t people steal them?). The house is wonderfully gothic and eccentric, there\’s a dog called Basil, there are cats, Duncan Stayton and his wife Alex are the kind of naturally hospitable hosts you always hope for and rarely meet and Duncan is one hell of a fine cook… (As is Alex on the veggie side, according to my daughter). But it\’s the books in every available space that make me relax and say… yes. This is the place for me.

***

As for the breakfast… I could devote an entire blog to the wonders of the locally sourced, organic Hill House breakfast. I didn\’t take a photo because my phone disdains to share its photos with any stupid old laptop, but it was everything the Full English breakfast should be, and generally isn\’t, at bed-and-breakfast joints.Duncan even fried me some extra black pudding because I whinged so pathetically about it.   Games-designing genius daughter is vegetarian and raved equally enthusiastically about her veggie Full English (an abomination, I say, but that\’s another story).

***

The only thing that slowed me down was the fact I\’d eaten an equally huge and delicious dinner the night before, including nettle soup, Lord Whosit\’s lamb with asparagus and rosemary sauce, followed by glorious locally-made ice cream that I couldn\’t even finish. The lovely friendly other guests were as silent as me as we focused on making our taste buds happy.

***

My one criticism (and a very unusual one for me) is that Duncan needs to cut his portion sizes. A dinner serving for one would probably keep a reasonable-sized army going for a week. This induces an unnecessary feeling of sorrow when you simply can\’t fit any more delicious grub into your protesting tum – and I have the spare tyres to prove how greedy I am. Basically, I didn\’t really need to eat until the following day.

I don\’t believe it!

 

\"WAY

 

 

Something weird is going on here. My sitting room is now empty of furniture except an ugly melamine coffee table, but absolutely full of things I want to get rid of. Boxes and boxes and bags and bags of books went down to the various charity shops popping up all over Truro – which was the world capital of charity shops when we first moved here and may well be so again. Clearly Cameron\’s Double Dip is having the (predictable) effect of killing off the small traders and the interesting little shops that Truro has been full of recently. Recessions always benefit the big corporations because they have more… ah… fat.

***

I\’m mostly giving it away. Maybe I could get some money for some of the things like my son\’s Playmobil collection, but I don\’t have the time or the patience to go through all that. Yes, I know eBay, yadda yadda… Maybe if I was an experienced eBay trader but not now when I\’m working to a tight deadline and have already spent what feels like months sorting and clearing. Also the postage charge restrictions means you can\’t really sell anything big or heavy that way. Or, put more accurately, I don\’t know how you do it, don\’t know who to ask and don\’t trust what Google might tell me about it (I\’ve made that mistake before).

***

So. Gradually, wa-a-ay too slowly, my house is emptying, ready to be sold. And my weight is also slowly going down.

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Hang on. Back up. Did you get that? My weight is going down. Yes, I\’ve also come off sugar thanks to a horribly scary article in New Scientist a few weeks ago, linking sugar with Alzheimer\’s. As the Daily Mail has ignored the story, I\’m assuming it must be true. I\’ve been following some of the very odd suggestions in \”Six weeks to OMG\”, by Venice Fulton, the latest hot weight-loss book.  But that\’s not what\’s amazing.

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What\’s amazing is that it has not been a struggle. As my vast mob of possessions flows out the door it seems as if my body is finally willing to let go of my fat. True, when you stop eating sugar, after a week or two of feeling awful, you do suddenly stop physically craving the stuff and are less likely to find yourself in a robot-binge.

***

What\’s happened now is different from that. There are no mental cravings. I\’m not lingering longingly in the enticingly stocked biscuit aisles of M & S any more, I\’m not struggling to pass ice cream freezers, I\’m not even hankering after chocolate. I had some on Saturday and… and… I DIDN\’T LIKE THE TASTE VERY MUCH!

***

This is incredible. It\’s a miracle! Since I turned 13 I have been struggling with my eating problems and my tendency to eat everything not nailed down. I\’ve written an entire book of poetry about it, after all! Coincidentally – maybe – my book and thing collection has also been building since then.

***

Now it may be that there is a mystical link between the stuff you have in storage and the fat you\’re storing on your belly, which is my body\’s favourite place to stash calories. Maybe the Feng Shui people are right and letting go of stuff means that your energy can flow better. Maybe it\’s just that my body has reached some mysterious threshold… I don\’t know. OK, yes, maybe it\’s the Six Weeks to OMG book – but I\’ve done low-carb diets before and struggled mentally all the way, even after my body had completely come off sugar, the heroin of foodstuffs. That\’s why I still need to lose weight.

***

Just because the two things – clear out plus weightloss – are happening together, doesn\’t mean one caused the other. But it\’s really weird nonetheless. And very encouraging. That skip is going to be FULL.

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One Hundred Possessions, here I come!

Tune in to hear me on BBC Radio Cornwall, Friday 30th March at 4.15 pm (British time)

I love doing radio interviews – what\’s not to love? You don\’t have to dress up or put on make up, it doesn\’t matter if you have a spot on your nose, there\’s no camera to add the traditional fifteen pounds and you can talk to interesting people. It\’s all very relaxing.

Tiffany Truscott will be interviewing me tomorrow about The Poetry Diet on the BBC Radio Cornwall afternoon programme – I hope I\’ll have time to read a poem or a recipe and get you dribbling at my descriptions of chocolate and then laughing at the whole daft situation. And that\’s just one of the recipes…

Yes! The Poetry Diet is the only known poetry book with added recipes!
Buy your copy right here.

The Poetry Diet  – £5.99 plus postage and packing of £2.00

So THAT\’s what I should have been doing all this time…

I did a poetry reading and gig at Waterstones in Truro tonight – it was a blast. Slightly a blast from the past as I was cavorting in my amazing purple corset, but everyone ate my chocolate truffles (damn fine, though I sez it myself), drank some wine kindly provided by Waterstones and then sat and listened to my poetry and discursions on…
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Actually I\’m not sure what. I do remember censoring the bit about when I was having my first baby and then explaining how to make your daughter\’s eighth birthday sleepover go really well for all the little girls in her class. It involves meticulous doses of Haribo sweeties and ice cream with chocolate sauce for breakfast, the recipe for which is in \”The Poetry Diet\” (published by Thingley Press).
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I love making people laugh and I love doing it even more when it\’s deliberate and part of selling books, rather than inadvertent because I\’ve said something idiotic again. I am, after all, the woman who caused the whole of the village shop to fall about laughing when I spotted an unexpected tenner in my purse and said loudly, \”Oh look, there\’s some money, better spend it quick before it all goes away!\”

Completely unnecessary greed…

Cornish mussels at the #Firehouse Bar and Grill, #St Ives. #Christmas icecream at #WillyWaller\’s, St Ives. Did I really need to brave the perilous birdlife of St Ives? No. I\’ve eaten far more than three bodies could possibly need in the past three days and all my skirts are tight. I go for a wander round a local beauty-spot with my brilliant daughter and…
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Did I mention the chips? I hate chips. But these were really truly homemade and they even found some spare homemade tartare sauce to dunk them in… Can\’t tell you how often I\’ve been disappointed by mass-produced \”homestyle\” chips in restaurants, but these were Real. The mussels were plump. The wine and cream yummy.
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Waddling along the little harbour where the mugger-seagulls lurk, we found an icecream parlour with Christmas ices: christmas pud icecream, stollen icecream and… mulled wine sorbet. Omigod.
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Except we didn\’t have cones. No, you must never have an icecream cone in St Ives harbour. Flying about there are large white birds with large flick-knife beaks, going Aark, Aark! You may think these are simply the European herring gull or Larus argentatus as they\’re known to the cognoscenti or indeed Wikipedia, protected because they are becoming rare.
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They are in fact a vicious subspecies, soon to be dubbed Larus icecreamnicka StIvesiensis. If you dare the harbour with an icecream cone, two large white bastards will divebomb your head so you drop your cone and their bloody chick catches it and gobbles it down.
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But we foiled \’em. We ate our icecreams in cups in the shop and blagged lots of samples as well. Ha! Starve, you evil avian pirates!
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And then we got some chocolate.