Isn't it nice to be able to open the fridge door and not find a pile of turkey awaiting its tenth resurrection? Or no sign of a lump of Stilton someone has ruined by pouring port over it. In fact, isn't it nice to get back to plain food for a while after the excess of the past few weeks? All I usually want to eat after Christmas and the New Year is a slice or two of mature farmhouse Cheddar and some good crusty bread. Never mind your fancy foreign cheeses or even British cheeses covered in silly nuts or cranberries or shot through with red onions, apricots or suspicious green bits. Just good old proper Cheddar, preferably with the rind on. We were quite good about festive food this year. No giant salmon, no excess buying of cold meats, no jars of pickled red cabbage or, heaven forbid, walnuts. I did make pickled onions but they will get eaten in the near future, usually by a person returning from the pub late one night. This is when the major consumption of pickled onions is swallowed and ditto pickled eggs. Hopefully, the consumers will then sleep in the spare room. But that's about the sum of the non-eaten by festive sell by date. Except for the Christmas cake. I always make one, even though not many people like it. Sometimes I manage to strong-arm guests into having a slice on Christmas afternoon, even if they groan and try to back away. This year even that didn't work. This is not a criticism of my cake, I hasten to say, it's more a question of capacity. Although there was the year the icing refused to set and the fact that the cat had brushed past it on more than one occasion and left a little fur trail, which strangely put people off it, even if I offered to de-hair each piece by hand. There was also a time when any leftover cake, puddings or pies could be off-loaded onto one of my son's teenage mates, who would happily eat anything. A growing lad, he would polish off half a heavy fruit cake in next to no time. Now, with a whole cake left, I was going to have to resort to subterfuge. I casually asked the friend who I was spending New Year with if she still liked Christmas cake. She said she did. 'I've got a bit of mine left, I'll bring it with me,' I said, and quickly replaced the receiver before she asked any more questions. You should have seen her face when I hefted half a ton of cake lavishly topped with nuts and home- made candied fruit, the whole encircled with icing and finished with a red bow, onto the kitchen counter. In fact, she was lost for words. Not for long, and it was suggested that she might perhaps give the cake to one of the pensioners' clubs in the area, although there were a few unnecessary remarks, or so I thought, about cruelty to old folk. I was saved by her husband, who had plans to add more brandy to the cake and eat it in secret and as I left there seemed to be a bit of a discussion going on about the wisdom of this I don't care, I've got shot of the cake, although I won't be able to use this particular ploy ever again. So, next year, beware the phantom cake deliverer!
This week came the news that councils may start to charge people for rubbish removal with those who don't recycle being charged more. This might be accomplished by lowering the Council Tax and making separate charges for rubbish collection. For a start, can you believe any council actually dropping its Council Tax? Not in living memory. Secondly, how can you gauge each household's requirements? A family of five will have far more rubbish, even with recycling, than a single person who puts out a half bag of stuff per week. Thirdly, no-one seems to penalise or even blame manufacturers who use far too much packaging. Fine, maybe, for perishable items, or delicate electrical goods, but for the most part totally unnecessary. Shirts, for instance, come with plastic packaging, half a dozen bits of cardboard, plastic clips to fix the shirt to the cardboard and lots of pins. At Christmas the heaps of detritus after present unwrapping filled four bin liners. My grandson's toys took the combined efforts of two adults and a very impatient little boy to relieve them of their complicated and almost impenetrable packaging. So before blame is lumped yet again on we ordinary households, perhaps the Government could target those who feel it necessary to encase a garlic press in a tomb of stiffened plastic on heavy duty cardboard which took a Stanley knife, small chisel and a freezer knife to breach it. Or a pair of gloves pinned onto a card and mounted on cardboard then encased in plastic. My favourites, however, are always the sets of scissors which can only be breached by cutting open with scissors – which you haven't got.
At least we have rubbish collections. When my daughter bought a house in Cyprus she found that getting any of the necessary services involved a complicated system of permits, form filling and visits to municipal offices. Bureaucracy reigns everywhere with the added complication of a difficult language. For a long time the water came from the neighbour's source, via a hosepipe which they kindly used to fill up the reservoir. Electricity was from their junction box, which had an alarming habit of blowing up quite often and once caught fire. My daughter never quite worked out who was paying for what. Rubbish collection was even more difficult. It required registering the new address at one place, then visiting the local village head, who presumably controlled the local rates, then trying to find out where the rubbish would be picked up. In the meantime, rubbish in a country where spring and summer temperatures are around 100 needs to be put out regularly, and rather than follow what appeared to be an age-old local tradition of throwing it into the nearby gorge, we worked out a good strategy when we stayed there. We noted that hotels and restaurants got a daily pick-up of rubbish. As we were on holiday we ate out every evening, so each night we would get dressed up and then run through the check list. Car keys, house keys, purse, lipstick, black bin liner of rubbish each. Not wishing to draw attention to ourselves too early we waited until after dinner then we would tour the area on the look out for bins. Then we would go into SAS mode. Quickly draw the car up, one on lookout, the other two on dumping duty. A quick sprint across to the bins, trying not to catch high heels on rough ground, then a tyre-screeching escape. We never dropped more than one bag at each place and made sure there was no tell-tale literature in the bags. We also, out of politeness, never dumped the rubbish at the restaurant we were eating at. Nevertheless we always felt a bit like criminals, wondering what would happen if we were apprehended by the police in possession of bin bags full of orange peel, egg shells and beer cans. The closest we got to discovery was one night when we pulled into a nice sheltered spot by a big wheelie bin, and came headlight to headlight with another driver who was in the process of unloading his own bags. We eye-balled each other then, without a word being spoken, we reversed and went off to find another spot. Now there is a good, regular, and cheap collection. But it's not so much fun.