The Thing Is with Steve Canavan - October 8, 2015

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Going to the supermarket on Sunday was the highlight of my week, which suggests two things; something entertaining happened while I was there, or I need to get a life.

Fortunately it was the former, though given my usual weekly highlight is attending badminton practice on a Wednesday in Bispham perhaps the latter applies, too.

Let me start by making one thing clear. I’m not the type of person who normally goes to a supermarket on a Sunday, or indeed any other day. To me supermarkets – much like prison or any television programme involving cookery – are to be avoided.

I have friends, however, who tell me they enjoy shopping and go with their partners. I find this incredibly odd and, if I’m being honest, concerning.

Shopping at a supermarket, where middle-aged women tut and shake their head if your trolley is inadvertently jutting out an inch too far in the cereal aisle, thus preventing them grabbing the Rice Krispies on special offer at two for £3, is a chore not a pleasure.

And on the occasions you must go – for we all need to replenish our supplies from time to time – why does it require more than one of you? One person is perfectly capable of wheeling a trolley, spotting an item, picking it off a shelf, putting it in said trolley, and then paying at the end. It doesn’t require your loved one to stand nearby saying ‘Marjorie, how many times do I have to tell you, we don’t need more broccoli.’

But on Sunday, Mrs Canavan and I became one of those couples as we ventured to Tesco. It was a needs-must trip, done with a heavy heart, for we had to buy a new microwave.

Mrs Canavan had put her porridge on for two minutes in the old one the previous morning, nipped to the loo, and returned downstairs to discover flames billowing from the microwave and so much smoke in the kitchen that it looked like a scene from Stars In Their Eyes just before Bob, a plumber from Birmingham, emerges as Michael Jackson.

As Mrs Canavan bravely unplugged the microwave and put the flames out, I stood a safe distance away and shouted instructions, while also noting, with some consternation, that the smoke alarm hadn’t uttered so much as even the faintest peep. It’s only when you haven’t got a microwave that you realise how often you use one, so that’s why the next day we ended up in Tesco.

I could have let Mrs Canavan go alone, of course, but had I done that we would have ended up with the snazziest, priciest microwave on sale, so it was vital I accompanied her to ensure that instead we ended up with the ugliest, cheapest one. It worked.

The one Mrs Canavan wanted had settings for pasta, chicken, fish and paella, and contained a grill. The one we purchased – at my insistence – had a single button saying ‘heat’ and cost us a less than a nine-pack of Andrex quilted.

Then came the highlight of my week mentioned at the start of this diatribe.

Doing a spot of food shopping before we departed the store, we wandered along an aisle where a couple stood examining packets of gravy.

‘All I’m trying to say Jean,’ said a rather exasperated bloke, ‘is I prefer beef because it’s thicker. The chicken is a bit weak.’

His wife, who couldn’t have looked more shocked had her spouse just informed her he was having a frenzied affair with Maureen from the local Inner Wheel club, replied: “But it’s just not like you, Fred. I always thought you liked chicken. You ... you just seem different these days, more distant.”

While Mrs Canavan continued with the shopping, I spent the next 25 minutes examining a pork loin to remain within earshot of what became an increasingly heartfelt and in-depth exchange that had somehow gone from which gravy to have with Sunday roast to the very nub of the relationship.

Just as an angry-looking Mrs Canavan returned – mouthing ‘where the hell have you been?’ – the gravy woman began crying, hissed ‘well if that’s the way you feel, what’s the point?’ and walked off, leaving the bloke stood forlornly fondling a packet of beef Oxo cubes.

I’ve always enjoyed ear-wigging other people’s conversations but this was perhaps my finest hour. I wandered over to the fella, gave him a supportive pat on the back, and said ‘if it’s any consolation I prefer beef gravy too – chicken’s a bit watery isn’t it?’

He nodded and we went our separate ways, him to have beef gravy for one, me to unpack a microwave which, because of the price we paid and its flimsy nature, will probably burst into flames at some point in the next fortnight.

The art of duff intros starts here

Reader John Danes has been in touch to bring to my attention a rather wonderful contest that has been going on since the early 1980s but which I had never previously heard of.

It is called the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, named after a notorious 19th century novelist, whose opening line to one of his books was ‘It was a dark and stormy night’.

As you may have guessed, the contest celebrates the worst opening lines of books.

The 2007 winner, for example, was: “As she slowly drove up the long, winding driveway, Lady Alicia peeked out the window of her shiny blue Mercedes and spied Rodrigo the new gardener standing on a grassy mound with his long black hair flowing in the wind, his brown eyes piercing into her very soul, and his white shirt open to the waist, revealing his beautifully rippling muscular chest, and she thought to herself, ‘I must tell that 
lazy idiot to trim the hedges by the gate’.”

Or this, highly commended in 2002: “When Detective Riggs was called to investigate the theft of a trainload of Native American fish broth concentrate bound for market, he solved the case almost immediately, being that the trail of clues led straight to the trainmaster, who had both the locomotive and the Hopi tuna tea.”

Brilliantly bonkers. I intend to enter immediately.