Are YOU a chicken washer?

FSA do not wash chicken

It all started when the Food Standards Agency issued a press release warning people against washing raw chicken, to mark Food Safety Week 2014. What can I say? Those guys really know how to celebrate.

Chicken washing, they said, is a practice that can actually increase your chances of contracting campylobacter food poisoning due to the danger of contaminating work surfaces, clothing and other foods with splashed water.

On Monday, quite a few of the papers – including the Telegraph, MailMirror and Metro – picked the story up. Ha! I said. I am not the FSA’s target audience! Who are these so-called chicken washers? What person in their right mind would even consider washing a chicken? I scoffed (quite literally, as the evening’s menu turned out) and thought no more of it.

Then Tuesday and this article by Tim Dowling in the Guardian on alternative food hygiene practices happened. I posted it on Facebook with the textual equivalent of a droll chuckle, and waited for the reassurances to flow in. And they came – believe me, they came. But so did the chicken washers.

“Well, it’s how my Granny and Mum prepare chicken and fish, so I do the same. It’s never done us any harm. No plans to change. Definitely not as a result of a news article!”

“Haha! I always thoroughly wash chickens too!”

“I know that some halal and west indian cooks favour washing any and all meat, but often in lemon juice rather than water.”

“My mother always does, learnt it at her knee!”

“Give it a couple of months until this same advice is reversed. Still washing my chicken…”

“I once washed a bird when I was a vegetarian teenage nanny. Grim, but funny making it wee itself by running water through the neck.”

Again, my reaction – and that of many of my Facebook friends – was one of complete amazement. But chickens are ALREADY clean! we raved. It’s not like the bird, once plucked, is allowed out to roll around in the dirt one last time! Chickens aren’t carrots – they’re not sprayed with pesticides prior to sale! What are you LIKE, you crazy chicken washers?!

Then on Wednesday, the Evening Standard announced that over half of Londoners – 51% – confessed to having washed their chicken in the last few months.

Seldom has my worldview been so comprehensively challenged.

It has never once occurred to me to wash chicken. Not once. Yet now it seems that just over half of everyone I know has been doing it ALL THE TIME.

People I thought I knew – friends! – have all this time been standing at their kitchen sinks washing chickens. A sizeable proportion of all the dinner parties I have ever been to have been given by chicken-washers. Who knows – there might even be chicken-washers in my own family. It could be IN THE BLOOD.

When the story first broke, it was easy to write off the chicken washers as weirdos. When I realised there were a handful of them, I began to think that perhaps I should stop thinking of them as weirdos and instead start treating them like an unfortunately persecuted minority group. Now, I’m starting to wonder: am *I* in the persecuted minority group?

The Food Standards Agency has caused me to doubt not only long-standing friendships, but the essence of who I am and what I believe. This is JUST how Truman must have felt at the end of the film.

Do you wash YOUR chicken? Tell me. I need to know the truth.

A version of this post featured on the Huffington Post UK on 19 June 2014.

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Review: Gareth Malone’s Voices at the Hammersmith Apollo (21/5/14)

Gareth Malone merchandise (C) Christina Kenny

Bouncers. Merchandise. Excitable women. The opening night of choirmaster Gareth Malone’s UK tour had all the trappings (if not the ambience) of a pop concert, right down to the T-shirts on sale in the foyer of the Hammersmith Apollo. If that boy ever gets laser eye surgery, he’s in trouble from a merchandise perspective.

Last night’s concert was the first of a 14-date UK tour to promote Malone’s new choir and their album, Gareth Malone’s Voices, released on Decca last November. The programme promised to combine tracks from the album with new material and Malone-fan favourites including the Military Wives’ 2011 hit, Wherever You Are.

The first night of a tour is never without technical issues, and the choir was somewhat underamplified in the concert’s opening number. But they soon got up to speed. Highlights from the first half included a great arrangement of Fleetwood Mac’s You Can Go Your Own Way and an unexpected yet perfectly serviceable performance of Justorum Animae by Renaissance composer William Byrd – a salient reminder of Malone’s background in classical choral music.

The choir were amplified throughout – necessary, given the scale of the tour venues, but purists may be irritated by the ample use of reverb*. Some of the technical effects were fun, though – particularly the beatbox loop which was put to good use in Lord’s Royals and Malone’s party piece for audience and choir, Stand By Me.

Audience participation proved key to the evening’s success, and it was here that Malone’s skills as a showman came to the fore. Not for nothing is he billed as ‘the nation’s favourite choirmaster’. Admittedly, this critic’s cathedral choir-trained hackles rose when the audience was first called on to join in, but Malone’s charm and enthusiasm were genuinely infectious. Before long I was singing along with the rest of the audience to Sting’s Fields of Gold, though not quite dancing in the aisles.

The audience included several choirs on nights out, including representatives of at least three of the country’s 80 Military Wives choirs. Yet even non-singers (like the group of sheepish Curtis Brown execs on my row) responded unconsciously to Malone’s theatrical flourishes. We are, after all, a well-trained audience, with 14 series of Malone’s choirmastering antics under our belts. As Malone himself quipped towards the end of the concert: “A Gareth Malone audience is a better class of singing audience.”

The second half opened with a really excellent turn from the Citibank choir, who featured on Malone’s Sing While You Work series (Voices will be joined by a different community choir on each night of the UK tour). The highlight of this half was an arrangement of  Keane’s Hamburg Song, set with lush, Eric Whitacre-like harmonies. This was followed by a similarly Whitacre-like number by Paul Mealor (him off of the Royal Wedding) which gave the choir the opportunity to prove their ‘straight’ singing chops.

Overall, the quality of choral singing was high, with a particularly luminescent first soprano section who managed to float the top notes pleasantly without sounding shrill. There were also a number of outstanding solos from within the choir. Voices are an attractive and of course a very young bunch of singers (a Hi-de-Hi! joke from Malone went down far better with the audience – average age 45 – than with the choir – average age 21).

Though they handled the more classical rep ably, the choir seemed much more comfortable (and perhaps better rehearsed?) with the pop, right down to the ubiquitous ‘vocal gymnastics whilst pawing at the air’ moves that most of them had down pat. Yet their communication with conductor and audience was impressive: proof that when a choir comes out from behind the score, both sound and performance tend to be incomparably better.

While there were a few technical distractions – persistent feedback, soloists fiddling with earpieces and some frankly bizarre lighting choices – the evening overall was jolly good fun. Malone & Co. clearly have what it takes for a successful pop tour – hummable tunes, the opportunity for a singalong, and impressive compèring from an exceedingly likeable showman. Four stars.

* Purists should perhaps ask themselves why there are there in the first place

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Made In Chelsea: The Next Series

Made in Chelsea - C4

I recently read a news article on the Daily Mail website that caused me to rethink everything I thought I knew about reality TV phenomenon Made In Chelsea. That is to say: everything.

Three years after the show started, I am still almost totally in the dark as to what it all means. Sure, Binky is cross with Alex for joining in with an orgy at Spencer’s place – but do these people really exist? Are their problems real? Do they have separate mobile contracts for their non-MIC lives? Do they HAVE non-MIC lives?

The treatment I wrote for the series three years ago still works, apparently.

Scene one: early morning in Candida’s bedroom

Candida sleeps fitfully and alone. The camera sweeps across the bedroom floor, which is littered with designer heels, abandoned wisps of expensive lingerie and small piles of cut diamonds. In the foreground, a Blackberry rings on silent. The film crew decide that Candida needs her rest and do some close-ups of the illuminated display, which records seventeen missed calls from Cosmo.

Scene two: Fenestra’s mum’s kitchen

Fenestra and Gusset perch on bar stools at the semi-precious stone-inlaid breakfast bar, sipping Civet lattes as they discuss the events of the previous evening (a swanky party held to promote Wiggy’s new handbag range). Both agree that the bags on display were hideous, and Wiggy herself sick-makingly mankazoid. The girls agree that Wiggy should be brought down a peg or two. Fenestra has the brillopants idea of writing a post for herSloane About Town blog insinuating that Wiggy takes inspiration for her handbags from the high street.

Scene three: Cosmo’s SW3 pad

Cosmo redials Candida on his mobile, but hangs up guiltily as girlfriend Plummy enters the room. Plummy carries a designer bag that contains a teacup piglet wearing earrings and a tiara. Seeing Cosmo’s guilty expression, Plummy challenges him over the call. An inexplicable lapse in continuity means that she soon has Cosmo’s solid gold mobile in hand and is checking his dialled numbers. A short yet unusually resonant argument ensues (Plummy can be heard as far off as Ladbroke Grove) and Cosmo storms off, snatching up a white mink top hat from the coatstand as he leaves.

Scene four: a squash court, somewhere posh

Cosmo and Spackers play squash. The game is intense: the boys play so hard and with such skill that the ball is never quite visible. The camera lingers on their impressive musculatures, which are surprisingly defined given their stated occupations (Event Organiser and Professional Hairdo). Spackers, whose initials are embroidered on his super-luxe sports togs in platinum thread, advises his friend that he may well have behaved incorrectly with regard to his conduct towards Plummy and Candida: ‘You were, well, to be honest, bang out of order, mate. Sozzlebiscuits.’ A bead of sweat rolls down Cosmo’s forehead onto his cheek and solidifies into a perfect pearl.

Scene five: back at Cosmo’s pad

Plummy is lolling on a lizardskin beanbag nibbling at a Fabergé egg when Cosmo returns to the flat. Despite the presence of the camera crew, she extracts an Awkward apology and a promise that Cosmo will not see Candida again unchaperoned. She then departs for Harvey Nicks leaving Cosmo to read another text from Candida: ‘Coming 2 one’s gig 2nite? Bisous, Candy XxXx (The Rt Hon Lady Minge)’.

Scene six: a grimy Mayfair pub

The whole gang are gathered together for Candida’s musical debut. Spackers, Fenestra and Gusset bitch over gold-flecked mojitos served by monkey butlers, and are joined by Fumbles, Twinkle, Gimpy, Biffles and Stinky, who have all been on a unicorn shoot at Vulva’s country estate. Jonno, the show’s only black character (drafted into the second series to help meet industry targets), enters the bar to a chorus of ‘yo’s and fistbumps from the established cast. At this point viewers can press the red button to self-administer a lethal overdose.

Candida trips onto the stage to general applause, peeping with difficulty through Swarowski crystal-tipped eyelashes. Tremblingly, she puts her full, sensual lips to her silver kazoo. The first song brings the house down: everyone agrees that her soulful interpretation of Jack Johnson’s Who Gives A Fuck should totes deffo secure her the record deal she’s after. Yet Candida looks troubled. Her eyes, now bleeding freely, scan the crowd as she launches into her second song.

The performance is lacklustre until Cosmo bursts in, whereupon Candida perks up noticeably and brings Goldfinger to a rousing finish. Cosmo leaps onto the stage and is leaning in for the kiss when Plummy storms in. The camera zooms in as he looks frantically from Plummy to Candida and back again. Background music rises to a crescendo. Plummy’s pig climbs out of its bag and craps emeralds all over Cosmo’s shoes.

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