Archive for January 2015

Another nice thing to do in January

January 27, 2015

You know that restaurant that wouldn’t let you book a table in December, or maybe even in November, because “we’re already into the Christmas party season” and “you should have booked earlier”? Try booking a table now.

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A nice thing to do in January

January 20, 2015

Do you have a list of ideas for presents that people can buy you? I don’t know how common this is, but I have such a list. In the run-up to Christmas and my birthday, I update it to share with family and anybody else who asks for suggestions about what to buy me.

Perhaps I’m unusually materialistic and determined to take the spontaneity out of festive occasions. But I figure that gift-buying involves initiative and decision-making, which means it drains your cognitive tank. And Christmas for many people involves buying multiple gifts for multiple people, which means a big drain on that tank. So if I offer some ideas, I’m doing potential gift-givers a favour.

Yes, there are people who express their creativity through buying and/or making gifts, people who enjoy it and don’t find it an energy drain. If you’re one of those people, you’re free to disregard any suggestion lists – but be aware that you’re probably in the minority.

Oh, and if you’re someone who feels guilty about using people’s gift idea lists because it’s “a cop-out” or “doesn’t show I’ve put any thought into it”, you should be aware that people think you’re more thoughtful if you buy them gifts selected from a list they’ve written themselves. Weird but true.

If you have a gift idea list of your own, here’s a nice thing to do in January: look at the list again, pick something you didn’t get for Christmas, and buy it for yourself.

This January my gift to myself was three books of detective fiction about a certain gentleman sleuth. Light, undemanding, escapist stuff. I got them second-hand from Green Metropolis and the total cost (including postage) was £11.25. How much you spend is up to you, obviously.

I don’t like the idea of starting the year with a punishing diet or fitness regime. January is already one of the most gloomy months of the year. Be kind to yourself, and maybe buy yourself a little gift. Choosing it won’t take up much cognitive resource if you’re picking it from a list you’ve already written!

Boring things: plates

January 13, 2015

This month’s boring-yet-confusing thing that I’ve been finding out about is… plates. I’ve already blogged about the inexplicable phenomenon of “plate rage”, but remained hazy on what size of plate “officially” corresponds to what function.

I had an actual reason for needing to become clear on this: I wanted to buy some new plates on eBay to match the plates I already have. So I measured my existing plates.

The dinner plates are pretty straightforward. I eat dinner off them and they measure 10” in diameter, which an etiquette expert tells me is about right for a modern dinner plate.

But those middle-sized plates, the ones  I mainly use for eating toast off? Are they side plates? Given that they’re the perfect size for a slice of toast, could they be bread-and-butter plates? They’re 8” in diameter. So according to our etiquette expert, they could be large salad plates. Sources seem to disagree on how big a bread-and-butter plate is, but none of the possible sizes are as large as 8”, so it’s not one of those. Plate sellers on eBay hedge their bets and call it a “dessert/salad/luncheon/salad” plate. So I guess it’s a salad plate, and now I feel a bit bad that I never use these plates for salad.

The smallest plates in our collection are 7” across. It was a surprise to me to find that they were only an inch smaller in diameter than the 8” ones, because somehow they look much smaller. Anyway. These could be:

a) small salad plates (not more salad!)
b) tea plates, designed for “holding the teacup without a saucer”. (Why not just buy a saucer?)
c) side plates (which I think are the same thing as bread-and-butter plates)
d) “small plates”

What have I gained from learning this? Well, I used to think there was a dizzying array of possible plate sizes, of which I only possessed a small sample. I had a vague worry about being in some situation where I needed to differentiate between plates and couldn’t. (The ambassador’s reception, maybe? What size plate do they use for the Ferrero Rocher?) Now I realise that the “standard” dinnerware set actually only includes dinner plates and salad plates (my “big” and “medium” plates). You might get a bread plate (my “small” plates) in a more elaborate set. And in formal dining, you get  something called a “service plate”, which has other plates put on top of it but never actually has food put directly on it. That’s a metaphor for so many things, all of them pretty heartbreaking.

I also used to think that everybody but me was perfectly clear on the uses of different-sized plates. Trying to find answers to my questions has made it obvious that isn’t the case. Even the self-proclaimed etiquette expert admitted that the only way you can tell a cheese plate is a cheese plate is by seeing if it’s got a cheese-themed pattern on it. So I feel less inferior now.

And finally: having actually taken a tape measure to my crockery, I have given myself a handy reference point for what circles of 10” diameter, 8” diameter and 7” diameter actually look like. My first foray into boring things has been successful. But I’m not sure I can bear to move on to cutlery just yet.

The boring little things I don’t understand

January 6, 2015

There are things I don’t understand. I don’t mean deep questions or dark, sinister forces. I mean things that I don’t understand because when they swim into my consciousness, my brain shies away like a horse at an oddly-shaped jump. First you’re put off because they seem boring and unimportant; then time adds a layer of embarrassment about not already understanding this thing, because don’t all competent adults understand it? That thin coat of slightly-unpleasant feelings (boredom, embarrassment) is almost as effective as the Somebody Else’s Problem forcefield described by Douglas Adams.

But sometimes there comes a point when still not understanding is more boring than the thing itself could possibly be. So in 2015 I’m going to try something: pick a boring thing for each month and finally find out about it. This will probably not involve anything more strenuous than a bit of light googling. I’ll tell you what I learnt about and you can either a) feel superior because you’ve been an expert in this subject since the cradle; or b) quietly take the opportunity to learn about it yourself.