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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

A Car Park and a Panna Cotta

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas OCTOBER. 07, 2020

I don't know what it is about this shot, but it is just a favourite of mine for some reason. This was an open day for a new railway station in Birmingham England. Everything was brand spanking new. Not a scratch on anything. The Queen had just officially opened it all an hour earlier, a few floors down, although I hadn't realised that when I went that day.

I parked, paid my extortionate fee for the privilege, walked through into the lift area, or elevator if you prefer. And this view was right there. There is something about how all the light inside and out all balances and the window makes a frame and then you get all the different angles outside. The yellow and green, the reflected lights, and the shadows and soft lines inside.

Being new, there were still finishing touches needed, for example the signage was really poor so it was difficult to know which level you needed to get off down below to access the station or the shops, because what is a station these days without the world's third largest shopping mall added.

While I was waiting for the lift two women came in and I recognised one off the telly. I couldn't tell you in a million years what her name was, which is just as well because she would probably now sue me for liable. But I have a fantastic memory for faces and I knew she had been on one of those reality TV series, basically just being herself, you know, really clever stuff. So she asks me if I know which level they need for the great big new posh whizzbang store that just opened, John Lewis. Except that wasn't her description, that's mine. It's called sarcasm, very popular here in England, and you can see where this is going.

Incidentally this was September 2015, and the whole city, well all the shallow elements in the city, were abuzz and agog that a new John Lewis had arrived.

Agog- probably borrowed from Middle French en gogues "in good humor, mirthful," from en "in" + gogues, plural of gogue "good humor, joking, pleasantry, mockery," going back to a Gallo-Romance expressive base *gog-

Well it makes a change from Middle English.

They were also all on tenterhooks as well as being agog, because when I looked up agog I saw the word tenterhooks and I love that one. So I had to add that one to the story as well.

Tenterhooks- It’s been so long since anyone has seen either a tenter, or the hooks on one, that the word and the idea behind it are now quite mysterious, but at one time, the phrase on tenterhooks would have evoked an image that was immediately understandable.

It comes from one of the processes of making woollen cloth. After it had been woven, the cloth still contained oil from the fleece, mixed with dirt. It was cleaned in a fulling mill, but then it had to be dried carefully or it would shrink and crease. So the lengths of wet cloth were stretched on wooden frames, and left out in the open for some time. This allowed them to dry and straightened their weave. These frames were the tenters, and the tenter hooks were the metal hooks used to fix the cloth to the frame. At one time, it would have been common in manufacturing areas to see fields full of these frames (older English maps sometimes marked an area as a tenter-field). So it was not a huge leap of the imagination to think of somebody on tenterhooks as being in an state of anxious suspense, stretched like the cloth on the tenter. The tenters have gone, but the meaning has survived.

So this shallow TV reality "star", and I use the word "star" loosely, definitely not tightly as in stretched on tenterhooks, who was nonetheless on metaphoric tenterhooks although she was only loosely a "star", and also agog, are you still with me? Well she, who is still nameless even though I have seen her since on many subsequent shallow reality TV shows, well not on the actual shows, because I am not that shallow, but on the little clips advertising the shows which they put on during the breaks between highly intelligent highbrow stuff "like what I watch", (That line is a tribute to the master playwright Ernie Wise), yes her....

Well she and her equally shallow mate step into the lift ahead of me even though I was there first, that's loosely described "stars" for you and her friend wasn't even a star at all, just a groupie. Then I step in and they press the button I advised them to press so they could be expressly swished down to their shallow posh landfill shop and buy something really expensive that has absolutely no functional purpose other than to brighten their dull gewgaw filled lives.

So muggins here thinks we are now in chatting mode and he says, "Haven't I seen you on the telly"? Crickets. Absolutely nothing, nada, let's play statues, she's the Sphinx her friend is Queen Victoria on a plinth, both stare ahead blank faced while all three of us listen in great detail to the steel cables clanking away all around us as they haul us downwards to fantasy land. It stops, they get out.

That's it. Apart from the fact they got out on the wrong floor, well how was I to know, I told you the signage was rubbish.

Now I knew that the rules when the Queen arrives are that you never speak first, you only speak if you're spoken too. Well I thought the Queen had already left, I didn't realise she was in the lift with me. Actually even though you're not actually supposed to talk to the Queen first I am pretty sure that she is so well mannered that if you did make that faux pas (French again, well the Queen is mostly German anyway) she would actually acknowledge your presence, even if she was desperate to get to John Lewis to see what little Corgi treats she could find to take home to the little nippers. And they are notorious nippers, trained by Welsh farmers to do just that, to truculent cattle, who thought they might suddenly decide to go in a different direction for once.

So there we are, ordinary people who get filmed attempting to make a panna cotta for the first time, in their bedsit, for four other pretentious strangers, one of whom vomits at the thought of mushrooms, another who is "allergic" to fish, one who can't abide cream, and another who is intolerant, and I don't mean intolerant of a food group either, in an attempt to win £1000, now feel entitled to swan around in lifts wearing badges that say "Don't talk to me I'm in character." Well, she's not going to win £1000 making a panna cotta for someone who can't abide cream is she.

Newsflash. John Lewis just announced the store is now permanently closed. There has to be a moral to this story somewhere. I wonder if the Queen is coming back to close it officially?

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