Sunday, April 29, 2007

Do I crow camply?

I only just found out that two weeks ago, Financial Times columnist Jonathan Guthrie quoted from my blog in an amusing piece about people who blog about their work. You can only read the whole article if you are a subscriber. He opines that "professional arcana can be oddly compelling", then goes on to summarise my blog:

"Tupperware Man, a 40-something plastic container salesman, communicates equal enthusiasm for the “tower of Space Savers” accumulated by customers Leanne and Paul of Purley. There is even a photo. Another shows the blogger’s “shrine” to the culinary icon Fanny Cradock. “I am back up there with the big girls,” he crows camply. “In November I was Number Four Tupperware seller in the UK.”

Do really crow camply? Perhaps I do.

I take a little time this week to attach to my apron all the Tupperware keychains I have accumulated, and I have to say they look and sound fantastic (see main photo). At the end of the week I rattle in to the offices of Ascent Insurance Brokers in the City, to run a fundraising Tupperware party for them. It's a women's event for dress-down Friday, a fundraiser for the charity that support families of children with Fragile X syndrome. When I pop in earlier in the week to see the space I have been assigned, I find a huge boardroom table which is crying out to be covered in Tupperware.

My journey from home to the Ascent office in Fenchurch Street is a door to door 15-minute bus ride for me, so I take a lot products more than usual. Here you see them all respledent on the board room table. I set up shop for a three-hour chunk of the day, with people drifting in and out for cakes and coffee, and I add to the array with a microwave Chocolate and Almond Cake. Most people buy something, but I mean literally one thing, so although I take 15 orders, the sales are not that impressive. I can donate £38 as 15% of sales, and another £27 from the raffle, so £65 is an OK donation. But I think the organiser is a bit disappointed with peoples' spending. I work my apron off, but the customers are just not that thrilled with Tupperware as she had hoped. Although I have to say, the refrain I keep hearing, almost announced as a badge of pride, was that "I don't cook".

On Thursday I call in to the Vauxhall Tavern, scene of my bingo debut last week. My Tupperware cards are in the rack between the condom machine and the cards advertising the local police's hotline for hate crimes against gay folk.

A lady in Reading encloses a note with an order for a replacement Quick Shake: "The original was chewed up by a naughty dog in faraway Johannesburg and I have missed it ever since."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"Sift-n-Stor, 54"

Tim was a guest at one of my parties last summer, hosted by BBC London presenter Baylen Leonard. A quiet and studious-looking young man, he is one of the team behind the House of Homosexual Culture and he recruited me to take part in their Homo Homemakers church fair in October. It was at the fair that I discovered that Tim is also Timberlina: singer, bearded lady, and hostess of the popular and innovative Vauxhallville, a cabaret night at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, which is one of London's most famous old-style gay pubs.

On Mondays, Timberlina runs Bingo Pub Night at the same venue, and this week she invites me to help out. The stage is dressed as Timberlina's kitchen, with Tupperware everywhere. I am on hand in my floor-length apron to demonstrate and talk Tupperware in an onstage interview, and to hand out prizes to the winners. Everyone gets a gift bag with a catalogue, a 10% off voucher, a Tunnock's Caramel Wafer and a Chocolate Teacake. The Full House winners take home a Universal Peeler (which I demonstrate onstage with a kiwi fruit) and the Jackpot winner gets a blue Mini-Max.

It always strikes me how much good will there is towards Tupperware. Everyone is in a good mood tonight and between the games, I work the tables like Fay Presto, doing close-up demonstrations of the Mini-Max, the Happy Chopper and the Cool Cubes. In another context, people may have been a bit bemused to be approached in their local pub by a man in a black pinny demonstrating kitchenware, but Timberlina creates an atmosphere of aderanged domesticity where it seems quite normal.

Two young women tell me they have come along tonight after seeing the listing in Time Out (above), and they confess that they are here for the Tupperware not the bingo. Isabelle, one of a group of French Londoners playing bingo pour le premier fois, wins three times and says she will definitely schedule a French Tupperware party some time soon.

Timberlina says it's shame we didn't get a (literally) full house, but I don't mind the small crowd. In fact I was glad it was small-scale for my first taste of performance. Not for me Dixie Longate's Tupperware Party, which opened off-Broadway this week.

Unfortunately I don't have any photos of my live demonstration with Timberlina. So here instead is my fellow consultant Miss Hot Stuff demonstrating her rather splendid cleavage as she makes ranch dressing in the Quick Shake.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sell That Funky Tupperware, White Boy

This weekend I am invited to run a Tupperware stall at the Heritage Inn in Cricklewood. In fact, I am an official sponsor, since I am donating about £25-worth of Tupperware for the raffle table. The Heritage Inn is a Caribbean bar and restaurant, and today they are hosting a special family day with salsa dancing, cocktails, a raffle and a talent showcase. There is also a small market place with hair braiding, African jewellery, and a beautifully turned out woman from Mary Kay, a party-plan cosmetic company. Two enterprising young guys sell t-shirts bearing black cultural heroes like Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther King (and Bruce Lee, curiously), and up on the balcony there is me in a pinny selling plastic kitchenware and making salsa. I am far too white and inhibited to dance the salsa, so I stick to making the salsa in my Quick Chef.

Knowing almost everyone else will be Afro-Caribbean, I wear my English Muffin t-shirt for a laugh, and it raises some smiles and some good natured mickey-taking by the compere at the end of the night when I win a CD of vintage Jamaican music in the raffle, which I am listening to as I write this blog.

The event starts in theory at 3pm but it is very quiet until the entertainment starts at 6pm. Me and the woman from Mary Kay keep primping our stalls and shooting weary glances at each other as the long hours go by with no customers. The lack of punters is partly due to the sudden glorious weather today which is keeping people outside, and everyone who is inside is watching the Grand National. What's more, the fine tradition of keeping "Caribbean time" means no-one is in a hurry. When the show does start at 6pm, Courtney the compere, a lanky Jamaican charmer, gets us all enthused for "this beautiful family day" with a showcase of "edu-tainment" for the youngsters. People have given their time to perform for nothing, and although not everything is my cup of tea, I don't suppose it is meant to be. I do love the Jamaican comedian who has some hilariously clever and cruel observations of Caribbean and English cultural manners and behaviours, but sadly Miss Ebony Queen is not the drag act I was hoping for, rather a fearsome woman rapper. Another rapper, Nicky Negro, does not seem quite in the beautiful family spirit to me, with his blunt declaration that the government "keeps you in the nigger state of thinking", but it mostly goes down well.

There has been a terrible toll of knife and gun crime perpetrated mostly on, and partly by, young black men in London over the last few months. Although thankfully it hasn't specifically affected the community here in Cricklewood, the violence of these deaths is mentioned several times today as the opposite of the peace, love and pride that the Heritage Inn promotes. From the sublime to the ridiculous, at the same time I am having my own struggles to keep the kids away from the blades. A group of five under-10s has latched on to my stall, and they are enthusiastically helping me make salsa. I make sure their fingers stay away from the cut chillies, and clear of the chopping board and Tupperchef knife while I prepare tomatoes, onions, chillies, limes and coriander for processing in the Quick Chef (that's it with the white handle in this photo, next to the chopping board). It is perfectly safe for kids as long as they keep their fingers out of it, and my helpers certainly give it a good work out, whizzing the handle round and pulverising the veg. The Citrus Wonder gets a pounding too (see main picture, top).

The Heritage Inn promotes black British cultural and culinary heritage with style and panache. They also do a fantastic rum punch, which keeps me going through the lean patches early in the day. I also have to take a big swig when one of the performing poets declares that his life is "being controlled by fags". "Not this fag", I murmur. I want to cover the children's ears at that one, but my hands were covered in chopped tomato.

My salsa is popular, I give away some catalogues and do a bit of product demonstration when the music levels permit. It doesn't feel like an especially sparkling day for increasing my Tupperware business, but who knows who may contact me in the coming weeks as they are leafing through their catalogue. My fellow consultant Tracie in the West Midlands does a lot of specificaly Afro-Caribbean Tupperware parties, and it's a market I have not yet infiltrated. Anyway, mostly my day at the Heritage Inn is a bit of fun, and an interesting opportunity to be the token English Muffin. After all the rum punches, it feels pretty fine to me. I even bought a Muhammad Ali t-shirt. Apart from all his obvious admirable qualities as a sportsman, entertainer, political figure, cultural giant, and gloriously handsome man, I have always had a soft spot for Ali since I was 13 and my German pen-pal's insane mother said to me over dinner at their house in the Rheinland, "You look like Muhammad Ali".

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Shoot me if I turn out like this

I found these home-made videos on MySpace and YouTube. Neither of them is especially interesting for what you see, to say the very least, but the Tupperware-related songs that they use as soundtracks were new to me. This first one is a home made video for the Soft Cell track Tupperware Party, which I had never heard before. It features images of Tupperware products, which then gives way to someone doing some absurd 1980s dancing.

The man in the second video clearly has way too much time on his hands, and it is no surprise that he notes "I got no wife or lady friend". But the song is interesting. It is a rewrite of the old Seeker's hit Georgy Girl, and they sing "Hey there, Tupperware...". It seems to be a a limited edition 45 produced for a Tupperware consultants as a motivational thing, because it talks about making 1968 "the greatest year in all of our history". Shades of Tupperware Brigade record I found and blogged about last year.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The carpenter, the Zimbabweans and the gays

I enjoy hearing about non-food uses of Tupperware products. This week I meet Jim, who has ordered some FridgeSmarts not for storing his veg in the fridge, but for storing biscuits. And not edible biscuits either, but those little beechwood lozenge-shaped "joining biscuits" used in carpentry. When I deliver his order, Jim takes me on a tour of his workshop, where I snap this photo after he decants his biscuits into his new FridgeSmarts. They need to be kept away from moisture, lest their precision cut size expands, and Jim reckons that the FridgeSmart is ideal for this.

Jim is a former yachtsman, and says he swore by Tupperware on board. He reckons it protects food and equipment from salt, water, wind and knocks. He suggests to me that Tupperware targets the sailing market, and I pass this on to my distributor. Jim came to Tupperware via his ex-wife, who was a consultant many years ago. Mind you, he explains, she used her "Tupperware parties" as a cover for an affair, so it could have gone either way, with Jim developing an aversion to Tupperware instead of a penchant.

I wonder if my name is being passed around the ex-pat Zimbabwean grapevine? Or perhaps some Zimbabweans have been shopping in The Savanna, where I left some catalogues last month. Either way, this week I have had a sudden flurry of phone calls and emails from UK-based Zimbabweans all wanting Tupperware. One woman explained how she and her family had to leave Zimbabwe in some haste a few years ago, and without provision for taking their housewares with them. She was thrilled to track me down through Google, and I have provided her with an order form and catalogue, which she is probably marking up as I write this, recreating her lost African kitchen.

I am volunteering at the 21st London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival at London's new BFI Southbank (the former National Film Theatre). Mostly I am involved in hospitality, making sure visiting film-makers, press and other guests are happy and catered to. This involves providing snacks, drinks and friendly chat at receptions and pre-screening events in the Green Room. So imagine my distress at finding a few drab dishes and plates for serving, and no storage at all. One quick bus trip home and, as you can see here, I have equipped the Green Room with Eleganzia Bowls, Mini Maxes and Expression dishes, all with Tupperware seals to seal up any extras and keep them fresh for the next event.