Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Wot no hangover?

[Sunday 26 December 2004]

Christmas day was round at Bob&Lynne's along with John&Pam, Lynne's parents. The meal was the full monty ending up with cheese and a Dowes '83 port of which I had several (small) glasses. We stayed the night and much to my amazement I was fine in the morning.

That's it, I'm all blogged out for now.

More on Wot No...?

Brass monkeys on Christmas morn

[Saturday 25 December 2004]

Up at 7:30 am on Christmas morning to cycle the five miles back to Francesca's to pick up the car. Only 1.5°C so the fingers were a bit numb by the time it came to folding up the bike and stuffing on the back seat.

But far better than drink-driving the evening before. I might stretch to 2 glasses over along evening but more than that is dangerous and irresponsible - mind you some might take the zero tolerance stance. Hey, we all make choices.

Lorenzo comes of age

[Friday 24 December 2004]
Today is the eighteenth birthday of my nephew and godson Lorenzo. So it was off to Francesca's for a gathering of the family. On Francesca's side that just meant Nonna Carla, on Ian's it was Mum and Dad and us two. Plus a couple of neighbours dropped in part time.

Now here is another reminder of mortality and the passing of time. Lorenzo was born by Caesarean appointment of Christmas Eve those 18 years ago and I clearly remember visiting Francesca and the neonate on Christmas day in hospital.

Then the christening shortly after. I was most impressed that the Catholic church would baptise a child born out of wedlock but then they must reckon that having failed with the parents with the young they get another go. I had to swear to forsake the devil and all his ways and I must confess I crossed my fingers behind my back at that point.

I am not sure I was much cop as a godfather. I do not remember providing much input to his spiritual and moral upbringing nor come to that much in the way of presents. So for this occasion I went for the bloke option - a big fat cheque.

Now he is come to man's estate. S**t doesn't that Karmic wheel fair spin round at a rate of knots!

Spawn of Satan

[Thursday 24 December 2004]
Witchs' familiar! That black cat did it again: clawing at the door, widdling in the bathroom. Sleep deprivation and a rude awakening. The alternative? Leave the door open and get her duvet dancing at 4 am and purring all night like a micro diesel engine. Sleep deprivation is a terrible thing. How do parents cope?

Retro blogging

Having been out and about over the festive season with a thousand "To Do" items at home has left little time for blogging. So the following are playing catch up. But I leave the dates as they are, it would not be right to spoof the date to make them look like historic posts. Where is that Blog Netiquette Guide when you need it, eh?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Feline alarm call

Who needs an alarm clock when you have a furry friend trying to tunnel her way into the bedroom through the laminate flooring. So I got up for a pee to discover the cat had beaten me to it. Only instead of the litter tray she had used the bathroom floor. Mopping out is not how I had hoped to start my day.

I tiptoed out leaving Mary pushing out Z-Z-Zs. It had been a long evening; Mary travelling down from Scotland and me doing serial drinking:
• First with a colleague for a quick glass of wine after work.
• Then down to Norbiton on the train for Chris and Sue's "At Home". Chris lectures in Space Technology at Kingston Poly University.
• Finally back to Wandsworth to meet Mary off the train from Stansted for a night cap at Konnigans.

In bed just after midnight and only a long-stop alarm. I would have really appreciated that extra hour's sleep but I had reckoned without Cleo. I must try clipping her claws sometime.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Farnham Potlatch

It was a usual pre-Christmas Potlatch in which the family assemble on the last Sunday before the 25th and exchange presents.

To avoid extravagant or competitive giving we agreed some years back to limit ourselves to frivolous presents at the price range of a paperback or a CD. There was no point in spending large sums of money on something the recipient was half-hearted about receiving and might simply end up at Oxfam or Cancer Relief.

For most things if we had wanted it we would have already been out and bought it for ourselves. I stop treating myself to movies and music around my birthday in September just in case Santa has it on his list.

It takes the strain out of present choosing:
a) because Mary does it all anyway [thank you dear] and
b) no tears are shed if it does go straight to the charity shop.

So we can afford to buy silly things that bring a smile. Apart from the nephews who just want money so they that can choose their own and my gift to Mary for which it is traditional to go well over budget.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Toasted Mars Bar on brown

Listening to the Radio 4 item this morning on the Deep Fried Mars Bar (apparently it is real not an urban myth) took me back to my early years in London back in 1979.

Working at Coopers & Lybrand in Noble Street, EC2 we would frequent the local sandwich bar, Piccolo's. They would make to order whatever you wanted - the usual stuff: cheese and tomato, ham and cream cheese, cream cheese and pineapple, ham and pineapple.

Someone said "Yecch! Ham and pineapple!" The debate ensued with popular examples of meat and fruit combinations: gammon and pineapple, duck á l'orange, chicken maryland. The wife of a colleague was known to be partial to bacon and banana.

This lead on to silly suggestions for fillings which spiralled out of control until we got to "Toasted Mars Bar on brown" ('cos that would make it healthy then).

Bron challenged "If you eat it I'll pay for it." And it was delicious <g>

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

London so good they named it once

Crossing Waterloo bridge on a clear winter's evening you get a terrific view of buildings lit up against the night sky. To the West the The London Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. To the East the Oxo Tower, Saint Paul's Cathedral (where Mary and I got married) and the SwissRe "Gherkin". London, I love it.

Now New York is a fine town and it has fine songs to match. Native New Yorker by Odyssey, New York, New York, so good they named it twice by Gerard Kenny.

What has London got? Ralph Mc-bl**dy-Tell and Streets of London. A song so threadbare any pathos it once had has long since worn away - pass me the bucket. Oh a for a pop anthem for London to rival the Big Apple's.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Donationware and the good Samaritan

I like the concept of Donationware and extend it to other realms. Occasionally I have copied a CD for a fellow Marc Bolan fan or done some other favour. The hassle of currency exchange and postage for a couple of quid is just not worth it so when asked "How much do I owe you?" I reply "Stick a couple of dollars in the next charity box you see."

On Saturday taking our guests (Verginie, Orla and Megan) for a tour of the New Forest I had to turn the car round. Instead of doing an elegant three point turn on the road I did a U-turn and the - so I thought - nice green verge turned out to be a shallow mud bath. Result: much wheel-spinning and a sense of humour failure on the distaff side.

After failed "sticks under the wheel" and "jack it up and put a carpet underneath" I / we gave up and called the AA. Just then a local Good Samaritan with a chunky four wheel drive and a tow rope came to our rescue and towed us out of the slime. In the country those kind of vehicles do make sense!

He did not look like he needed financial assistance to buy a beer (or a gin and tonic) so "How much do I owe you?" seemed inappropriate; instead I asked him to nominate a charity. His answer Wessex Heartbeat. So that is my evening's task, as a matter of honour, to pop a cheque in the post.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Lift like a goldfish

The lift in our block of flats has a memory like a goldfish. As soon as you press a second button it forgets about the first. No problem until two of you get in together and want different floors. You end up wandering down an identical corridor wondering "who moved my flat?".

Also have you the noticed the Judeo-Christian cultural bias in most lifts? The up arrows are illuminated in white for angelic heaven and the down arrows glower red for hellish damnation!

Someone should write to Otis and Schindler and complain: we want Politically Correct lifts. How about blue (sky) for up and green (grass) for down?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Gullible's Blog manifesto

This is my response to the Anonymous comment on Monday asking "Why are you writing a Blogg?".

According to the mostly tongue-in-cheek Why I Hate WebLogs I would count as a "Reverse Voyeur". So what started me blogging?

Intellectual curiosity:
• Because it was there. It came free with the excellent Google toolbar so I thought what the heck. Being an amateur webmaster for over seven years has taught me a lot about technology which I have enjoyed learning (no Geek comments please). This was another new thing to learn about.

• I am fascinated by the impact of technologies on the way people communicate, ever since CSC installed voicemail following the takeover of Inforem and transformed the way people interacted. Every medium (email, voicemail, mailing list, fax, usenet, answerphone, SMS) introduces new etiquette, new possibilities and pitfalls. And so what would Blogging be like I wondered?

Emotional necessity:
• A need to scribble on the sands of time, even if they are washed away by the next tide. This is driven by a new found sense of my own mortality. This was triggered just prior to the start of the Blog.

• Christmas day I said to Mary that we must visit Mick Casson an old family friend. Boxing day Dad rang to tell me Mick had died. The day after Mum told me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. New Year's eve Mary's father, Bill, died. First week of 2004 was Bill's funeral, second week was Mum's mastectomy. Hence the content of my first post: Life is too short to drink bad wine.

What kept me blogging?

Emotional plate spinning: More reminders of mortality: Mum's Aorto Bi-femoral Bypass, Mary's Gran died, Denise's funeral and the loss of Oscar.

Artistic leanings: Just wanting to write. Something I haven't done since O-Level English back in 1968, A long time to get rusty. Trying out different styles. The three paragraph, haiku-inspired postings. Just writing in a way that isn't in the boring work-style.

What I do not blog:

Political commentary: Cannot see the point of that. Go down the pub and bore your mates.
My work: Many interesting blogs are about interesting jobs. Mine, however much I enjoy it and find it challenging, would quiet frankly, my dear, be of little interest to others.
My inner emotional life:That ain't nobody's business but my own.

Mary says it is a bit self-indulgent but that leaves my life really and the world around me. Enjoy it or not not as you wish.

Toodle-pip!

Monday, December 06, 2004

A quiet Saturday night in

But with what wines!

We had Bron and Maggie round for a DP on Saturday and used it as an excuse to open some of our finest wines - Bron like Mary being something of a fellow oenophile. Never mind the food, this was the wine list:

• Reisling 1994, Domaine Zind Humbrecht, Clos Windsbuhl
• Bâtard-Montratchet 1982, Blaine-Gagnard
• Chateau Langoa Barton 1985
• Chateau Léoville-Poyferré 1982
• Vouvray Moelleux 1990, Le Haut-Lieu

Normally I prefer the reds but this was a particularly fine assembly of white wines. Having said that the food wasn't bad either and the left over pheasant bits did us for Sunday lunch and some wonderful stock for soup making.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

A pound of pauper

Well actually A Pound of PAPER by John Baxter but I keep misreading the cover. An entertaining autobiographical read about a bibliophile and obsessional "completist".

It seems to be mainly a guy thing this obsession about collecting and making lists. A bit like Nick Hornby's High Fidelity which I also thoroughly recommend as an insight into many a male psyche.

Mary is on a bit of a book buying jag at the moment and passing on the best ones, like "A pound of paper", for me to read. Another good recent recommendation was Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) elegantly themed around crosswords and their compilers. Given what I wrote about A mother's curse you might have guessed this would appeal and it did.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Turkey day in St Albans

Last night I left work with JP to visit their home in St Albans where his lovely wife Andrea had prepared us a traditional Thanksgiving meal. She is American so I was looking forward to the authentic item. And it was. Enough turkey to feed a coach party, cranberry sauce, gravy, potatoes gratin, broccoli, sweet potatoes with a delicious sugar and pecan goo on top and sprouts boiled to mush. Andrea is a good cook but she's still working on the veg. And to follow, Mom's Apple Pie.

The entertaining thing was the Table Turkeys - apples impaled with cocktail stick kebabs of mini-marshmallows and assorted jelly sweets to create the artistic likeness of turkeys. Godson Julian was on good form and little Charlotte was not far behind. Julian proudly informed me "I made this one!" pointing to a slightly wonky turkey. Bless! I think Mummy had a hand in the others.

The journey home I had not been looking forward to (I need to catch up on my sleep) but the other guest, Di, gave a lift to the station and all the connections went well: St Albans platform to Wandsworth Town flat in 59 minutes - amazing.

Thank you John and Andrea for an excellent evening.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

A small blog meet in London town

So there were just the four of us that turned up at the Bell, Book and Candle last night. Me, Tom, Andrew and Helene (the last being blocked by the company firewall, I wonder why?).

To quote a reviewer on the Beer in The Evening site: "Unique kitsch gothic pub in the heart of the city. Makes a drastic change from drinking in bars which look rather like ikea. " Rather like the all-bar-one next door, couldn't have put it better myself.

It was slightly strange meeting strangers, I was unsure of the etiquette for such events, what does one talk about? I presume one's blog and the others blogs are OK but how deeply does one probe for motives or reveal of one's own.

It contrasted with my previous web meetings off the Marc Bolan mailing list where we had conversed for so long we already knew each other well but just had not happened to be at the same locus in the time-space continuum.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Watching the detectives

As we entered LK Bennett (shoe shop) in Glasgow a woman dressed in black, posted by the door, greeted us with a "Hello". She likewise did a "Goodbye" to customers as they left.

Now maybe that was her job, to stand there all day saying hello and goodbye but I assume she had a secondary role as store detective. If some someone did a runner then, I guess, she would chase after them.

However given the nature of the merchandise the miscreants are not likely to do a four minute mile in kitten heels. Bit of a cushy job then.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

One girl short of a quartet

The course in Glasgow went well, even I felt so, and normally I am (too) hard on myself. So with that out the way it was back to the hotel where Mary had already arrived from Dublin and was relaxing in the bath. It was a couple of glasses of room service champagne to relax with until it was time to get dressed and go down to the bar to await the arrival of two more of "The Girls".

The four "Girls" were all at Uni together and two of them still live in the Glasgow area. So we took the opportunity to meet up with Christine and Geraldine along with G's other half Alisdair and go out for a meal at Smiths in Merchant City.

Alisdair was looking very dapper in his hat, like a scaled down version of Van "the Man" Morrison. We ate, we drank, we chatted and the evening sped by. It was after midnight by the time Christine's taxi arrived at the restaurant, then a stroll back to the hotel for a last glass of champagne - because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

It was a pleasure just to sit and linger and chat to my wife. It was gone 2am by the time we staggered up to bed. Fortunately we had nowhere to rush in the morning so it was a leisurely start to the day - pass me the aspirin.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Congratulations to Natalie Bizgirl

A regular read on my blogroll is bizgirl - international librarian of mystery - who, last week, won the Netguide best personal blog award.

Well done "Natalie". More on the story at The NZ Herald.

Four beds in four nights

It has been a hectic four days of rushing about. Starting from Sunday it was: Malahide, Ireland; Wandsworth, London; Ibsley, Hampshire; Glasgow, Scotland. Though not worth getting the tour T-shirt printed.

It is a challenge making sure I have remembered to transfer all the right clothes, toiletries, work stuff and assorted artefacts back and forth like a domestic Tower of Hanoi or more like the puzzle about the farmer who has to cross the river with a fox, a chicken and some corn. It stretches my vestigial organising abilities to the limit.

Now I get two more nights in the same place before it is off to Mary's Mum's and then back to sunny Wandsworth. So now time for a gentle stroll back to the Millenium hotel, Glasgow, a drink, a meal and a relax.

Monday, November 15, 2004

In Dublin's fair city

Well actually Malahide where Mary rents a flat in the marina village.

Flew off to Dublin straight from work Friday. A quiet evening in on Friday then on Saturday it was off to see Ireland versus South Africa at Lansdowne Road. An excellent match even for someone like me who has only the most rudimentary grasp of the rules. We invested in a "Ref Radio" which was money well spent; overhearing the ref's rulings and instructions helped us to better grasp what was going on out on the pitch.

Sunday it was a walk along the coast to the Martello tower and back. Then preparation for a small dinner party with Orla and Megan. We did a proper Cajun gumbo followed by New Orleans bread pudding. Then an early night ready for the dawn raid on DUB and back to LHR.

Friday, November 12, 2004

It only takes one glass of wine to get me drunk

It's usually the eighth.

The reason behind the Thursday content and no usual Wednesday blog was that I went home to Hampshire to pick up some stuff for this weekend's trip to Dublin after a busy day at work.

It was so cold with the heating turned down that I decided to go for the first mulled wine of the year. I do this the easy way: a spice sachet and a spoonful of sugar in a Pyrex bowl, chuck in the wine and zap for 2 minutes in the microwave. It was so delicious I had to have another with my meal. By which time there was only a third of a bottle left so I thought, "What the heck!" and finished off the bottle.

Then there was that last little glass of dessert wine in the fridge left over from the weekend to have with my dessert. So when the alarm went off at 5:15 Thursday morning I was not really ready for my day. Still it was my own foolish fault.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

This must be Thursday

I never could get the hang of Thursdays *

Two drunks outside White City stadium:
First drunk - Isn't that Wembley?
Second drunk - No, its Thursday
First drunk - So am I, lets get a drink.

* Douglas Adams

Monday, November 08, 2004

Gecko, gecko

Gecko sits and watches all from perches short and tall *

As well as snakes at the Hovel-In-The-Hills™ there are lots of Geckos:

Unlike the Leopard Snake which I now know to be harmless, these cute little chaps are much more appealing. I am indebted to Paulo at "Amphibians and Reptiles of Europe" (http://www.herp.it/) for confirming that they are in fact Turkish Geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus).

*Gecko by The Creatures

Friday, November 05, 2004

Bill Posters Will Be Band

One of the joys of working in London is the recapture of a social life Monday to Thursday instead of room service meals and CNN on the TV.

Tuesday I popped down to Farnham on the train to spend the evening with Mum and Dad who seemed on excellent form. Mum's Aorto-Bi-Femoral Bypass and Dad's double hernia (I spared you that one) seem to be things of the past and they have bounced back well.

Mum produced a pack of letters I wrote to them when I was in college in 71/74 as part of clearing out their lives. A quick glance show them to be less Oscar Wilde and more Nigel Molesworth.

Last night it was the train again to Putney to visit brother Ian for an Thai meal and an evening of entertainment from Bill Posters Will Be Band at The Bull's Head. They were as droll as when I saw them back in February.

The funniest part was when Richard White did a "Incompetent Ventriloquist" skit. It is the first time I have seen a dummy give his handler a Glasgow Kiss.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

I've got a bike, you can ride it if you like

At the weekend I brought my "proper" bike up to London and on Monday knocked 10 minutes off the commute to work (down to 31 minutes for the 6.5 miles). That bike saddle and my bum have done more than 10,000 miles (16,000 km) together; it fits like, erm, hand in glove. But it is hard to say whether the saddle has moulded to me or the other way round.

This morning I was behind a woman who struggled to take off from the lights when they changed. The reason for this was that she had her mountain bike in top gear. That is true of most men as well, that was not a gender specific comment.

Firstly, I do not remember seeing any mountains on my route along the Thames. These bikes are the pedal-powered equivalent of SUV's.

Secondly, why pay good money for all those gears and not use them? You wouldn't drive your car everywhere in fourth gear, would you, so why do it with a bike?

* Bike by Pink Floyd

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Fine and rare wine dinner

So in the end we decided to stick with the original Saturday night plan. As well as mourning the loss of Oscar we also wanted to remember all the joy he had brought us, to celebrate his past and our future.

We take it in turns to organise surprise weekends away for our wedding anniversary. This year it had been my turn but Mary had spotted a Berry Bros and Rudd fine and rare wine dinner that happened to fall on the actual anniversary which also happened to be a Saturday. Held at their ancient premises in St James Street the menu was as follows:

1983 Champagne Le Mesnil (en magnum)

Welcome from Simon Berry, Deupty Chairman

1998 Criots-Batard-Montrachet, Grand Cru, Domaine Roger Belland

Skewer of swordfish, monkfish and tuna with a creamy mushroom sauce

1978 Chateau Palmer / 1971 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (en magnum)

Fillet of venison with wild mushroom sauce on garlic mash, selection of fresh seasonal vegetables

1996 Chateau Climens

Hot rhubarb souffle with homemade vanilla ice-cream

1958 Quinta do Noval Nacional

Selection of cheese and biscuits, Berrys' selected coffee and dinner mints


An extravagance but what heck.

Monday, November 01, 2004

The saddest news about Oscar

This is really Friday's post but in truth one I would not have expected to write for several years. Sitting in the lounge at Zurich airport on Thursday evening I got a call from Mike who feeds our cats while we are away. He had arrived to find Oscar collapsed and ran him straight round to the vets. Ten minute later the vet returned my call to break the news that Oscar had a blocked urinary tract. The back pressure messes up the kidneys and the whole body electrolytes, he was very unwell. They gave him an anaesthetic in order to catheterise him but too late. A couple of minutes later and he was dead; no easy way to say it. I shall miss him dreadfully.

All night I was in shock. It was not until I broke the news to Mary early Friday morning that I broke down. He was my favorite of all the cats we have had. By a long way. He was the world's friendliest cat with a large fan club. Everyone who met him fell in love with him; who could not? We always said if he went missing we would have a huge list of suspects.

We changed our plans and went home Friday night. We had been planning a full weekend in London to celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary. Instead we had a quiet evening at home, then went to collect Oscar on Saturday morning using the same wooden Louis Latour box that we had used for his chum Oliver. We buried him at the top of the garden next to Oliver wrapped in an Egyptian cotton shawl that Mary bought on our honeymoon, along with a catnip Christmas sock that had been well slobbered on. I may not believe in an afterlife but it seemed the right thing to do.

Why was he such a lovable cat? Well all cats are characters but Oscar was a prince amongst cats and I loved him to bits. He brought both of us so much joy. When I was with him I would laugh a dozen times a day. His traits included:
• He loved crisps. He would tap you on the arm with a paw if you were eating some, but only full-fat crisps.
• Ditto chocolate.
• When you took your shoes off he would go and lie on them, usually with a paw down one.
• Boxes would be jumped into within seconds (but that he shared with most cats).
• Walking down the garden he would overtake you, stop and fall over to have his tummy tickled. If you kept walking he would do it all over again.
• He changed the way I dry myself getting out of the shower. I used to start at the top and work down but Oscar would wrap himself round my still wet legs and I would end up with damp fur round the ankles. Now I do my shins and calves first.
• He loved to be cradled like a babe in arms. This is not just me picking him up that way, the nurses at the vet's discovered this independently when he was last in overnight.

And that is how I last held him when I said farewell. It still hardly seems real.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

A Christian President - No thanks

Being in the apartment in Zurich with the only English language options being CNN and BBC World I am getting more coverage of the US elections than I really want. One thing that really worried me was the review of the last mano-a-mano debate in which both candidates were, apparently, keen to establish their Christian credentials. Oh dear. Let me explain.

I had a sheltered childhood, I grew up thinking that Christianity had more or less died out. Apart from christenings, weddings and funerals I have been to church exactly once in my life and that was aged ten when taken by my Gran. I thought that church going was the purview of little old ladies and Christianity would die out as they did. The aforementioned rites and ceremonies I thought were Victorian atavisms carried out on of tradition and the need for rituals in our life, not from belief.

My Mother brought me up thinking that belief in a conventional deity in an established church was a form of mental illness. I am not so extreme but religion does seem to have a lot to do with screwed up attitudes toward sex. The Catholic sense of sin has, I am sure, not helped many of their parishioners and the Anglican church seems torn between homophobia and fondling small boys. Sharia law also seems to have a lot to do with taking the joy out of life.

So it came a a shock later in life to discover that there still a number of believers out there. I want politicians who are able to compromise, admit they may be wrong and negotiate a middle way. Hard to do if you are religiously certain, convinced of being in the right and righteous. In the words of Carol King, "You can't talk to a man with a shotgun in his hand" *

I think I will stick with a vaguely spiritual view of the connectedness of all life and a morality based on the golden rule.

*Smackwater Jack

Monday, October 25, 2004

Go wild in the country

where snakes in the grass are absolutely free *

While tidying up the pizza oven at our Hovel-in-the-Hills™ I heard a thump and was surprised to see a slightly stunned snake which had obviously just fallen off the roof gutter:

It started to head towards the house and did not seem interested in being stampeded away so I got a long stick and gently relocated it to the other side of the strada bianca and over the wall.

Subsequent googling shows it to be a Zamenis situla or Leopard Snake. But none of the sites tell me whether it is dangerous or not although one site said the Greeks regard it as a good omen because it keeps the rodent population down. Time to learn a little herpes identification, methinks.

* Go wild in the country by Bow Wow Wow.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Kate and Ian's 10th wedding anniversary

Yesterday Kate and Ian kindly invited Mary and I and Bob&Lynn to join them for a meal to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. They were staying at the beautiful Howards House Hotel in Teffont Evias, Wiltshire where they had spent their wedding night. Bob kindly volunteered to drive which meant Lynn and I could do justice to the wine list.

The hotel is very cute and romantic and mostly peopled by couples. The restaurant was excellent, I went for the Table D'Hote which was v. tasty:
• a veloute of coconut milk and butternut squash with chickpea
• shoulder and rump of lamb on a garlicky puree
• cinnamon pannacotta with a plum compote
I wouldn't have been able to remember exactly what I had as the alcohol was affecting my memory but B&L just popped round to dig up one of our surplus shrubs and filled in the lacunae.

Ironic that Mary should not be able to attend as she had been Ian's Best Man. Yes I know it is unusual for a woman to be a best man but Mary is an unusual woman; extraordinary is how I described her at our wedding. She felt greatly honoured to be asked and gave an excellent Best Man's speech, introducing us to "Jenkinson's Syndrome" where the hands are so hot that the wine evaporates rapidly. Ian is a big lad and a glass (of wine or beer) generally doesn't last long.

And slept all the way home...

Saturday, October 23, 2004

CSC alumni meet in All-Bar-One

A select band of CSC alumni met in All-Bar-One, Waterloo last night. There was me, Tony Korn, Simon Hargrave, Anthony Bodle, Chris Howard, Peter Gray and John Warren. There were apologies from David Pelta, John Patient, Rob Heyfron, David Martin, Carolyn MacDowell and Anne Carter.

We managed to get a table which was a miracle given how packed it was. I am inclined to agree with a number of reviews I have read on the All-Bar-One chain. Too packed, noisy, smokey and soulless. The first one I encountered was the All Bar One, Cambridge Circus with Mary after work when her company was based in Shaftsbury Avenue. That one was OK but not so the others; I think we need to investigate alternative venues for the next gathering.

Of course it is the company that counts. It was good to see the old familiar faces and catch up on the news. I stayed for a couple of hours then headed for the 20:30 to Southampton airport parkway, supper was a caffe latte and a ham&cheese bagette from the concourse and I was home by 23:00.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Vegetarian dining in Zurich

Did I mention that I was in Zurich and Mary is in Malta? She has gone for a week's holiday with her sister and mother, nominally to celebrate Sandra's fortieth birthday but really to get May out and relaxing. They are staying in Sliema at the Fortina Spa hotel getting thalassotherapy treatments.

It so happened that an ex-colleague is also working in Zurich so we met up last night for a meal in Europe's oldest vegetarian restaurant, The Hiltl. An excellent, high-buzz atmosphere. The food was fine but not spectacular with the hot dishes having a mainly Indian flavour, the salads were - well - salads. London has a number of excellent Indian vegetarian restaurants but none with the atmosphere or high-tech and efficient service of this place nor such a reasonable wine list.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Daniele, our architect

This our Daniele, our architect, as we did a tour of inspection last Monday to discuss options for the works. We are pleased to have found him (by recommendation from D'Amico). He is local to the area, speaks English and shares our desire to do the work sympathetically to the style of the building and using authentic materials where possible.
Daniele inspects the interior Daniele ponders

Monday, October 18, 2004

Mushroom hunting in the New Forest

Saturday we went on a most excellent tutored mushroom foray with Peter Jordan and his wife Val. We came back with an great haul of edible fungi: several Ceps (aka Penny Bun aka Porcini), Brown Birch Bolete, Red Cracked Bolete, Amethyst Deceiver, my first ever Chantarelle, and a heap of Hedgehog.

That evening we had Peter and Val round for supper and there were no mushrooms on the menu. However Sunday breakfast was fried mushrooms on ciabatta, lunchtime was mushroom and spinach soup and there were mushrooms in the beef in Barolo.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Speak ill of the dead

Why is it that tragically prematurely deceased people are described as "bubbly" and "fun-loving", if female, or "out-going" and "sociable", if male. In the statistical run of things surely some of them should be described as "He was a miserable old git" or "She was a bitchy cow".

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Figs from our garden


We have twelve olive trees, four fig trees, one pomegranate and a couple of as-yet-unidentified trees. These fruits were picked on Sunday and the black figs were absolutely ripened to perfection, juicy and sweet. Enough to make me change my mind about figs.

An intensely normal evening

Last night I spent several hours with Martin Haswell, an old friend from KGS. Considering we have met once in the intervening 25 years (and that was earlier this year) we had an amazing amount to talk about.

Staggering out of the wine-bar, three hours and one bottle of wine (each) later, I went to the local bus-stop as the Waterloo and City line was well closed. Sitting upstairs on a double decker bus is one of the great treats in life, a simple pleasure, I loved it as a kid and I still do.

On the train back to Wandsworth Town there was one of those people who try to take up more than their fair share of seat space. Sometimes, out of sheer cussedness, I say "Is this seat free?", give them a cheery grin and try and sit on their bag before they can whip it out of the way - that'll teach the b*gg*rs.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

A glass of locorotondo bianco

So at last it has come to pass. We flew down to Puglia on Saturday to pick up the keys to the Hovel in the Hills ™ from D'Amico. Then it was straight down to the property to drink a glass of the local white wine on the roof. It may have been ambient temperature and it may have been out of paper party cups but it was on the roof of our very own future home. There was something magical about watching the sun dip down below the horizon across the quiet valley still cloaked in almost primeval forest.

Sunday was spent clearing the previous owner's junk from the property and the brambles from the pizza oven. Then on Monday it was some time on the beach followed by a meeting with Daniele, our architect. We have finally resolved the puzzle of the Lamia. Two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom using the available walls and doors to everyone's satisfaction.

Finally, on Tuesday, back to LGW for a parting of the ways. Me back to Avon Cottage, Mary back to DUB. An all-to-brief night's sleep then back to the big city, the Great Wen, for a day of electron rearrangement.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Four sigma and falling

For those of you who did not get the reference Six Sigma is a quality management program aiming at fewer than 3.4 defects in one million. Going through a pedestrian crossing red light is an integrity defect, I have fallen short of my own standards.

Today I tried cycling along the embankment. There were a number of other cyclists doing the same but it did not feel right, it is for pedestrians. I will not be doing that again. It is roads and cycle paths for me. But I am not sure that will go any way towards achieving six sigma integrity

On the up side you get views you do not see on a commuter train. Cycling over Southwark Bridge this morning I got a wonderful view of the sunrise over Tower Bridge.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Six-sigma integrity

I must confess to letting my standards slip regarding stopping at red lights. Of course still at road junctions and still at pedestrian crossings when there are people crossing. However I did let my conscience off the hook this morning and went through a deserted, junction-free, pedestrian-free crossing on "taxi driver orange".

BTW that unmarked golf was there again this morning in a hurry along the south side of the river from Lambeth Palace to Waterloo. I cannot speak for the allure of its contents as all I saw was its hatchback disappearing into the distance.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Unmarked police persons

In Ringwood (Hampshire, UK) I don't think I've seen an unmarked police car in ten years of living there. On the M3 up to London I would see, say, one a month - usually Volvos or BMWs.

Here in the big city I see them almost daily, sometimes several in high speed convoy all with the sirens going and the cunningly concealed lights flashing. Mostly dark blue and dark green Vauxhalls, although I did see an MPV the other week (I think it was a Xsara).

Yesterday I saw a novelty, an unmarked Golf burning along Southwark street at speed. The disguise further enhanced by the cunning ploy of putting an attractive female police person in a white polo neck behind the wheel. Had they been in normal cruise mode they would have been indistinguishable from any other happy DINKY couple.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Gullible's travel tips

As a frequent-flier I thought I would pass on my top travel tips:

  • Travel hand luggage only. Its the only way to fly. SWMBO would endorse this one.

  • And make sure it can fit under the seat. This is a personal one. <FLAME ON>I hate trying to wrestle my small bag into the overhead lockers along with the steamer trunks on wheels brought on board by those anti-social passengers taking the p**s. If I had my way I would strictly enforce the hand luggage limit and make them check the b****y things into the hold.<FLAME OFF>.

  • Buy shirts with breast pockets. So you can put your passport and boarding card in there, conveniently at hand at all times.

  • Join every frequent-flier program going. We get a free flight to Italy every other year. Since switching to the Amex/BA credit card we also got two free return business flight to Australia and have enough to do the same to California next year.

  • Use e-tickets. Together with hand luggage means you can self-service check-in in less than 60 seconds rather than stand in the queue for half an hour.

  • Warm your butter on the hot breakfast. If you are on an early morning flight the solid block of icy butter will destroy the flabby bread roll. As soon as breakfast is delivered pop the butter on the foil lid while you drink the orange juice.

  • Buy one of those inflatable neck pillows. Especially for long haul. Use that for your neck and use the airline's pillow to stuff behind the small of your back as lumbar support.

  • Pack tea bags. Liptons Yellow Label is available all over the European continent and US of A and makes a rubbish cup of tea. Take a stash of decent industrial strength tea bags.

  • Write your date of birth on line two. Travelling to the US as a British citizen I fill in the green Visa Waiver form. Cunningly designed to fool you into writing your date of birth on the first line. Don't do it! DOB goes on the second line. It took me about four trips and many torn up forms before I learned.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Scaryduck: s**tfaced. LOL

Do not read this in the office unless you want to choke trying to stifle the laughing.
Scaryduck: Not Scary. Not A Duck.

Moderation in all things

That, of course, includes moderation itself. So this weekend was a bit too much of our corporate mission "To eat, drink and have a good time".

Saturday night we tried out the new Italian restaurant in the Marketplace (Prezzo) with usual suspects Bob&Lynn. The consensus view was "All right but lacking a certain inspiration and not as good as Al Trullo at the other end of town". Three bottles of wine with the meal then, as the night was yet young, across the road to The Star Inn for a night cap which consisted of two more bottles of wine.

Then last night (Sunday) we went with B&L and Barry&Sue to the Hotel du Vin - Winchester for their 10th Anniversary Celebrations. Basically it was organised like a wine fair but with food. But what food, what wine! The main marquee on the lawn had maybe 30 whites and 30 reds to chose from and three food tables (meat, fish and veggie). So you could graze and drink at will which we did. One thing I do remember is deciding that the Chilean Gewurtztraminer was a better match for the smoked halibut than the Hugel (Alsace) Reisling.

Pass the aspirin please.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Berserk cycling (continued)

The connection is the word "sark". The story of Cutty Sark as popularised by Robert Burns introduces us to the words "cutty sark" which is Scottish for "short shirt". The same sark word appears in the origin of berserk from "bera serkr" a "bear shirt" i.e. a shirt made of furry bear pelt.

However an alternative (and possibly spurious) etymology recounted to me by a mycologist was that berserk had its origins in bare [sic] shirt. His theory was that the Norse warriors were so hopped up on Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) that they went into battle bare-chested. And that is how I used to cycle.

In order to arrive at work cool and un-sweaty I would cycle bare-chested the 9.25 miles from South Wimbledon to Devonshire Square, using the wind chill factor to lose the excess heat being generated.

I used to listen to the weather on the radio and if is was above 11°C (52°F) I would cycle bare-chested. If it was below, I would don a T-shirt to keep me comfortable until I warmed up. That was usually the first mile; I would stop at Colliers Wood, strip off and continue my merry way - berserk.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Berserk cycling

Catching up here. It was a busy weekend (again!). We brought May and Jane up to London on Saturday for a flight on The London Eye followed by lunch at the Slug and Lettuce and a river cruise. Then we left them to their own devices and a fish supper from Bradys while Mary and I went to Paul's 50th birthday party on the Cutty Sark - a pretty cool venue for a birthday party.

Sunday morning back down to the New Forest, lunch and an afternoon trip to Lulworth Cove. Then back to Ringwood for supper at Al Trullo and an early night. Then up at 05:30am Monday to deliver Mary to Southampton airport for Dublin and into work in London for me.

Why the title - you'll have to wait till tomorrow for part 2.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Like a salmon I swim upstream

from Bank to Upper Thames Street. Plunging into the tide of humanity that pours out of Cannon Street. I weave flick and weave my way through the stream of commuters to land flopping on the far pavement.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Break out the Cristal

For the Hovel-In-The-Hills ™ is finally ours. The sale went though on Friday with Senor D'amico attending the Tribual in front of the judge, with notary, lawyer, and bank representatives in attendance. There could only be one drink for Friday night: the 1994 1993 [correction: I did a bottle bank run Saturday only to discover it was the slightly lesser 1993 vintage] Roederer Cristal.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Red light, green light

speedin' through the dark night *

It amazes me how many cyclists go thorough red lights; like being muscle powered somehow makes them exempt from the laws of the land. It is a PITA stopping at junctions and pedestrian crossings but IHMO it is both legal and sensible. If they get knocked over by a car because they went through a red light they would not get much sympathy from me.

* Gotta see Jane by Golden Earring (although I wanted it to be R Dean Taylor).

Thursday, September 23, 2004

And a trifle uncool

For the last two mornings the upstairs neighbours have woken me up around 4:15 am. They can't help it our lives share the void that is the space between floorboard and ceiling. So I had no excuse about having time to get ready and cycle in to work. Seeing as how it is Mary's little folding bike and I am not - yet - at my greyhound racing weight lots of people whizzed by on serious looking machines. I was a little sweaty by the time I got to work but fortunately there are showers there so no danger of me being whifftacular.

At lunchtime I popped down to E.W.Evans in the city to buy a fluorescent jacket, and some lights. The boys and their toys were there with some serious dude bikes on display. The assistant was kind enough not to sneer at mine; it was definately a little uncool.

I popped back after work to treat myself to a new helmet as the current one was v. ancient and the technology has moved on no end. I am very gung-ho about wearing a helmet. It protects my skull which protects my brain, of which I am fond. As Woody Allen said in Sleepers when they told him he was going to have his brain "electronically simplified" he replied "My brain - it's my second favorite organ"

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Echo Beach

The job is very boring, I'm an office clerk *

My regular readers (both of them) will have noticed that, unlike many other bloggers, I mention almost nothing about the actual work I do. There was a time when I worked for a client that manufactured things that went very fast and made a loud noise but if I told you about that I'd have to kill you <joke>.

Now I work on a large project populated by consultants in gray suits. Intelligent, hard working professionals all but the work is, dare I suggest, not intuitively, directly relevant to most people (if only they knew but that is a longer tale). If you really want to know here is a clue.

What I really am is a "Knowledge worker". Since reading Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte I now realise that what I actually do is rearrange electrons for a living. Sometimes I rearrange them in the computer by slick use of Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V; sometimes I rearrange them in people heads by running training courses. The latter is of more value and longer lasting worth.

* Echo Beach by Martha & The Muffins

Monday, September 20, 2004

You say it's your birthday

It's my birthday too, yeah. *

Today is my 52nd birthday. I am spending today at home as this week was always planned as holiday. As it turns out we are not going to Italy because - once again - the Italians have failed to deliver. The completion on our purchase of the Hovel-in-the-Hills™ has not gone ahead today as previously confirmed in writing. So we have rescheduled our flights and we shall return to work tomorrow.

May (Mary's mum) and Jane (May's friend) are down for nearly two weeks a) for a holiday and b) to house- and cat-sit. I spent the weekend helping May prepare 16 pounds (7.5 kilo) of quince jelly from the quince tree in our garden that Mum and Dad bought Mary as a present. Also installing six posts with the aid of a post-hole auger and five bags of cement to refurbish our collapsing trelliswork. What an exciting life we lead.

Mum and Dad came down from Farnham to join us for lunch which was nice. That's all folks!

* Birthday by The Beatles

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Purple wizards

Denise's funeral was a Humanist funeral gracefully led by an officiant from the British Humanist Society. Instead of any religious symbols up at the front there was a three foot floral tribute made of purple flowers in the shape of a wizard with a pointy purple hat.

There were readings from friends celebrating Denise's life in which her loyalty and friendship, love of teaching, organisational abilities, unswerving beliefs and attachment to Lord of the Rings, all things wizardly and the colour purple were recurrent themes. It was a moving and dignified service.

Then back to Denise's flat with her parents, sister and friends for sandwiches and tea or wine. Most poignant was the presence on a side table of her birthday cake made to celebrate what would have been her birthday this week. It was, of course, covered in purple icing with a little wizard figurine on top. How very Denise.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Three toasts and a prayer

One advantage of being a frequent flier is that I had enough airmiles to fly myself back from Zurich for the funeral, for free, in business class. That meant complementary drinks and the usual toast of absent friends only on this occasion times three:

* Oliver. It was not exactly Kir royale in memory of dead cat. I am not sure it was even champagne, and it had certainly lost some of its sparkle having, I suspect, just done the inbound flight from LHR. But it served the purpose.

* Denise Dorothy Shave. Well she certainly kept the "Dorothy" quiet. This time with an Argentinean Malbec. Ironic to toast a woman who for most of the time I knew her was tee-total. What she must of made of us lot as we got more uproarious as the evenings progressed.

* Bill (William Galashan). Since they offered a digestive I thought it only right to toast the memory of Mary's dad with a single malt, although he preferred Famous Grouse. I cut it with just a splash of water as instructed by Craig on our visit to Elgin.

Like Lord Lundy in his early years I am far too freely moved to tears. What the cabin staff made of this business man with tears gently trickling down his cheeks I do not know but I cannot be doing with this macho, big boys don't cry rubbish. Anyway less like crying more like watering eyes.

When I got to Golders Green Crematorium I visited the spot where Marc Bolan's ashes are scattered and, as I promised I would, said a word for the soul of Gerry's dad (Gerry is a cyber-chum from the Till Dawn mailing list).

The funeral itself I think I shall speak of later but it was fine.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Funeral on Wednesday

Bill called at the weekend and informed me that X had indeed gone back to stay with her parents where her condition declined and she died last Tuesday. The humanist funeral is this Wednesday at Golders Green Crematorium. I will fly back from Zurich to attend.

It will be strange, she is the first contemporary of mine to die, she is only a year older than me. We met a quarter of a century (half a life-time) ago though mutual friends who were all at college together. I could not claim we were close friends but in those early, heady years in London we were all part of a crowd who would gather at the slightest pretext: birthdays, film and theatre outings, dinner parties, holidays. I would meet her regularly and she was a woman of character best known for her hippy-like devotion to purple and horizontal stripes. She was also a teacher in inner city London - a vocation which requires real dedication.

I went to her 50th birthday party and she declined to come to mine because it was black tie and she did not feel comfortable "dressing up" in a cocktail dress. I did not take offence it was her being true to herself in a way that I can only admire. It was the same when she went for promotional interviews. She would wear exactly the same style of clothes as she wore every other day: to dress up in a business suit would be false.

She will be missed.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Frivolity and lack of character

It has been a couple of evenings of "networking" aka drinking. Tuesday it was Tony and his virtual consultancy Euro Business Management. Including an old friend, Anthony who's wife Louise has started her own business teaching Courses in study skills for 14 - 18 year olds. Good luck, Louise.

Yesterday it was some old ex-colleagues from my BIS Applied Systems days, Glen and Nigel. Later joined by David (on this project) and John (soon to be on this project). I was bemoaning the stultifyingly boring dress code for professionals in the city. Grey suits and more grey suits and occasionally a dark blue suit - dull, dull, dull. I feel like a city droid.

Many, many years ago, when I was young and dinosaurs still roamed the earth, I worked for a company (well Coopers & Lybrand actually) whose consultant's guidelines included the classic quote "The consultant's attire should not be so conservative as to make the client think them staid or fuddy-duddy nor should it be so flamboyant as to make them appear frivolous or lacking in character".

Roll on frivolity, I say!

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Like a fish needs a bicycle

Yesterday I cycled to work - 6½ miles from Wandsworth to Cannon Street. More like a trial run to test out the route. It is over 20 years since I cycled to work on a regular basis; I used to cycle the 9¼ miles from South Wimbledon to Devonshire Square. I would buy a quarterly season to last me from New Year until April Fool's day (how appropriate). Then cycled 92½ miles per week all through the summer and autumn until the Christmas party season kicked in. Then it was back to the Northern Line until the next year. I did that for three years. And you should have felt my thighs!

Now I have a 12 month contract in London I plan to resurrect the cycling regimen. They have a shower at work so now all I need to do is establish a stash of toiletries and clothes in the office and I am all set for my return from my travels in a couple of weeks time.

I could never see the attraction of sport but this is exercise with a purpose, it gets me to work and home again. I get fit and save money - double result!

* Origin of the phrase "Like a fish needs a bicycle"

Every weekend a holiday

Well this weekend felt like one: a very excellent way to spend a Sunday, relaxing and free from "To Do" lists. We walked from Wandsworth to Wimbledon, along the River Wandle as far as possible, to deliver a six nations' rugby shirt to Alex, Mary's godson.

Then caught the bus to Kingston-on-Thames for a tiny bit of shopping followed by lunch at Carluccio's. Having red wine at lunchtime really makes me feel like I am on holiday. Normally I do not drink at lunchtime because all I am fit for is a siesta; evening is a different matter <g>.

Then a delightful stroll along the side of the Thames to Hampton Court Palace followed by a boat trip back to K-O-T to save our weary legs.

A taxi back to Wandsworth for supper at out local "canteen" Konnigans then put Mary into another taxi for LHR and the last flight to Dublin. Bit of a downside that last but better than the horribly early Monday morning flight.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Elliptical balls

I had a long time penny-drop about assumptions over this weekend. Watching rugby at Twickers this weekend at a double header (London Irish v Harlequins and Saracens v London Wasps) with us usual suspects M&M and R&L. Bob is very patient at explaining the rules to me as basically I haven't a clue. This despite playing Rugby at school for several years.

They never explained the rules, never had any "theory" classes. It now occurs to me that the P.E. teacher assumed we knew the rules. My dad knows nothing about sport and cared less. I grew up knowing nothing about any sport and, I have to confess, do not worry about that either. And of course why would they need to explain the rules as everybody knows them.

I didn't, I hadn't a clue. All I had worked out, empirically, was that it was a contact sport and if somebody passed you the ball others tried to knock you over and rub you in the mud. So I reckoned that the best plan was to get shot of the ball as fast as possible.

Now some people had rejection problems when they were not chosen for the team. We had 33 boys in my year which meant two times fifteen and three rejects. Me, I was praying don't pick me, don't pick me. I was happy to be left with the geeky nerd in bottle glasses and the fat wheezy kid. I spent years practicing looking round shouldered and consumptive. Tough when you have the physique of a Greek God <cough, splutter>.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Origins of Gullible

The etymological origin can be found at a past Random House Word of the Day.

It is not that I am gullible it is just that I suffer from a congenital defect - I was born without a in-built bulls**t detector. So if anyone tells me something my first instinct is to believe them; I assume people tell the truth.

It was brought home to me many years ago in the White Horse in Oxford. Vince came back from the bar with a wine glass full of brown liquid with a head on it. "What's that?" I enquired, "A quarter of Bitter." he responded. In amazement I exclaimed "I didn't know they sold beer in quarters!" and wondered why my friends were laughing.

*Barley wine, in case you were wondering.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Furry monsters

Cats love company, well ours do anyway. We have been concerned for their welfare as we have been working away from home a lot. OK, they get twice daily visits from the cat feeder and entertainer Mike (or sometimes his son, Matthew) and they see us at weekends but even so it really isn't fair on them. Even more so as they have to be kept indoors and apart. Oscar is a softy with humans but very territorial with cats, both the neighbours' cats and our other cat Cleo.
Oscar the blue and white Persian Cleopatra, domestic longhair

We were even looking at re-homing them which would have grieved me deeply as they are surrogate children, Oscar especially. Now with Mary in Dublin full-time and me in London full-time we have decided to relocate them to the flat in London for two weeks as an experiment. They will just have to fight it out and come to an uneasy truce.

Despite spending entire evenings with me for company they still want more and, finding the bedroom door shut, Cleo scrabbles at the laminate flooring at 3am and Oscar shouts at 5am. I can see why sleep deprivation is such an effective technique for breaking people resistance.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Sibling dining

As luck would have it I took a leaf out of my own book yesterday and went out with both siblings Jane and Ian for an meal at our local Italian, Al Ponte (a restaurant with zero web footprint). Accompanied by Ian's eldest, Lorenzo, and Jane's eldest two, Ben and Chris.

Al Ponte is a possible venue for Mary's 50th next year if we can cut a deal. The food is not a problem, their menu is excellent and nary a pizza in sight. More at issue is whether they will charge an acceptable corkage. We have some excellent Italian wine we would like to present. When I say "we" I, of course, mean MMG aka SWMBO. Mary is OIC fine wines.

So we had a fine evening. I enjoy socialising with my siblings as much as I do with our parents. The nephews are good value too. Is it just me or is this not a "Good Thing"?

Monday, August 30, 2004

Spend time with your family

Something of a leitmotif that phrase, this year.

It was a good thing that Mary went to visit her Mum and Gran last week weekend. Her Gran passed away on Tuesday and we went to Scotland for the funeral on Saturday. A bereavement is always a sad occasion but given Gran Martin's condition it was not unexpected.

On the other hand I learned from Bill this week that X has been advised to go home and spend time with her family. I have known X a quarter of a century. She is only a couple of years older than me and her birthday a few days after mine. When I first came to London way back in 1978 she was one of the "usual suspects" whenever a social outing was required. And we shared a number of birthday celebrations.

Some 18 months ago she had breast cancer (and like my Mum, a mastectomy) which spread to her lungs and now her brain. She is on her third set on increasingly unpleasant chemotherapy. Now the doctors have suggested that she go home to spend time with her family. I suggest you do the same while you still can, and tell them you love them.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Any colour you like

as long as it's red.

Harking back to my wittering at Bob&Lynn's BBQ last Saturday, I find it hard to believe that the assembled company had not heard about how I chose my first company car. What follows is Gospel, unfortunately I do not need to exaggerate.

I joined Inforem and the deal included a company car. When I asked what it was the fleet admin lady said I had to chose (within a monthly lease limit). Since I know as little about cars as I do about sport I bought a What Car and a round of drinks for some mates. The next day I went in and we started at the top crossing off cars until we got to the Golf GTi. "You don't want a 16 valve do you?" she exclaimed, "They're like hens' teeth!". "What is a 16 valve?" I asked in my ignorance.

So, that decided that make and model leaving only the spec. At the time I had a pair of red shoes I was particularly fond of, so I said "I'll have a red one to match my shoes".

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Chinese take-away in Farnham

Tuesday evening I popped down on the train to visit the Aged P's in Farnham for a Chinese take-away and a bottle of wine. We call them the Aged P's following the example of a character in Dicken's Great Expectations. Dad started it and it is a term of affection.

There was a note from Heather with some photos from Jane's silver wedding do. She - Heather - wrote that we three (me, Jane, Ian) were very lucky to have such parents. I must say I second that. From what I hear and read about others' relationships with their parents we are very lucky; I enjoy their company and spending time with them.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Home but not alone

Home... Mary flew straight from Dublin to Prestwick to spend the weekend with her mother. Gran Martin has not been well and is recovering from a chest infection for which the prognosis had not been good. She is 98, suffering from Alzheimer's and very frail indeed. So Mary went to spend time with them.

...but not alone. I had John&Andrea visiting for the weekend with Julian (4½) and Charlotte (1½). They were down for Lynn's 100th birthday party, cumulative: Lynn 41, Bob 50 and Beechwood (their Havana Brown), 9.

I am embarrassed to say that I may have had a glass or two more than was strictly necessary on medical grounds. I entered a hazy phase where I was "holding court" a little using the continuous, free-association form of discourse that my wife unkindly refers to as wittering. Oh dear <hangs head in shame>.

Friday, August 20, 2004

A mother's curse

It must be three years since I worked for more than two weeks in the same location. And nearly 20 (I've just checked my CV, 18, in fact) since I commuted by public transport on a daily basis. Now I am rediscovering one of the joys (honest!) of public transport. I get time to do The Times crossword on a regular basis. Crosswords are a vice I inherited from my mother.

This morning I polished off the easy crossword in the eight minutes between Wandsworth Town and Vauxhall and about a third of the main crossword on the 521 bus from Waterloo to Cannon Street. Mind you the competition winners polish off the hard version in just over four minutes so I have a way to go. Reminds me of the old joke "Q. What is pink and hard in the morning? A. The Financial Times crossword."

Anyhow, in the intervening years I discovered I could amuse myself by looking at the cars in front of me on the M3 and trying to fit words to the last three letters of the registration number. If I could use the prefix letter as well that was a bonus. I told my mother about this and some months later she muttered imprecations along the lines of "Curse you, number one son, ever since then I cannot stop trying to make words to fit number plates!"

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

How much for a pair of shoes?!

Quick drink after work with Jita and Matthew at All-Bar-One, Cannon Street. Then off to Jo Allen to meet with Gary for a meal.

On the train back to Wandsworth I was reading the fashion section of T2. In it James Delingpole listed amongst his "failsafe good buys" cashmere jumpers by Paul Smith at £ 425 and brogues by John Lobb at £ 615. Have they gone completely mad, have they lost all sense of perspective? How on earth can £ 615 be good value?

If you have that much money to spend on a pair of shoes then spend £ 115 on a perfectly serviceable pair of reasonable quality shoes and give £ 500 to charity. To spend that much on footwear is obscene.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Just Wandsworth stretching and yawning...

...just morning, South London putting it's feet on the floor. *

Well I guess that is life in the big city: neighbours banging at one in the morning, police sirens at three and the early morning Jumbos coming in to LHR at five. So I've checked my email, made myself a bacon buttie, got ready for my day and still got into work for 08:15.

* The Apple Stretching by Grace Jones

Monday, August 16, 2004

Fleetfoot voodoo man *

We (M&M plus usual suspects Bob&Lynn and Tim&Sarah) went to the Middlesex 7's on Saturday. A long hard day of drinking Guinness, picnicing in the car park and watching seven-a-side rugby.

Now what I know about any sport could be written on the back of a postage stamp. However, having been to Lansdown Road several times to watch full strength rugby, I can say that 7-a-side has some pluses for the naive spectator. One is the open nature of the game which means some very spectacular runs. Those players may look chunky but they sure can move, there were some impressive exhibitions of sprinting half the length of the pitch!

Then back to Wandsworth for (another) bottle of wine at Konnigans and then across the road to Pizza Express for a wafer-thin pizza. Say good night, z-z-z!

* Rip-off by Marc Bolan and T.Rex

Friday, August 13, 2004

The Hunger Site

I used to visit this site regularly to milk the sponsors' marketing budget to help feed the third world. I have just started doing it again.

Put a shortcut on your desktop (IE right mouse, create shortcut) and you can do the same.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Elgin itinerary

Just for the record it was a hectic itinerary over the weekend in Elgin.

On Saturday:
* Findhorn to see what a eco village looks like
* Baxters for a lunchtime bowl of Cullen Skink
* Glenfiddich for a distillery tour and free "nosing"
* An evening ceilidh to celebrate Ros' 50th

Then on the Sunday morning:
* Elgin's Cathedral and...
* ...Biblical garden
* followed by a trip to the seaside at Lossimouth
* then over to Ros and Craig's for a leftovers lunch before catching the plane back to LHR.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Going commando

More on the language and customs of Scotland: Roslynne was telling us that McColls, a big dress hire company in Scotland, had banned "Going commando" in their kilts because of the cleaning bills. Mary had to translate this for me as "going without underwear" in the, supposedly, traditional manner.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus

I always say to Mary that Scotland is a foreign land with it's own language and customs. Having just returned from a weekend in Elgin to celebrate Roslynne's 50th I am wiser in the linguistic ways of North-East Scotland. Namely that the name for the dialect of that area is "Doric". One of the books in the Baxters Book shop was entitled " Ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus" which prompted Mary to a rendition of this childhood ditty:

Ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus,
Oh ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus,
Ye cannae shove yer granny, for she's yer mammy's mammy,
Ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus.

Ye can shove yer other granny aff a bus,
Ye can shove yer other granny aff a bus.
You can shove yer other granny, for she's yer daddy's mammy,
Ye can shove yer other granny aff a bus.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Newsflash: Hovel in the Hills ours by 20-Sep-04

We have received an email from Pietro at Gruppoinvest D'Amico saying that he has received a message from the Notary confirming that the matter will come to a conclusion by 20th September 2004. Yippee! At long last a date. And a most auspicious date as it will be my birthday

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Going clip-clippety-clop on the stair *

My sister was up in London with the three boys to see "The Woman in Black". Since brother Ian's office is just over the river behind London Bridge we all met there for a quick beer followed by a Thai meal.

The three nephews (Ben, Chris and Tom) are all turning into fine young men "handsome, tall, and strong". But then I am allowed a certain avuncular bias.

Ben ordered the coconut ice-cream in the half shell and said that someone else had to order the same so he could use the shells to go clip-clippety-clop on the way home. Made me chortle that did that piece of wit and repartee.

* A Windmill In Old Amsterdam

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Hot town, summer in the city *

Started a new contract on Friday so yesterday was the beginning of my first full week. When I came here for interview originally I walked from Waterloo to just behind Cannon Street station: a pleasant 30 minutes stroll. Yesterday morning I took the 521 bus - a pleasant 25 minute ride.

Yesterday evening I took the Waterloo and City line (aka "The Drain" to us old-timers): a very unpleasant 15 minutes - yuck! Hot, humid, sweaty.

This morning I got the bus again: the trade off for that extra 10 minutes is worth the improvement in quality of life and I can ogle the girls people-watch.

* Back of my neck gettin' dirt and gritty

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Eating squirrels in Worth Matravers

Last night we went to see Mike West appearing at The Square & Compasses, Worth Matravers. Lynn kindly drove so Mary and I could have a couple of pints of Ringwood Best. This is an extraordinary pub out in the wilds of the Isle of Purbeck.

No less extraordinary is Mike West. I think of him as a latter day Tom Lehrer and that is high praise. God know what the grockles made of this long-haired, wild-eyed, banjo-playing hill-billy from New Orleans. advocating the eating of squirrels. We first saw him at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville at the NO JazzFest back in 1998 so we knew what to expect. Go see him if he tours near you for a different kind of musical evening.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

And finally, monsieur, a wafer-thin mint

Well it was a busy day yesterday.

First port of call was Eastleigh and our accountants Langdowns DFK to sign the forms making Mary a fully-fledged director of M&M Enterprises thus turning it from Mark&McLellan to Mark&Mary. Not that we are exactly a major multi-national corporation, more what the Americans call a "Mom and Pop operation". Still it is worth being a company for tax efficiency reasons.

Second port of call was London and the Oral Hygiene Centre in Devonshire Place for a full set of "after" X-rays. The "before" set was taken fifteen years ago when I first starting seeing Raj Rayan. Now, many root canal treatments and eleven - count'em, eleven - crowns later he felt it was time for an "after" set. Each crown was carefully colour-matched to the existing teeth which means they are all the same old not-as-white-as-I-would-like colour. But they are structurally sound, all mine and paid for!

Third port of call was Charlotte Street to meet up with Pete and Amanda for drinks then across the road to Fino, Tapas restaurant. The food was excellent but not cheap. One high spot was the presence of Pedro Ximenes, PX to it's friends, on the wine list - like liquid Christmas pudding. This was recommended as an accompaniment for ice-cream and is what we would have taken to Bob and Lynn's on Saturday if we had had any. So this was a chance to try it and I just had to have the Chocolate Brownie with pistachio ice-cream. Mind you it was struggle, I felt like Mr Creosote by the end.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Croquet by moonlight

(well more like dusk really) On Saturday we went round to Bob and Lynn's for a BBQ and croquet on the lawn along with their neighbours, Duncan and Cathy. Given the size of the lawn there was a fair amount of taking a drop from the flower bed. Duncan has been practising for some weeks so Duncan and Lynn romped ahead with Bob and I closing the gap towards the end but still not enough to win.

Mary and I were on starters-and-puds duty so took along Cajun prawns and two lots of home made ice cream (Cherry and Stem ginger). To go with it we took a 1995 Tokay (6 puts) and a 1998 Noble Reisling from Jim Barry. The latter was excellent. I am on a campaign to persuade restaurants to stock dessert wines. Everytime I order a dessert and they have no sweet wines on their list I give them a hard time - protesting in the politest way - and suggest they should expand their wine list.

Friday, July 23, 2004

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Garden leave over :-(

Mary's work tracked her down so we had to come up to London yesterday for her to go into the office. Last night she met up with her friend Andrea for a drink and a meal and I went down to Wimbledon to meet up with my old friend Ros for a meal in Lighthouse - an excellent Italianate restaurant up in the village.

Ros is working part-time with special needs children some of whom suffer from Austism / Asperger's syndrome. So I was telling her about Mary's favorite book of the moment: "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" by Mark Haddon. This has had a profound impact on Mary and she has been lending it to as many people as she can saying "you must read this!".

That set me thinking. There have been two books of which I have had to buy multiple copies of because I have given away mine for people to read. They are "A Woman in your own right" by Anne Dickson and "The Road Less Travelled" by M Scott Peck.

The former is as useful for unassertive men in the material world as it is for women. The latter speaks to the spiritual side - there be grace and wisdom.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Musical malapropisms

Yesterday was an excellent day in the garden. Blazing sunshine and lots of good stuff done: relocated some hostas, corralled some stray crocosmia, lit a bonfire, planted some chervil, pruned the vines, did lots of weeding. I suffer from a strange sense of humour and always return from watering the vegetables singing "Little Red Courgette".

But now there is a new veg on the block. Yesterday I spent most of the time with the (adapted) words of Sorrow by David Bowie echoing round my skull, "With your long blonde hair and your eyes of blue, The only thing I ever got from you was Sorrel".

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Garden leave

So we cancelled our flights to Italy and the car hire (and lost 40,000 air-miles into the bargain because I did not read the 24 hour small print). Now we spend a week at home and much of it in the garden. Me because I have no work this week and Mary because she has resigned from her current employer.

Although Mary is employed until the end of the month they are very unlikely to assign her a new piece of work. So it is occasional visits to the office for hand-over to colleagues, final admin and the odd meetings. The rest of the time is R&R until her first contract as a self employed person starts next month.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Robert De Niro's Waiting...*

...and so are we. Talking Italian organisational abilities. Piss up in a brewery. On our trip to Italy two weeks ago we were assured that the purchase of our "Hovel in the Hills" would go through this week. And has it? Has it it b*gg*ry! And no confidence that it will happen next week. Then Italy is on holiday for August. So that is probably it until September. Reminds me of the joke:

In Heaven the British are the police, the Swiss the organisers, the French the chefs, the Germans the engineers and the Italians the lovers.

In Hell the British are the chefs, the Swiss the lovers, the French the engineers, the Germans the police and the Italians are the organisers.

Well I think that about says it. Harrumph!

* Bananarama

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Well it made me larf

Must add this to my repertoire of general purpose jokes, like the bear hunting trip and the cowboy outfit: The Bunny and the Snake.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Oh where am I now? *

Mary's Mum is safely back in Scotland, Mary is in Dublin and I am in Zurich.

I arrived at the client owned apartments to find a very surprised Korean gentleman in my room in his boxer shorts and T-shirt. Whoops - double booking. A fellow resident suggest I ask at the Youth Hostel along the road. Huh? The connection between a global reinsurance company and a YH is not obvious but the latter seem to be providing facilities management for the former's apartments. The YH sorted me out with an alternative room in the apartments albeit with a damp carpet and a de-humidifier chugging away.

The next morning it was my turn to be surprised as someone opened the door to my room around 06:30 am. In response to my cheery "Good Morning" I got a mild German expletive and a rapid retreat. By the time I was up, washed and dressed an admin person appeared and gave me the keys to my intended apartment so now all is sorted.

BTW the Youth Hostel was most impressive - much smarter than many hotels I have stayed in.

* From Rochdale To Ocho Rios by 10cc

Monday, July 12, 2004

Carol Galashan selected as reserve for British Olympics squad

The reason Mary's mum, May, is visiting us for a long weekend (apart from seeing us of course) is her twin grand-daughters Carol and Helen Galashan. They were competing in a British Gymnastics competition in Guildford over the weekend. Is is also a qualifying event for the Olympics selection process. Helen would have been a strong contender but for a back injury earlier in the year.

We managed to get the very last ticket for the Sunday for May (must have been a return!). We took her up yesterday, dropped her off and went to have lunch with my folks in Farnham. Then back to collect May and hear the announcement of the squad. And they got a result, Carol is one of two reserves so she gets to go to Athens and, in the event one of the squad has to pull out, she may even get to compete in the Olympics.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

I guess I shoulda known by the way u sliced your toast sideways

When growing up it is easy to assume that everyone does it (whatever "it" may be) the way it is done in your family.

In my childhood we drank tea out of mugs. We may well have had cups and saucers but I do not remember using them. Long after I left home and found my way in the big, wide world I would regularly find that I had put my cup down on the table. I would then hurriedly replace it on the saucer before anyone noticed.

Similarly with toast. Either eaten whole or, if cut, sliced horizontally into two rectangles. When I started staying in hotels I assumed that diagonally sliced toast was some kind of catering affectation. It is much harder to spread the butter and marmalade into the triangular point than the rectangular corner.

Then I met our friend Kate who I think of as a bit "county" and she cuts diagonally thus reinforcing my sense of being lower middle class. Horizontal slicing is obviously Non-U.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Blows against the Ego

A while back I mentally composed but never posted an entry entitled Shouting in a Bucket Blues on the topic of "is there anyone out there reading this stuff I am writing?". But then decided I would not post explicitly on the blogging process.

However, thanks to http://www.sitemeter.com/, I now know the answer to this question and so have decided to break my own rule and share with you. Many hits come from bloggers courtesy of the various directories, blog rolls and rings.

However as many come from Google, specifically people searching on some variant of "three old ladies locked in the lavatory" or "we dont have to take our clothes off". And I thought it was my deathless prose style and wry observations on life in the slow lane. Oh well :-(

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head *

Well it has been a dull couple of days. No work this week so I have been catching up on my paperwork and doing various domestic bits and bobs. Got my laptop back from HP and all seems well. Had visits from Asher, the gardener, and Chris, the window cleaner. Tomorrow it is a visit from Sylvie, the cleaner, take the cats to the vet and collect Mary's mum from Bournemouth airport.

Went to collect a couple of Oddbins parcels from the Amtrak depot in Christchurch. On the way back popped into Ringwood and it started to rain. I cannot help noticing how people hunch down and cringe from the rain. Doesn't stop you getting wet. Personally, I hold my head up high and get wet with pride.

 * by Burt Bacharach

Monday, July 05, 2004

I guess I shoulda known by the way u parked your car sideways *

Italians do not so much park their cars as abandon them. If there is not enough room to parallel park then they just drive in at an angle and leave their car with its rear end sticking out into the road.

Standing outside the Banco di Credito Cooperativo di Locorotondo branch in Cisternino waiting for Pietro we saw, in the the space of 15 minutes:
 * parking in the "do not park here" zone immediately outside the bank
 * parking in the disabled space adjacent to that
 * reversing the wrong way into the one way street opposite
 * parking in a side street completely blocking it
 * and, of course, the afore-mentioned rakish angle parking

 * Little Red Corvette by TAFKA Prince

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Judge Dredd

Well it seems like Italian judges are a law unto themselves. We were assured that our purchase of the Hovel in the Hills would proceed this week in front of the Judge, the Notary, and representatives from the vendor's creditors. It would appear that the judge has other ideas and will not be available until at the earliest the 9th of June. He could have told us before we booked our holiday but it seems that Italian Judges do as they choose. Instead of working on the new holiday home, cleaning and junk clearing, we will have to revert to Plan B - eat, drink and have a good time. Even so it is a pain: no progress and we will have to make yet another trip losing time and money.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

What's so unpleasant about being drunk?

You ask a glass of water. *

Had a great time at sister Jane's 25th Wedding anniversary bash last night. Saw some old faces that I had not seen for ages (hello Heather, Cheryl, Andrew, Ros, Jane & Brock and others who I hazily forget this morning). I felt sorry for Jane and Pete's neighbour to whom I rambled drunkenly on about who knows what. But he smiled a lot, he must have realised I am the harmless kind of drunk. Gave some folks a laugh by taking along my photos from the original wedding day including me in my Marc Bolan / Roger Daltry curls era:

Today we are off to Italy for 12 days so I will be maintaining radio silence - unless I can get to use the cyber terminal in the corner of the bar in Cisternino main square.
* Douglas Adams

Friday, June 18, 2004

You - just scream with boredom *

It has been a quiet week. Mostly working on my own, with the client in meetings and workshops. Reminds me how much I need people to talk to in order to keep my brain working. Off to Zurich airport now for home and the weekend.

* Time by David Bowie

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

and tie in a double bow at the side

I consider myself a frequent flyer. OK there are plenty of people who do fly more but I reckon I fly two weeks out of three on average. Since September 1999 when I went freelance I reckon I have done 300 take-offs and landings. Having heard the safety announcement that many times I am sure my lips move unconsciously like a parent whose toddler has made them watch Toy Story a thousand times and so they know every line of the script.

A friend Colin who works for Parity training says the first thing he does on hotel check-in is suss out where the fire escapes are so if there is an emergency in the middle of the night he does not have to mess about wondering how to get out of there. Inspired by his example all I do is "check the location of the nearest exit as it may be behind you", then get back to my book.

Now I don't know about you but I reckon that if a disaster happens and the plane takes a dive into the icy waters of the Potomac River or head-butts the lower slopes of some misty mountains then having "placed the mask over my nose and mouth and breathed normally" or "adopted the brace position" will be sod all use. Basically, if the plane crashes you are f****d.

Friday, June 11, 2004

A clove of Dalek

There is b****r all to do in and around the apartment where I am staying here in Zurich this week. The only English language channels on the telly are CNN (arrgh, I am war-zoned out), the cartoon channel and BBC World. Mostly decades old "classic comedy" like "Open all hours" and re-runs of day-time TV rejects.

However, last night, they had a double bill of Jamie Oliver - the naked chef - which passed a pleasant hour. Only I am sure I heard him say "a clove of Dalek" which conjured up wierd images of an animated tin can zooming about the kitchen chucking in a splash of olive oil, a couple of cloves and saying (in strangulated, universe-dominating tones) "Luv-er-ly, jub-er-ly!"

Thursday, June 10, 2004

In the UK 390,000 Jedis there are

I always what happened as a result of that urban legend that if enough people put Jedi as their religion it would have to be officially recognised (see Google). Well in the UK 2001 Census 390,000 people did just that according to UK National Statistics Online. That is seven in every thousand. Excellent :-)

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Vanity thy name is MSM 52

Call them what you will, vanity plates, cherish plates or personalised numbers. I have said elsewhere that my ambitions were: To have an ambition; to be rich enough to buy the cherish plate "MSM 52".

Now if the latter ever came on the market it would cost thousands and thousands of pounds. Fortunately thanks to DVLA Personalised Registrations tapping into the public's ego (OK - mine, I admit it) you can buy cheaper alternatives:

So after years of Mary having a succession of cherish plates (P2 MMG, S2 MMG, X5 MMG, and now XX04 MMG) I decided to treat myself to this one. Unfortunately my current car is too old. This plate is September 2002 and you cannot, by law, make a car seem younger than it is. So it will have to wait on retention until I can afford to change to a car that date or newer.

Unless the raffle ticket I bought yesterday at Heathrow T4 is a winner. In which case MM52 MSM will look very nice on my brand new Ferrari 360 Modena. Well, I can dream can't I?