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.