Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Wines to drink with Christmas Pudding

or Plum Pudding as I believe the Americans call it.

OK it is a bit late for this year but make a note for next year. I was asked about this very topic a couple of weeks ago by a colleague but never dropped him an email with my suggestions so this is for Nigel to file away.

As luck would have it Bob presented a choice of five desert wines with Christmas Pudding on Boxing day all of which were on my list (and I will add my other suggestions at the end):

• Muscat de Beaume de Venise, Domain de Durban 2004
• Brown Brother Orange Flora and Muscat 2004
• Miranda Raisined Muscat 2002
• Commandaria, SODAP
• Matusalem, Gonzalez Byass, Oloroso Dulce Muy Viejo

To which I would add
• Asti, Italian sparkling
• Liqueur Muscat (e.g. Rutherglen)

The Miranda (from Majestic) was a great match and probably the best with the little known Cypriot Commandaria coming a close second but IMHO it was a photo finish.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Merry Christmas to all our readers

I hope you all had as pleasant and relaxing a Christmas as we did. Ours followed a well trod path: The usual Farnham Potlatch the Sunday before Christmas to exchange gifts with my family. Then we took the Friday off so we could get down to the cottage on Thursday night thus avoiding the pre-holiday traffic jams. Christmas day we hosted Bob&Lynn plus Lynne's parents, Pam&John, to a five course lunch with goose as the bird and some fine wines. Then Boxing Day B&L reciprocated.

Our meal finished with a 1955 Taylor's Port and an excellent selection of cheesy comestibles from Neal's Yard Dairy in Covent Garden. That is another thing I love about living in London, Mary can phone me up, I can pop out at lunchtime and in five minutes I am in one of the finest cheese shops in the country. In and out in 10 minutes with three kilos of the tastiest of cheeses.

A colleague of Mary's left it too close to Christmas and had to queue out the shop and down the street. The gentleman in front of her announced that he had come to collect a cheddar - a whole truckle and they are big! When offered the use of a trolley to convey it to his car he said "No thanks my chauffeur will carry it". He completed his shopping and left with over 550 pounds worth (USD 950) of cheese, now that is what I call a cheese board.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Gullible's Travels by Ring Lardner

The answer is "Lardner" not "Peters" assuming some crossword compiler has reused the clue from New York Times crossword puzzle on 09 November 2005. See earlier post Gullible's Travels by Cash Peters

Read the Lardner version here: Gullible's Travels by Ring Lardner.

Or buy the Cash Peters version at Amazon.com Gullible's Travels : The Adventures of a Bad Taste Tourist

Monday, December 19, 2005

Christmas Daffodil at Le Gavroche

Saturday was the Daffodil Dining Club's Christmas meal at Le Gavroche. We had the Scottish contingent down for the weekend: mother-in-law May, sister-in-law Sandra, husband George and their two children, nine-year-old Ross and five-year-old Sarah.

As it was Sandra's birthday on Saturday and George's on Monday we treated them to the meal as a double birthday present. Micheal Roux himself came round and signed their menus with birthday wishes which made for an excellent souvenir. We were also joined by usual suspects Pete&Amanda. Seven courses this time with the high-light being foie gras and the duck "pastilla".


Canapes

The House of Albert Roux "Lenoble" Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs


Ragout D'Huitres et Coquilles St. Jacques aux Truffes et Poireaux

Pernand Vergelesses 2001 Domaine Chanson


Escalope de Foie Gras Chaud et Pastilla a la Cannelle

Pinot Gris "Selection de Grains Nobles" 2000 Trimbach


Filet de Rouget au Vin Rouge et Crouton a la Moelle, Ragout de Pleurotes et Persil

Nuit Saints Georges "Vielles Vignes" 2001 Domaine Chevillon


Noisette de Chevreuil a la Souce Poivrade et Airelles

Chataux La Croix St. Georges 1997 Pomerol


Le Plateau de Fromages Affines

Chateau Cabezac "Belvize" 2002 Minervois


Christmas Pudding

Vin de Constance 2000 Klein Constantia


Cafe, Petits Fours & Mince Pies





Unlike the previous Daffodil the sommeliers hung back on the white wines so we were in a fit state to appreciate the reds *and* did not need a siesta when we got back home.

May had drawn the baby-sitting short straw and we returned to find the Christmas tree decorated by the wee'uns under her supervision: chilli lights from New Orleans - very festive :-)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Office Christmas Party

Last night was the client's Christmas party, held at the London Trocadero. I did not go as even the offer of free food and wine is not enough of an incentive, I need good company as well and as most of my team colleagues were not going I decided not to either. As it turns out the straw poll round the floor just happened to hit the refuseniks and in fact I would have had company there. Oh well. I await reports as to how the evening went.

On the other hand last Thursday was the far more exclusive M&M Enterprises Christmas do. It was late night shopping in Oxford Street so Mary and I met up after work to go in search of designer handbags for me to give to Mary for Christmas. An abortive tour of [Debenhams' correction] Selfridge's leather goods section revealed many outrageously priced reticules but none that met madam's exacting requirements so we adjourned to Sketch Lecture Room and Library for supper which we declared to be our company Christmas party and therefore tax-deductable.

It was superb, as you would expect from a Michelin one-star, and I await Mary's write-up, meanwhile you can Google "sketch library restaurant reviews". We went for the six course taster menu at GBP 90 per head and went middle of the carte du vin. The consensus view is that the food is superb and the price outrageous so don't go unless you are prepared for that and want the gastronomic experience. Like shop windows without prices: "If you have to ask the price, you can't afford to shop there".

Friday, December 09, 2005

Oh, mister porter, what shall I do?

I wanted to go to Birmingham, but they've carried me on to Crewe. *

Saturday night saw a personal first... I fell asleep on the train and missed my stop. Having spent the evening with J&A in St Albans I caught the 10:04 train back to King's Cross Thameslink. Unfortunately, despite the modest libations, my eyelids grew heavy and the train whisked me through KX, across London, over the Thames and was heading out the other side.

I awoke with a start to find I was at *lovely* Elephant and Castle. As luck would have it the train was not headed for Brighton and Hove or Hastings but, far more modestly, Wimbledon. So I sat it out, did a backward zag-zig to Clapham Junction and Wandsworth Town and arrived home half an hour later than originally anticipated.

Note to self: Set timer on phone next trip.

* Marie Lloyd

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Her Majesty's a pretty nice girl

but she doesn't have a lot to say *

They say that HM must think the world smells of fresh paint. She must also feel a bit like Moses parting the Red Sea as traffic jams miraculously melt away at her approach.

Yesterday morning as I turned right off Horse Guards Road onto the Mall there was a flurry of Police motor bikes. Heading towards me from Buck House were two sleek and well fed cars.

The front car was, I think, a Bentley discreetly crested and probably contained "Brenda" and "Phil the Greek" but it was hard to tell as she didn't wave to me :-(

The second car was a jet black Daimler with a matrix sign on the back parcel shelf that flashed "Police" ... "Keep" ... "Back". Somehow it did not seem like a request more an order. So I did, not wanting to invoke a sense of humour failure.

Instead of doing their normal leapfrog routine and stopping the side road traffic they took the simple expedient of driving straight through the wrong side of Admiralty arch and *poof* just like that, they were gone.

* Her Majesty by the Beatles

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Puglian Bicycle Thief

Last week was busy at work so I had no time to blog. This weekend we were in Puglia for the last visit of the year so I had no technology to blog. The works progress slowly but steadily, with the emphasis more on the slow than the steady.

The excitement of the weekend was catching a bicycle thief red-handed. Between visits everything is put away indoors and securely locked up but while we were there I put the bikes out in the Lamia chained together.

On Saturday night I heard noises and, given we are near the end of a secluded, dead-end dirt track, I went out to investigate. There was a bloke struggling with two bikes and heavy-duty bolt cutters trying to get them out the Lamia door. He appeared to speak no English but body language is pretty international. Mine was unambiguous as I grabbed him, shoved him up against the wall, stuck my nose millimeters from his and said rude words at loud volume.

He seemed pretty scared and engaged the gibbering coward circuits as he made for his van. Mary came out and joined us for more shouting of the limited vocabulary variety including the Italian for "thief" and "police tomorrow". We took a note of his van number and a photograph which sent his craven cringing into overdrive as we let him go. The flash flashed but unfortunately the camera battery was so flat we got no usable image. However he doesn't know that and hopefully has slept very badly the last couple of nights.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Zind-Humbrecht Dinner

Special Guest Olivier Humbrecht MW. Hosted by David Berry Green, Buyer. Friday 18 November 2005. Another BBR dining extravaganza:

2002 Muscat. Herrenweg

aperitif

2001 Riesling, Clos Windsbuhl

Baked rainbow trout with toasted almonds

2002 Riesling, Brand

Crispy sea bass with a lime, lemongrass and coconut sauce

2001 Tokay Pinot Gris, Rangen de Thann

Pork with caramelised honey and citrus sauce with crushed new potatoes and seasonal vegetables

19883 Gewurztraminer, Rangen de Than, Vendage Tardive

Selection of cheese and fresh fruit

1986 Tokay Pinot Gris, Rotenberg, Selection des Grains Nobles

Pear and frangipane tart with hazelnut praline

Marc

Berrys' selected coffee and mints



I have always had a soft spot for Zind-Humbrecht ever since I discovered their Gewurztraminer, Herrenweg Turkheim some twenty years ago. It is every thing that one could hope for in a dessert wine, complex flavours (a veritable fruit bowl of exotic fruits), unctuousness, sweetness without being cloying thanks to a hint of noble rot. I love it and I was looking forward to this dinner.

One of the pleasures of these dinners is that you get to hear from the winemakers themselves. For a twelfth generation wine producer Olivier had a refreshing amount of enthusiasm for his subject. As well as the wines themselves he did an excellent job of covering the history of the region, the domaine itself and biodynamics. The latter has a more than a hint of hew age hippydom about it but results in some very sensible, sustainable, organic farming practices. As, Olivier said "the proof is in the glass".

Apart from the marc which was, like 99.99 percent of the grappa breed, rocket fuel.

Art by Architects

I may be biased but I think my father is a talented artist, and so does the Association of Consultant Architects as they selected both the pictures that he submitted for their Vision 05 Art by Architects exhibition. The family gathered for a private viewing last week at the gallery just off Sloane Square and then adjourned across the road for tapas and a good old natter.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Guilt-free surfing

Mary is at the wine bar round the corner with Andrea A. and I am catching up on random "follow that link" surfing. One was of great interest, the other made me laugh:

"Two nations divided by a common language"* points to two execellent wikipedia entries
"Lego Escher" does what is says on the tin. <LOL>

* Of course you knew the correct quote is "separated" by a common language.

Gullible's Travels by Cash Peters

Buy at Amazon.com Gullible's Travels : The Adventures of a Bad Taste Tourist

I can only presume that someone in the US media made mention of Gullible's Travels : The Adventures of a Bad Taste Tourist by Cash Peters as I have had a flurry of North American hits from Google.com.

Nice to know I am global number one ranked for "gullible's travels" though I suspect this blog is not what they were looking for. I must buy the book myself as it has excellent reviews.

Which is more than can be said of this blog. Those extra vistors certainly cannot be as a result of the write up at The Weblog Review. Babz wrote a "damn with faint praise" review and gave me a rating of 2. That is hardly going to bring a flood of visitors. Still at least it shows there is room for improvement :-/

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Fine Wines of The Montrachet

Another OTT evening at BBR. This time "Exploring Great Burgundy - The Fine Wines of The Montrachet" tutored by Jasper Morris MW, Buying Director.

 • Wine 1: 2000 Chassagne-Montrachet, 'Les Chaumées', 1er Cru, Domaine Michel Niellon
 • Wine 2: 2000 Puligny-Montrachet, 'Les Pucelles', 1er Cru, Domaine Leflaive
 • Wine 3: 2000 Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet, Grand Cru, Domaine Belland
 • Wine 4: 1999 Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet, Grand Cru, Etienne Sauzet
 • Wine 5: 1988 Bâtard-Montrachet, Grand Cru, Domaine Leflaive
 • Wine 6: 1999 Chevalier-Montrachet, 'Les Demoiselles', Grand Cru, Louis Latour
 • Wine 7: 1996 Chevalier-Montrachet, Grand Cru, Domaine Leflaive
 • Wine 8: 1999 Le Montrachet, Grand Cru, Marquis de Laguiche, Joseph Drouhin

What can I say. I could say they were superb, elegant, etc. but I would be bull-bluffing. Very drinkable but way beyond my capacity to appreciate the subtleties. At prices ranging from GBP 52 to GBP 357 per bottle(!) I will not be rushing out to buy a case or two. In fact most of the wines were limited availability (from 35 bottles to 1 last remaining bottle) so I couldn't even if I had the money *and* the inclination.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Shopping in Puglia

This weekend it was shopping in Puglia. One half of the Hovel-in-the-Hills™ is almost finished. Enough for Mary's Mum and sister to come out for a weekend of shopping.

We flew out Saturday evening and on Sunday hit the hyper-market Emmezeta on the outskirts of Fasano, about 20 minutes drive away. They filled two trolleys with crockery, kettles, pots and pans and all the other impedimenta need to kit out a new home. We even needed a third trolley to deal with scanning through the checkout.

conical Trulli roofs
Conical Trulli roofs from the roof of the Lamia

The building was further progressed than our last visit but still not complete. The sink and hob are in but the oven, though working, has yet to be fully fitted. The walls are white-washed and look good but the floors have yet to be grouted and cleaned. Best of all the Nordica wood burning stove was installed and we had it going most of the weekend keeping us warm and helping to drive out some of the dampness.

Daniele had forgotten to organise the furniture delivery so we arranged for that to happen on Monday. By the time the "Girls" had finished the place was looking well settled and very much the holiday home-from-home.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Yahrzeit for Oscar

Friday just past it was one year since Oscar the cat died [The Saddest News About Oscar]. I raised a glass of champagne with Mary to absent friends and lit a candle in front of a small statuette we have of two cats. With his death a little bit of joy left my life. I mourn his passing and do my best to remember the joy he brought me.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Jabba the shed

When I wrote yesterday's post I could not for the life of me remember what Sunday's DIY had been. Now I remember: it was assembling a Bike shed from Homebase. As yet the shed does not have a name.

At Avon cottage we have four compost bins (not counting the fifth "Bin With No Name" down by the dustbins). The first three I bought at the same time and christened Tom, Dick and Harry after the tunnels in "The Great Escape". When we added a fourth I wanted it to be called Selene (after the Greek goddess of the moon) but Mary named it Gertrude (after Gertrude Jekyll the garden designer).

Then we bought a shed and I decided it too should have a name. I thought long and hard. All of a sudden inspiration struck - I would call it Jabba. I haven't stopped chortling since.

Now we have another (bike) shed and I am once again searching for inspiration and a name. Suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A weekend of DIY

The weekend was not all post house-move DIY tasks. We started with a trip to Cineworld Wandsworth to see Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. We went with Tim&Sarah and their two children Alex&Zoe. A cracking film and no chav brawls outside the Spotted Dog.

Most of Saturday was very productively spent doing handyman tasks that went smoothly - not always the case! Bathroom shelf, cabinet and loo roll holder all sorted. Plus Mary did major wine shuffling in the cellar.

Sunday we had Mum&Dad round for a very enjoyable Sunday lunch followed by a little more DIY. There will be more in the weeks and months to follow I am sure. It is best to get as much done as possible in the early days or the danger is it never does get done.

Oh yes, and I am in Zurich today.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Garden furniture for cheap

Moving house has meant shopping and lots of it. All managed by the distaff side natch. This has meant everything from K&B knick-knacks to bed linen to furniture to a whole new shower room, central heating boiler and kitchen re-fit (though we are staggering the latter).

Now we have a garden we, of course, had to get some garden furniture as well. And here we had a bit of a result. I say *we* but my contribution was to pack an astonishing amount of teak into a BMW, drive it home and lug it into the house.

Courtesy of Criterion Riverside Auctions we bid for, and got, two and a half grand's worth of table, chairs, loungers, side tables, lazy Susan, parasol and cushions for a paltry 850 quid. OK they are second hand having been used as display items and lugged around from fair to exhibition but then what would new ones be like after a summer in the garden?

See, I am in touch with my feminine side. Isn't this is simply a variant of "I bought this in the sales, look at the money I've saved"?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Garden redesign at Avon Cottage

Nikki, a friend from CSC, recently took the same escape route that I did some six years ago and is now a person of leisure. Her passion is gardening and so we have commissioned her to do a small piece of work at the cottage.

She spent most of the weekend working in our garden with Mary and I pottering around her. I got co-opted for the occasional heavy bits like uprooting a Kilmarnock Willow.

The primary target was the bed next to the drive at the front and the first thing you see as you arrive at the cottage. Now completely dug out and dug over and re-planted with mostly evergreen silver-through-grey foliage.

In a few weeks time the secondary objective is to re-jig the flower beds at the back, adjacent to the house. That will involve some rose removal and shrub relocation. I have no idea what will take their place but all will be revealed soon enough.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Great Chefs' Dinner with Mark Hix

Another extravagant meal at BBR on Friday evening. They are running a series of designer chef evenings. Mark Hix runs The Ivy, Le Caprice and J. Sheekey.


Wild Duck and Elderberry salad

2000 Chablis Valmur, Grande Cru, Domaine Jean-Claude Bessin

Rock Eel 'Forrestiere'

2003 Dolcetta d'Alba, Luciano Sandrone

Braeburn Apple and Blackberry Jelly

2003 Coteaux du Lauon "St Auban", Domaine des Forges

Stinking Bishop with Oat Cakes and Onion Chutney

"Tonel 12" 10yr old Tawny Port, Quinta de la Rosa

Berrys' selected coffee and mints




Odd and brave to pair white wine with duck and red with fish. Mary thought they went well, I was less convinced. OTOH the Coteaux du Layon went superbly with the apple jelly.

The food was good but not brilliant and definitely NOT Value For Money. Having eaten Mark Hix's food and read the restaurant reviews (always a slightly biased source) I will not be rushing to book a place at the Ivy or Caprice although Sheekey might be worth a go.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Do something amazing

Give Blood goes the slogan. And so I did on Wednesday for the first time in about six years. Shameful that it took me so long really since I have been on this contract and in a stable location for over a year.

I always have been an erratic donor; it has taken me 30 years to get into the mid-teens. I am not sure exactly how many since the little paper tokens fell out of my donor card years ago and it is all computerised now anyway so I have become a man without a past.

I do remember my first donation back in 1975 for two reasons:

• Firstly, I stood up too quickly and nearly fainted. It was then I decided that 9¼ stone (59 kilo) was too light and spend the following period trying to eat more pasta and put a few pounds on.

• Secondly, the NBS wrote to me saying "Your blood group is of a type not often met with." Made me feel like Tony Hancock in The Blood Donor. Gone now, that card, it said I was negative donor but positive recipient (or was it the other way round). No matter, if it is an emergency they stuff you full of Type O and other times they test you first.

If you are able to give blood please do. For most of us it is the only chance we have to genuinely save lives.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Home but not alone (2)

Unlike a previous Home but not alone this time I had a productive weekend. Mary was away Saturday and Sunday on an NLP Practitioner course and I was again Home but not alone.

For company I had the cat and a prodigious "To Do" list occupying a full sheet of A4 (double column). Priority One tasks were house-move related: fix the door and window locks, un-box the hi-fi, clear the smallest bedroom of boxes, write to the council (times several), unblock the moss from the drainpipe and so on...

Low on fun but high on job satisfaction. Ticking off things that needed to be done leaves a satisfying and slightly smug sensation.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Going back to my roots

* It would appear that our new house is less than three miles from my father's place of birth. He was born in Cambridge Mansions in Cambridge Road, SW11 and not as I have always, erroneously, believed Streatham.

At 81 my father is ever more aware of his own mortality. Last month he sent me a list of account details so that, as eldest son and joint executor, I would have an easier time sorting out his estate when the time comes.

He also recently traded in his old VW Polo for a Honda Jazz. He remarked that it would probably be the last car he buys until he gives up driving or, in his words, 'hands in his dinner pail'.

So I cycled past the mansions on my way in to work yesterday. Strange to look at that red brick block of flats and think my father was born there. I never knew that. And so more more about him I will probably never know. Roots indeed. <mood="thoughtful">

* Goin' back to my roots by Odissey

Friday, October 07, 2005

Isaac Newton invented the cat flap

I am much indebted to ScaryDuck for pointing me at the wonderful factoid that Isaac Newton invented the cat flap. It is in Wikipedia so it must be true.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

House Warming

Saturday was a far more enjoyable social event as we had not such much a party more an "At Home". The afternoon was mostly friends with children, the evening mostly those without. Sufficiently well spread out it was possible to get to talk to most everyone and give them the guided tour.

The day reinforced an insight from Friday night's gathering. On Friday evening the most frequent question was "What have you been up to for the past thirty years?" The answers mostly described points on the emotional trajectory of people's lives. For example, met wife in 76, had first child in 81, moved to Erewhon in 93, and so on. With children easily being the most important.

Having no children myself my answers lay upon three similar emotional dimensions:
* women: as a serial monogamist only Mary counts and I stop there
* home: and the new house really feels home from day one
* work: a poor third for them and me, going self employed being the only datum of note

Monday, October 03, 2005

Hertford College Gaudy

Friday night was the Hertford College Gaudy (college reunion dinner) as previously mentioned (Weird in a deja vue kind of way). Off to Oxford straight from work with my Moss Bros DJ in tow, Arrived just in time for the pre-dinner sherry followed by a very nice meal and a couple of pints down the college bar. Like Cinderella, I fled at midnight as I had a house-warming to attend on Saturday (my own).

The real pleasure was catching up with Alan who left at the end of the first year to go to Manchester University (not UMIST as I incorrectly wrote earlier). He came back to visit once every term for the next three years. He reminded me of what I had forgotten, that I went to visit him after college on a trip to the lake district. Mike was in good form but Pete was as sneering and cynical as ever and Vince was a no show as expected.

For me it was a chance to discuss with the others whether the college years were as miserable as I remember them. Mary says I paint too negative picture and should balance it with the plus points but for me there are not enough of those to tip the scales. The reasons why I did not enjoy college are many and varied but the margin is too narrow... Certainly looking round a roomful of strangers in black tie I felt zero affinity with those hallowed halls and maybe a little jealousy of those with fond memories, a sense of camaraderie and rose-tinted nostalgia.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Puglian Diary

Apologies to both my readers. We have been on holiday in Puglia for the first real holiday in the Hovel-in-the-Hills™. Or so we thought... Catching up with a summary of the posts I would have made if I could:

Wednesday, September 14, 2005: Our first guest

Mary's old friend Andrea came to visit the new Wandsworth house. As it was a long haul back to Essex, "A" became the first to sleep in our guest room.

Friday, September 16, 2005: Family seal of approval

Had all my family (Mum&Dad, Jane&Pete, Ian&Sarah and a nephew for good measure) around for a Chinese take-away and a tour of inspection. They give the new abode the thumbs up.

Saturday, September 17, 2005: Curate's hovel

Off to Italy, BA business class out of Gatwick. Daniele over-promised and under-delivered. We had hot water and a toilet that flushed but no cooker, no sink, no fridge, no furniture (apart from the beds), the plaster still drying on the walls pumping humidity into the air.

Sunday, September 18, 2005: Internal Wildlife

Mind you on the plus side the turkish gheckoes were back and joined by a tiny scorpion (2 cm) and a horde of woodlice. These woodlice are HUGE like some relic from the Paleozoic - most impressive!

Monday, September 19, 2005: Walk like Groucho

The arch into the bath room has been preserved in its original form and height of approx 170 cm. After head-butting the limestone on the way in and out I soon learned to genuflect and walk like Groucho Marx

Tuesday, September 20, 2005: Birthday boy

53 today. And a fine leather briefcase from Mary which she bought at the airport and smuggled past me by holding the bag in plain view. Fat use I would be as a witness. Had supper cooked for us by neighbours Anne&Henry.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005: Relocating to Anne&Henry's

The power blew and took the hot water with it. So we took up Anne&Henry's kind offer of the use of their guest Trulli.

Saturday, September 24, 2005: Thunderstorms in Puglia

For two days. Not the sunshine and 28°C the 10 day forecast promised.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005: Reading the riot act

We had a second meeting with Daniele and gave him a mildly hard time about his delivery promises. We know the house will be beautiful in the end, we know that the pace of life is slower down there and he knows we are back in a month with Mary's mum and sister.

Thursday, September 29, 2005: Back in Blighty

And home again. Ah the luxury of so many airmiles we could travel business class.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

We've moved house

And hard work it was too. Saturday was a bit hectic, moving all the stuff out of the flat so we could get the spring cleaners in and then take an inventory. As it was they turned up early and were co-opted as boxers of belongings. Then they cleaned round us as Mary shuttled more stuff along the road to the house and I assembled furniture.

Ten hours I spend assembling the best that Ikea Croydon could provide, five on Saturday, five on Sunday. That is how they keep the cost down, of course, by using the punter's labour. All I can say is thank God for the cordless electric screwdriver; an absolute essential for this kind of stuff.

By Sunday night when the first of the tenants arrived it was all looking pretty spick and span, gleaming with brand new furniture, beds and kitchen appliances still in their boxes. Mind you the house is a mess with boxes piled randomly all over the place. It will take a month there to unpack and put everything into its rightful place.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Moving house with a wheelbarrow

Well not *actually* a wheel barrow, more a GBP 39.99 Load Carrier from Argos, but the principle remains the same. The last three evenings have been spent shuttling back and forth the 79 paces between our two front doors with crates of kitchen wares, unruly plank pieces of pine beds, the carcass of a chest of drawers, a double mattress and much more besides.

Hot and sweaty work. My advice: children don't try this at home!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

We're moving house

Now the "cone of silence" has been lifted and I can reveal that we are moving house. At first SWMBO said not to tell anyone in case it all went pear-shaped. Even after we exchanged contracts force of habit made me keep schtum.

It is all part of the grand plan to sell Avon Cottage in four years time, clear our debts and downshift to Italy. We would live in the Hovel-in-the-Hills™, reinvest in a UK based property and work here part time. The principle is still good, it is the sequencing that is all to cock.

Discussing where to live I remarked that all the considerations that made us choose Wandsworth for our current London base still hold good so Mary went surfing - "just to check out the area". Our requirements are very specific and, *expletive*deleted*, if the ideal property didn't pop up two weeks later. A unique property that might not come on the market again for a very long time.

What to do? The horns of a dilemma! So we said, what the heck, and we bought it. We are converting the flat into a buy-to-let mortgage, renting it out and we are moving *literally* three doors down the street.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Reap just what you sow

Catching up. This should have been Friday's post but I was entertaining the Scottish relations...

Wednesday evening I spent a very enjoyable evening with Mum and Dad down in Farnham. Caught the train straight from work. Amongst the topics was the GCSE results for the nephews. Jane's Tom got seven A's, one B and one C. Ian's Tom got eight A's and one B. Lorenzo (Ian's eldest) got three A's for his A-levels. Well done all of them!

Dad was saying how proud he was of all of them and how lucky he was to have such grandsons. I was reminded of the old Gary Player quote "the harder I practice, the luckier I get".

Of course it isn't luck. He passed on the genetic raw material and the inclination to use it to his children. They in turn chose their mates in similar vein and the grandchildren are the result of that.

* Perfect Day by Lou Reed

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

It is the body that's knackered

It's official. We have the results from the Norwegian jury. It has been over two weeks since I bought my new hybrid bike. The journey time has not dropped; the average heart rate has not dropped; I feel just as puffed. So I guess it is time to fess up: it is the body that is old and knackered.

That said there have been some improvements since I started cycling six months ago. The weight has remained the same but the stomach has got smaller and the thighs have got bigger. Also I used to set the shower at work as cold as I could bear it to cool me down so I wouldn't still be sweating when I got out. Now I may not be cucumber-cool but I can enjoy a tepid shower.

So I have got fitter and I have saved money.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Spotted dog

Our plan for riverside dining had been a picnic in Battersea Park followed by the open air jazz concert. In the end we wimped out on account of the cooling evening. Instead we ate the picnic food indoors and went to the 9:15 showing of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [excellent] at Cineworld Wandsworth. We do like their VIP seats, you can take your drink in, the seats are huge and there is a glass screen to acoustically separate you from the rest of the punters.

On the way down we passed the Spotted Dog public house and remarked that it did not look like our type of venue. Shaved heads, tattoos, tracksuit bottoms and chunky gold chains do not make a positive fashion statement. And so it proved two hours later on our way back. The first sign of trouble was the harridans young ladies screeching at each other in the shopping mall. Outside the pub itself there was much shouting and drunken jostling.

We crossed over the road but then crossed back when we saw this bloke lying in the gutter. Mary went to see if he was OK while I called 999. He was unconscious with blood pouring from a bottle cut on the back of his head. By the time I had given the dispatcher all the details two police cars had arrived and the "victim" was staggering up the road. So we left them to it and went home for a last glass of wine and bed.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Riverside dining

Our enjoyment of riverside dining three Fridays ago [Watching the river flow] was reinforced by dining at Marco Polo On The River* that Sunday.

We had gone for a late Sunday walk along the river side through Wandsworth Park as far as Putney when we were accosted by a bunch of Australians. By the time we had finished chatting and drinking it was too late to cook so we went for the Marco Polo option.

So the following Friday (two weeks ago) we decided to continue the watery trend and start working our way through the riverside restaurants. We went to Thai on the River. The next Friday (last week) it was the turn of Le Petite Max where the fillet steak was superb.

We have already been to Blue Thames, Thai Square - Putney Bridge and Al Ponte. We have yet to try Carluccio's, Putney. This Friday who knows where we will dine ...

* No web footprint yet. 6-7 Riverside, Eastfields Avenue, London, SW18 1LP. Tel: 020 8874 6800

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Weird in a deja vue kind of way

Tuesday night I had to activate the Emergency Drinking Trousers but this time to meet up with a different "person-not-seen-for-ages" - Pete Miller. We were students together at Hertford College, Oxford.

There were four of us who hung around together: me, Peter, Mike Gover and Vince Russett. There was also Alan "Luke" Bunker who was the fifth member of the quartet until he left to go to UMIST. We shared digs in various combinations, ate and drank together (Olde English Cider and Green Chartreuse) and generally lived in each others pockets as the saying goes.

But after college we mostly lost contact, Mike being the central communication node which is how Peter and I reestablished contact. This was triggered by an invite to a reunion "Gaudy", a college dinner, in September for our year. From Peter's email address it was obvious he must work not 10 minutes walk from this very office which is how this meeting came about.

Obvious and expected changes aside it was an odd and disorienting sensation to hear a voice I had not heard for a quarter of a century. I would write more but it still feels strange. It brought back a whole slew of memories but I am not yet ready for my own "A la recherche du temps perdu".

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Progress in Puglia

The lads chip away at the interior plaster

pizza oven door

Basically the squad have completed the previous property and have all moved over to our place. Progress now happens but even so I am chary of believing the guest property (nearest the camera) will be ready for our mid-September holiday.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Middlesex Sevens in the rain

Same as last year (see Fleetfoot Voodoo Man) one Saturday in August was spent at Twickers watching the Middlesex Sevens. As before, with a picnic in the car park, main course during the quarter finals, pud during the plate.

Tim vainly inspects the skies in search of blue

As you can see from the photo (please excuse the crapola quality, it was taken with a phone camera) it was not the most summery of days. Ah well, I guess that is the unpredictability of August in England.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Conscious Incompetence

Riding my new bike home on Friday evening and commuting this week put me in mind of the "Conscious Competence" model of learning. Unfortunately I am going backwards round the model. It was like being a learner driver all over again. Crunching the gears *wince*, wobbling round corners, trouble gauging the width of my vehicle.

Having ridden the old bike over 20 years and 10,000 miles I didn't even have to think when and how to change gear and could slalom betwixt taxi and bus with graceful and flowing curves. Now I am back to: approaching lights, change down, front cogs, changer on the left, forward lever, towards me, *clunk*.

Plus I am getting used to the whole style of the bike. Aluminium front forks are far less forgiving than steel over the cobbles of Storey's gate. The switch from dropped handlebars to straight alters the whole upper body posture. It all takes some getting used to. And the jury is still out on the bike vs body question. I must re-do my old route one morning to get a fair comparison.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Watching the river flow

Mary always finds being next to water relaxing. She has a friend who reckons that is because it is an essential for life and something in our animal hind brain takes comfort from the presence of flowing water.

Friday night Mary and I decided not to rush down to the cottage along the M3 with all the happy campers but have a relaxed evening in London. So we went to Ghillies on the River for an excellent meal and watched the sun set over the Thames, one of the great rivers of the world. That set me thinking about other great rivers we have dined beside:

• Old Father Thames. Of course. Ever since the Romans made it their principal crossing place, the river has played a vital role in the riparian history of Britain and, during the height of the Empire, the world. The mud postively oozes history.
• The Seine. As a courtesy to Paris I will include the Thames' sister river across the channel as a great river of the world.
• The Rhine. With me working in Basel in the past it has given us the opportunity to dine next to the Drei Koenig bridge watching the river - and the people - flow. Once a year the canton does a collective swim down the river; strange to spend a meal with hundreds of bobbing heads drift past.
• The Nile. We have dined beside (and on) this river during our honeymoon and again for our tenth wedding anniversary.
• The Mississippi. Dat 'ole man ribber. Maybe this is the river Bob* had in mind. I would not be surprised. We have been to the Jazz Fest twice and New Orleans is my favourite US city (Apologies to NY,NY).

What does that leave. The Ganges, the Amazon, what else...? I don't really fancy the Ganges. Holy it may be but it does not have a reputation as the cleanest and most hygenic of rivers. The Amazon is a different matter, I like the idea of a Latin-American trip and a Brazilian bank-side dinner.

* Watching the river flow by Bob Dylan

Friday, August 05, 2005

Hybrid or Road bike

Apologies to my regular readers (both of them) for a low blog count this week.

Monday I had thought to write up our wine-tasting from Saturday but didn't have my tasting notes. FYI it was four Chardonnays and four Syrah / Shiraz from the back of the cupboard (i.e. getting on and in need of drinking). Wednesday we had the head honcho from the client doing a tour of inspection - so no lunchtime surfing for all. Now it is Friday and I collect my new bike from Evans just round the corner.

For some time I have been toying with the idea of a new bike. Unable to decide whether it is the bike or the body that is old and knackered, I decided it was worth a try with a new bike. On the theory that I cannot change the body so changing the bike was, at least, worth a try.

Hybrid or Road bike was the next question. However this week's cycling make up my mind for me. Cycling the new off-road, cycle path route that Mary and I have sussed out, I have twice this week slid off on corners due to the smooth nature of the path. The pain, bruising and blood, not to mention the tear in my newly acquired lycra top, means I now want knobbly tyres with good grip.

Also this week hitting a pot hole at speed (swerving under the black cab to avoid the hazard was not really an option) meant having to reset both wheels at the kerbside. A road bike would have been f*****d by such conditions; I need a robust bike.

So, with some help from the charming and helpful Brazilian sales lady, I settled on a Specialized Crossroads Comp 2005. I left it there yesterday so they could fit the various accessories. Tonight I shall know the truth - body or bike!

Friday, July 29, 2005

Bobby's all right

He's a natural born poet, He's just outta sight *
Or maybe that should be...
Oh, hear this Robert Zimmerman I wrote a song for you **

The other night Mary and I listened to More Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits and it reminded me just what a genius he is. Not that the world needs me to tell it that. He is one of the great poets of the 20th century. It was a joy to chill out on the sofa and listen to a giant of the musical landscape.

* Telegram Sam by Marc Bolan and T.Rex
** Song for Bob Dylan by David Bowie

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Violent and abusive behaviour

I am used to seeing signs at the airport declaring that violent and abusive behaviour towards staff will not be tolerated. At the check-in desk, at the security gate, in the customs hall. But wasn't that always true? And what is the point of stating the bleeding obvious? Like some aggressive type is going to be deterred by a notice. Could somebody explain this rash of nugatory notices to me?

Will we start seeing them in the sandwich shop next, "Anyone head-butting the staff will be refused ham and cheese on brown!" I would like to see the reverse notice: "Polite and patient behaviour will be very well received. Anyone showing such behaviour will be greeted pleasantly and may even be allowed to jump to the head of the queue :-)"

Anyway I was at St George's [Healthcare NHS Trust], Tooting, yesterday and they have them there too! Is the level of incivility increasing or are we just more vocal about it? Shall I put on my "grumpy old man" head and start on about the decline in manners and the collapse of civilisation at we know it. Well, sorry, I don't see that way. However it does seem that there were 84,273 reported violent or abusive incidents towards NHS staff in 2000/2001 which really is unacceptable given the dedication they show toward their patients.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Hit the freeze frame button

If the previous visit revealed disappointing progress this trip unveiled b*****r all progress. As soon as we left last time they must have hit the "Freeze Frame" button.

We arrived Friday morning to find Francesco, the trullaro (a stonemason specializing in trulli), hard at work. Given the "spot the difference" effect it smacked more than somewhat of "s**t the client's are coming, get down there pronto and look busy!"

Still all was not wasted. We spent three pleasant nights staying in the heart of the centro storico of Locorotondo in some excellent self-catering apartments we found through Sotto le Cummerse. We ate and drank Italian style and went shopping.

We went with Daniele to three shops to order, respectively, a wood-burning stove, a double and two single beds, and a credenza and cupboards for the living areas. Daniele will be taking delivery on September 15 by when, he assures us, one half of the property will be habitable. It better had be as Pete&Amanda are coming to stay as our guests the following week.

And he has a second deadline when Mary's sister and Mother come to stay at the end of October. By then he has to get ready the second half of the property, that will eventually become our home, for the girls to go shopping in order to kit it out.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Daisy, Daisy

Give me your answer do *

Today Mary and I cycled in to work together most of the way; not on a tandem but in tandem. We brought up Mary's folding bike up from the cottage on the train Monday and today she led me a different route in.

Normally I do no-brainer, shortest distance road route. Mary favours more scenic (and probably safer) cycle routes courtesy of the London Cycling Campaign's cycling map. This led us through Battersea Park and past the Peace Pagoda.

It was, in truth, a pleasanter route and I may well consider adding a few minutes to my journey in exchange for an improved two-wheeled lifestyle.

* Daisy Bell Harry Dacre, 1892

Monday, July 18, 2005

Chateau Climens 1991

I thought the 1988 Chateau Rieussec was superb but Saturday evening a half bottle of Chateau Climens 1991 just knocked me out. I kept going "ummmm!" and going back for more.

Parker in his book on Bordeaux doesn't give tasting notes for the 1991 but he cites Climens as a personal favourite and I am right there with him. And the Chateau itself (hardly an unbiased view) rates the 1991 vintage as one of their favourites.

It was all Parker said, but I don't have the book to hand to quote him. Grilled pineapple comes to mind - tropical fruits with toffee notes. An intensity of flavour that was just fantastic. Plenty of botrytis but not too cloyingly sweet and with a lemon tang in the after-taste to give it some character. Fabulous!

Friday, July 15, 2005

A survivor's blog

This is a blog worth reading: Survivor's Diary

Rachel from north London was in the bombed carriage of the Tube train travelling from King's Cross to Russell Square on the Piccadilly line. She has told the BBC News website about her experience and has been making daily postings.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Full of fruit goodness

Pret are a fine sandwich chain and I normally buy my lunch there but I do think their copywriters should be kept on a tight leash.

Their granola bar advertises itself as "Full of Fruit Goodness". B*****ks! It's a solid briquette of cereal held together with sucrose. Pure carbohydrate. Good fuel for the body and if the odd bit of dried fruit contributes any vitamin content of significance I would be very much surprised.

But the pièce de résistance is the blackcurrant drink "Naturally Low in Fat". <Voice="John Cleese">Of course it is! It's a FRUIT! No ANIMALS were slaughtered in the making of this FRUIT drink!<Voice="Normal">.

Mind you it is a bit like the "Reduced Fat" Lurpak spreadable butter we buy. Basically they have worked out how to pump more water into it but they are hardly going to label it "Increased Water"!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Collecting for Charity

The girl in Covent Garden, fundraising for charity, was most surprised that I stopped for a chat when she asked if I had a couple of moments. It seems Natalie Perez (for that was her name) had had a dispiriting morning trying to accost tourists (not interested) or office workers (too busy).

She was expounding the virtues of Friends Of the Earth through the use of carefully crafted, closed questions along the lines of "If you could save the planet with no effort on your part would you be interested?" Like who's going to say no. All part of a script for getting "Yes" answers to draw the mark in.

I explained that we were all "donation-ed out" what with the monthly contributions to MacMillan Fund and Cancer Research, not to mention Children in Need, Red Nose Day and the Tsunami Appeal. But I do talk to strangers and FOE is a worthy cause even if I was not inclined to contribute. It seems her spirits were improved by having someone actually stop, so I wished her good luck and went on my way.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Jazz at the Tower

Not just any old tower, The Tower of London that is. Sunday night M&M went with sister Jane and friend Heather to Jazz at The Tower. Picnic beforehand in the moat followed by a two-part set. Part A was the James Taylor Quartet followed by a relaxed (as a newt) interval then Part B was Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames.

A cracking evening with fine sets from both bands. JTQ cranked out the blues / funk / soul a lá Blues Brothers and GF was a showman schlepping out "Yeh, Yeh" which segued into a medley of fine old standards (give the punters what they want).

It was odd, not to say surreal, however, to have as an MC a genuine Beefeater.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Cleopatra's teeth

The reason I had always planned to work at home Friday was not the bombings but that Cleo was going in to Cedar Vets for a teeth scale and polish (it just worked out that way). This procedure is done under a general anaesthetic which is always a concern especially for a 15 year old cat.

I was, I admit, a little nervous having lost Oliver and Oscar in the last two years. As it was she came through with flying colours: teeth gleaming and not one extraction. The reason to do it now is preventive to try and avoid a toothless old age for her. Happily I seem to have got the timing right.

She is doing very well for a cat of her age which I attribute to her beings a GPM (General Purpose Moggie). The feline equivalent of a mongrel, a bit of mixed parentage seems to imbue her with hybrid vigour. I must ask Ian if he knows how her litter mates are doing.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Mark and Mary are OK

A number of friends have emailed to check that we are OK. We are fine and unaffected by the bombs (in the physical sense). We are both working in central London (me only 1/2 mile from the bus bomb). But both safely in our offices before it happened. I cycle in so getting home was easy. Mary walked down to Vauxhall (avoiding Waterloo) and got a train home. Working at home today.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Tempest at the globe

Tuesday night I took Dad to see The Tempest at The Globe Theatre as a belated 80th birthday treat. Much to my amaze he had never seen the play though he has seen many others. But then, hey, I have never seen King Lear. An unusual production but enjoyable and entertaining. Google "tempest globe review" to see what the critics thought.

It did remind me of the time Dad took me to the RSC at Stratford to see Peter Brook's production of "The Dream" way back nearly 25 years ago. That was a uniquely magical performance and a true example of the ability of the theatre to transport you to other realms. It has remained with me to this day.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Name check for Charlie

On Tuesday night I popped down to the cottage to drop Molly (Mary's Morris Minor) round to the garage for its MOT. On the train back in the morning (the 6:50 from Southampton Airport) I got chatting to a woman who was not a regular commuter. She was saying how kids were not as polite as they used to be; she was pregnant and hoped that she could bring up her child with good manners but was concerned it would be considered odd by its peers.

I was saying that the unruly ones are the ones that make the news and there are plenty of well-mannered, well-brought up children about. I cite my nephews (on my sister's side) as fine examples (see clip-clippety-clop). And so, also, it is true on my brother's side.

We went round to S.O. Sarah's on Saturday for the residents' association annual summer event. There was Lorenzo and his mates likewise "handsome, tall, and strong". All charming and polite, confident and self assured. I am sure I was never that poised at that age. Similarly for Lorenzo's girlfriend, Charlie, and her crowd. Anyhow I promised Charlie I would give her a name check on the blog so (hoping I got the correct spelling) there you go, Charlie!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

It's got a basket

Three bike items:

1) Sunday, on the way back from the cottage, I called in at Ian(&Kate)'s to check out his spare road bike. He is a serious, 100k on a Sunday morning, cyclist and has upgraded from aluminium to titanium! I wanted to know whether it was the (25-year-old) bike that was knackered or the (52-year-old) body ("Cycling shouldn't be this hard!"). Unfortunately I was not able to test ride the bike as it had no pedals! So back again in two weeks.

2) Monday I decided to "treat" myself to some clip-ins to replace the (20-year-old) toe-clip&straps arrangement that I put on my bike shortly after I bought it off Penny and read Richard's Bicycle Book. Shimano I think they are.

3) Tuesday; anyway, my bike has pannier carriers with an old wire basket cable-tied to it. So uncool - no serious road-biker would be seen dead with such a thing. But for me practical as I dump my old shoulder bag into it containing the clean shirt to change into at work, post-shower. This morning Mary and I saw a similar old bike but for a basket he had a wooden Chateau Cissac box attached at the back; now that is style!

So what top growth claret box could I attach to the back of a Ian's road bike? Let me check out the cellar now :-)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

New World versus Old

A good wine tasting will have a theme to make it interesting and educational - be it 'vertical' (Vega Sicilia from the '80s and '90s), 'horizontal' (the 2004 vintage in Italy), 'varietal' (Rieslings from around the world), 'price' (supermarket reds for under a fiver), 'other' (bring something odd that the others might not have tried).

A popular theme is New World versus Old. Last night's tasting at the Charteris Wine Society went one better: Bordeaux versus South Africa. The wines were supplied by Virgin Wines and ably presented by the society's chairman, Jeremy. He knew his stuff but then so he should, he used to be a wine-buyer for Sainsbury's. The wines were:

Bordeaux

South Africa

Chateau de Roques Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc 2004

Churchaven Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc 2004

Sichel Rocherolles Rouge 2003

Three Gables Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot 2004

Chateau Macquin St Georges St Emilion 2002

Radford Dale Merlot 2001/2002

Chateau Maucaillou Cru Bourgeois 1993

Rustenberg John X Merriman 2002


Worst of the night: the Sichel Rocherolles Rouge (slightly musty, little fruit).
Best of the night: Chateau Maucaillou Cru Bourgeois 1993 (good extraction, slightly smokey nose, gentle tannins).

Not entirely surprisingly I preferred the New world and Mary favoured the Old, apart from the last pair when we switched allegiances.

Then we wandered off to Carluccio's Smithfield Caffé for supper. Noisy but good food, I had an excellent liver - to eat that is, I am sure sure about the state of my own after all this wine.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Always wear a helmet

Around 70% of the cyclists killed on the road have major head injuries and over half of cyclists injured have head injuries. Source: ROSPA.

I always wear a helmet [see entry "And a trifle uncool"]. So does my mate Ian and it saved him from serious injury, possibly death. Just look what it did to the car:

car hit by cyclist

Don't argue: Just Do It! Wear a helmet!

More stats from ROSPA:

Cyclist Casualties (2003):
 • Killed: 114
 • Seriously Injured: 2,297
 • Slightly Injured: 14,622
 • Total: 17,033

Cycling Accidents:
 • 90% occur in urban areas
 • 75% happen at, or near, a road junction
 • 80% occur in daylight
 • 80% of cyclist casualties are male
 • About one third of the cyclists killed or injured are children
 • Around three quarters of cyclists killed have major head injuries.

Another source of info on cycling in the metropolis: London Cycling Campaign

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Disappointing progress but...

When we arrived at the Hovel-in-the-Hills™ on Saturday morning we were a little disappointed by the lack of progress on the fabric of the building. No more cones re-furbished and the collapsed trulli was just as we left it four weeks ago.

Daniele did admit that Francesco, the stonemason and critical-path resource, had been away working on another project (typical builder!). But we were assured that he was now back on our case and much progress would be seen by our next visit in five weeks time.

On the other hand the internal wall at the back of the lamia was up which made the kitchen and bathroom into real rooms and much easier to visualise where the fittings, worktops and units would go.

Mary, Daniele and friend discuss kitchen layout
Mary, Daniele and friend discuss kitchen layout

A big surprise was in the other bathroom. Daniele know that room had once held a fire by the soot on the ceiling (hence the false chimney he put on the top of the cone). But when the lads stripped out the old sanitary ware they discovered an actual chimney behind the plaster. This will become an alcove with shelves for toiletries.

Bathroom stripped to reveal old chimney
Bathroom stripped to reveal old chimney

Monday, June 20, 2005

Flashing blue bike

Friday lunchtime Mary and I converged on Stansted via Liverpool Street from our several places of employment. While Mary was changing buses at Mansion House she spotted a "Bobby on a bicycle" in hot pursuit of a cyclist who had run a red light. Despite a slight paunch said rozzer apprehended the miscreant and had words with him.

These days the police ride BMX-style bikes, no more the old sit-up-and-beg; not surprising really if they are to engage in hot pusuits. What made this bike remarkable was that it had a flashing blue light and a "POLICE" sign under the saddle (and presumably at the front as well).

We were heading for Standsted for the Ryanair flight to Brindisi and our monthly progress check on the Hovel-in-the-Hills™ of which more tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Emergency drinking trousers

One challenge with cycling in shorts and changing into a suit when I get to work is managing the logistics. If I go out for a drink after work not many wine bars' dress code extend to lycra shorts and a T-shirt.

Last night I met up with Martin Haswell (old KGS chum as previously blogged [1], [2]). I did not want to go out in the suit otherwise how do I cycle home and how do I get the suit back to work the next day?

The answer is the "Emergency Drinking Trousers" (pat. pending). I keep a pair of trousers in the cupboard at work and change into them (over lycra if cycling home). Then cycle in the next morning with the trousers rolled up in the saddle bag. Problem solved!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Faster than Paula Radcliffe

I have previously blogged how Paula can run faster than I can cycle. But today I knocked 6 minutes off the journey time from Wandsworth to Drury Lane. Thus increasing my average speed from 11.3 mph to 14.8 mph beating Paula's 11.5 mph.

I would like to claim it is all the training but I haven't done any, nor have I cycled for a fortnight. No, it was simply that I hit all the lights on green and that made the difference.

PS.
Suddenly decided to recheck my maths and realised I must have had a funny turn. A distance of 6.4 miles in 32 minutes is in fact 12.0 mph, and Paula's speed was 11.4 mph. So I was always faster (on a bike).

PPS.
Mind you, I bet if you put Paula on a bike it wouldn't be me who was the faster.

Friday, June 10, 2005

1 Lombard Street Restaurant

Wednesday night Mary and I went to 1 Lombard Street Restaurant with Pete&Amanda and had a superb meal. If you booked through Top Table they did a 9 course Menu Degustation for GBP 45. I cannot tell you what we drank but this was the menu:

• Carpaccio of tuna with oriental spices, ginger and lime vinaigrette, black radish
• Feuillete of smoked Finnan haddock with quail egg, Coleman’s English mustard sauce
• Salad of artichokes, wild mushrooms and French beans, pumpkin seed oil and old balsamic vinegar
• Grilled scallop with Provencal vegetable confit, fennel seed and saffron jus
• Seared foie gras, parsnip cream and white truffle oil
• Poached new season lamb with spring vegetables, lamb and mint jus, Jersey royal potatoes
• Pave of Angus beef, morels and vin jaune a la cream, beef reduction, baby leeks
• Warm compote of strawberries in black pepper and Sauternes crème fraiche sorbet
• Feuillantine of caramelised Granny Smith apple, Guinness ice cream and glazed hazelnuts

All excellent but for me the standout dish was the Coleman’s English mustard sauce that went so well with the Finnan Haddock.

One disappointment was that we originally tried to get John&Andrea to join us but we cancelled the booking when Amanda discovered she was double booked. Then her prior engagement cancelled at the last minute so we rebooked and made an eleventh hour dash; too late to give J&A enough time to organise baby-sitting (we reckoned). Apologies Andrea, next time!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The wanderer returns

Not surprisingly there were few internet cafes seen in the glens so I may cheat and retro blog some back-dated entries later.

In the meantime we got back Saturday having got up early and decided to drive all the way home in one hit. This meant we could relax Sunday including a short walk around Wandsworth. Nestling amongst the light industrial units is Wandle Creek where the river Wandle flows into the Thames.

Strange to see, amongst the city sprawl a pair of grey herons, a small flotilla of tufted ducks, a couple of coots, a lone wagtail, the usual rabble of mallards and a couple of pointy-beaked chaps who we think were great crested grebes.

It may not rival the osprey we saw last week but still a heartening sight in the scruffy back lanes of SW18.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Out of Office

Off to Bonnie Scotland for a week, touring the Great Glen with Mary, her Mum and Mum's friend Jane. So unless I find a cyber cafe and the time to use it I shall be maintaining radio silence until next Sunday (05-Jun-05).

Toodle-pip!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Puglia's Prime

Thanks to Elizabeth for pointing out this article in the Washington Post: Puglia's Prime. I particularly liked the last paragraph in this extract. Bear in mind we are in the Valle D'Itria between Locorotondo and Cisternino.

<quote>
Puglia's Prime. Culture, cooking, miles of coastline. . . No wonder this is Italy's newest 'next' place.

By Robert V. Camuto, Special to The Washington Post, Sunday, May 22, 2005

Trulli Different

The center of Puglia's fashionable tourism is in the Valle D'Itria, the land of trulli.

Trulli are centuries-old stone and masonry cottages built from cylindrical room-size chambers -- each enclosed by conical stone roofs. Alberobello is the trulli capital, a village of more than a thousand still inhabited trulli, laid out side by side and topped with geometric pinnacles.

Walking through a neighborhood of whitewashed trulli with beaded doorway curtains and satellite dishes, many of the roofs painted with ancient Christian or astrological symbols, the effect is otherworldly. Is it Dr. Seuss, or some corner of ancient Byzantium? The magic is broken only when you hit one of Alberobello's main tourist streets, where the trulli are filled with souvenir shops hawking olive oil and liqueurs in trullo-shaped bottles.

Just as I was wondering where the trulli came from, I found a rather studious book titled "The TRULLI -- Where did they come from?" It explains that the dwellings proliferated around the 15th century in a complex tax scam. Local counts -- then under an Aragonese king -- allowed farmers and shepherds to build houses on feudal lands without mortar. By allowing dry "temporary" dwellings, the counts were able to avoid the king's taxes on urban areas while pocketing what they collected from the local peasantry.

Outside Alberobello, on the roads to Locorotondo and Cisternino, the countryside is loaded with storybook images: small walled farms with old trulli homes and perfectly disintegrating trulli ruins. Alongside them are trulli hotels, trulli restaurants and big neo-trulli vacation homes.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company
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Rock muncher

Now this is a serious Monster Munch. Mary and I were both most impressed by this machine in the field below the Hovel-in-the-Hills ™. It is chewing the rocks you see on the right into the soil you see on the left. It does a field in a day.



According to an on-looker, "Il Padrone" who owns the field will be planting Primitivo but the following day the driver told us it will be a white grape. Either way it will be a "Good Thing" to be able to look out the back and see rows of vines.

Monday, May 23, 2005

It fell down...

Last Monday when talking to Daniele, the architect, to arrange our meeting on Friday just gone, he said "the trulli with the crack, it fell down". What!?

Now it didn't look too bad the last time we saw it, that crack, but when removing the chiancarelle (stone roof tiles) the changes in stress were, apparently, enough to cause the wall to give way:

Collapsed Trulli

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Dual purpose bag

On the way out to Italy this weekend (Thursday evening, a long weekend) I was reading the film processing envelope in the seat-back pocket in front of me and musing on the effect of digital cameras on the postal processing labs. I haven't used them for years but they were much cheaper than Boots if you didn't mind the four day turnaround time and they gave you a free film.

So here they, or their descendants, are still twenty years on with a ludicrously cheap introductory offer of 95p and you still get a free film. How do they do it? Well it is all in the p&p and the extras - like get your chemical films on a CD as well as paper prints.

Then I turned over the bag and noticed the rubric: "This is a dual purpose bag". Ah! That explains the plastic lining. It doubled as a sick bag, how <ingenious ¦ ecological ¦ economical >

Monday, May 16, 2005

Born To Boogie DVD review

Well not really a review but memories from the Pre-Release screening. So as promised there...

Theme for a dragon

It felt very strange sitting there in the dark at the advance screening of the Born To Boogie DVD. I was close to being one of the oldest there apart from those who had been active participants at the time. I was not a T.Rex fan; I was a Tyrannosaurus Rex fan. Seeing the sights and sound of that era took me into flashback. I was one of the earlier would-be hippy generation. Like many I listened to John Peel's late show under the bedclothes and was introduced to many a strange musik. That was pre-Deborah (08-May-1968) as I rushed out to order it as soon as it was announced. I continued to buy every single and album until early 1972 (Telegram Sam and Electric Warrior were my last purchases).

The John Peel years
Following the sad passing of John, Michael Heatley rushed out not a biography but "An Appreciation" entitled "John Peel: A Life in Music" (ISBN: 1843171570). A passable non-biography covering the main chronological aspects of JP's life and giving, of course, many mentions of Marc, the early support and the subsequent parting. What I had not appreciated was how much a part of my life John had been. Not just through my listening to him but also my school and college friends. Pete at college was heavily into Zappa and Captain Beefheart and who do you think introduced those to the British public? John occasionally played the weird poet Ivor Cutler who I even went to see live at the Roundhouse.

The Fraudster years
I feel something of a fraud - not a real fan - I am not even sure how many times I saw Marc. You would think that would be indelibly engraved in my memory but not so. I thought I had seen him twice: once at an open-air concert as a Tyrannosaurus duo and once as a T.Rex quartet. When my parents moved house I thought I had chucked the only ticket stub I had. Subsequently I found three more. So did I mis-remember that discard? Was it one of the three or not? Had I seen him four or three times?

The Dandy years
And then there were the clothes. God that took me back as well! I had the full set: the crushed velvet flares, the tank top, the floppy rounded shirt collar and, of course, the platform sole boots. A special trip to London from boondocks Kenilworth down to Camden Town for 2-inch soles and 4 inch heels; although I wimped out and went for brown not silver. I remember Dad trying them on and strutting the living room carpet saying they made him feel like John Wayne! I still have those boots at the back of the cupboard, I just cannot bear to chuck them - the excuse is "spray them silver for a fancy dress party". But the flared jeans had to go, I am no longer waist 28", inside leg 32".

The Absentee years
Then I drifted away. I never bought past EW. Well actually I did but only out of the remaindered bin or second hand not hot off the presses. The college years introduced me to Madonna and Wam! Like a Virgin and Wake me up Before You Go-Go. And where are they now? ABC, Eurythmics and... Even so it was a shock on my birthday to hear of Marc's death. I was on a small Greek island, Andros, with Sheridan, and on the 20th of September, as it was my 25th birthday, we treated ourselves to a copy of The Times for the crossword and news of dear old Blighty. There in a small item, overshadowed by the passing of The King, was the news.

That night, for the only time on that fateful holiday (for more reasons than one) I switched from Amstel to Retsina. Drank more than was necessary and head-butted the low-hanging veranda on the way out. That hurt.

The Rediscovery years
Then in February 1996 I briefly acquired a CompuServe account through work for use with a geographically dispersed project. I discovered AltaVista (how did they lose the plot to Google?) and first typed in my name and second Marc Bolan. So he was never far below the surface. What did I find but The Ancients Scrolls of Beltane and Ole Catblack's Devotional site. The former was the unique Rickster, the latter I never found out who he was and he later dropped off the radar. Rick however remained a global force in preserving Marc's memory. So fast forward through the TillDawn Years, the album reviews, the re-listening to all the albums grooved into my brain.

And that is how I came to be sitting in a darkened cinema watching Born To Boogie. Tomorrow I will rush down to Virgin Megastore at Tottenham Court Road and treat myself to a serious chunk of nostalgia.

Amethystos (under the counter)

Bit of a boozy weekend this weekend. Tim&Sarah round for dinner and bridge on Friday and then off to the Oddbins Wine Fair on Saturday with the usual suspects (Bob&Lynne, Barry&Sue and Andrea).

Friday night I think we played as many hands as we drank bottles of wine (six of each) which says something about how seriously (or not) we take these respective recreations. We presented, blind, to T&S a wine we bought at Oddbins Wine Fair about five years ago. We did it blind because if we said "This is a Greek Cabernet Sauvignon" prejudices might kick in. In fact the Amethystos Cava 1995 is a very fine wine indeed.

On that previous Wine Fair, right at the end of the afternoon, Bob had said we should try the Greek wines. So Mary marched up to the stall with the tall, dark, handsome Greek man and demanded to taste their best wine. "You want our best wine?" "Yes, I want your best wine!" This prompted him to reach down under the counter and produce this '95 Amethystos.

When Mary went to the order point they called it up on the screen where it was, literally, listed as "Amethystos 1995 [under the counter]". We bought six bottles then and they have been aging nicely and drinking excellently now.

This year we did our usual pre-prandial comparative tasting of champagnes, only 18 this time. Then lunch at Ask next door and back for the afternoon session. After a couple of tastings I decided not to do the usual whites then reds, but instead decided to do some whisky tastings.

First port of call was Jon, Mark and Robbo's Easy Drinking Whisky Company stand to take the nosing challenge. Ten phials of different aromas. I did not bad considering I didn't spot the poster behind me which listed what they were; multiple choice is so much easier than completely unspecified (Mary did very well indeed). Very educational and then, of course, I tasted their whiskys which were fine.

Then off to other stands for a number of Islay malts and I was ready to go home for a snooze. But no rest for the wicked, that was followed by an evening of eating and drink at the second nearest Tapas: San Miguel's with the suspects augmented by Kate&Ian. A fine day.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Wombats at the Gherkin

Met up for lunch yesterday with Michael who works at the Gherkin along with Tim, from Zurich, and their colleague Jed. We went to Satu in Devonshire Square where the food was very tasty (stir fried salmon) and our waitress was very tasty too but the service was glacial (in speed not friendliness). Long gap between starter and main and 25 minutes from asking for the bill to its arrival. Not good for a quick business lunch.

Tim, ever since I have know him, has been given to using Wombat as a Metasyntactic variable (like some people use widget). I recently learned from The Jargon File that it actually stands for "Waste Of Money, Brains, And Time". I quizzed Tim as to whether, given his technical background, he was speaking Commonwealth Hackish. He denied this and said it was simply because he has s soft spot for this particular Australian marsupial.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Chateau Rieussec revisited

Having mentioned to Mary the excellent 1999 Chateau Rieussec I had with Wednesday's meal she dutifully obliged with a wine to top that. Saturday evening for pud we had baked peaches and to go with Mary produced from the "Cellar", with all the flourish of a magician's rabbit, a half bottle of 1988 Chateau Rieussec.

What a difference a decade makes! Even more gorgeous and, as expected, a darker colour but, what was not expected, distinct notes of toffee, even hints of dark treacle or molasses. Delicious, a fine way to round off a meal :-)

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Snagging list

Seems to be a UK English usage. A snagging list details the outstanding and remedial work as a construction scheme comes to an end. Sometime the final stage payment is conditional on rectifying the items on the list.

We had Bob from Wessex Archaeology round yesterday to do a full structural survey. This is all part of the grand plan to "down-shift" to Italy in four years time. Part of that is selling Avon Cottage in order to clear our debts and reinvest.

We aim to make sure that the cottage is in tip-top condition for any prospective purchasers having it surveyed. We don't want any surprises. So whatever this structural survey shows we will use as a "To-Do" list over the next couple of years.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Tripe, nien danke!

Went to the Restaurant Brunegg last night and had a curate's egg of a meal. Having no German I had to guess at the menu and ordered a main course which I could work out came in a tomato sauce with potatoes. It turned out to be tripe!

Now liver I am OK with, likewise kidneys but tripe is beyond my offal horizon. So I ate what I could and had room for dessert for a pleasant change. A Toblerone based chocolate mousse (how very Swiss) and a glass of the only dessert wine they: 1999 Chateau Rieussec. And it was fabulous, absolutely gorgeous, everything a dessert wine should be. The only shame is I return home tonight or I would go back there tonight just so I could have another glass.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Airline tickets in the bin

Not necessarily a bad thing.

We had planned to spend the Bank Holiday weekend in Italy paying the next tranche of money and finalising the layout of sanitary ware in the bath room. The stone mason has started work on the first cone and has even provided some weathered stones from his own private store. This is to prevent the piebald appearance found in restored Trulli, so concerned is he to do a top notch job on such an unspoilt property. But this start was sufficiently delayed that the small amount of progress meant it was not worth visiting.

Trulli cone partially restored

Part of the deal with low cost airlines is the gamble of booking far in advance to get the best prices. If we book closer to when our plans are certain the cost will have gone up. We fly often enough that it is marginal if it is worth paying the rearrangement fee. In this case there were no suitable dates in our time window and the October flights are not yet released so it was cheaper simply to chuck the tickets in the bin. Some you win, some you lose, but overall it is the cheaper strategy. Plus it has saved us a night at the Radisson SAS at Stansted, two days car hire and two nights in Lo Smeraldo hotel.

Instead we stayed home and worked in the garden. Over the last two weekends we have done good stuff planting plants, drastically pruning shrubs, re-felting the summer house, stacking the log pile, macro-weeding and other sundry maintenance tasks. All of which will make for a flower filled summer to look forward to.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Plastic urinals - whatever next?

Dateline: International Youth Hostel, Zurich

I normally arrive here about 20 minutes to midnight on a Monday night to collect the keys for the client apartment that is to be my home for the next two nights. Today, because it is a public holiday in the UK and I was originally going to be en route from Stansted to Wandsworth (see next post) I am on an earlier flight.

So that means time to (in reverse order) use the internet cafe here, have a beer and make room for the beer. It did not sound right as I peed and it was because they were plastic urinals. Such things I have seen at events and festivals but this was the first I have seen one that endeavours to imitate the proper porcelain. Which it did so convincingly that only the ear told the tale.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

What a difference a year makes

This time last year, on her birthday, Mum was still in hospital full of tubes and painkillers, recovering from her Mother's Day emergency aortobifemoral bypass

Last night Ian and I went down to Farnham to take her and Dad out for a Chinese meal. She was well and cheerful one year on. It was good to see.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Born to Boogie DVD

Many thanks to Clare at The Sanctuary Group for giving me a complimentary ticket to the pre-release screening of Born To Boogie DVD at the Curzon Mayfair.

An excellent evening with a chance to meet up with some Tillers from the TillDawn Mailing list. Also in the foyer were Gloria Jones (Marc's girlfriend), Bill Legend (drummer), Harry Feld (Marc's brother) with wife and Geoff Blayldon (Catweazel).

There were some introductory words from the Producer and music producing legend Tony Visconti. Then 50 minutes edited highlights from the DVD followed by a few words from Mark's son Rolan Bolan. Watching it brought back memories of that era and a promise of a longer post and review later...

Me and the other Tillers had black tickets which meant we could loiter, pick up a small goodie bag and shake hands with Rolan and Tony. Then off to the pub for a glass of red wine and home.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Me and Paula Radcliffe

Friday I was thinking "Cycling shouldn't be this hard!" and cursing E.W.Evans servicing abilities. I even got off at Battersea to check the back tyre wasn't rubbing. The previous owner of the bike had changed the thin racing tyres for normal road tyres which means the gap between rubber and frame is very narrow. The quick release mechanism sometime slips and then friction occurs.

But not this time, so I puffed and strained the rest of the way to work, 10 minutes slower than usual, swearing I would call Evans and demand some after-service service. When I got to work I did a final QA of the bike and found that a front brake block was loose and I had been cycling with the brakes on. Whoops.

Mind you even at my normal speed it takes me 32 minutes to do the 6.4 miles which is 11.29 mph.

Paula Radcliffe did the 26.22 miles of the marathon in 2 hours 17 minutes which I make 11.48 mph.

So that means she can run for over two hours faster than I can manage on a bike for half an hour. That is fast!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Biggin Hill - downward spiral of despair

Well not so much despair, more like boredom. And I think it is probably stacked circles like a vertical packet of Polo Mints. But whatever. As Herr Captain made his spiel the only word I caught was Biggin Hill.

Frequent fliers will know that can mean only one thing: inbound congestion at LHR and Swanwick have put us on hold. So settle back into your Recaro seats as the Captain banks the plane sharply to the right and deja vu sets in as the twinkling lights of south east London far below go round and round and round and round like aviation's answer to Groundhog Day.

And then it ended and we were down. So that was nice.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Infrequent flier demotion

Dateline: Swiss Executive Lounge, Zurich Airport.

It is six months since I started my contract in London and they have just noticed. Within the space of a couple of weeks Hilton Honors have demoted me from gold to silver and Swiss TravelClub have demoted me from silver to blue. So, no more free booze in the Executive Lounge; like any of us are executives anyway!

So how come I am here? Well, I have so many Swiss miles that I will never use that I am slowly burning them on upgrades. The client will only pay for coach and so 10k air miles gets me a wider seat, a free meal and access to the lounge (and some passable Chilean Cab Sauv).

People always go on about leg room but at 5' 8" that has never worried me. It is the lack of elbow room in coach that bugs me. Trying to turn the pages of my book, flip the pages of the paper or munch my way through the meal with my elbows virtually stapled to my waist is the bummer. Ah, the expansive joys of Seat 5F :-)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Kamikaze cat prevention

Having a cat in a fourth floor flat presents problems as summer approaches and we want to open the windows. Apparently a previous occupant's cat did jump and survived unharmed but not something I would not want to even think about risking with Cleo.

Sunday was spent assembling some mesh inserts from Cataire Screening which fit the bill and the secondary glazing slots very nicely. Assemble it yourself aluminium frames with black nylon mesh (hardly visible) which temporarily replace the sliding glazing panels for some cool summer breeze.

Good value and exactly what we wanted: definitely recommended!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Cycling "en danseuse"

Many thanks to Stroppy Cow for introducing me to this delightful French expression for cycling standing up. Something I do regularly when I do not change down in time for the lights or find myself going up an incline.

The trouble is I find I need to do it more and more. I don't remember it being so hard when I used to do the 9.25 miles from South Wimbledon to Devonshire Square. Now I am only doing 6 miles from Wandsworth to Drury Lane and it feels like I am on an exercise bike from the gym.

So Wednesday I took the bike to Evans Cycles in Wandsworth for the full service. They dismantle, clean and re-grease all the bearings. Thursday and Friday cycling was no easier so it must be my body that needs the service :-(

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Licorice on Bass

Listening to Devendra Barnhart as I walked up from Waterloo I was reminded not so much of Marc Bolan, to whom some of his early warblings sound similar, but more the folk tradition exemplified by Incredible String Band.

God, that takes me back. Saw them at Birmingham Town Hall in 1969 (or thereabouts). With David Fee. Whatever happened to him, I wonder? Songs like "The Hedgehog's Song" and "Way Back in the 1960s". And Licorice on Bass.

Ah, nostalgia! It's not what it used to be.