Thursday, March 31, 2005

Pasqua in Puglia

Unlike our last 24 hour visit to Italy, Easter gave us two days to enjoy a more leisurely visit. We stayed, again, at Hotel Lo Smeraldo just outside Cisternino.

The Lamia is proceeding apace. The roof has been redone: the old "chiancarelle" and underlying (basically) mud removed and replaced by reinforcing mesh and concrete. The interior floor has been removed and re-concreted ready for the underfloor heating and top floor. The opening in what will be the kitchen wall has been opened out to make the back door. The drainage channels around the pizza oven and Lamia have now been boxed in and ready to be earthed over.

We are out again in another 4 weeks - three cheers to Ryan Air for cheap flights - and look forward to seeing even more progress.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Jane's 50th Birthday

Last Thursday was sister Jane's 50th birthday. Like Dad for his 80th birthday two week earlier, Jane went for the quiet, at-home, family gathering, this time augmented by nephews, old friends Jane&Brock and Cheryl, Pete's Dad (Michael) and Aunt (Freda).

Usual stuff: ate, drank, chatted, had a good time. How unlike EastEnders! <sarcasm=ON>Where are we going wrong? How come we enjoy each other's company? Why don't we have family screaming matches, like on the telly?<sarcasm=OFF>

Mary and I were most pleased with the present we bought in Edinburgh - a set of Six Fabergé Coffee Cups & Saucers from The Royal Collection - which went down very well.

Then a taxi back home to Wandsworth, which was cheaper than staying at the local Reigate Manor Hotel and meant we woke in our own bed :-)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Inconsistent Man Machine Interface

MMI does not just mean CHI. It also applies to mechanical machines.

Of the three lifts in this building only one goes to the lowest level. The lift designers simply ordered the button in rows of three starting at the bottom and working up. That means those of us who get in and hit the button in "the usual position" have a one-in-three chance of being whisked to the wrong floor.

Majority lift    
Minority lift   
(there is no "2")
Minority lift
should have been

9 10 11
6 7 8
3 4 5

11 12
8 9 10
5 6 7
1 3 6

9 10 11
6 7 8
3 4 5

That is, the same as the others with "1" pre-pended.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Daffodil Dining Club at Le Gavroche

It's a dirty job but someone's got to do it. A five-and-a-half-hour lunch on Saturday at Le Gavroche. Courtesy of our friend John Amiry and his Daffodil Dining Club we ate and drank of the finest.

The food was as you would expect from Michel Roux, Jnr. and his Three Michelin Stars.
• Canapes
• Marbre Savoureux et Vinaigrette aux Truffes
• Petit Ragout be Langoustines Parfume au Gingembre
• Filet de St. Pierre Pane., Veloute au Safran et Coriandre
• Daube de Boeuf aux Olives et Pommes Mousseline
• Assortiment de Fromage Affines
• Le Roule Marquis aux Framboises
• Cafe et Petits Fours

The wines were all from Domaine Sainte Rose and Ruth Simpson herself was there to present the wines:
• La Canicule 2003
• Le Pinacle Chardonnay 2002
• The Barrel Selection Low Yield Rousanne 2003
• Le Pinacle Syrah 2002
• Le Soleil du Sud 2002

Of the three whites I preferred the La Canicule 2003 over the Le Pinacle Chardonnay despite the latter being nearly twice the price; maybe it was too subtle for my taste buds. The reds were excellent but my palate, such as it is, was well blunted by the waiters insistence on refilling glasses as soon as they got past half empty.

So we wandered in mellow mood out into the afternoon sunshine for the trip home and a belated siesta.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Oz slide show December 2001

For Mary's benefit because there are no links to it elsewhere, selected pictures from our <visit to Australia, December 2001>. (Warning bloated graphics not suitable for dial-up viewers)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

From Armatrading to Zappa

I have been rediscovering the joys of some musical golden oldies courtesy of the new techno-toy: a Sony NW-HD1, Mary's Christmas present to me. I have starting ripping the CD collection, starting naturally enough at A.

Considering Mary and I have several hundreds of CD's each it was surprising to discover that we had only a single album in common, Jimmy Hendrix Greatest Hits. The collections live in different rooms and if we are in "my" room she will say, "Let's have some tasteful music" meaning from her collection.

When she last sorted her CD's they went from Joan Armatrading to Frank Zappa indicating her range of tastes. Mine go from Adam Ant to ZZ Top which, as she remarked, just about says it all.

Monday, March 14, 2005

A weekend in Auld Reekie

Mary and I went up to Edinburgh (aka Auld Reekie) for the weekend to watch Scotland get stuffed by Wales in the Six Nations.

We spent Saturday shopping followed by lunch and a siesta; I don't have the stamina I used to :-( In the evening we met up with Maggie and Ron for an excellent meal at First Coast.

Sunday was Holyroodhouse, lunch and the match. Mary had warned me about the biting Edinburgh wind so I had gone armed with thermal long johns and multiple t-shirt layers which kept me toasty warm. The 4°C and wind chill factor did not, however, deter a number of Scots from wearing kilts.

Although Mary has visited a number of times and me a couple we decided to treat ourselves to the AA guide to Edinburgh which provided some unintentional amusement (for the second it helps to know that Mary's Dad, sister and brother-in-law all are / were in the "polis"). Obviously written assuming no knowledge at all about the UK on the part of the reader:

• Tap water in Edinburgh is safe and reasonably palatable.
• Scots policemen [...] are friendly and approachable and will give directions and information willingly.
• You are unlikely to get sunburnt in Edinburgh...

Friday, March 11, 2005

Dad's 80th birthday

Another major life milestone: Dad reached 80 yesterday. To celebrate he requested just the immediate family (me, siblings Ian and Jane, Mum and himself) gathered at the parental home in Farnham for the handing over of gifts and the eating of a Chinese take-away. Plus a couple of nice bottles of wine.

Dad is a late adopter when it comes to technology so we bought him a DVD player to supplement his video. Since he loves film it makes future presents easy peasy. Mary started him off with "Citizen Kane" a film right up there (some say at No. 1).

It was a long evening with the usual wide-ranging discussions covering everything from the impact of "Shape of Things to Come" on war-time morale to prostate cancer. Jane stayed over; Ian gave up alcohol about four years ago and so was able to give me a lift home.

Spoke to Dad this evening and he said the evening was all he could have wished for, a reminder of how important family is to him. That must mean me then :-) and Ian and Jane of course but also the grand-children.

This morning he got a card from nephew Ben with a very touching message about how Dad had been an inspiration to him over the years and fostered his interested in film, leading to his choice of degree and career in the film. Well done Ben!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

I'm worried about my drinking

So quoth Cosmo some years ago in "The Clanger" in Devonshire Square along with Pete and I.

One of the thing about lads' drinking is the macho etiquette of "standing your round" which means you cannot be seen to be backward in coming forward to buy the next round. As a result the drinks purchasing is driven by the empty glass of the fastest drinker in the crowd and you might, if you are a slower drinker, end up with a row of bottles of Stella, or whatever, in front of you.

On the aforementioned occasion Cosmo ended up with a Gin and tonic in each hand and another inbound from the bar. This prompted his comment to which Pete wittily riposted "Well you could always try just using one hand."

This evening I met up with an an old friend from school - Martin - who found me by Googling Kenilworth Grammar School. The last time we met up in October '04 I remember feeling not at my sparkiest the next morning. This was, so he informed me, because we bought a round each.

That would not have been so bad but for the three for two special offer!

And that would not have been so bad had they not been bottles!!

Which means, so he claims, we drank three bottles each!!!

Never mind pass the aspirin, pass the whole g*ddamn bottle.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

First ever Mother's day card

We don't go in for Mother's Day in a big way in our family. In fact we don't go for it all. Last year was the first time in my 52 years on planet earth that I had ever sent anything - some flowers. That was prompted by her mastectomy in January '04 and the wake-up call that she might not be around indefinitely.

Last year, as I was in Dublin for the weekend, I was not able to visit and was not organised enough to plan ahead and send a card. Instead I used Interflora to send a bunch of flowers. It was when I called to see if they had arrived that I learned she was on the operating table starting a four hour operation (see Not a very good Mother's day).

So this year another break with (non-)tradition: I went in person on Sunday afternoon and delivered my first ever Mother's Day card by hand. So that was nice.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Wines from the Veneto

Thursday evening was an excellent tasting of Veneto wines from Masi and Serego Alighieri thanks to our friend Carolyn and the Charteris Wine Society. The wines were presented by Daniel Block from Masi and supplied by Berkmann.

Daniel was an excellent speaker, knowledgeable and amusing. He talked for an hour and a half, while we tasted, on the history of the region, the producers, the grapes and the unique production techniques of the area involving air drying of the grapes for several months. It is a shame the crowd on the next table talked over his presentation showing what I considered a distinct lack of courtesy to a guest.

Having been on a Headwater walking holiday in the region it was doubly interesting. The wines presented were:

• 2000 Masianco - Masi
• 2003 Possessioni Bianco - Serego Alighieri
• 2003 Bonacosta Valpolicella Classico - Masi
• 2001 Campofiorin Ripasso - Masi
• 2003 Passo Doble - Masi Tupungato
• 2001 Grandarella - Masi
• 2000 Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella - Masi
• 1999 Vaio Armaron Amarone Classico - Serego Alighieri
• 1990 Vaio Armaron Amarone Classico - Serego Alighieri
• 2001 Casal dei Ronchi Recioto Classico - Masi

My favourite was the 1999 Vaio, especially compared to the 1990 which was nearly three times the price and half the flavour. Close behind it was the 2001 Recioto which makes an excellent alternative to a port and goes well with a rustic pecorino cheese or a chocolate mousse.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

New Forest National Park

Yesterday the New Forest officially became a National Park as opposed to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (see BBC news item). As orginally proposed they intended to extend the boundary to include the River Avon and the SSSI water meadows that flank it.

Given that we live in Avon Cottage (there is a clue in the name here) we would have been inside the national park. However the consultation process then took the Avon valley back out again, so now we still live 1/2 a mile outside the New Forest. Pity, it would have been nice to be able to say "I live in ...".