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).


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.

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

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 here they are...

Tony Visconti, Rolan Bolan, me.

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.