Friday, December 29, 2006

Street Life (Graffiti)

Mary and I took a stroll down to the river for a Thames-side walk and came across this graffiti.

graffiti of Einstein
Not Banksy but someone, presumeably "Focus", very much in that black and white, stencilled style.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas wines

Having some time at home over the Christmas period gave Mary a chance to sort out the cellar. We had cases and cases of wine still its cardboard boxes. But no more! And all of this to make it easier to dig out some fine wines for Christmas; modesty prevents me from naming names and vintages.

wine cellar

We had my Mum and Dad over for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and had a fine old time. As always with them the meal is the entertainment with much chat and banter. Christmas Day we had goose at 5 o'clock and then we did succumb to "couch potato syndrome" and watched a DVD of the first 'Pirates of the Carribean' with Johnny Depp.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Three pearls of wisdom

There is much advice out there in the world, some wise, some helpful, some complete tosh. These are three pieces of advice I have been given over the years that have stuck with me:

Think general

When trying to solve a problem, aim for a solution that is flexible and adaptable. An adjustable wrench not a spanner.

Never go out without money

You never know when you might need it. At the very least have your bus fare home.

Always button your cardigan from the bottom

Then you can see what you are doing and don't end up a button out at the top.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Creme Brulee

Following my mention of Crème Brûlée in Five things to eat before I die here is my version.

The following is the recipe exactly as it appears in my Sainsbury's Desserts and Puddings recipe book. Why they felt the need to specify the carton size I do not know. Since they did, what they should have done is write "2 x 284 ml (2 x 10 fl oz)" or better yet simply "568 ml (20 fl oz)". Using 1 x 284 ml (1 x 10 fl oz) meant this only just served 4.

Nowadays what I normally do is use the full amount of cream, increase the number of egg yolks to 6 and still regard it as "serves 6". Also I don't use vanilla essence, I cut open a vanilla pod and scrape all the black gooey seeds into the custard making sure to disperse them as best I can.

As for chilling overnight I wish I planned that far ahead. Normally I make them that day, chill them until it is time to prepare the rest of the dinner, brûlée them, pop them back in the fridge and hope my guests don't eat too fast so they have time to cool down again.

Crème Brûlée

4 egg yolks
1 tablespoon caster sugar
2 x 284 ml (10 fl oz) cartons double cream
few drops of vanilla essence

To finish:
50 g (2 oz) caster sugar

Beat the egg yolks and sugar together. Warm the cream in a double saucepan, or bowl over a pan of simmering water. Carefully stir in the egg mixture. Continue cooking gently, stirring constantly, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add the vanilla essence.

Strain into 6 ramekin dishes and place in a roasting pan, containing 2.5 cm (1 inch) water. Place in a preheated cool oven, 140°C (275°F), Gas Mark 1, for 30 to 40 minutes.

Remove the dishes from the pan, cool then chill in the refrigerator overnight.

To finish: Sprinkle evenly with sugar. Place under a preheated hot grill until the sugar has caramelized. Cool, then chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours before serving.

Serves 6


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pictures from Le Gavroche

I might have taken a leaf out of Rosa's book or Welshcake Limoncello's and taken photos of each exquisite course but I only had my camera phone with me which cannot handle close-ups. I had forgotten that I had taken these piccies when I did yesterday's post so here are a couple to go with that...

Mary at Le Gavroche

Mary Discusses Her Brooch

Amanda at Le Gavroche

Amanda Raises Her Glass

Pete at Le Gavroche

Pete at Le Gavroche

Room at Le Gavroche

Dining Room at Le Gavroche

Those that wanted could have a tour of the kitchen and be amazed that so much world class food could emanate from such a tiny space. We did that in previous years so left it for other diners to have a peer round.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Daffodil Dining Club at Le Gavroche (2006)

Yet again at this time of year we joined John Amiry and 80 or so like-minded gourmands gourmets at the Michelin Starred "Le Gavroche" for a long lunch of the finest food and wine. We started at 12:30 and they chucked us out at 5:00.

Les Vins

Le Menu

Chateau de Sours 2004 Bordeaux Blanc

Coquilles St. Jacques Pochee Parfumee au Gingembre

Carton Blanc 1998 Domaine Chandon de Briailles

Gratin de Langoustines et Escargots au Persil et Pimet d 'Espelette

Domaine Gavoty "Cuvee Clarendon" 2005 Cote de Provence

Fricassee de St. Pierre façon Bouillabaisse

Gewurztraminer "Blason de France Vendange Tardive" 1998 Leon Beyer

Escalope de Foie Gras Chaud et Pastilla a la Cannelle

Clos des Litanies 1996 Pomerol

Noisette de Chevreuil a la Sauce Poivrade et Airelles

Le Pinacle Syrah 2002 Domaine Sainte Rose

Le Plateau de Fromages Affines

Vin de Constance 2001 Klein Constantia

Christmas Pudding
Cafe, Petits Fours et Mince Pies

They have learned from previous years and been more restrained on the wine pouring. Last year they topped up my white wine glasses so often on the earlier courses that by the time we got to the meat and red wines I was in no fit state to fully appreciate the quality of what I was consuming. This year there were more courses with matching wines but more restraint in the measures. I enjoyed the meal more and did not need to go for a siesta when we got home.

See previously:
Christmas Daffodil at Le Gavroche (2005)
Daffodil Dining Club at Le Gavroche

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Flying visit to Italy

Monday was yet another flying visit to Italy. One of the disagreeable things about the Ryanair flight is the timings - they clash with meal times. Do we eat early, at 4pm in Stansted, or late, at 10:30pm in Locorotondo? Dining in the air on a Ryanair sandwich doesn't have much appeal.

We flew out Sunday night and stayed in a Best Western near Bari airport. We went for the hotel option as we didn't fancy making up the bed for one night with no guarantee that the heating was working. It also meant we could eat at a very pleasant restaurant across the road from the hotel without an hour and fifteen minutes drive to Locorotondo.

All in all it was a hectic but productive trip. Basically the place is complete, the final few bits are done like the handrail to the roof and a security bar across the bedroom window. That meant we could settle up apart from a small retention in case the boiler breaks down yet again.

 • Up bright and early to drive to Cisternino
 • Met with Pierdonato at the estate agents to discuss key holding, cleaning and "watchman" services
 • Went to bank to get out final payment money for Daniele and change our UK address details
 • Back to Pierdonato to leave a kitty to cover future services
 • Met with Daniele at the property to pay the final tranche of money
 • Were joined by the plant man to discuss planting schemes
 • Went for lunch at a seafood restaurant down on the coast
 • Came back via Emmezeta (supermarket) to buy dehumidifier tablets
 • Installed tablets and plugged in electric dehumidifier to keep the place dry over the winter
 • Final check and lock up for the season
 • Off to the airport for pizza and red wine
 • Arrived at Stansted and fell into the SAS Radisson hotel and bed

On the flight home Mary's token was picked in the prize draw for a free flight. Sounds good but the small print says it can only be taken on alternate Tuesdays with a full moon within the next eight weeks. So she may do a bonus trip to Scotland or we may fit in a unscheduled February trip.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

My hi-fi may be old

but that don't mean it's slow. Vinyl still sounds good. [This should have been Monday's post but we were in Italy - more about that later.]

Saturday we had Bob&Lynn to stay with us as we were all invited to Kate&Ian's for a lunchtime do. We taxied back from that about 6, had a glass of wine and then off to the local Thai for a very pleasant meal.

The conversation got on to music, Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett, the Stoppard play Rock'n'Roll and vinyl so we adjourned to the dining room where my hi-fi was set up. We listened to one side of Saucerful of Secrets and then Bob asked if I had Wish You Were Here. As it happened I had a Numbus records "Supercut" special edition, remastered and pressed on 80gm non-recycled vinyl. So we played it through this lot:

Linn deck:
 • Asaka cartidge
 • Ittok LVII arm
 • Sondek LP12 turntable
Naim amplifier:
 • SNAPS power supply
 • 32 pre-amp
 • 110 power amp
 • Shahinian Arc
Other components
 • Nakamichi CR1E cassette desk
 • Onix BWD1 FM tuner
 • Meridian 206 CD player

D**n it sounded good! Mary said, "How come you haven't played me this before?" It reminded me how good vinyl can sound. I must spend more time listening to real music.

Note: Updated post 20-Dec-06 to include Ittok model and other components.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Back in the saddle

What with visits to the dentists, various meetings, trips and evening events I have not cycled to work for over two weeks. So it was good this week to get back in the saddle and cycle to work with Mary on her new "company vehicle".

Under the government's "Cycle to Work Scheme" the company can buy a bike and loan it to the employee. So we can not only reclaim the VAT but also pay for it out of pre-tax profits *and* it is not treated as a "benefit in kind" for personal tax purposes. A triple result.

Mary's previous bike's hub gear was starting to malfunction so we went and got her a shiny new Specialised bike complete with all the gear. The nice thing about the scheme is that the company can also provide all the extras as well: shoes, helmet, clothing, lights and lock. Those easily came to 300 GBP on top of the cost of the bike.

So I cycled Monday and Wednesday. Tuesday was an off-site meeting in the afternoon so cycling was not possible. Today I woke to the sound of rain lashing against the window and thought "S*d that for a game of soldiers" and caught the train.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Ayrshire Potlatch *

The weekend was spent in a cold, wet, windy, gray Scotland for the annual pre-Christmas present swap. It takes place on or soon after nephew Ross' birthday which is end of November and close enough to Xmas for the exchange of goodies.

We flew up Friday afternoon and went to Sandra&George's (Mary's sister and BIL). We baby sat Ross and Sarah so G&S could go into Glasgow for a nice meal out. As last time, they were good as gold, played quietly and went to bed on request. Sarah has got the hyper-cute blonde moppet schtick down to a fine art.

Saturday we drove down to May's and as soon as we had arrived whisked her off on the train to central Glasgow where we went shopping for outfits. We (i.e. Mary) targetted House of Fraser as a good place to get May something stylish for the New Year's Eve black tie do at Albannach. The trip was successful with several outfits bagged though May claims it will be some time before her credit card recovers!

One noticeable difference between England and Scotland was the passengers on the train. In Scotland they were all chatting away to their mates, there was lots of banter and chaff. The equivalent commuter train into Waterloo would be a silent affair by comparison. Now wonder we Southerners have a stereotypical image of stand-offishness.

* Potlatch an American Indian ceremony "..guests are invited to a potlatch to share food and receive gifts or payment."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Can you feel anything when I do this? (2)

Apologies to both my readers, I have been off air for a few days 'cos my brain has been all of a jangle with toothache.

Last Monday I went to Raj as a follow up visit to a new crown and an extraction a couple of weeks ago. One tooth on the other side was giving me some grief and it can be hard to tell exactly which one. The nerves run close together and may cause a different tooth to appear to be the origin. So he sent me round to the endodontist for a second opinion and he pinpointed the lower right 8 (back molar).

Wednesday the endodontist did a full root canal job and sent me home. In his letter to Raj he wrote, "Healing is expected to be uneventful." Hah! If you consider "writhing on the living room carpet at two in the morning in a foetal ball in excruciating pain chanting over and over the mantra 'f*** that hurts, f*** that hurts, f*** that hurts'" as uneventful then yes it was.

I do not *ever* want to feel pain like that again.

Even the extra painkillers from the doctors could not mask the pain so Saturday night (well actually Sunday morning as it was half past midnight) I cracked and phoned Raj. He did a mercy dash to his surgery in Harley Street and I fell out of a taxi a few minutes later. He did some magic scraping with a steel implement and said that should do it. He was off to Sri Lanka on Sunday so he gave me a copy of my X-Rays in case I needed to go to A&E.

I am glad to say the pain and the swelling is slowly subsiding, the antibiotics and my immune system are slowly repairing that damage; soup for breakfast and lunch was getting tedious. I still cannot open my mouth more than half an inch, I have to post food in horizontally in thin slices, but that too will pass.

And then of course I can have the thing crowned! But I think I will wait a while until the memory fades.

Deep gratitude is owed not only to Raj but also to his daughter, a doctor, who lives nearby and who he dragged along. Apparently I was slurring my words and he was concerned so wanted some medical backup.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Five Things to Eat Before I Die

Rosa tagged me to write "Five Things to Eat Before I Die" back in September. The meme started at Traveler's Lunchbox. I guess I have to exclude wine. These are not necessarily great dishes but they are ones that made a great impression on me at the time. Not quite Marcel Proust and his Madeleine but this is my list:

Peking Duck
Vegetable Samosa
Chicken Satay
Crème Brulée

Peking Duck
[1975/76] Immediately after leaving college in '75 before I started my first job the following spring, staying with Lorna and Carmichael as their lodger. I was used to Chinese food from an early age; for my 10th birthday the family went to a Chinese restaurant in Coventry. The restauranteur gave me a couple of pairs of plastic chopsticks which were a treasured item for many years (well I was only 10!).

When I started college a Chinese takeaway was suggested and a fellow student astounded me by saying that he had never eaten Chinese food. At the time the typical Chinese takeaway provided sweet and sour pork balls in day-glow orange wall-paper paste, spring rolls that oozed grease and chips that were thick and burning hot on the outside, raw and uncooked on the inside.

Then for Carmike's birthday he treated us to a Peking meal at Botley on the outskirts of Oxford. My first ever encounter with Peking duck was a revelation. It was delicious, cooked with textures and flavours unknown to the local takeaway. I loved contrasting textures and flavours plus the audience participation involved in "rolling your own".

At the time the only place you could buy hoi-sin sauce was the Chinese supermarkets in Soho which meant a special expedition to London. How times change, now it is on the shelves of every supermarket.

Vegetable Samosa
[1979] It was a similar story with curry, discovering that there is something other than ghee based gloop with mystery meat. I was a latecomer to curries only starting in 1974 in the company of Sheridan, Tony, Amanda and Tom Thacker. The latter was in charge of IT at the Nuclear Physics Lab and used to check the machine room smoke detectors were not *too* sensitive by puffing his well-chewed pipe underneath them.

Then I moved to London and discovered that there were not just Chinese and Indian. There were Cantonese, Peking, Schezchuan, Malaysian, Korean; there were Bangladeshi, Goan, Bengali, Afghani, and South Indian Vegetarian.

It was at restaurants like the Sree Krishna in Tooting, the Mandeer in Hanway Place (off Tottenham Court Road and the ) and Diwana Bhel Poori House in Drummond Street that I discovered the vegetable samosa. With a crisp filo-like pastry these were a huge improvement over the chewy, meat filled versions I had previously encountered. Then there were all the other vegan delights and the sweets, don't forget the sweets: kulfi, galub jaman, barfi, jelabi, ras malai (see List of Indian sweets and desserts for more). Maybe that is why I have so many crowns :-(

Chicken Satay.
[1980] Working with a Malaysian colleague I was introduced to another set of international cuisine. I met the Singapore Laska, Indonesian Gado Gado and Malaysian Satay. The latter reminding me of my first Greek souvlaki proper (kalamaki) but with the added benefits of spice and a peanut sauce. My favourite restaurant was The Satay Stick in Dering Street.

Lymeswold and Cambozola
[198?] Lymeswold may be a marketing-led, designer cheese but for a while it was a favourite of mine. I never really like the classic French cheeses Brie and Camembert - heresy! I favoured traditional English cheeses like Lancashire, Red Leicester, Double Gloucester and Wensleydale (but not Cheddar - double heresy). Like many others at the time I shifted my allegiance to Cambozola a similar but superior cheese. These cheeses shifted my palette towards softer, creamier cheeses and paved the way for goats' cheeses and a number of other delights.

Crème Brulée
[1989] I have always had a sweet tooth and usually opt for the role of "pastry chef" when Mary and I host a dinner party. Her Sainburys' Desserts and Pudding recipe book included a recipe for Crème Brulée which rapidly became one of my signature dishes and often repeated by popular demand, served with a fine Sauternes, of course. It was only after a couple of years that I realised that I had been mis-reading the recipe and only using half the quantity of double cream. Or to put it another way I had been using twice the quantity of egg yolks. This would explain the extremely rich texture. So, am I using the correct recipe now? Nope .

So duty done, Rosa.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sunday lunch at Bill's

On Sunday Bill invited a number of what I call "The Birmingham Crowd" over for lunch. These were a bunch of friends who all met at Birmingham University and I fell in with around 1980 when we were all late-20-somethings living in London. It was a most enjoyable time of great sociability, all living in the 'big city' with reasonable jobs and a mind to go out and have a good time.

As happens people couple up, settle down and move out to greener pastures. So keeping in touch as we have dispersed has required more of an effort. The last time we met was April '05 when Maureen was over from Oz (see "I come from a land down under") and the time before that was Denise's funeral in September '04. So kudos to Bill for arranging this.

Present were Steve & Kate, Marilyn, Andrea and Simon & Isobel. We were expecting John and Nick & Sarah but Bill fears he may have told them the wrong date. We have told him we are available next Sunday as well :-)

Those present are all well and living their lives; it was good to catch up on their news. Isobel has now launched herself as an artist working as printmaker (see ""). We chatted, we drank, Bill over-catered again, and it was a good do. We conconcted a wild plan to all meet again in Italy at the "Hovel-in-the-Hills" next September. Let's "Make it so".

Monday, November 20, 2006

BBR Champagne School

Hosted by Simon Field MW, Buyer and Rebecca Lamont, Wine School Manager. Always interesting to do a tutored tasting which is basically what this was but with the added benefit of slide show and a good double act from Simon and Rebecca followed by lunch.

 • Gaston Chiquet, Brut Tradition
Grapes of Champagne / Growers
 • Andre Jacquart, Carte Blanche NV
 • Champagne Marguet, Brut Rosé
Grande Marques
 • Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut
 • Pol Roger, Brut Réserve NV
 • Veuve Clicquot, Brut
 • Bollinger, Special Cuvée Brut
 • Krug, Grande Cuvé eBrut
Vintage Style
 • 1998 Berry's United Kingdom Cuvée, Mailly
 • 1996 Gosset, Gande Millésime
Duluxe Cuvée
 • 1998 Berrys' United Kingdom Cuvée, Mailly
 • 1996 Gosset, Grand Millésime
Duluxe Cuvée
 • 1995 Pol Roger, Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill (en magnum)
 • 1998 Moët et Chandon, Dom Perignon

Tartare of Salmon
 • 1996 Jacquesson, Avize
 • 1995 Tattinger, Comtes de Champagne
Halibut with Avruga Caviar and Lemon Beurre Blanc
 • 1999 Bollinger, Grand Année, Rose
 • 1995 Bollinger R.D.
Chocolate and Ginger Mousse Cake
 • Louis Roederer 'Rich'
Coffee and chocolate

In the grande marques Mary and I preferred diamterically opposite champagnes which I guess means we'll have to open two bottles every time. Mary, not surprisingly given her 'savory' palette, liked the Laurent Perrier with zero dosage and me with my 'sweet tooth' liked the Pol Roger.

Elsewhere, I was most impressed by BBR's own label vintage with notes of creme brulée and apple crumble. Mary's favourite was the 1995 Pol Roger, Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill. The Krug made a very poor showing, I got 'soapy, Mary got 'fireworks', I suspect a hint of sulphur. All in all a very educational day.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Rich Beyond the Dreams of Avarice

When I was a child I used to wonder "So who is this bloke Avarice and why is he so greedy?".

* Samuel Johnson. 1709-1784.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

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Monday, November 13, 2006

At Night at the Opera

Well the Ballet actually, but at the Royal Opera House. We went to see Sleeping Beauty at the ROH last week. Mary's first ever ballet, so she might as well start at the top (or so we presume). I have only been to the ballet a couple of times before but we have both seen plenty of modern dance (London Comtempory Dance, Ballet Rambert, etc).

As a result I wouldn't be able to give a review but took it on its own merits and used it to calibrate my assessment of future ballets. The papers seemed to think it was OK [Observer, Guardian, Independent, The Stage].

After modern dance it seemed to me a bit stuck in nostalgia-ville, "It's not the same as the 1946 production". So? And how many in the audience are in a position to make that comparison? Still it was all very pretty in pastels and Tchaikovsky writes a mean tune. We agreed with the reviewers - the guy dancing the Bluebird seemed to know his stuff.

In an effort to overcome its elitist image the ROH are doing lots of student specials and internet offers. We got our tickets for a mere 20 quid each, not bad value at all for front row of the amphitheatre.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Goolleeble's Trefels - Bork, Bork, Bork!

The World Wide Web is a wonderful thing. I was explaining to a colleague that the language preferences in Google include "Elmer Fudd" and "Swedish chef" (the Muppet character). That set me researching...

On the informative Wikipedia page [] I found a link to a site that will translate web pages into mock-Swedish gibberish. So for your entertainment here is this blog translated into Swedish Chef speak (shuoold be-a reed veet a svedeesh occent!):

Goolleeble's Trefels - Bork, Bork, Bork! [opens in new window]

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Rock the casbah

Some pictures of Marrakech [click on picture for larger version]

The hotel may have looked like a concrete box from the outside but inside it was designed like a traditional Riad round a cental courtyard with fountain and the rooms were unlike a normal hotel.

The various stalls in the souk are minature Aladdin's caves in a labyrinth of winding little alleyways. We learned that whatever price they first quote you should haggle down to half that.

The Tiskiwin museum not only had a fine collection of Berber and sub-Saharan artefacts but the building itself was beautiful. The restaurant was one we wandered into for lunch one day and it turned out to be a restored palace!

The best meal was Sunday night at Le Tobsil. As the link says "Romantic, intimate and richly decorated". We had a balcony table were we could look down into the courtyard from our rose-petal covered table. Listening to the live musicians and dining under the open sky on some of the best food in Marrakech. Just so romantic, unbeatable for a wedding anniversary meal.

* Rock the Casbah by the Clash

Monday, November 06, 2006

It's shopping Jim, but not as we know it

"We went out for a nice Morrocan meal on Sunday."
"Oh, where?"

At the beginning of the year we went to Marrakech [See "Marrakech Express"]. Mary was so determined to go hand luggage only that we were unable to buy various souvenirs that we might otherwise have wanted to bring back.

When we first got married Mary suggested that, instead of buying each other anniversary presents, we took it in turns to arrange mystery weekends away. This worked fine up to the tenth when we always knew we were going back to Egypt to see the sights we did not see on our honeymoon.

Since then it has been by mutual discussion, except that this year Mary said "We must go back to Marrakech to get those blue silk cushion covers, they will be perfect for Italy".

So that is how we came to fly out Friday to spend a long weekend in Marrakech. A most successful shopping trip and I enjoyed the city much more this time round. The weather was much warmer, the locals seemed less desperate to rip us off (or we are just much better at haggling now) and last night's meal was magical. More to follow...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Thirteenth Wedding Anniversary

Monday was our 13th wedding anniversary so we went out for an excellent meal at Il Convivio. Our wedding had a number of unusual features:

We chose the guest list
I was a late developer and didn't get married till I was 40. Mary's parents had probably given up on her ever getting married years ago. At that late stage we did not look to our parents for funding, we chose to pay for it ourselves and have full control. Though Mary's Dad, sportingly and generously, did pay for the church. Distant relatives were not invited, the parents' nominations were strictly limited, no children under 16 and lots of our friends.

We married in St Paul's Cathedral
Yes that one - designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1675. Mary's original plan had been a quiet registry office wedding and a postcard to her parents from Italy saying, "Oh by the way we got married".

However my Dad was awarded the MBE for services to architecture in 1984 and one of the privileges attached to that honour was that he, or his offspring, could get married in the Chapel of the Order of the British Empire which is in the crypt of St Paul's.

Dad and Mum were already married as were Jane and Pete, Ian showed no signs so that left me with an offer we couldn't refuse. Mary agreed provided I buy her an engagement ring (obviously not possible under plan A as it would have given the game away).

The Party in the Bus
The reception was in Wimbledon (9 miles) so we hired two London double-decker buses to transport the guest both ways. On the way back John suggested a whip round, they stopped at an off licence (US: liquor store) and bought it out of champagne. Aunt Avril then led the bus in a sing-song of "Roaming in the Gloaming" till they arrived at the reception. We could tell by the flushed cheeks who had been on which bus.

Speeches before the meal
There were only two speeches: Pete, the Best Man, and me, on behalf of Mary's Dad. We gave them before the reception so we could then relax and drink without worry and apprehension. We were limited to two minutes each; I wrote mine on the back of a business card!

We went to the pub afterwards
At the end of the meal as guests started to leave, Ian, an old colleague of Mary's, suggested going to the pub for a beer as they used to when they worked together. So instead of the two of us relaxing in an exclusive hotel we found ourselves in the King of Denmark until chucking out time. But we did made it back to the Cannizaro House Hotel by midnight for a last glass of champagne in the piano bar.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Siblings in Puglia

This weekend the six of us went to the Hovel-in-the-Hills™: Mary&Me, brother Ian&Sarah, sister Jane&Pete.

There was a little trepidation as this was the first time my family have been over to visit after three years of seeing the photographs and hearing the long drawn out saga of the purchase and the building works. You know the sort of thing: I hope they like it, I hope the weather holds, I hope the flights are on time, etc.

As it turned out all went as well as I could hope for. Jane and Sarah gritted their teeth, forsook their cleansing lotions and unguents and went hand luggage only which helped a lot. We flew out Friday night, Ryanair Standsted to Bari, picked up the hire car and went straight to Locorotondo, walked through the town and got to the restaurant Centro Storico about 10:15 pm for a late supper.

Rear view of Trulli

Saturday morning was the usual flurry of workmen. Daniele's collaborator, Stefano, arrived to oversee the locksmith, the heating engineer and the blacksmith. Meanwhile we awaited delivery of the last piece of furniture - a cabinet for the bathroom.

Blacksmith fitting Pizza Oven door

Mary stayed behind while I took the rest over to see Alberobello, a whole town of Trulli. Then back for lunch on our new dining table. After a siesta we took them in to see Cisternino, our other local town, and settled up with the furniture shop. We went back into Cisternino for the evening meal at Osteria Sant'Anna and it lived up to all that we had told them about it.

Jane, Mark, Ian, Sarah, Pete, Mary

Sunday morning exceeded the weather forecast so much that we were able to breakfast al fresco. Then it was a trip to the coast for a tour of the archaeological site at Ignazia followed by lunch in a seafood restaurant overlooking the Adriatic. Finally back to the Hovel to pack up and set off for the airport

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Mushroom Foray in the New Forest

Every year Peter Jordon and his wife Val (Tasty Mushroom Partnership) run a couple of forays in the New Forest. This year we were able to get down to the cottage that weekend and take them out for a meal to repay their hospitality from a couple of years ago (see "How do you know they're toadstools").

Saturday evening we took them to Plummers in Ringwood High Street for a very enjoyable meal. Sunday we joined the other 20 or so mushroom hunters for the morning foray. After a successful morning's picking we all had a lunch of mushroom soup followed by mushroom croustade (cooked by Peter and Val). At that point we dipped out and went back to Wandsworth with our haul: Sunday roast with fried Ceps (aka Penny Bun aka Porcini) and Monday night soup with the rest.

basketful of mushroomstrug of mushrooms

edible mushrooms book cover

Peter very kindly gave us a signed copy of his excellent new book "Field Guide to Edible Mushroom of Britain and Europe". You can order your own *signed* copy via his website.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Crock of Gold

About four years ago Mary's sister, Sandra, bought Mary a ceramic piggy bank. Mary decided she would feed it two pound coins. For the last few years she has spent scarcely a single one. They all went into the jar (along with any she could steal from me).

ceramic piggy bank before smashing
Crock before smashing

But then it got so full that even with a good shuggle we could not get another coin in so it was time for the hammer! Including three coins in her purse that could not be forced in, the grand total came to a surprisingly tidy sum!!

ceramic piggy bank after smashing
Crock after smashing

Counting the money
Counting the money

Of course it's all gone now - she went to Max Mara and bought a very fine, brown winter coat and used the change to buy trousers and a dress.

Monday, October 23, 2006

My old Claud Butler

A while back Rosa asked about my trusty steed - an old Claud Butler (no "e" in Claud). Well she asked...

I bought it second-hand off Penny (Dave's first wife) sometime around 1984 (give or take a year). It is obviously a man's frame. It makes more sense for a woman to buy a male frame as they are stronger (or lighter for the equivalent strength). The saddle tube had snapped so I had to get that extracted and bought myself the classic Brooke's leather saddle it still has to this day.

Claud Butler frame
Claud Butler frame

Over the years almost every part has been replaced apart from the frame, forks and handle bars. The seat post, saddle, wheels, chain rings, rear block, mudguards, panniers, crank arms, pedals have all been replaced at some point. I even had the frame stripped and repainted its current metallic blue colour. The guys who did it welded a crack near the headset and kindly preserved the CB badge. The model is unknown but I know the frame is 501 tubing.

Claud Butler frame
Claud Butler badge

When I worked in London I used to cycle the 9.25 miles from South Wimbledon to Devonshire Square in the City (of London) for four years from the beginning of April to the end of November clocking up over 10,000 miles. Plus various other excursions means that saddle and my bum have been through a lot together. Then I changed job, started working out of London and the bike no longer got the same usage until this current contract back in London.

Claud Butler frame
Claud Butler saddle

For the full story of urban cycling this time round go to Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle and work your way forward.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

More of Dad's Pictures

I took a load of pictures of the pictures at the opening of Dad's exhibtion at Wolfson College, Oxford. I have reworked his site and started to put those pictures online at

Click on Gallery 1 to see thumbnails and links to bigger versions. I have done the first dozen, only 29 to go!

This is a holding site at until I can get his domain name transferred over and a proper hosted site put up.

The Italian Grand Tour Dinner

Friday, October 06, 2006

Another BBR extravaganza down in the sub-basement of the Napoleon cellars, so named because one of the founders, Mr Rudd, was mates with the Emperor who used to frequent the establishment.

Hosted by Chris Pollington


2004 Gris Pinot Grigio, Lis Neris, Fruili

Swordfish carpaccio

2005 Gavi di Gavi, Cru La Maddelana, Roberto Saroot, Piedmont

Risotto with porcini and parmesan shavings

2000 Barbaresco, Cru Serrabolla, Cigliuti, Piedmont

Wild boar stufato with roast plums and creamed mash

1999 Barolo, Cru Monprivato, Castiglioni Falletto, Guiseppi Mascarello, Piedmont
1999 Brunello di Montalcino, Lisini, Tuscany

Parmesan and aged pecorino with figs and mostarda

2000 Mithas, Amarone della Valpolicella, Corte Sant'Alda, Veneto

Zabaglione with spiced winter fruit compote and vanilla shortbread

2004 Moscato d'Asti, Bava, Piedmont

Berry's selected coffee and chocolate

and a taxi home...

The Gavi di Gavi was good so we have ordered a case :-)

Gullible's Travels has moved to

My blog is now at

My ISP's webserver has been down for over 10 days now ( Not impressive. I am glad I am not a customer running a business website. So I decided enough of using the free webspace that came with my account, after all you get what you pay for. So I moved my domain name to, bought a hosting package and re-uploaded my files. Well most of them, more to follow, some to reconstruct / recreate and some to edit the blog links for the pictures. Bear with me while I sort out the stragglers. Let's hope for a more stable future.

Now to catch up on the missed blogging...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

If you can afford a Maserati

What is wrong with these drivers? Are they brain-dead from the steering wheel up? Yesterday lunchtime I encountered not one, not two but three incidents of thoughtless and illegal driving.

First was the lady in the Mercedes who stopped her car two-thirds of the way over a Zebra crossing (US: crosswalk). I glared and walked round.

Then there was the smartly dressed lady in a silver Maserati dialling a number on her hand-held mobile (US: cell phone*). As a frequent urban cyclist I am particularly sensitive to drivers who are not in full control of their vehicles. Before I could react the lights changed and off she drove phone still in hand.

As luck would have it I met her again several blocks later as she was feeding a parking meter. I introduced myself and in my best über-polite manner pointed out the nature of my concerns, observed that if she could afford a Maserati she could certainly afford a hands-free car kit and suggested she treat herself to one.

Finally there was the Volvo driver who decided that stopping at red lights was optional. I was at a junction, the lights had changed fully to red and as I started to cross this driver, half a block away, decided stopping was not for him. I narrowly missed having my toes run over and I gave the side of his car a good thwack with the flat of my hand as it whistled by.

Mary says I shouldn't do this as some drivers are very protective of their vehicles. If he had stopped to remonstrate with me I would be polite but am quite prepared to engage the 'very loud shouty circuit' if needed and go verbally postal. This is the kind of driving up with which I will not put.

* I love the Italian use of the diminutive for these: telefonino - little telephone.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Michael McLellan: A Retrospective

Michael McLellan: A Retrospective

  2nd to 20th October 2006  
  at Wolfson College, Linton Road, Oxford, OX2 6UD  
  Open Daily 10am to 4pm subject to College commitments.  
  Visitors are advised to ring the college lodge beforehand +44 1865 274100  

It would help if I had put the details of the exhibition in my previous posts! The reason for calling is that the rooms are also used for meetings and other functions, so to avoid disappointment call first.

Some piccies
Room 1: Pictures 1 to 15
Room 1: Pictures 1 to 15

Room 2: Mark thanks Ben (out of shot)
Room 2: Mark thanks Ben (out of shot)

Room 3: Michael explains the imagery
Room 3: Michael explains the imagery

Room 1: Picture 1 - French Street
Room 1: Picture 1 - French Street

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Michael McLellan Exhibition Private View

Sunday was the private view for the opening of Dad's exhibition at Wolfson College, Oxford and by general agreement a most successful event.

Saturday morning Mary and I drove down to Farnham to fill the boot with paintings then off to Oxford for an 11:00 assembly at the college. Thanks to Dad's preparation in pre-stringing all the paintings the actual hanging went in record time. Each room had one person un-bagging the exhibits, another hanging on the wall and another folding up the bags for later. Others mucked in with general furniture moving and moral support. Then it was back to the hotel for lunch.

That evening we all went en-masse to a cocktail bar to celebrate Tom's 18th birthday (actually on the Sunday). Then off to Pierre Victoire for a family meal, all 15 of us: Mum&Dad, two siblings, their partners, six nephews and one girl-friend. The noise was deafening as we all talked at once and the table next door was even noisier. The resulting escalation of talk volume spiralled out of control and I felt sorry for any other diners hoping for a quiet, romantic meal for two.

After the meal us old-uns and the two youngest nephews went back to the hotel for a night cap and early to bed. The rest went off to Chris's place (he is a student at Oxford Brookes University) to party. A bleary-eyed Lorenzo informed us at breakfast that he left them to it and got back to the hotel at around 3:30am.

The private view was 12-3pm so we all went down to the college at 11:00 to be ready for the first guests who started to arrive pretty promptly. There was a large contingent of old family friends, neighbours and colleagues of Dad's many of whom were also known to us offspring. This made it seem like an episode of "This Is Your Life".

At Ian's suggestion I made a short speech of welcome and I would like to repeat here the thanks I made there:

 • Wolfson college for hosting the exhibition
 • Jan Scrivens (College Secretary) for all her help with the organisation
 • Barbara Harris-White (Professor) for the original suggestion and promoting the idea
 • Ben (Mike) Hutchinson for all his work on the graphics (poster, catalog, postcard)
 • Dad for being a talented artist

About 50 people turned up and it was more like a cheese and wine party than an art show. It was great to catch up with old friends and meet some friends of Dad I had not met before. One thing that struck me (and the others at the hanging) was how colourful the paintings are when seen all together. There were some old favorites of mine and a whole stack I had never seen before that had been lurking up in his workshop (aka spare bedroom).

Dad sold about 8 or 9 pictures and we sold 3 prints. I took a load of photos as did Mary so I plan to post some images over the next few days. We talked, we admired the art, we trod cheese into the carpet then tidied up after the guests had gone home. All in all a most satisfactory day.

See previously:
"Michael McLellan Limited Edition Prints"
"Exhibition Planning"

Monday, October 02, 2006

He looks in my mouth and then he starts to gloat

He says my teeth are OK but my gums got to go. *

Went to Raj on Friday because my teeth were giving me gyp and it looks like I am down for two crowns and an extraction at Harley Street prices. The latter may be years off but the crowns, numbers 12 and 13, are to be done as soon as I get the x-rays taken (see previously "And finally monsieur a wafer-thin mint").

Meanwhile I am on Corsodyl mouthwash, for the gingivitis. Corsodyl is one of the viler tastes on the planet and wreaks havoc with the taste buds. My tongue feels like it has been lightly sand-papered. I can forget about drinking fine wines until I am off the stuff as everything has hints of sand and glue.

* Unfinished Sweet by Alice Cooper

Friday, September 29, 2006

Life as a soap character

Watching soaps on the telly drives me mental even though I tell myself "It isn't real, they are only actors". The characters on EastEnders are textbook examples of dysfunctional behaviour. If you want to live your lives like them here are a few simple rules for dishonest communication:

Is anything wrong? When asked this reply, "No, I'm fine" in a very unconvincing, flat tone of voice.
Is everything OK? When asked this reply, "Yes, great" in a very unconvincing, flat tone of voice.
Be oblivious to tone. Ignore all body language, intonation and facial expression that might indicate unhappiness, distress or concern.
Never question or challenge. Take an unconvincing answer at face value. Do not ask "Are you sure?" Do not seek explanations. Do not ask why someone behaved as they did.
Talk with a sarcastic tone. Ensure that you are sarcastic as much as possible. Snide is good.
Do not acknowledge apologies. When on the receiving end of an apology respond grumpily by repeating the original complaint. When making the apology immediately respond to the rebuff by abandoning any attempt at reconcilation and have a heated exchange.
Always interrupt. Do not allow the other people to complete their exposition.
I've got something to tell you. When you hear this do not listen attentively, instead interrupt with some piece of trivia, preferably one that "pulls the rug from under" the other's news.
Assume the worst. If you see or overhear something put the worst possible interpretation on people's motivations.
Believe malicious gossip. On hearing an unpleasant report or unkind hearsay about a friend or loved one assume it is true.
Organise surprises. Do not consider the plans, wishes, aspirations and likely response of the 'surprisee'.

If no specfic rules apply to a particular situation apply these two basic principles:

 • Deny the truth
 • Never establish the facts

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

KGS Class of 71 Reunion (24 September 2006)

At the "New Varsity" pub just outside the Warwick University Campus on the Gibbet Hill Road (post code CV4 7AJ), 12:00 - 16:00.

Bill Nealon
Craig Horner
Christine Horner (nee Hills)
David Botterill
Deborah Collett
Diana Jones (nee Gibson)
Dilys Shepherd (nee Crumpton)
Lesley Moseley (nee Fletcher)
Mark McLellan
Martin Haswell
Mary Plimmer (nee Cameron)
Michael Todd
Nigel Mykura
Ross Beadle
Sue Mykura (nee Lamb)

KGS main building
KGS main building

KGS entrance
KGS entrance

KGS main building

KGS main building
Nigel, Sue

KGS main building
Diana, Nigel, Sue

KGS main building
Mick, Deborah, Diana, Lesley, Martin, Ross

KGS main building
Nigel, Christine, Craig, Sue

KGS main building
Nigel, Lesley, Christine

See also Reunion 2001 photos

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Pre-Op Questionnaire

Dad and I have both had hernia repairs. His was within the lifetime of this blog but I spared the world that particular news item. As Dad said - tongue in cheek - "Now we have something in common". Of course he pointed out in a spirit of one-upmanship that *his* was a double hernia.

When I came to fill in the pre-op questionnaire I put my religion as "Jedi" (see "In the UK 390,000 Jedis there are"). Unfortunately the drop-down list in the system did not include that selection so I had to go down as "Other" presumably along with Druids, White witches and Fans of Paris Hilton.

When Dad completed his form and got to the question on existing medication he had to wrote "None". He isn't being prescribed anything at all whilst many of his contemporaries rattle like castanets (or is it maracas?). Considering he was 79 at the time he is pretty d**n healthy. I only hope I inherit his constitution along with his hernia!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Quince Cheese

There is a box of UHT milk portions in our office kitchen bearing the legend "Allergy advice: contains milk". I should hope so too! I suppose they have to be explicit lest some idiot thinks that cocoa butter or quince cheese contain joos o' the coo.

On Saturday we were down at the cottage and harvested about six kilo (13 lb) of quince and half a wheelbarrow of Bramley apples. On Sunday, while I was at a KGS reunion, Mary was at home making Quince cheese. For the first tranche she followed a recipe from The Silver Spoon.

This classic Italian cookbook is the culinary bible in most Italian homes and is a popular wedding gift. Presumably from the MIL so that her darling son does not starve to death at the hands of DIL. When it came out in English Mary asked me to buy her a present of the original Italian version the better to improve her Italian.

Quince Cheese and Quince Jelly

Halfway through the first batch she realised that it was in fact a recipe for quince Jelly so she completed that and switched to the River Cafe Cook Book for the second batch. The jelly is a beautiful golden orange colour; I had some on my toast this morning and it was delicious.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Birthday celebrations

Yesterday was my 54th birthday so Mary and I went for a very tasty meal at Alistair Little's Restaurant in Frith Street then toddled two doors along to Ronnie Scott's where we saw Ambulance, featuring Eddie Henderson, while we supped our way through a bottle of Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque. A very pleasant way to celebrate.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The bedroom that fell down

Our bedroom is in the trulli that fell down (see "It fell down..."). Previously the cone was "blind". We took the opportunity to rebuild it with a window, albeit a small one, to be in keeping with the rest of the property. Given that wall is over three foot thick (1.20 meter to be exact) it is more like looking out of a square porthole.

Mark and Mary's bedroom in the Lamia House

The door between it and the front cone is small and arched so Daniele designed a two part door. The panels are glass so our friend Lynn made curtains for us for all of the lamia doors.

Door between back bedroom and front sitting room

Since our last visit some wild beast (well I am assuming a local dog) ran all over the nice, white pizza oven roof with muddy paws, then up the stairs to the roof of the Lamia, peered over one parapet, trotted over to the other side, peered over that, repeated for a third side and then off again.

Paw prints on the Pizza oven roof

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Purple like an aubergine

Or eggplant as Americans call it (though any resemblance to an egg is pretty farfetched to my eye).

My natural decorum and good taste *cough* plus the fact that Mary checks this blog regularly for egregious errors of fact means that I have not been able to document my post-operative condition as luridly as I might have otherwise have wished. The safest thing is quote from the informative leaflet the hospital gave me.

"Risks. For a hernia repair these include: bruising - there is a risk of bruising around the operation site. But some patients may develop quite dramatic bruising and swelling, which in men can extend to ... [Ed. That quite enough thank you!]"

On the Friday before we left for Italy I went back to the nurse who did a conjuring trick and proceeded to pull a foot long piece of what looked like fishing line out of my groin. A most odd sensation. It appears that dissolving stitches are for the inner layers only. She pronounced the scar as healing nicely and off I went with a packet of anti-inflammatory Nurofen.

Two weeks of relaxation in Italy means I am well on the way to full recovery although the residual tenderness may mean that an exhibition of Russian Cossack dancing may yet be some way off.

Metre out of order

So said the scrap of cardboard on Waterloo Bridge. Presumably written by a motorist about a parking meter to deflect the wrath of a traffic warden. Unless of course they really were complaining about some poetic dysfunction. "Officer this verse just won't scan. Its iambic pentameter is all bent out of shape."

Monday, September 18, 2006

Lamia House so nearly finished

We always had it in mind that the Trulli House would be for renting out and the Lamia House would be ours to live in. The Trulli House has been habitable since last Septmber (see "Puglian Diary") but the Lamia House has been lagging behind. Now we are well and truly moved in.

We arrived Saturday and on the Sunday moved our bed from one house to the other and so spent our first night in the "new" house. Over the course of the following two weeks we took delivery of another bed to replace the one we moved, a dining table and chairs, a day bed (with truckle bed beneath) and a blanket box.

[click image for larger version]

The big excitement was the joiners finally fitting the kitchen cupboards they were due to install back in June/July. A few hiccups like the door for the fitted fridge was a single piece but we have a fridge/freezer. An animated discussion between architect and joiner ensued; the door went away and a two separate doors returned.

[click image for larger version]

The hot water system was playing up so our guests had a number of cold showers but by the time we left, and after numerous visits from Ignazio the engineer, we seem to have it fixed. Now we are down to a final snagging list (US: punch list) to make the whole thing complete.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Off to Puglia for two weeks

We fly out tomorrow, back on the 16th September. So this will probably be my last post until we return. This time we have persuaded our friends Bob&Lynn to join us for a week and our friend Andrea for about five days. I am looking forward to showing them round and introducing them to our favourite restaurants and local wines. Until then.

Toodle-pip old beans!

Just checked out the weather forcast for Cisternino and it is 29°C and sunny all the way. Cue song... "The sun has got his hat on. Hip, hip, hip, hooray"

Bourdeaux 2005 En Primeur

On Tuesday evening we went to a BBR En Primeur tasting and tried 49 out of the 74 wines on show. Mostly the wines were presented in pairs, the 2005 en primeur and a recent vintage (pretty evenly spread over the 2001 through to 2004 vintages).

Interesting to compare the wine in its "raw" state with an officially released bottle. Trying to image how the 2005 will evolve is beyond my palette even with the recent vintage to contrast with. So I took it more in the educational sense of tasting wines I would never otherwise buy nor get to taste including a number of classed growths.

We got chatting to Max the saleman account manager who keeps sending Mary wicked, tempting emails of wines to buy. And so often she succumbs but, it has to be said, to my benefit as well. "Who *are* all these people?" I wanted to know. Many of them looked like old money, city types: merchant bankers, brokers, barristers, and such like in the uniform of pinstripe suit. Plus a few who looked like landed gentry. And a few normals like us.

He did reveal that those present were all invited, account holders only. Some like us spend a few thousand pounds a year, some spend up to 15 million! Too late for a career switch methinks?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Bank Holiday Barbeque

Although Monday was a public holiday in the UK we actually held our barbeque on the Sunday. Mary was an absolute heroine, she did 99% of the preparation catering for an expected 32 guests. I hobbled about and did a little work that could be done sitting down like podding and skinning broad beans and skewering chicken yakatori.

It had been raining on and off all weekend but fortunately the rain held off during the afternoon and early evening. About 20 people turned up and the whole event went very well. The bread-maker and ice cream-maker had been working hard as well producing three different flavoured breads and four different ice creams all of which proved very popular.

A colleague and his wife did not turn up and I was sure that they had assumed the BBQ was on Monday. Sure enough they turned up 24 hours late and so we had a very pleasant impromptu dinner party with all the left-overs from Sunday.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Can you feel anything when I do this?

Well the operation seemed to go very smoothly. I was curiously not as apprehensive as I was expecting. In the anaesthetic room when they wired me up my pulse was only 51 and "shot up" to 60 when they inserted the canula into the crook of my elbow. The anaesthetist said "I'll just inject a little to start with" and that's the last I remem...

...when I woke I was rambling inchoherently like a complete and utter drunkard. I was having great tribble spooking and was definitely slurping my worms. G*d know what I was wittering on about but I think women's nostrils came into it somewhere!

Three hours of dozing was followed by several cups of tea and biscuits and a very late lunch at 5:00pm. Then at 8:30 I got a black cab home. They may be an iconic symbol of London Town but they have the suspension of an armoured troop carrier. I spent the entire journey home gripping the hand rail to minimise the jouncing about.

The post operative guidance is basically, "If it hurts stop doing it". I have some paracetamol and a pair of full length ambi-embolism stockings to wear for a week but I don't think white is really my colour.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Nipples to Knees

Apparently fashions change in medical procedures. Many years ago I had a summer job as a hospital porter. A-a-h the memories <pause, sigh, shake head to clear>. Anyway, a couple of times I had to assist one of the regulars prep a male patient. The slogan was "Nipples to Knees!" Dry shaving the aforementioned area with a disposable razor. I played no active part and presume my role was effectively that of chaperone.

It didn't look the most soothing of shaves so I had fully intended to do my own prep this evening, thank you very much, in a nice warm bath but according to the admissions clerk the modern way is clippers immediately pre-op. A quick Google shows this to be the case [1] [2] so I shall leave that to the experts.

Instead I shall concentrate on having a good, slow release, meal tonight as it is nil-by-mouth from midnight so that means no breakfast and who know when I shall be ready for my lunch.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Blood, Sweat and Tea

Real Life Adventures in an Inner-city Ambulance (Paperback) by my mate Tom Reynolds. Well, not really a mate but I did once buy him a beer in the Bell, Book and Candle.

The book, Blood, Sweat and Tea, is based on his blog Random Acts of Reality which is top of my blog reading. He has been doing all sorts of media interviews (mostly radio); here is one interview with Tom on the telly.

His blog is a gripping read about a real life job doing something of value. Not sure the same can be said of my desk-bound job. Read his blog and be reminded what a debt we to people like him in the ambulance service and get a fascinating insight into the (street) life of east London.

Well done Tom, congratulations on getting all the way to book form.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Rotting rodents

The Rat Catcher Vermin Control Officer did warn me that it might get a bit smelly - poisoning rats [There's a Rat in Mi Kitchen (2)]. How right he was! The breakfast room stinks something awful. Of course it might be the drains but my money is on a decomposing rat under the floorboards. Let's hope nature takes its course with alacrity as we have a houseful of guests at the weekend and I don't fancy having to prise up a floorboard to remove the putrid corpse, Yech!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Inguinal Hernia

Apparently hernia repairs are the single most common male operation in the UK with over 100,000 performed each year according to the BBC. On Friday I am about to become number 100,001.

Last Tuesday the GP confirmed my diagnosis (not difficult), last Friday I met the consultant surgeon and this Friday I go under the knife. The surgeon, John Scurr, seems to know his stuff and has a good firm handshake - just what you need to hold the scalpel steady.

I resisted telling him the old joke:
 "Doctor, will I be able to play the piano afterwards?"
 "Yes, I don't see why not."
 "That's funny, I couldn't before!"

We are having a barbeque on Sunday and Mary has made me promise that I won't go playing the invalid or offering to show people my scar. Spoilsport!

Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell

starring Tom Conti at the Garrick Theatre.

We went to the Saturday matinee with our friend Andrea. We met up at the Cork&Bottle - again - for a spot of lunch before going to the play. And the play was hilarious, I haven't laughed so much for ages. I was expecting amusing and entertaining but not Laugh Out Loud funny. Excellent, I highly recommend it. Go see it while you still can. They are only booking till 02 Sepetmber 2006.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sig Humour

I am surprised more people do not configure their email programs to include a .sig which gets appended to every posting, especially as it allows for a sig quote: "A maxim, quote, proverb, joke, or slogan embedded in one's sig block and intended to convey something of one's philosophical stance, pet peeves, or sense of humor."

For years mine was:
"There must be some kind of way out of here" said the joker to the thief
Now it is:
"You cannot change the past but you can shape the future"

Mary's used to be:
"Life is too short to drink bad wine"
Now it is:
"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination." Oscar Wilde

Lurking on I have been amused by the following .sigs:

"I see a web site and I want to paint it #000000"
"I am a man of many parts, unfortunately some of them are out of stock"
"Keep your friends close by and your enemies in a hole in the ground lined with pointy sticks"
"I can take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once."
"I want to die like my grandfather, peacefully in his sleep, not like his passengers, screaming in terror"

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Trullo Azzuro goes public

We decided the property formerly known as Hovel-in-the-Hills™ is finished enough to be fit for renting. So we have signed up with and gone public. Now would-be holiday makers can read all about it, check availability and prices and request bookings. Roll up, roll up!

Beautifully restored trullo in delightful, secluded valley
[follow this link for full details]

A beautiful trullo, lovingly restored by the owners to a very high standard, employing traditional methods and materials to retain the character of this magical property.

It has 4 large cones constituting a living room with two sofas, 1 double bedroom, 1 twin bedded room, a kitchen / dining room and a smaller cone containing the bathroom.

The property is surrounded by a garden with olive and fig trees, and an enclosed south-facing courtyard paved with traditional old stones (chianchi). The courtyard has sun loungers for relaxing; a barbeque, garden table and chairs for al fresco dining and an external pizza oven for would-be chefs.

It is situated on the west facing slope of a delightfully quiet valley with wonderful views of the surrounding countryside. An ideal place for relaxing away from it all, whilst being ideally located for exploring the sights of Puglia.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Traffic Light Meals

Last Tuesday I caught the train straight from work down to Farnborough for a Nepalese meal. I met up with Bob Carlsen, my old boss from CSC, in the Gurkha Palace together with four other ex-colleagues. The company was fine as was the food. Well, flavour wise it was fine but visually it was very monchrome, very beige: rice, naan and an assortment of curries all in shades of brown. Colour is important in food presentation.

Years ago, when I was single, I would veg out on a Sunday morning watching the OU. One time there was this Fine Arts lecturer explaining how Constable would always use a small dot of red somewhere in his pictures; in "Flatford Mill" it is on the headband of the horse. Even a small dash of contrasting colour can bring vivacity to a visual image. If you ever get your portrait drawn by a street artist notice how they often apply a dot of white in each eye to give the face more life.

Making the connection, like you do, I realised this is the purpose of the garnish on a plate. I had never been able to see the point of embellishing, say, a starter of toast and pate with two scraps of lettuce and a quarter tomato; not much in the way of nourishment there but of course it is meant as a feast for the eyes.

More specifically an easy way to give your meals visual appeal is to adopt a traffic light scheme: red, amber, green. Not always literally, the place of red might be taken by brown grilled meat and the amber might be a white slice of mozarella; adapt the basic schema to the meal in mind.

For example my meal last week at the Cork&Bottle was grilled giant prawns (red) on a bed of salad (green) and it needed the slice of lemon to give the dish the amber lift. Likewises Kylie's sausage (red) and chips (amber) needed the tomato to give it the red boost.

Two out of three just and something is missing. That is why red (bell) peppers and tomatoes are so useful; carrots also can play red or amber depending on the rest of the plate. Of course some meals are there already like "insalata tricolore" - tomato, mozzarella and basil or the panzanella Mary made at the weekend.

[Panzanella recipe from BBC Good Food]

Thursday, August 10, 2006

My Rig May Be Old

But That Don't Mean She's Slow *

Two weekends ago when we were down at the cottage I brought my old Claude Butler back up to London. I bought it 28 years ago and it was second hand then. And yet again I chopped a chunk off my commute time. The 6.8 miles (10.9km) normally takes 38 minutes but twice this last fortnight I have done it in 29 minutes.

I think the Specialised Crossroads Comp may be going out to Italy as a holiday bike.

* Six Days on the Road by Taj Mahal

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Hectic Social Life

One advantage of working in the UK full time is that I now have a social life Monday through Thursday. The disadvantage is that I now have a social life Monday through Thursday; it is a good life if you don't weaken!

Brasil Brasileiro at Sadlers Wells: on Thursday with Pete&Amanda. A meal beforehand followed by a performance of energetic and athletic music and dance. A classic case of "equal ogling opportunities" with six-packs for the benefit of the girls and skimpy, clinging outfits for the benefit of the boys.

Girl posse at Avon Cottage: on Friday we had four of Mary's ex-colleagues, from when she used to work at the bank, down at the cottage: Christine, Caroline, Andrea and Elaine. Dinner at the pub next door was followed by nattering till 2am.

BBQ at Bob&Lynn's: this event is an annual feature of our social calendar. Much eating and drinking but I left early because of concerns for the cat thus saving me from any unseemly exhibitions of wittering.

Cat feeding at midnight: Kate&Ian very kindly gave me a lift home to London, leaving the girls down at the cottage. Fed Cleo some fresh tuna and fell into bed.

Web site design at home: Being on my own on Sunday gave me a chance to update the website we have set up for marketing the Hovel in the Hills™. Obviously we cannot call it that so we have a working title of "Trulli Azzuro" after the blues skies and matching doors. See Booking from 2007.

Vets at dawn: Monday and Cleo was the first patient as the vets opened. Emma reassured me that the weight loss, reduced appetite and increased drinking are typical of hyper thyroid-ism which we know Cleo has. Last year we switched from Neo-mercazole to Felimazole and we may still need to adjust the dosage.

Fran&Kylie at Cork&Bottle: A couple of weeks ago we bumped into another ex-college of Mary's who we had not seen for about six years so we arranged to meet again and catch up. Fran is a dancer see Google for more. Another Monday evening of eating and drinking.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Pretty Woman

Tuesday evening the conversation ranged far and wide, as always at a McLellan family gathering. Somehow we got to the topic that Ian had first pointed out for me the parallels between E.T. (the movie) and the crucifixion and the resurrection (The Bible). ET died and darkness came over the land. He came back to life and was taken up into heaven. It is left as an exercise for the viewer to re-view the film wearing "New Testament Glasses".

Wednesday evening I was home alone while Mary was out "team-building" with colleagues from work. So I had a quiet evening in with the cat on my lap and watched the recently acquired, 15th anniversary edition of Pretty Woman, the movie for which Mary famously coined the phrase "Equal Ogling Opportunity".

Now, despite IMDB reckoning it is based on La Traviata (as that is the opera they go to) my money is on Cinderella. For goodness sake they even have one character exclaim "Cinde-f**kin'-rella, that's who!". Look at the evidence:

• Richard is the prince
• the two Rodeo Drive shop assistants are the wicked step-sisters
• the bell-hop is Buttons
• the lotus / limo / lear jet is the coach (take your pick)
• the Hotel Manager is the Fairy Godmother (brilliantly under-played by Hector Elizondo)
• she gets to go to the ball (Opera)
• she gets the handsome Prince and they live happily ever after

There is even a nod to Rapunzel in the very last scene. I rest my case Mi'Lud!

Next week I shall explain the parallels between David Lynch's "Dune" and Rennaisance Italy.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Exhibition Planning

One thing I like about London is being close to things. Yesterday I was able to cycle home, as most days. Then off to my brother's, again, only 17 minutes on the train from Wandsworth Town to St Margarets, half an hour door to door.

Mum and Dad had driven up for the evening so we could do some planning for his exhibition at Wolfson College, Oxford in October [Michael McLellan limited edition prints].

Nephew Mike works in the Media; how vague and grand that sounds, just don't inquire too deeply. Brother Ian is in Publishing; he *is* Arcturus Publishing, have a look at their catalogue [pdf]. So Mike is doing all the graphic design work for the catalogue, poster and postcard, Ian will organise the printing. The whole family is mucking for the general logistics of wrapping and hanging.

I was trying to convince Dad to 'up' the price of the originals as I think he is selling himself short but he was adamant. At least he did agree to adding a little bit (5%-ish) to stop the prices being too rounded and "bland". To my mind 315 is somehow more convincing than 300, for example.

Instead we will drop the price of the prints as one needs to maintain a reasonable differential between originals and prints. Not that I care much about losing margin, it is not about making a profit it is about getting Dad's art better known / more available.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

There's a rat in mi kitchen (2)

Unlike the last rat which expired tidily in the dustbin [There's a rat in mi kitchen (1)] this rat is very much alive and living under my floor boards. I spotted him last week scuttling in through a broken airbrick giving access to the sub-floor void at the front of the house. This would explain the damp, musty smell we had noticed in the cellar.

Fortunately Wandsworth provide a free pest control service for rats in private dwellings. The Rat Catcher Vermin Control Officer was of the opinion that there was a whole family of them judging by the patter of tiny footprints in the dust. So he laid a bait box down and stuffed a heap of bait sticks through the airbrick using his bare hands.

He did mention that he tended to bleed profusely if cut but what can he expect if he handles anti-coagulants without gloves - silly man!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Family dining (2)

This weekend we fitted in a double dose of family dining. On our way back from the cottage we called in to Farnham for lunch with my parents. In the evening we went round to Ian&Sarah's along with Jane&Pete for another evening of family dining. An excellent evening; my brother has a wicked wit and had me creased up with a tale of him and youngest son doing "boy looking" in the video store.

Sunday was a bike ride round Battersea Park and Wandsworth Common plus work on the Shed Called Jackson. It was like a Tom and Jerry cupboard - you know - open the door and everything falls out. Now it has a shelf for bits and bobs, a tool rack and several hooks for hanging the paella burner, strimmer cable and such like. So much more ruly.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Spanish visitors

We have a family from Spain staying with us this week. Mary was at college with Gael but they have not seen each other for 30 years! Gael moved to Spain, for her work, shortly after university and has been there ever since, married Juan and had a family, Norman and (little) Gael.

Gael was put in touch with us via Ros from Elgin when Ros heard they were coming to London and planning to stay in a hotel. We were delighted to be able to put them up. Why pay cental London prices when we have three spare bedrooms for guests!

We have been less successful in persuading them to use buses. It takes only a little tuition and street knowledge to work out which bus to catch from which stop but worth the effort. The London Underground is not air conditioned. Travelling by tube squashed in a super-heated tin can with above-ground temperatures of 35°C (95°F) is a *most unpleasant and sweaty* way to travel.

To get them out of London we and they have changed our plans and are going down to the cottage tonight to show them another side of England.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Thumpermonkey Lives! Dublin Castle, Camden. Thursday 03-Aug-06

Live @ Dublin Castle £4.50 Mit Flyer
Thumpermonkey Lives!
Thursday 3rd August @ 9PM 'til late
94 Parkway

Thumpermonkey Lives! Summer Tour 2006

Thumpermonkey Lives! Summer Tour 2006
Aug 03: Dublin Castle, London
Aug 04: Night and Day, Manchester
Aug 09: Pure, Sunderland
Aug 10 The Crown, Middlesborough
Aug 11: Venue TBC
Aug 12: Edwards No.8, Birmingham
Aug 18/19: Secret Festival (Shh)

A public demonstration of the recent album: "Chap With The Wings, Five Rounds Rapid".