Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A weekend in Aqua Sulis

We went to The City of Bath to visit our friend Jane and incidentally getting another tick in the box for New Year's Resolution #4. She is Tim's mother and grandmother to Alex who is Mary's godson - though Mary's influence on his moral and spiritual upbringing might be hard to detect <GR&D>

She is a lovely lady, charming, elegant and so enthusiastic to have us visit. We arrived early and did a tour of the Roman Baths. Then round to Jane's flat in a Georgian house with a wonderful view for tea and biscuits. A dinner party in the evening with some local friends of Jane's passed a most enjoyable evening chatting till one in the morning.

Since Tim&Sarah live in Wimbledon only three miles away from us so we gave Jane firm instructions to warn us when she next visits so we can pop round and see her again.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Chez Bruce is superb

We have been fortunate to dine in some very fine restaurants lately (The Food Room, Homage, Le Gavroche, Sketch Lecture Room and Library, Mark Hix and more) but last night Chez Bruce surpassed them all.

We went there to celebrate Mary's birthday; it is only two miles from our house. We had been there a couple of times before including last Valentine's. Since Jamie Oliver said it was his favourite restaurant getting a reservation has become problematical. They had to introduce a 28 day booking window so I rang on December 28 to book last night and several time slots were already gone.

Normally I struggle to remember what I ate last night but not today. A creamy onion tart, a trio of pork, and a pear and almond tart. The flavours were just gorgeous throughout. We had a half of Pouilly Fuisse from Chateau Fuisse with the starters and a bottle of Santenay from Bernard Morey with the mains from a wine list with good range to suit all tastes and wallets.

We had some banter with the sommelier including one of my favorite ploys: instead of asking which wine goes with the food, I choose the wine then ask which food I should order, it is the best pairing I am after. He kindly offered a botrytis affected South African chenin blanc (Rudera Noble Late Harvest) that was not on the "by the glass" list and that could pass for a Sauternes any day. Dessert wine usually comes in 75cl thimble measures so I went for a second glass, this time switching to a Recioto de Soave which, while good, was overshadowed by the preceding wine.

If you know, in advance, that you are going to be in London plan ahead and book a place - it will be worth the trip.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Thumpermonkey Album Launch

10 February 2006 at Storm Nightclub, 28A Leicester Square, London WC2H 7LE. Onstage at 9:20pm.

"Thumpermonkey" is my eldest nephew's band* and they have the launch of their new album "Thumpermonkey Lives!: Chap with the wings, five rounds rapid" on 10 February 2006. Be there!

* Well, he is *in* it not that it is *his* band, you know what I mean.

PS I hope you have your haggis in ready for tonight's Burns supper.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Akira's Cousin

is nephew Chris' band http://www.akiras-cousin.co.uk/. Undergoing a rebuild but hopefully some tracks will be available for download soon...

Seems like they are getting some local gigs which is excellent. Mary&I went to Jane&Pete's on Saturday for a siblings-and-partners dinner party and Chris joined us at the end of the night having spent the evening playing jazz at a local wedding.

Eye contact avoidance

Mary and I sometimes joke that our waiter must have gone to the "International School of Eye Contact Avoidance" as they scan round the room looking but not seeing. It is very frustrating as you raise your head or lift an arm to attract their attention and their Teflon-coated gaze slithers over you as if you were invisible.

Not so in the *excellent* Food Room in Queenstown Road, Battersea. We ate there on Friday and the staff were superb. Every time I looked up someone would catch the movement out of the corner of their eye and look over. A series of micro-expressions would flicker back and forth, "Need anything?", "No just looking round", "Good, look up again if you do", break eye contact and on they'd go. I have to say that it probably because the manager and staff were all women; I have only ever noticed male waiters to be guilty of "customer-blindness".

Impressive though that was of course a restaurant stands by its food which was equally noteworthy. Courtesy of toptable: London Restaurants we had three delicious courses off the á là carte plus a welcome cocktail (glass of champagne) for only GBP 19.50 per head. Mind you we, as usual, bumped that up with a couple of bottles from their well balanced wine list. I agree with one reviewer who said you would easily pay twice as much in the West End. Definitely one to go back to.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Tide Is High

but I'm holding on *

My mental jukebox is normally triggered by word association (see "Light Blue Car" and "Musical Malapropisms") but my cycle ride usually begins with the same two tracks cued by visual images.

It starts as I cycle into Battersea Reach (apartments *from* GBP 279,000) where all the hoardings are plastered with images of beautiful young things smiling, chatting, laughing, drinking wine and generally being nauseatingly trendy cool Yuppies and Dinkies. And off goes the play list starting with "Shiny Happy People" by REM.

Then I pass through the plaza and turn onto the Thames-side path. The first sight that greets me is a small stretch of river bank planted with water side plants. If the tide is out I get a view of a wide expanse of river mud and off goes track two, "The Tide Is High", and Blondie keeps me humming as far as the London Heliport.

* The Tide Is High by Blondie

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Implementing the resolution

This was a busy weekend:

Friday: Pre-theatre drinks at Albannach followed by a production of Pirandello's As You Desire Me at the Playhouse. Afterwards an excellent meal at Homage at the Waldorf.

Saturday: Supper with Bron&Maggie and their four children. Bron probably counts as my longest standing friend (excluding the people I knew from college) as I have known him since 1979. I count this as a success for New Year's Resolution #4.

Sunday: Lunch with Mum&Dad. We are planning to publish limited edition prints of a couple of Dad's paintings and took one back to him for a minor touch up of one bashed corner. But that was just a pretext, it was really so we could spend three hours with them.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

New Year's Resolution #4

To restablish contact with old friends.

That's it really. Friends, followers of this blog from the early days and those who have read the manifesto will understand that losses reinforce the wisdom of knowing who your friends are and spending time with them - family particularly. However there are many friends with whom the only contact is the annual Christmas Card. That will change.

I have a view that NYR's should be postively phrased, life enhancing things not "give up this" or "stop doing that". I rarely make them and so can easily ennumerate those I have:

Resolution #1: To be more bad tempered and irritable. (1986) Triggered by a Christmas Eve failure to attracted the barman's attention, I resolved to be more assertive and outspoken of my needs (albeit whimsically phrased). This worked so well that, by September, I was overheard saying to my boss, "Ken, let me say this in words of one syllable that even you will understand." I left that company shortly thereafter and, the resolution having served its purpose, I reverted to mild-mannered Clark Kent mode.

Resolution #2: To drink more French white wine. (1987) Having weaning myself off sweet German wines by way of Rioja, Chianti, and Syrah from the Côtes du Rhone it was time to become more sophisticated in my drinking. So I resolved to extend my input by essaying something a little drier in the white department. A resolution that I have maintained to this day!

Resolution #3: To date a different woman every month. (1989) Following the success of the first two resolutions I decided to overcome my shyness with women (stop sniggering at the back there!). I know, hard to believe looking at the man you know today. *cough* *cough* The way to deal with fear of rejection was not to seek for acceptance in the first place. The game was to invite a woman out for a meal, or theatre or whatever, simply for the pleasure of their company not because I fancied them and wanted to have carnival knowledge*.

Though it has to be said that in some cases I wouldn't of minded. As I said to Miss August there are three things she should know about older men: they are more sophisticated, they are more urbane and they don't play hard to get.

All was going well, even two Miss April and two Miss August, then I got to September and met Mary and the rest is history. All bets were off and I had to disappoint the Misses October, November and December who were already lined up.

* Old joke courtesy of Jasper Carrot.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Marrakech Express

I should have warned both my readers that I would be off air for a week as Mary and I went for a bit of winter sun. My client had announced before Christmas that, as a cost saving measure, all contractors would be required to take an extended break. They back-pedalled from "three weeks" to "two out of three" following the outbreak of protests. Fifty-five percent of the personnel on the project are freelancers for whom no work means no money.

We decided that the enforced break was an ideal opportunity to get a bit of change of scenery. We picked Marrakech, Morroco as suitably southerly and exotic so we booked ourselves six nights in Riad Clementine and a business class BA flight out of Gatwick.

Rather than repeat the guidebooks (see Wikipedia on Marrakech for more), two things that stuck in the memory are:

Bazaar traffic: Even the smallest alley and souk was full of shriveled men in jellabi pulling handcarts, prehistoric bicycles weaving in and out, belching mopeds in equal numbers weaving with them, even small taxis if they could squeeze in. This in minute thoroughfares full of pedestrians. In the streets it got even madder with everyone just gently wafting in all directions. You crossed the road by simply walking out into the street and maintaining a steady pace while the traffic swerved round you. Unnerving till you get the hang of it.

Bizarre traffic: Some of the jellabi had pointy hoods which made them look like pixies on bicycles. When the garments were brown it was like seeing Jedi Knights on scooters. Weird, very weird.