Monday, March 30, 2009

Opening up Trullo Azzurro 2009

Another flying visit to Trullo Azzurro ( to open up for the season. We are perhaps more conscientious than strictly necessary but we are scarred by our early experiences a couple of years back when the building works were half done.

Basically we moved in too soon and bought furniture and bedding while the plaster was still oozing moisture into the atmosphere. The following spring everything was covered in mould and anything organic was green and hairy. The rush seat bottoms were fungoid in the extreme, the wooden spoons went in the bin and the mattresses are still speckled with grey markings.

Since then we have been zealous about bagging up linens every autumn into "Vacu-sacs" and installing dehydration tablets. Last November we bought an electric dehumidifier and set it going on low over the winter.

Then we go out in spring to unbag the linens, air the property and wipe off any mould. The last couple of years it has got easier with less and less to do. Still it is good to reassure ourselves in person that the place has survived the winter. This year a little weeding, sorting out a couple of welcome packs for our paying guests and a meal out with Neighbours Chris and John more or or less did the trick.

We arrived Friday at one o'clock Saturday morning had a glass of red wine and went to bed. Saturday did stuff then in the evening John kindly drove us to Ostuni for a meal at "Porta Nova". It was out of the Michelin guide and was classy and expensive.

The antipasti came not as a whole slew of communal plates but three separate courses all small but perfectly formed. The main dishes were hot on presentation but thermally could have been literally hotter. Room for a dessert and coffee. There was an extensive wine list at sensible prices, of which we consumed three, even so we still managed to run up a bill of 60 Euro per head. Good but VFM? I am not so sure.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Magnolias in Bloom

Google street view has come to London. Naturally I checked out our house - clearly visible of course although half of it is obscured by the foliage of a large tulip magnolia in our front garden.

The greenery was in full leaf when the google van drove by. A pity as the magnolia is now in full bloom.

Magnolia tree

The blooms come out in a matter of days. Unfortunately they fade and fall as fast. Still they are wonderful while they last.

Magnolia tree

Even if out house is part obscured I took a quick zoom round Fairfield Drive and there was my car in excellent detail I could even spot the small cuddly Angus the Coo on the parcel shelf :-)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cataract operation went well

On Friday I had a cataract operation under sedation.

Many people bandy about the phrase "worst nightmare". In my case this is the correct, literal use of the term. I was traumatised in my early teens by a clip from the film "Un chien andalou" which purported to show a woman's eye being slit with a cut throat razor. I later learnt that it was done with a dead donkey and some clever editing but by then the damage was done.

Ever since then ocular damage has been the stuff of my worst nightmares. You may well imagine that learning I needed a cataract operation - normally done under only a *local* anaesthetic - caused no small amount of anxiety.

My eyesight had deteriorated noticeably over the last 18 months after a lifetime of very gentle change. Over the last three months an element of double vision and night-time mistiness prompted the optometrist to suspect a cataract and send me for a specialist opinion.

Courtesy of BUPA and an accommodating consultant and anaesthetist the options of sedation and a full general were available. Even so I treated myself to a couple of sessions of hypnotherapy with Liz Hogan to reduce pre-op nerves. It did the trick; Mary remarked how calm I had seemed on the Thursday night.

On the day the anaesthetist put in a cannula for the sedation and said that if I got too nervous they could switch to a full general anaesthetic. He said "I'll just squirt in a little as a pre-med" and the next thing I knew I woke up in the recovery room. An afternoon of dozing in my private room followed until it was time go get in a cab, collect Mary en route and go down to Konnigans for a relaxing meal.

There seem to be negligible after effects from the operation. I have to take it careful for a while: no strenuous exercise and a protective eye-patch at night. The most dramatic impact is that the surgeon inserted a +4 dioptre lens to correct my lifelong myopia. I will probably have to use a contact lens in the unoperated eye until that is done as well, as will probably soon be the case.

Using both eyes at once is too much image processing for my brain to handle given the difference in focus and image size. So meanwhile I am using an eye-patch which I switch to whichever eye is appropriate for the task in hand. Arrgh, me hearties!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My First Spin Class

Sunday morning Mary and I went to a Spin class at the local gym. It would appear that I was born without the "gung ho" gene. Phrases like "give it your best shot", "give it 100%" are just not in my vocabulary. And "no pain, no gain" is especially not. Just plain stupid. Like there is something virtuous about discomfort. "Satisficing" is a key word in my lexicon.

[Flame on] In my view all this macho, b*******t about exercise is a throwback to some hair shirt, Victorian attitude of "if it is unpleasant it must be good for you", the other side of the pernicious coin "if it is pleasurable it must be bad for you". The credo of miserable, kill joy, religious fundamentalists through the ages from the Puritans to the Taliban. [Flame off]

There are people who say they feel so much better under a fitness regimen; more alert and full of energy. I guess they must be telling the truth, I can hardly accuse them of lying, but for me I have never noticed any such benefit. Maybe I never got fit enough to notice it.

When I started cycling to work after years of no exercise I noticed none of these supposed benefits. After a year it still took me the same time to do the journey, I was just as breathless, my heart rate was just as high. The only difference was that I was less sweaty after my shower. At the start of the year I had to have it as cool as I could bear by the end of the year I could have a warm shower. That was it!

I can see the point of pedalling hard to get up a hill but doing it on a static bike is like being a hamster in wheel. No, I shall stick by the motto "if you feel like exercise lie down until the feeling passes"

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Tina Turner at the O2

Simply the best :-)

Saturday morning we had nothing planned for that evening. "Fancy seeing Tina Turner at the O2?" said Mary. Yeah, right like there will be any tickets available. But I looked on TicketMaster anyway and there were some tickets, cheapest in the house, "restricted view" which, looking at the seating plan, basically meant "behind the stage and you might just see something if Tina came right to the wings".

A quick Google revealed some secondhand tickets at face value from people who could not go - but the tickets had - and a couple of pairs offered at USD 1,000 - no way!

Anyhow I tried again at about 3 o'clock and would you believe it: a pair of top price tickets in block A2 (the block right in front of the stage) in the centre of row X, just 24 rows from the front. Brilliant seats so close we didn't need to look at the big screen to see Tina's expression.

Tina at the O2

The concert was a greatest hits and you can't ask for better than that.

Tina at the O2

Lots of costume changes including a "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" for "We don't need another hero".

Tina at the O2

For a woman of 70 (!!) she still had the skin, the legs and the, ahem, upper torso and she wasn't afraid to flaunt it. And with what energy - "I'll have what she's having".

Tina at the O2

Right near the end she came out on an extending walk way that cantilevered out over the front section of the auditorium until she was practically over our heads. A fantastic concert and an unexpected surprise, as evenings go simply the best.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

25 Things About Me

Friends on Facebook will have already seen this but what the heck it took me a while to rack my brains so I thought I would get maximum mileage out of it.

Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

(To do this, go to "notes" under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right-hand corner of the page), then click Publish.)

1. Sometimes I claim to be Cockney as I was born in the old Charing Cross Hospital. If the wind was in the right direction you might just have been able to hear the sound of Bow bells.

2. I have sworn never to wear blazers with brass buttons. Have me committed if I do as it will be a sure sign I have gone middle aged, middle England.

3. Mary and I were married in *the* St Paul's cathedral. Mary would have preferred low-key registry and send friends a postcard from honeymoon. However courtesy of Dad's MBE we had the option of the chapel in the crypt. It cost me an antique hand cut solitaire. Worth every penny.

4. I never suffer navel fluff. My navel is almost completely flat due to minor post partum surgical intervention when it everted.

5. My uncle was a one-armed paperhanger and a most unsuitable, picaresque role model for an impressionable young man. Excellent :-)

6. I can juggle and ride a unicycle badly and certainly not at the same time. I have even juggled flaming torches and only slightly singed my fingers.

7. At school I guess I was a bit of a swot. What the Americans might call a straight A student. I pretty much used to be top of the class every year in every subject except when Nigel or Daphne were there when we split the honours. After three grade A's at A level it all kind of went downhill and I scraped a third at Oxford.

8. My signature dishes are peppers with capers and creme brulee.

9. I have had hair variously half way down my back, permed, blonde highlights, and short gelled spiky. I was all set for the purple dyed phase when the need for professional appearance at work got in the way.

10. I used to run the school archaeological society and arranged some serious speakers to present. Looking back they were all very gracious to have done so in exchange for a free school dinner.

11. I cannot abide the Middle Lane Owners Club. Those plonkers who refuse to pull back into lane one when the overtaking manoeuvre is complete.

12. I have never "bunked off" school. It would never have occurred to me to do such a thing. Just call me "Mr Goody Two Shoes".

13. I consider myself omnivorous but I am not a great fan of raw celery, okra (aka ladies fingers), tripe or seafood with suckers.

14. I would rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

15. I weighed 9 1/4 stone at 23; now I weigh 11st. People say I don't need to lose weight I beg to differ.

16. I have dreadful teeth. I must have had over 100 fillings in my teens. Now I have 13 crowns including several gold posts and two titanium implants.

17. When I fill out forms that ask my religion I put Jedi. Me and 390,000 other Brits can't be wrong.

18. About the only thing I really learned at college was that I learn by specific examples but understand and remember by general principles. Apart from that I have nothing but contempt for Oxford as a seat of learning.

19. I hate waste. I get great satisfaction from meals that use an assortment of leftovers in the fridge. I have cavalier attitude toward 'use by' dates.

20. I can't work with background music. I find myself sucked into the music and can no longer concentrate on the task in hand. Conversely I happily work with Radio 4 talking to me all day, be productive and remember and recount what I heard. Who says boys cannot multi-task.

21. I really dislike it when people eat with their mouth open. It must have been drummed into me as a child "it's rude to eat with your mouth open".

22. I once made a New Year's Resolution to drink more French White wine. I kept that one up.

23. One Christmas I decorated the underground with Tinsel. Commuting on the northern line one December I decided people were looking too glum. So for several weeks I would fill the pockets of my pinstripe suit with tinsel and decorate the straphangers over several carriages each morning.

24. has one of the oldest Marc Bolan pages on the Internet - since 27 November 1996 in fact. That is postively pre-historic in world wide web terms.

25. I don't do memes. Well to be specific if tagged I do the meme but do not pass it on. So this one ends here.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Lentil soup so thick... could stand your spoon up in it.

Mary made a batch of lentil soup on Sunday using a recipe from The Soup Kitchen. I gave it a stir and thought "A spoon would stand up in this" so I did.

It stayed there long enough for me to run upstairs and grab my camera and run back down again:

lentil soup with spoon standing up in it

Need need for CGI trickery here!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Downsizing the MIL

Last weekend, sitting on the Heathrow Express en route to Glasgow, Mary got a call from her Mum to say that she has been allocated a place in the local sheltered accommodation. This is very good news for May. The new place may only be a few hundred metres from where she lives now but that is up hill - not good for an OAP with angina and emphysema. Her new home will be much closer to the church, the shops and the bus stop, all on the flat, plus a number of her friends also live in the complex.

May is going from 2 bed, 2 reception and a garage to 1 bed, 1 reception. Her current home is full which means she is going to have to shed 50% of all she owns in order to make the move. So instead of a bit of shopping and relaxing the weekend took the form of clearing out and a trip to the local tip. Not quite "everything must go" but not far off.

It made me think how we would be severely challenged to downsize. Quite how one couple manages to fill a 4 bed, 3 reception house plus loft, cellar, garage and 2 garden sheds is a mystery to me. We are a bit like Thunderbird 2 with pods for everything: the picnic pod, the barbecue pod, the bicycle pod, the decorating pod, the Christmas baubles pod, the walking boots pod, the "every play we have ever been to" programmes pod...

2009 is designated as the year of de-cluttering.