Thursday, 23 October 2008

Benares vs Pizza Express

Before we first went to Benares, nearly a year ago, I did some research, looking at user review sites, to see what other people thought. Mostly they seemed to be impressed, but I did notice a few bad reviews. Obviously I paid special attention to these, but I soon realised that they weren’t applicable to me. I’ll explain why.

The bad reviews came into two categories. The first category, was “people who were comparing Benares to other top class Michelin star restaurants in London or otherwise”, and thought that Benares was not as good as Tamarind, or Claridges, or The Ivy. This gave me my first reference point. The opinions of people who are able to compare between such venues are of no interest to me, as their expectations will be so much higher than my own, and their desire to put down what others deem to be of a quality, too great. I read them with interest, but didn’t let them sway my judgement.

The second category was “people who are so up themselves, they are not my sort of people”. It’s not so much a category, as a single review, where their entire enjoyment of a meal appeared to be dependant on the fact that when they asked for finger bowls, they were given hot towels! The opinion of people, who would complain about such a thing (in person at the time, and on the review site afterwards,) is of little interest to me, other than to satisfy my own sense of being a normal and rational member of society, who although appreciative of the ability to clean one’s hands is not going to get upset over the manner in which they are cleaned.

I fall into a third category, and I think you should know about this prior to reading my review, so you know if my judgement is of any interest to you. If you would insist on finger bowls, then enjoy my prose, but possibly don’t blame me if I recommend you give Benares your patronage, and they don’t meet your expectations.

My normal eating out is certainly of a higher class than many. I can’t remember the last time McDonalds, KFC, or Burger King (or their poor imitations) passed my lips, but the wife and I will often go to Wagamama, Pizza Express, or if we are in the vicinity, the excellent Mangosteen off Carnaby St is a veritable favourite. The curry houses of Brick Lane and our local Italian restaurants in Tooting have also never so far let us down. If we spend £40 between us on dinner for two, it was because we were really hungry, or shared a bottle of wine, or occasionally both. It is not unknown for our bill to be under £15 if we just want a main and a glass of water.

The occasion for our first visit to Benares was our first wedding anniversary. In April last year, Atul Kutcher had received his Michelin Star, his recipes in the Great British Menu and on Saturday Kitchen had got us excited, and his ability and willingness to make vegetarian food and put it on the menu sealed the deal. What helped too was a superb looking set menu, available lunchtimes and early dinner (until 18.30 I believe) which comprised of 3 courses, various extras, and a glass of wine for £29.99 each. The addition of two glasses of champagne, and the ubiquitous service charge left our final bill just short of 3 figures, but worth every penny.

We returned to celebrate my 31st birthday, although that was just an excuse to go back once they (finally) changed the set menu. I’m guessing it is an attempt to lure people back in following the new year lull, but the changes to the menu meant the price had dropped to £24.99 for the 3 courses, and the only thing apparently missing was that mineral water wasn’t included, where it was before.

We arrived at about 5 to 12, and the restaurant was still being prepared. We were sat down in the bar, given a bowl of complementary spicy nuts, and asked if we wanted drinks (we declined, knowing the wine with the meal would suffice).

Soon enough we were seated in the corner of the restaurant, and provided with menus, wine list and mini poppadoms and chutneys (tomato, gooseberry, chilli, and lime). I won’t repeat myself too much, but I’ll tell you now – everything we ate was the finest example of such a thing we’d ever had. My starter was Lemon Thyme Infused Pollack Cakes with Cucumber Pachadi. Lisa’s Grilled Artichoke Salad with Chat Masala Vinaigrette was amazing too. A generous glass of white wine arrived at this point too (red and sparkling were options).

Main courses of Tandoor Cooked Chicken Supreme with Chestnut Kedegree (rice) for me, and Pickled Pumpkin Risotto with Grilled Portobello Mushroom for Lisa, with a tikka type sauce on both, was accompanied by the lightest, tastiest naan bread.

The most spectacular hot towels we had ever seen arrived once we’d finished our mains, looking like two breath mints on a double tea light holder, the waiter poured boiling water over them, and they expanded upwards to about 3 times their original height into perfect hot damp towels. (Seeing our delight the maitre d’ slipped us a couple as we left!)

Our desserts were worthy of photography, however my telephone’s photography was not worthy of our desserts – see below for the pictures I took. Lisa’s Assortment of Kulfis – mango, pistachio and lychee, complete with flower petals, and my Star Anise Scented Orange Jelly with French Meringue, were almost too beautiful to demolish with spoons, but we did anyway.

Coffee and petit fours followed, (tea would have been allowed) and the meal was complete. Total bill, £60 (we forgot that mineral water wasn’t included) including service charge, which was a delight to pay, as the staff were perfect – attentive without being oppressive, there when you needed them, and invisible when you didn’t, and able to answer important questions (is there gelatine in Dave’s dessert, or will Lisa expect him to share it?) when required.

Obviously, it was all of an extremely high standard, but we were only eating off the set menu, we didn’t explore the £32 Lobster tails, or the £400 bottles of Krystal and Krug, but we left perfectly full (dinner in the evening was cheese on toast!) and certainly satisfied. The nature of the meal got me thinking about value for money, as I often do, so I’ve done some research into what the equivalent courses would have cost at Pizza Express – size of stomach not being a factor – I doubt I’d be able to eat all the below at one sitting.

Intro Noci 1.95
Starter Bruschetta 3.65
Main American Pizza 7.70
Side Garlic Bread 2.10
Dessert Toffee fudge glory 4.35
Coffee Filter coffee 1.75
Wine 175ml Chardonnay 3.80
Total 25.30

It kind of makes eating at the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten at seem a totally sensible and reasonably priced thing to do. Next time you are in Mayfair (Maybe browsing the Rolls Royce dealership next door) and you want a £25quid lunch – see if Benares has a table available…

Friday, 17 October 2008

New Years Eve (December 2007!)

I'm not a big fan of New Years Eve. I've had some very enjoyable ones, but I’ve had some very enjoyable nights in general, and if I took all my enjoyable nights on new years eve, and compared them to my enjoyable nights not on new years eve, I think I enjoyed the enjoyable nights not on new years eve a lot more.

Don't get me wrong - I like years, and I like nights out, and I like celebrating new things, but put them all together and they are far less than the sum of their parts. The mighty Lee and Herring did a routine about the similarities of celebrating New Years Eve (particularly the millennium) and celebrating the changing of the mileage on the car from 9999 to 10000, cheering the meaningless change in an arbitrary count of a collection of units of time… I’m kind of with them there, although my innate sense of tidiness does enjoy seeing nice round numbers and I do enjoy seeing them all change at once.

For the Millennium, I went out, with some of my closest friends (and 69996 others), to see the Manic Street Preachers at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. It cost £30 a go, and compared to the alternatives, £10quid just to go to the pub, through to £100 to see “some fellahs playing records” as James Dean Bradfield put it, it was a bargain. Feeder, Super Furry Animals, the Manics, and the BBC and all the fireworks on the big screen, gave a great sense of occasion, and we all felt suitably celebrated. I stayed sober – avoiding the ludicrous price of booze at the stadium, and meaning I could drive across town to a party and the lovely Carys (but that is another story).

The next year we went down the civic centre and saw Madness or Shawaddywaddy or some such, and enjoyed the fireworks and sprayed cheap sparkling wine in the air and upset some people who didn’t like cheap sparking wine landing in their faces, and drank some cheap sparkling wine and annoyed Dan by singing the “hey baby” song very loudly so everyone joined in with the ooh aah bit and drank some more cheap sparking wine and went to bed (tired but happy) although I think Dan might have actually gone to the second flight of stairs, thinking it was his bed and wondering why it was so lumpy.

6 or 7 days later, I met the wife and everything changed.

Being in a couple at New Years Eve is great. No pressure to snog a complete stranger, no painful face when you get slapped after snogging a complete stranger, no awkward moments following the snogging of someone who wasn’t a complete stranger, but it might not have been such a good idea to decide to snog them as peer pressure is a terrible thing and you were probably better off just as mates who never snogged at new years eve, instead of being mates who snogged at new years eve and does that mean we should go out on a date, or kiss goodbye after we go out just as friends or should we never speak to each other ever again.

We also found Twisted By Design – the best club night in the world, run by the best DJ/Promoter in the world – Gary Twisted. He also therefore – ran the best New Years Eve in the world. Apart from one, (when we watched the fireworks from an Auckland hotel room) we did all our Cardiff New Years Eves at twisted. Always a great night guaranteed, with the added bonus of ensuring you are by the window at midnight and watching the aforementioned Cardiff fireworks from the warmth of a sweaty dance floor along with the dulcet tones of Half Man Half Biscuit. At £6.50 (for about the last 5 years) it represents perfect value for money – which I perceive as being “would I pay that to go there and do that on any other night of the year – if yes – then its good value for money”.

Then we messed it up by moving to London.

20quid to go to Brixton academy tonight is probably ticking this box for many people – XFM DJs, some cool bands, 9pm till 4am, and reasonably local for us, but I wouldn’t do this any other night, so I wont tonight. Tonight, I have other priorities. Tonight I have the wife, who I may or may not snog at midnight. I have a 10k race tomorrow morning, where I may or may not get a decent time (for me – my last 10k was 2 days after smashing my knee open, so it should be possible to run better than that – even after a couple of glasses of a cheeky Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.) I have a few new DVDs to choose from, and a better than average chance of going to bed with the prettiest girl in the world.

I’m sorry to any single people reading this. I remember how much fun it is not fulfilling your expectations of a night out – let alone a new years eve, so forget about it. It’s only a number. It’s a midnight like any other. Enjoy your evening whatever you end up doing – and don’t do anything you won’t enjoy, just because of the date. The same goes for you loved up couples too.

Happy New Year, all the best for 2008, and sleep well tonight. My resolution is to keep on posting, even if it is only the wife and brother who are reading, I’d enjoy writing this just as much if I had a million readers, or just the two of you. I’m aiming for something new every Tuesday, so slap me if I don’t deliver.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Circular meme email thing. - Jan 2008

Every so often, you will probably get one of these circular emails – either as an email, a bulletin board notice, or a post to your Facebook wall (or similar). First of all – I have nothing against the person who sent it to me- she’s a great girl and one of by best friends. I liked reading her answers, and yes – I guess I did learn something new about her because of what she said. However – I am a perpetual cynic, and I thought I’d do my best to over analyse the whole nature of these things, and the reasons behind them.

First of all – I suspect many of them to be phishing scams. Some of the questions can only be there for this purpose. If my friends (this is who I should be forwarding this to) don’t already know my birthday or my middle name, it is not the end of the world. If they thought it was useful to know this, they would ask me, or I would have already told them. I won’t be answering these questions – certainly not on the open forum of my internet blog. I try to be more careful than Clarkson, and although all sorts of info is available on me (you can easily find the individual who owns every website address for example), I do my best not to broadcast it all round the place.

Many of the questions don’t have any value at all. Question 2 for example – what the heck are you going to discover about me, by knowing I prefer diamonds to pearls? Were you planning of buying me earrings and now you know what sort to buy for me? Maybe my preference is for an entirely different reason… (More on these sorts of questions as we go down the list…

Some of the questions are almost entirely invalid. It is obviously a list of American origin, (use of the word “Candy”, and the choice of popcorn flavours for example) so I’m guessing some things are just more important for our Yankee cousins to know about their friends.

Anyway – here are my answers – trying to give the information in an enjoyable way, and injecting some personality into them (questioning and expanding on the questions wherever possible), is the only way I can think of that this becomes any more than a bit of an ego trip. The assumption that your friends are actually interested in such information is possibly a little vain (although my sticking this and so much other crap all over the internet is certainly vainer).
If you want to get in contact with someone – just send them an email. If I got a note from a long lost friend, or a current friend saying “hey – I was thinking about you the other day – how are you doing?” I’d be far happier about it than getting (yet) another circular email sent to their entire mailbox. This again does not apply to this particular friend who sent this particular circular – we speak regularly, and I have no objection to being copied in on anything she thinks will amuse me.

1. What time did you get up this morning?

This morning was Monday, so I was out of bed at 7.20, had a vast bowl of crunchy nut cornflakes (own brand) for breakfast, then it was on with the suit and work started with a conference call at 8.30. this is pretty normal for a week day.

2. Diamonds or pearls?

What a daft question. I’m a boy. I guess diamonds, because they are worth more and shiny, and vegan too. I’m not a vegan by the way, but I try to be a bit conscientious of such things and make sure animals are well treated. A pearl is only there because an oyster was uncomfortable. Why aren’t there more precious stones made out of animal’s internal problems. “I bought my wife a cow gall stone necklace for our anniversary” might be just as thoughtful.

3. What is your favourite TV show?

Right now or of all time? Are we talking a single show, or a whole series? Are we talking the best I ever saw, or that I’m enjoying at the moment, or should I treat it like desert island discs TV – the one show I would want to watch forever? I’ll answer them all I think. Right now it’s Ugly Betty/Heroes/Lost/Torchwood/Top Gear, as they are the only ones I’ll ensure I never ever miss. If I really had to choose between them all, I think Ugly Betty would win. Of all time it has to be Blackadder. (I’ll leave it at that cos I can’t choose a series or episode). Best single show I ever saw would be the Top Gear with the journey across the Southern states of the USA. If it was desert island discs TV, I would want Top Gear too, as I can watch them again and again and enjoy them just as much as the first time.

4.. What do you usually have for breakfast?

Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes. Now that is an interesting thing, that you might not generally know about your friends, which you might like to know. Certainly if they are coming to stay, and you aren’t sure what their preference is – oooh – you say, Dave mentioned in that email he usually has Crunchy Nut Cornflakes – if I get some of them in, then he’ll be happy in the mornings. Very nice too, however I’m also partial to a bacon sandwich, the occasional Frostie, or, when in America, fruit loops so don’t bore me with what I usually have. As long as the cereal is not made by the evil Nestle, then I’ll give it a go. Its nice to be surprised once in a while. If you have oat cakes and cheese for breakfast – I’m with you. That’s why we go on holiday.

5. What is your middle name?

Get lost. I’m not giving that away here. If you really want to know, give me a call and ask me, but I guess you don’t really care cos you would have already asked me or sneaked a look at my driving licence already.

6. What food do you dislike?

Cauliflower and mushrooms and most offal unless in sausage/pate form. Anything else I’ll give a go. Some shellfish always seem a bit icky, but as I ate a slug once (while old enough to know better) I won’t discount anything. Now again – this is a useful piece of information. However – unless I’m keeping a reference database of all the answers my friends get, I think I’ll just check with them before I cook them dinner…

7. What is your favourite CD at the moment?

Radiohead’s In Rainbows – although that was last week really. I’ve moved on to Patrick Wolf now. Another good question. When geographically separated from your friends, you lose touch of nice things like music recommendations and such informal conversation topics. It is sort of why I started this site up, so if people did care about my feelings on such mundane things, they could see what I’m reading/watching/listening to, and let me know theirs…

8. What type of car do you drive?

I drive a Mini. This is well documented elsewhere on the website. Her name is Matilda, and she’s my pride and joy, although not so much that I wash her ever.

9. Favourite sandwich?

Ask me this 2 weeks ago, and it would have been a chicken breast baguette, with mayo instead of butter, lettuce and cucumber and freshly ground black pepper from the canteen upstairs.
Ask me this today, and it’s a Cheese and Marmite baguette which I made this morning. Why? Because I went free range, and I know the chicken and the mayo being used in any canteen in the land, are not going to be anything like free range, unless they announce themselves as such. Hellmann’s mayo will be at some point this year, although I doubt the canteen would stretch to such quality.

10. What characteristic do you despise?

I’m assuming this is referring to a personal characteristic of other people. Despise is a very strong word, so I’m going to go for “the characteristic of believing that it is ok to make other people’s lives a misery, because you think it is for some misguided greater good, or for any other reason really”. Thus encompassing Bush/Blair and their “lets kill a hell of a lot of people because that must be better than them having a nasty dictator, right through to the idiots on the bus who think that playing music on mobile phones and generally being obnoxious is absolutely fine – in fact we should thank them for introducing us to their fine taste in tunes.

11. Favourite item of clothing?

The Calvin Klein Boxers that came free when I bought 3 pairs in a shop in New York. They are nicer than any other undies I have ever worn, unfortunately they are also more expensive, and I have a lot of perfectly ok undies, so there is no ability/need to extend this variety further into my general collection. Oh, and I love my West Ham United away shirt, with my name and number on the back. It makes me feel like a big kid and I love it. (I’ll be wearing it on Wednesday for the FA cup replay on the telly)

12. If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go?

Very tricky (and very good) question. I’ve just come back from New York, which is probably my favourite place in the world (the only place I’ve been back to 3 times), but if you think of the question as an offer, someone giving me 3 weeks to go anywhere, then I think the South Island of New Zealand would win. We did the North Island a few years ago, but would not have had time to do the whole country justice (we’d have been driving constantly for 2 weeks), so one day we’ll go back and do the rest justice.

13. What colour is your bathroom(s)?

White with blue bits, but who cares? What are you learning about me by knowing such a minor piece of information? Maybe this will become interesting for the one in a million freaks who have their walls in pink sackcloth with burgundy tiles on the floor, and a brown toilet, but they don’t exist in my middle of the road, decluttered, seen too many episodes of house doctor life. Thank goodness.

14. Favourite brand of clothing?

Calvin Klein. See above. I was partial to Cyberdog for a while, but they’ve not excited me for a while, and I’m all grown up now. The only thing I get truly moist about is the lining on a suit, or a particularly snazzy tie. When did I become a yuppie by the way?

15. Where would you retire to?

A sleepy seaside town like Swanage, or a sleepy village like Sixpenny Handley. I’d have to visit the city and annoy people by getting them to stand up for me on the tube regularly though. I don’t think I would retire abroad. Unless my whole extended family happened to be abroad too…

16. What was your most recent memorable birthday?

Probably my 29th. It’s the only one where I can remember exactly what I did. Although I’ve just realised it wasn’t actually on my birthday – it was a couple of days later I saw my first West Ham match at Upton Park. Thinking about it, I can’t remember what I actually did on my birthday – actually on the day – for many many years. Therefore my most recent memorable birthday is my 10th, when I had some friends round, and we watched a film. I think it was possibly the Goonies, but I’m really not sure. I’m also not sure if I actually remember it, or if I think I do because I have photos of it. The more I think about it, I’m thinking of some more… my 19th birthday I was working at Old Orleans, and I actually ate there on a Friday night, with my Mum, Pat and Martyn. It was a great meal (I probably had the rib/chicken combo) and Alica did us a huge (and I believe free) desert. 17th was good cos I had my first driving lesson too, but not as recent as 19th. I’m going to make sure 31 is memorable, as it is on a Saturday for the first time in many years, and I’m having some of my nearest and dearest over for a party.

17. Furthest place you are sending this?

The internet. I’m not forwarding to anyone directly, although I’ll send an email directing them to these answers to Scotland.

18. Who do you least expect to send this back to you?

Tony Blair. (See 10). You see what a pointless question this is when you over analyze it!

19. Person you expect to send it back first?

I don’t expect anyone to after seeing my sarcastic comments about doing such a thing.

20. Favourite saying?

If a jobs worth doing – kill Baldrick before you start. Adaptable for all sorts of situations.

21. When is your birthday?

Yeah. Right. Would you like to know my bank account number too while you are there?

22. Are you a morning person or a night person?

Depends what I was doing the night before. I adjust myself to the needs of my lifestyle.

23. What is your shoe size?

I’ll answer in American. 11. Again – what possible interest would anyone else have in such a mundane fact. Would you introduce yourself at a party with “Hi I’m Dave! I’m a shoe size 11(US)”? No. because the person you are introducing yourself to would say. Hi Dave. Are you a bit odd as well? Of course – as FHM pointed out the other day, the whole blogging phenomenon is a strange one – they asked what would happen if all the bloggers stood in the street and just said it to everyone passing by? (Answer – more stabbings). I think they have missed the point, I’m not forcing anyone to read this crap. It is almost entirely for my own benefit and (in)sanity that I do this. If I want to hear someone spouting their opinions, I’ll go to the labour party conference.

24. Pets?

No. I am neither responsible enough, nor do I have a stable enough lifestyle to even keep a fish. I love cats, but I’m allergic to most of them, and my family are allergic to the rest. One day I might get an iguana, although I think it will be happier in the jungle, so I can’t see it happening. Also, pets eat so much meat, which in turn has to be bred and reared and looked after, the social responsibility of ethically keeping an animal for your/its own enjoyment is too much for me to justify.

25. What did you want to be when you were little?

Bigger. I hated being the smallest person in my family, so the day I felt able to punch my brother in the head, I’m afraid I did. We never (properly) fought again, although you’d have thought he’d learned when he was chasing me round the house, and I ran through the front door, closing it behind me, and he kept going, smashing though it and heavily lacerating his arm. It was a while before the parents left us alone again!

26. How are you today?

Bored enough with my job to have been writing this guff for the last 2 hours.

27. What is your favourite candy?

The common or garden mars bar is difficult to beat.

28. What is your favourite flower?

Chrysanthemums. Cheap pretty, long lasting and come in a variety of crazy colours.

29. What is a day on the calendar you are looking forward to?

13th April. The London Marathon, and my breaking the 4 hour barrier for the first time.

30. What church do you attend?

Why do you assume I attend a church? How odd to encourage me to discuss my religious beliefs by assuming I go to church. This question is almost guaranteed to offend someone. Chapel, synagogue, mosque, hall? Why can’t the question (if it has to exist at all) be “are you religious in any way?” or “do you believe in God?” unless you are trying to stalk me, so you not only know all my personal details, but when I’ll be out of the house on a Sunday morning so you can come round and steal the DVD player… OK. I’ll answer. I don’t attend church religiously, although I do believe in, and have a relationship with God/Jesus, and I enjoy attending church with my Dad when I’m with him. No other vicar compares.

31. What are you listening to right now?

I’m not really listening to it, but I can hear the general hubbub of a reasonably busy office.

32. What was the last thing you ate?

A cheese and Marmite baguette. And a can of tango.

33. Do you wish on stars?

No. is this any star? In Britain I might wish upon a shooting star, should I want to be all romantic with a lady, but as I imagine this is a mostly American custom, I move that this question be stricken from the record.

34. If you were a crayon, what colour would you be?

Black. Like Marilyn Manson’s. were you after a more witty answer like “I’d be crimson, because you might not think you need me most of the time, but occasionally, like when you are doing an autumn scene (in crayon) you’ll be glad you had me”? well sorry – you should have phrased the question with that expectation.

35. How is the weather right now?

Very nice thank you. (notice the question was “How is the weather right now?” not “What is the weather like right now?” hence me giving an emotional response, not a physical response.

36. Last person you spoke to on the phone?

The Banks SDM team. It was the conference call I had at 8.30 this morning.

37. Do you like the person who sent this to you?

She’s fab. I just hope she isn’t offended by my taking the piss.

38. Favourite soft drink?

Soft as in fizzy drink - Pepsi max in the morning, Tango in the afternoon. Soft as in Non Alcoholic – Strong black coffee.

39. Favourite restaurant?

Benares. We’re going for the second time ever on Saturday, because I can’t afford to go more often than annually!

40. Hair colour?

On me, Brown with a heck of a lot of grey coming through. Occasionally bleach blonde. On other people, I’d choose very dark brown (certainly on girls. If I had to draw my ideal girl, she’d have long (past the shoulders) dark brown hair with a fringe, although very short hair looks great on girls whatever the colour. The wife’s hair is beautiful, but I sometimes wish she’d be a bit adventurous with it).

41. Sibling?

I’ve already mentioned the brother. I can’t think of a single close friend about whom I don’t know this information though. Test me when you next see me and we’ll find out.

42. Favourite day of the year?

Got to be Christmas.

43. What was your favourite toy as a child?

I can’t think what it might be. I remember toys I wanted, but I don’t remember having a single favourite. It would either be the Star Wars stuff or Lego. Probably Lego actually, although Scalextric was brilliant.

44. Summer or winter?

Winter. It is easier to heat up when you are too cold, than to cool down when you are too hot. Especially when you are wearing a suit on the tube.

45.. Hugs or kisses?

Depends entirely on context. Dan – Hugs. Lisa – Kisses. (thus a stupid question, although I suppose it is inviting a more open answer than the initial thought would imply… maybe it is a very clever question.).

46. Chocolate or Vanilla?

Food or sexual preference?

47. Do you want your friends to email you back?

Always. Why would I do such a selfless thing as tell them all this rubbish if I didn’t expect them to answer in an even more entertaining way?

48. When was the last time you cried?

At the end of Finding Neverland when it was on the telly at Christmas. I always cry during that sort of film.

49. What is under your bed?

A pair of big storage boxes, containing amongst other things, coats I never wear, luggage I only ever take to Glastonbury, and loads of Lisa’s stuff. And a large colony of dust bunnies. And the box to my hair clippers.

50. Who is the friend you have had the longest?

Externally to family (cos they are friends too) it would have to be the whole Weirdo clan. Of course, when you’ve known friends for that long they are pretty much family, which is nice too.

51. Favourite smell?

CK Eternity Moment on Lisa.

52. What are you afraid of?

Being ignored and unimportant. I am an attention seeker, and never like to feel impotent and powerless. The thought of a thousand people reading this while I’m not paying attention excites me. Of course I am realistic about the chances of this happening too.

53. Plain, buttered, or salted Popcorn?

SWEET – for goodness sake you Americans have to make it either REALLY unhealthy, or taste like cardboard. Popcorn plus sugar = joy.

55. How many years at your current job?

2 and a quarter. Longest I’ve ever lasted anywhere, hence my trying to get a change.

56. Favourite day of the week?

Saturday. Proper freedom from all commitments.

57. How many towns have you lived in?

Sittingbourne, Salisbury, Weston. 3. I’ve obviously missed out the Villages and the Cities. I like making questions seem stupid by answering them pedantically.

58. Do you make friends easily?

I don’t think so. I have a very few close friends, and a lot of “people I know”.

59. How many people will you be sending this to?

I’ll point one person at it specifically. Anyone else who sees it will be seeing it on their terms, I won’t be sending it to them.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Why we moved to london (old entry)

People who don't live in London get annoyed when others (especially the likes of the BBC) go on about London as if the second you cross the M25 you fall off the edge of the world. I can kind of understand this, but there is an answer. London is Brilliant.

I grew up in all sorts of places, but from the age of 7 it was rural Gloucestershire, and from 11-18 it was rural Dorset. And I mean rural – the Forest Of Dean has a dialect so strong, within a year of leaving, I went back and bumped into an old friend, and I could understand about a third of what she says. You can spit into Wales from the Forest, and the residents frequently do. Don’t be surprised if the census form allows you to choose between Welsh, Scottish, English and Forester in 2011.

We moved to Sixpenny Handley when I was 11, a town of about 1000 people, where my Dad was treated as a local celebrity (he was the Vicar) and therefore everyone knew me. Great when it came to getting the plumb babysitting jobs, but not so great when it came to the “sniper” incident. (note to babysitters, if the 14 year old you are looking after (when you are 16(!)) suggests you both have a go on his brother’s air gun in the back garden, you say – no – the super Nintendo is just fine thank you.)

Sixpenny Handley is 15 miles from anywhere. Salisbury, Wimborne, Ringwood, (you’ve probably never heard of the last two, which aptly demonstrates how remote it is. There is one scheduled bus, which takes a detour through the village on its route between Salisbury and Weymouth. The School bus took us the 15 miles to Wimborne Minster, where I attended QE School, until I was 18. Despite their best efforts, I got the Bs at A level I needed to go to University.

Cardiff is a great City – so many of the wonderful things that go with being a national Capital, (nightlife, shops, museums, gorgeous waterfront, beautiful parks) but shared only between about a quarter of a million people. Going from sixpenny Handley to Cardiff was quite a shock. In Handley I’d learned to drive at the earliest opportunity (3 months from 17th birthday to passing the test – with a 3 week gap to have pneumonia in the middle) just in order to be free from the local pastimes of sitting on the bench drinking cider, or (the very entertaining) terrorising the cows on Woody’s Quad Bike. With free reign over Daddy’s Astra, I could visit friends (they all lived in Wimborne or around), go to the shops; see a film at the cinema… In Cardiff, my friends lived in the same block of the halls of residence, a 5 minute walk took us to the cinema, night clubs, girls (not that they noticed) and all the associated fun of the city.

10 years and one engagement later, I realised I was tired of Cardiff. Our circle of friends were now spread far and wide, I was working in Bristol, having exhausted all the IT Company in Cardiff, and we were travelling to London for culture fixes far too often. We might as well move to London. Commuting would take less time and cost less, gigs would cost more, but at least they would happen (too many tours not visiting Wales at all – still a problem.) and so many museums, venues, shops and restaurants that a 30 year old family of two would take a long time to get bored – or more likely the female member of that family would decide she’d rather have ponies than see the New Young Pony Club and an escape to the country would be required (the 10 year plan).

So we found a nice house, in a nice area which we could afford (just!) and settled down. Saw plays at the national Theatre, The Globe, the West End, gigs at Ally Pally, the 100 club and the Natural History Museum, and got membership to the Tate Modern, but ensured we never missed anything at the National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery, the Royal Academy…

Every so often we have the odd moment when it all makes sense, and we bask in that self satisfied glow of people whose lives are going pretty well.

A couple of weekends ago, we had a weekend of those moments. Lisa and I had recently started new jobs, hers a promotion, mine a new start with a new company, and we had a weekend of gigs. Straight from work on Friday, to Mangosteen, the best Thai restaurant in London, then on to the 100 club to see Brakes, preceded by 3 support acts ranging from shouty electro pop, to 2 of the most beautiful Japanese girls playing traditional Eastern instruments to an awesome electro beat backing.

Saturday we had a lie in, got to Camden market and looked around, had a drink at a bar where a work colleague of Lisa’s was DJing, ate huge amounts of cheap food as the markets were closing, jumped on the tube to South Kensington, had a drinks reception in the main hall of the Natural History Museum, before being led to a closed of room where British Sea Power treated us to a free gig! None of this happened in Cardiff (not at that scale anyway) and nothing ever happened in Sixpenny Handley, and we shared a whole weekend of those reassuring moments that everything you’d planned was coming together nicely.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Warning - this entry may give you OCD

Pierre Bonnard painted a lot of paintings of his wife. Invariably she was getting into or out of the bath. Some might think he was a dirty perv who liked to take any opportunity of catching her with her frock off, and this was the only time guaranteed that she would be in this situation, others (some might call them people who know the truth, or who have researched things more than my usual making of blind assumptions for comedy purposes) believe she had a skin condition that meant she had to stay damp most of the time (this was before Oil of Olay was invented).

I have another theory.

I came up with this one when I noticed that many of the aspects of public toilets were becoming automated, and automated in such a way as to minimize contact with hands. Dirty hands. Hands that have just done unspeakable things with unthinkable areas. I don’t need to go into the detail (although it would be far easier to fill 1000 words if I did).

The idea is, that if the hand drier works without you having to push a button to activate it, you are less likely to pick up the germs from the person who was so filthy to start with, that the hand washing process did not fully remove all the filth. Drying filthy hands is fine, as long as you don’t have to make the drier filthy to do so.

After that, I noticed that taps are starting to have sensors, so they activate only when you wave your hands nearby. There is nothing worse than using a filthy hand to operate a tap, then washing your hands, and re-encrusting your clean hand with the filth that you left behind when switching the tap on.

The toilet flush is now invariably motion controlled, sometimes sensing the motion of the back away from the cistern (or the leaning forwards to achieve a more comfortable position, relieving a trapped nerve, or letting the blood get back into the lower leg and preventing that excruciating post pins and needles hypersensitivity) and risking a monumentally damp posterior, requiring further careful wiping… you get the idea.

This is all, of course – completely pointless. I’ll come onto the reasons for this pointlessness later, but in the meantime, the other aspect of the sensitivity can be addressed – which is the environmental concern.

There are a number of potential hypocrisies involved in being green.

If the solution to using too much water is to have movement sensitive taps, what is the solution to powering the movement sensors?

If I re-use carrier bags, how do I compensate for the additional fuel used to carry them all the way back to the supermarket?

Is it better to have the supermarket deliver to me (using an inefficient van, but doing a big old round trip instead of all those little trips in cars) or for me to go to the supermarket (it is the former, as I have a Mini, and it takes about 20 minutes to order online, plus about 15 to put it all away once it arrives, instead of the 2 hours it takes to drive to Sainsbury’s, park, find a trolley, find every thing I want, then go back and find everything I need, then search the entire place for Marmite, before queuing for 25 minutes to get through the checkout…

If I cycle to work instead of driving, I have to eat the equivalent of a mars bar to replace the energy expended in the ride. What impact do the food miles of a mars bar have on the environment?

Of course, if we thought like that all the time, we’d never go anywhere or do anything.

When I go to the loo, there are any number of occasions where my clean hands have the opportunity to become muddied up. I open the door to get into the loo. This is fine. I open the cubicle door, which is also fine. I then lock the door, which is where the problems begin. The last person to leave that cubicle had no option, but to use his nasty fingers to unlock the door. The flush might be movement sensitive, but the inside of the door isn’t. then, I use my sullied digits to undo my trousers, contaminating not just my hands, but my belt, buttons and undies. Then I sit.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t do anything these days without being entertained while I do it. I can’t walk to the tube without the iPod on and I can’t sit on the tube without a book. And I can’t sit on the toilet without playing worms on my mobile phone.

Never ever touch my mobile phone. It must be the most germ ridden device in the world. Once I’ve dispatched Rockard, Nails, Killer and Deadly, the phone goes back in my pocket, my hands, stink waves emanating off them like Ralph Wiggum’s portrait of Moe the bartender, leave my own trail of residue on the clothing, the door lock, the inside door handle, and (if it isn’t movement sensitive) the tap, and only when I wash my hands, so do I finally become content that I have done all I can to remain clean.

Of course, not everyone washes their hands. Some people walk straight out, gripping the inside of the toilet door (toilet doors invariably open into the room), leaving a malodorous palm print of bacteria for even the most cleanliness minded individual to pick up.

In short, every aspect of our daily lives is dirty. We can’t escape it, and we might as well wrap ourselves up in sterilized Clingfilm and sleep in a bath of alcohol based hand sanitizer.

Or, bringing me back to the bath obsessed wife of Pierre, perpetually bathe – morning noon and night, because only by constant cleansing can we ever be truly clean