sharm-ing place …

Finally, some proper sun … having been cheated of a summer in the UK, we made a late-ish booking for a week of snorkelling and diving in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik. And as I type, a blonde apparition in the skimpiest bikini has just floated by 😉 Beach holidays should always be like this …

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glastonbury: day 3

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You’ve guessed it … more rain. And so we missed Feluka at the Jazz Stage this morning – which J2 really wanted to see 😦 but by lunchtime, we were as mobile as we could be and were aptly tucking into Jerk chicken and Goat Curry to the reggae sounds of the Marley Brothers on the Pyramid. J1 disappeared off again for more of his favourite milkshake from the Shaken Udder stall, whilst J2 decided to go back to the Kidz Area to continue work on his tunnel in the sandpit. Me, I paid another visit to Burrow Hill for more liquid refreshment 😉

After packing up the tent, we were half way to the Other Stage when the heavens opened again … and it was then that the kids and I made the executive decision to detour to the exit … and catch Mika and the Kaiser Chiefs from our very snugly sofa at home … and in HD on our 42″ plasma telly!

I guess that’s my main gripe about Glastonbury 2007 – in 2005, about 2 month’s rainfall feel in one night but the rest fo the festival was pleasant enough, and more importantly there were still lots of green grass to sit on when one got a bit tired, drunk or over-laden with food. This year, it rained every bloody day and by Saturday morning, there were no patches of grass left … which made it a real slog. Time to petition Mr Eavis to move the date for 2008 … any takers?

glastonbury: day 2

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There doesn’t appear to be an end to the rain, and now the mornings have a chill about them too 😦

We missed Liz Green this monrning because of the weather and instead plodded about, dropping into the Chai stall for a game of carrom with J1, but by late afternoon, the sun had come out … in time for Babyshambles at the Other Stage – see pic. Why do people find Pete Doherty so offensive – man, the boy’s got talent! Even the beautiful Kate Moss made a cameo appearance on stage, kissed Pete and then squeeked a bit in La Belle et La Bete – keep the day job dear, you’re infinitely better at that 😉

Then it was a marathon sprint (well, as fast as it is possible to travel in mud) back to the Pyramid to catch Paul Weller, the Kooks and headlining Saturday evening, the Killers – oh, and catching Eric Bibb singing the blues at the Acoustic stage on the way. Actually, I listened to the Killers from the relative comfort of my dry tent … the weather here has been doing something really strange and sound seems to travel a lot further resulting in the organisers having to turn down the PA system, so as not to annoy the locals.

Set of the day goes to a small band I came across at the Bandstand called the Cedar. There’s also an Americana band playing Glastonbury this year by the same name – I’ll post a link to one of their songs later from a CD I bought on site …

glastonbury: day 1

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I need a teleport machine! There’s so much happening it is impossible to be in three places at the same time. And because sound travels, the stages are located sufficiently far apart to avoid any contamination … which is a tad inconvenient at the best of times, but a royal pain in the backside when the paths are sloppy and swallowing up your wellies.

We managed to see the folks we wanted to see, and then some. Set of the day has to be Newton Faulkner at the Acoustic Stage (go to link for his cover of Massive Attack’s Teardrop). Now, Sponge Bob Square Pants will never be the same after hearing him play so beautifully! This set was closely followed by Reverend & the Makers on the Other stage – an opnionanted little runt with plenty to say about nationalism, but perhaps should keep to making music 😉

Other bonus acts included The Hothouse Flowers (who are looking and sounding a little saggy), Sandi Thom (with a voice like hers, I don’t understand why she’s still a Lonely Girl), Bloc Party (who were surprisingly good) and Kasabian (what a show – see pic).

Oh, and Burrow Hill has started to do this hot & spiced (mulled) cider – ummmmm, absolutely yummy. Make note to self: don’t buy alcohol when kids are about – J1, the little bugger, has been keeping tally of my alcohol consumption throughout and plans to divulge all to wifey, unless I offer a generous bribe …

glastonbury: day 0

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At Glastonbury, you can count on music to draw the crowds: even with limited appearances at the Left Field Stage and the Bandstand by relatively unknown artists, where there’s a drum beat, there you will also find revellers … filing into lines like ants to a hive – and this year, we are expecting a whopping total of 177,500. Now that’s a lot of ants!

Last night, we watched Ghostbusters on the giant outdoor screen – an interesting experience made more amusing by the pantomime-like heckling from the very inebriated audience. In case you didn’t already know – you should never cross the streams!

The Kidz Field opens its gates today, and J2 has already declared his desire to hone his skills with diablo by sundown.

Also, the music starts in anger this morning. Already earmarked are The Fratellis, Mr Hudson & the Library, The Earlies, Amy Winehouse & Damien Rice. Rock on …

Pic is of the infamous Brothers Bar outside the Jazz Stage. Let the small print be a reminder to all the pissed farts who were circling aimlessly outside our tent last night – you lot, buy a GPS already!

Update: I’ve just been informed by my learned wife (who has deicded not to brave the inclement weather) that ants live in *nests* – yeah, like I give a flying f*** when you’re covered in mud!

Update#2: As the alcohol dissipates within the system, more and more is coming back to me … like seeing Paris Motel at the bandstand sometime in the afternoon.

glastonbury: day -1

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It isn’t really Glastonbury without the rain, mud and general flotsam of cans, paper plates & cups generated by the welly-cladded crowd that seems to be descending on the quiet village of Pilton earlier and earlier each year. The boys and I made camp around 6pm yesterday and even then struggled to fird a pitch large enough to accommodate our 4 man tent. Still the rest of the evening was mild enough to allow us to mooch around, marking waypoints of old haunts on the GPS just in case one is overcome by the effects of Julian’s Burrow Hill cider 😉

Attached pic is from the Green Sculptures field. The music starts on Friday, and until then we plan to loiter with some intent (mainly to put nice food in our bellies) and generally soak up the electric atmosphere, mud and anything else that comes with this crappy weather.

toulouse, or not toulouse …

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Business trips are usually nothing to write home about – unless of course you find yourself installed in a flea-pit of a hotel for 3 long nights, or that the hours spent during the day toiling over design principles and other riveting technical topics are compensated by evenings on the terrasse in the main square Capitole (see pic) sipping wine/beer, or tucking into great regional specialities that use just about every part of a duck, not least of which the liver (foie gras) is pretty ubiquitous everywhere you go. What has the humble duck done to deserve this?!

Toulouse is great place to work – and the 20,000 or so employees at the Airbus complex outside Blagnac enjoy a campus lifestyle that I can get quite accustomed to – for example, wine is more than tolerated in the staff canteen at lunchtimes (it’s a disciplinary offence to consume alcohol in workplaces in the US and most companies in UK), the buildings are set amidst lush greenery and nice open spaces to allow workers to profiter from the famous Toulousaine weather of heat without the humidity – which is ostensibly why Airbus picked this location as a manufacturing base for aircraft fuselage.

Now, a couple of bonne addresses to note: Le Bon Vivre on Place President Wilson (my brochette of ducks hearts was proficiently grilled), Le Frog & Rosbif on Rue de l’Industrie (a brewery pub serving delicious beer and sporting big TVs for those Brits who can’t live without Premiership football), La Couleur de la Culotte on Place St Pierre (funny name, but also offers great views of the Hotel Dieu across the Garonne) and finally Les Mangevins (which unfortunately I ran out of time to visit) where the food is charged by weight and you can gorge yourselves with unhealthy amounts of said foie gras and beef (at least as much as you wallet can withstand!), whilst the owner – a garcon boucher – recounts witty stories of the riots in 1968 etc …

The next of of these workshops is in Washington DC. Perhaps, I’ll blog from there, but then again … perhaps not!

viva espana …

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So I’m in Barcelona. Actually I was booked to go to Prague but a last minute cancellation and some frantic google-ing brought me to this wonderful city where I am happily installed in 4-star luxury at the Hotel Catalonia Ramblas. As I write, the sun is shinning outside and warming all and sundry to a nice oven-ready 20 degrees C …

My father-in-law Stuart once told me that he had always avoided visiting Barcelona because the only attraction worth visiting is unfinished. That was nearly 10 years ago, and he has since passed on, and today the Segrada Familia is still only 50% complete, and the foundation has the cheek to charge 8 EURO for the privilege of visiting what is essentially a building site! Still, it was an awesome experience and in my view a ‘must see’. Pic above is from the Passion facade which has been sympathetically integrated into Gaudi’s more organic original design (Nativity facade and bell towers) – does anybody know what these numbers mean???

From one talented spaniard to another crazy one … Joan Miro announced to the world his intention to ‘assassinate’ painting in his work and if you visit his museum high up on the Montjuic hill, you can see for yourselves just how far he went with this idea. I mean, there must be a finite number of scenes one can ‘paint’ involving women, birds, the night sky and planetary bodies 😉 Does anyone else think he might be an alien abductee? This could just explain the abstractness in many of his contrived illustrations …

Some travel tips: the best way to see this city is by bus – the Tourist Bus now includes 3 routes (South, North and Forum) and a one-day ticket costing 19 EURO will taken you to pretty much all the tourist spots. Alternatively, if you prefer traveling sub-terra a T10 ticket costing just under 7 EURO will get you 10 rides on the Metro within Zone 1.

And if you fly into Gerona via Ryan Air, be prepared for an additional 70 minute bus ride into Barcelona – the transfer is pretty painless (but will cost you 21 EURO for a return ticket) and the bus terminates at the Central Bus Station, near the Arc De Triomf Metro.

Tourist guides are plentiful on the net, so go knock yourself out when planning to visit this great city. My own itinerary has included:

    – multiple visits to La Bouqueria (food market off Las Ramblas) where I
    breakfast on fresh fruit and smoothies every morning
    – multiple walks down Las Ramblas (look out for the amazing living statues)
    – Santa Caterina Market (great architecture but lacks the buzz of La
    Bouqueria)
    – Catalonia Cathedral – take the lift up to get a great view of the city
    – walk from Port Vell to the Olympic Village (some great fish restaurants on
    the way)
    – lunch at Cuina Creativa in c/ Dagueria (excellent food, even better prices)
    – Segrada Familia (what more can I say, wow!)
    – Parc Guell (the closest Metro station is Vallcarca, then walk down to
    Lesseps afterwards)
    – dinner at Merendero de la Mari, Placa Pau Vila (advisable to book – I had a
    divine Esqueixada (salted cod) and Fideus Negres amd Cloisses (squid ink
    noodles)
    – Fundacion Miro (en route on the Blue Tourist Bus route)
    – Vildsvin (Ferran) for interesting tappas and beers/cava

Barcelona is a great place to visit with family, and I plan to come back soon with mine …

toujours gastronomique …

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Ok, so how many 9 year olds do you know who have had the privilege of tasting a Grand Cru Classé, nevermind a Haut-Brion 1981?! Such was the generosity of our host David, thus setting the mood for our long gastronomic week-end in Paris that will take us to Chateau Chantilly for a delicious hot chocolate with an unhealthy dollop of Chantilly cream, 3C (formerly Chateau Cash & Carry) to buy some good drinking wine, L’Oxyd cocktail bar and restaurant serving great North African grub, Nation market, Melac’s bistro, Bastille market, L’As du Falafel in the Rue des Rosiers in the Marais, Le Palais des Thés and finally to the Salon les Vins de Terroir in the Parc Floral. Phew … now that I’ve listed the foodie venues, I should also add that we managed to punctuate periods of non-eating with visits to Senlis, the Dali museum in Montmartre and Victor Hugo’s house on the Place des Vosges.

Now, back to the Haut-Brion … well, David would not let us off with anything less than a blind tasting, and against a bottle of Clos Forquet that was unfortunately bouchoné. Nevertheless, my first guess was a cru classé from St Estèphe … based on the paler colour and that unmistakable old earthiness that for me typifies the area. The nose developed from black fruits, then to prunes and then orange flowers, then vanilla and in the final draw of air, a sulphurous hint of that smell a match makes when it has just been struck. I guessed again: “It’s not a Graves, is it”? “Is it not?”, came the reply. My heart started pounding … the long cedar finish on the palate, after that initial explosion of chocolate covered fruit was indeed typical but … where is that characteristic flintiness? I guessed again, “Well, there aren’t that many Grand Cru Classés in Graves [Ed: suicidal statement for a wine bluffer] … so it’s got to be …” “Chateau Haut-Brion!”, David interjected as he ran into the kitchen to return with the empty bottle … the rest of the afternoon was spent in sensual nostalgia as we recounted stories from our previous adventures in the wine regions of France. David is right: when wines get that good, you can only describe them in terms of emotions such as happiness and euphoria … and that afternoon in David’s flat, we were truly ecstatic! I should also mention that when our appetites finally returned (even with great food on the table, none of us felt hungry whilst there was a beautiful glass of Haut-Brion in our hands!), we also enjoyed some tasty comestibles from the market in Nation – the porcelet (roast suckling pig), Picholine and Lucques olives (only from Minervois), AOC Roquefort from Baragnaudes, an unusual Maroiles (from Lille) affiné au cafe instead of beer and a rather rare bottle of Passion de Closiot 1996 Sauternes (there are only 900 bottles made, and it is actually from Barsac) to accompany the lovely foie gras and fig bread.

Ok, I hadn’t meant for this post to read like an advertisement for food and wine producers, but such is the norm when one visits David. I will however add a few plugs for blogs that I regularly visit … for his sake … as a gesture of mutual appreciation of the finer things in life. So in exchange for the rather delicious Avongrove 1st Flush ’06 Darjeeling (SFTGFOPI), I propose Stephane’s blog called Tea-Masters http://teamasters.blogspot.com/ – one wine geek to another tea geek, and a couple of food blogs – Chez Pim http://chezpim.typepad.com/ who regularly visits France and has eaten in many of the world’s best restos; and Chocolate and Zucchini http://chocolateandzucchini.com/ with mouth-watering recipes from a 27-year-old Parisian woman who lives in Montmartre.

Why is it that the best things in life have French connections? And no, you don’t need to send me a postcard with an answer to that question …

Sooooo, I’ll return to food blogging soon … with a couple of new recipes for the time-challenged cook. Unlike Vatel (the Chantilly cream man) who killed himself because the fish he was going to cook was late, this wait is not suicide-worthy 😉

glastonbury grub …

Happy New Year … and all that jazz …

I’ve decided that 2007 will be the year of experiences, and so to further my culinary interests and take food blogging to the next level of pain, I will be applying to set up a food stall at Glastonbury this year, serving top notch Malaysian fayre.

Pics below are a sample of what will be on offer … more descriptions to follow.

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loitering in morocco …

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Marrakech is a place of beauty, which is desperately looking for the eyes of its beholder. Whether it is in the deepest and smelliest alleys of the souks, or the greenest and prickliest parts of the Jardin Majorelle, or the most intricately tiled palaces around Bahia, or the contrast of the fantastic food stalls with the heart numbing squalor of beggars on the Djemaa el Fna, or the freezing cold but picturesque villages in Ourika on the ascent to the Atlas mountains – one is attracted to its beauty in the same subjective way that people generally react to Marmite: you either love it or hate it!

But on the quality and comfort of our riad (Dar Vedra), the verdict is unanimous – Didier and Sebastien have perfected the art of service to the extent that guests feel like they have been invited to a friend’s home, rather than the usual functional arrangement of providing a room for the night in exchange for money.

Riads in architectural terms also convey an understated modesty that is prevalent in islamic culture: the high but very plain exterior walls conceal an inner courtyard that is open to the elements, and is often adorned with a central fountain and lush greenery. From this inner sanctum, doors open into rooms on all sides of the courtyard and if it is a dar, there will be a second storey supported by tall columns that tower upwards to an open sky … think of it as a house that has been turned outside in vis-a-vis Lloyds of London which has been turned inside out. And then compare this to an oriental home (or indeed a capitalistic western one) that seeks to flaunt the wealth of its inhabitants with unnecessary alcoves, fancy windows, colourful roof tiles, and in some cases gilded cornices. All houses should be built like riads, where those living in them can enjoy their beauty from within the comfort and security of their homes, rather than waste it all on strangers and passers-by.

More pics from this little adventure to follow … meanwhile, there is a pile of work to chomp through before the Christmas break …. ummmm, what *is* the collective noun for a mass of emails in you Inbox?

chilli pepper crab …

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What I did …
Prepare the crab claws by cracking them with a pestle or blunt end of a cleaver – this lets all the nice flavours into the meat and makes it a bit easier to eat without risking a huge dental bill 😉 Then in a very hot frying pan of rapeseed oil, add 1 teaspoon of crushed black pepper, chopped garlic, sliced red chilli and thinly julienned ginger. Add crab claws, fry for less than a minute then add generous splash of chinese rice wine – stand back and enjoy the fireworks! Add chopped flat leaved parsley, cover the pan with lid and cook for another 2 minutes, tossing every 30 seconds.

Tips …
1. If possible, buy craw claws that have already been scored like mine (see pic).
2. Pick large salad chillis rather than the the deadly bird’s eye variety which will be too hot and spoil the flavours.
3. Ginger goes quite well with seafood – a little known fact. But just like wine, it should be consommé avec modération!

work work work …

Unlike last year, I celebrated Beaujolais Nouveau a couple of Thursdays ago in the relatively quiet surroundings of my kitchen with a rather generic and instantly forgettable bottle of George duBoeuf. Still, wine is wine and we all need an excuse to be merry especially right now, when the weather outside is cold and wet, and the prospect of staying indoors can only mean one thing: slaving away at the computer, righting a few corporate wrongs, and generally getting on with mortgage repayment activities.

So, some recent diversions and distractions have proved to be much needed life savers – such as my bebo page, the latest 007 outing with Daniel Craig, J2’s birthday party at Laserquest, and of course, my imminent visit to Marrakech.

Life could be worse, I suppose …

loy kratong 2006 …

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Ok, ok so I didn’t make this yummy looking deep fried tilapia … but I imagine it should be possible to prepare this in 5 minutes … if you work quickly, and don’t mind taking short cuts with the accompanying coconut curry sauce i.e. buy it ready-made rather than starting from first principles!

This last week-end has been somewhat eventful. Coincidentally, the celebration of Loy Kratong at the Buddhapadipa temple in Wimbledon also fell on our very own Guy Fawkes night (Remember, Remember … the 5th of November?) and naturally we attempted to fit in as much good eating at the food stalls around the temple in London, in between watching rockets hiss and pop around glorious bonfires closer to home in the West Country.

Next week-end promises to be yet another foodie excursion: on Saturday, we attend the Deepavali (Divali) ‘Festival of Lights’ celebration organised by the MIC at Craven Cottage (Fulham’s FC clubhouse) in London, followed by our annual pilgrimage on Sunday to the BBC Good Food show to stock up on pressies and other essentials for the forthcoming festive period. Yes, boys and girls … only 48 days to the big one. Ho, ho, ho!

dublin four flowers …

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When I was last in Ireland a couple of weeks ago, my sis-in-law asked me to put together a web site (domain name registration, hosting and html coding – the full monty) for her flower design studio serving the Ballsbridge, Donnybrook and Sandymount areas in the prestigious postcode of D4 in Dublin … and thus www.dublinfourflowers.com was born.

Now, isn’t she a talented girl? Get your Christmas orders in now …

pan fried kidneys …

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As promised, I hereby launch my blog’s new theme … [drum-roll and fanfare] … The 5 minute dinner – dedicated to the mums and dads/guys and gals who slog it out at the office only to come home and face the morose and rather unattractive hunger of children/partners/lovers/pets.

The recipes should be easy to follow and quick to execute – you won’t find any Cordon Bleu methods here, mainly because the author knows of none to share! But what you will find, in cornucopic abundance, is hot air and (if modesty allows him to admit as much) a seasoned palate that enables him to comment with some authority on the flavours and textures of the dishes: this information will be imparted to you readers simply as cooking tips.

Ok, on tonight’s menu we have pan-fried lambs’ kidneys and wild mushrooms, served with a dollop of confit d’ognion and cos lettuce. As offal goes, lamb’s kidneys is probably my least favourite, a hangup of one particular experience where slack preparation resulted in something that I can only described as a bloody lump of piss-flavoured flab. Eeeeeeuuwwwww!

What I did …
Prepare the kidneys by cutting out the renal pyramids – the white lobe-like bits in the centre of the kidneys. Then toss them gently in seasoned flour (paprika, salt & pepper). On a hot non-stick frying pan, pan fry each side until a crust appears, then add a generous dose of muscat – I couldn’t find any Marsala, only an Australian show winning Muscat 😉 Add a tablespoon of crème fraîche (I used Yeo Valley Organic yoghurt with honey, because … you guessed it, no crème fraîche in the fridge. Add wild mushrooms (which I had lying around from our Riverford organic veg boxes). Add some crushed black pepper and cook for another minute and serve on bed of cos lettuce, with a spoonful of the confit.

Tips …
1. Do not wash the kidneys once cut as they absorb a lot of water.
2. Mushrooms are devilishly difficult to marry with food, in terms of flavour and texture. Pick wisely.
3. The cos lettuce has a crunch to it which can fool the diner into thinking that the kidney’s crust is still crispy.

Bon appetit!

have you been waiting long …

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Yesterday, J & I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary – that’s twice the average shelf-life of a marriage these days. But if one begins to itch at 7 years, surely it is only natural to develop an insatiable rash at 14?! Not so Sherlock. And as I managed to forget to buy SWMBO a card, penitence involved a quick dash into town to procure some floral bribes (see pic above), arranged by Yours Truly. Don’t they look pretty?

I’m not sure that I should celebrate my return to regular blogging with a confession of a latent interest in flower arranging, but somehow one needs a way to break the ice after 8 weeks of radio silence – and needless to say, much has happened in that time – J1 started at secondary school,
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there was that *long* week-end in Champagne/Paris transforming David’s flat into a Pussy Palace,
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and another one in Dublin generally chilling with the in-laws over a pint of Guinness (or four),

and that time when I turned my hand to decking and changed the back garden from this:
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to this:
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and of course the highlight … my milestone birthday party in late September (sorry guys no pics of the stripper as this is strictly a family blog 😉 ) which reunited a number of good friends, including some who diligently visit this rather dusty corner of blogosphere. Life may very well begin at 40, but I rather suspect that brain cell decay begins to accelerate exponentially henceforth to the extent that it becomes more challenging to put pen to paper … well, fingers to keypad. Anyway, that’s my excuse for this barren period in this blog’s history and I’m sticking to it!

But fear not loyal readers, for I have a cunning plan. At the risk of turning myself into a stats whore, I’ve decided to give my blog a mini theme. More will be revealed in the coming days …

la isla bonita …

The summer hols are upon us once again, and moving at a surpisingly slow pace. After my father’s very successful 70th birthday party at the E&O in Penang, we are now installed in Pulau Redang – a beautiful tropical paradise off the east coast of Malaysia, where the warm waters are teeming with pretty fishes, exquisite coral … and of course, the ubiquitous assortment of annoying tourists.

Another 2 nights of total chilling from our seaview bungalow (gratuitous photo included), then a long 7 hour drive back to Penang. Why is it that the most beautiful places on this planet are invariably the most difficult to get to? Perhaps Steve Levitt (author of my rather entertaining holiday reading, Freakonomics) could apply himself to solving this conundrum in his sequel.

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vacance de lutece …

Forget April in Paris – August in my opinion is the best time to visit this city … for a number of reasons:

1) There are fewer Parisians about – the city slickers decamp en famille to the country/sea-side resorts … in France, naturally. And having visited a number of these salubrious summer destinations, I fully understand their xenophobia and reluctance to holiday abroad.

2) There are fewer cars about (see above) – which means you can easily take your gas-guzzler into town and return home with bumpers intact and unscathed. Plus, not having to face the usual rigmarole of parking (an experience not unlike trying to shoe-horn an elephant’s testicle into a matchbox) increases the the chill-o-meter reading … right at the start of the week-end, which is always a good thing when you’re on holiday.

3) There are more tourists about – which means if you have even the smallest amout of French, you will gain the respect of waiters and perhaps even earn a Parisian smile as they pick on other linguistically challenged Brits and Americans.

The only downer is that many good eateries in town are also closed during the month of August.

However, fortunately for us, the wine cellar at David’s modest apartment was most definitely open and over the week-end, we were treated to a number of rare bottles from his extensive collection. We started as we meant to continue with Champagne Moutard, made from 6 different grapes but still falls within French appelation laws and tasted … well, unusual … but not disagreeable. I was sure we had reached the apex of David’s generosity when the Corton Charlemagne ’96 from Louis Latour was brought out for inspection (and just for ‘fun’, we tasted this against a 1e Cru Chassagne Montrachet ’99 ‘Morgeot ‘), but for Sunday lunch, he produced yet another rare bottle of liquid nectar – this time, a Domaine du Rousset-Peyraguey, not just the usual Sauternes, but a Tête de cru ’96 made from even later botrytis-ridden grapes. Add foie gras bought from the market at Nation on Saturday, fig bread from Eric Kayser (said to be equivalent of Ducasse in bread making terms in Paris) and you have before you all the ingredients to make this a truly decadent week-end.

Our ongoing quest for bonnes addresses took us to Les Bouchons on Saturday evening – a Francois Clerc resto that serves rather inventive dishes without selling out to fusion, and has the added bonus of a simple but adequate wine list from which the diner can order at just above cost. Tarte tatin aux tomates and slushed cucumber gazpacho in poached plum tomatoes are just a few examples of how easy it is to be creative without going overboard a la Heston Blumenthal.

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At the Paris Plage by the Seine, the weather was just good enough to pretend you were lying on a sundeck somewhere in Deauville (pic above of J2, hung out to dry). But I recommend that you leave the Musée de Cluny for the winter months – a Roman bath without water (or air conditioning for that matter) is better experienced through a travel guide book, rather than sweating it out as we did, especially when we had forgotten to bring our cattle prods. However, I’m glad we played around the 5th arrondissement – the Left Bank is also home to the only Gallo-Roman arena , the Arènes de Lutèce, which provided the groan-ups with an opportunity to catch up with some Zzzzzzzzzzzz’s and sober up for the drive back to Calais.

truly, madly, deeply …

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Husbands/boyfriends, when was the last time your wife/girlfriend looked at you like that? They say a picture paints a thousand words. Well, judge for yourselves and tell me that this isn’t the perfect Kodak moment of a happy couple totally besotted with each other. If only someone can bottle up that look, and put it up for sale on the shelves in Harvey Nichols as Love Potion No 1, I’d certainly buy a case, or 50 …

It is now 5 days since my return from Waiman and Emily’s beautiful and exquisitely presented wedding in the Far East, and yes though my body is back in Blighty – sizzling in the uncharacteristic heatwave that has settled on us like a 24-tog duvet on a hot sticky night – a bit of me never left Hong Kong and is still loitering with intent … somewhere between Wan Chai and Kowloon.

I’ve been thinking about what makes a perfect wedding over a good one and have reached this conclusion: timing. Timing is absolutely key and this goes back to the moment when Waiman and Emily discovered within themselves the strength in character and commitment to each other, ironically at the time of his mother’s death, quickly followed by the sudden passing of her father (they were on vacation on South Island in New Zealand when news of his illness came through). As Waiman himself recognises, when you build a relationship based on foundations as solid as these, it is easy to see how they managed to pull off (seemingly with little effort), the complex planning and perfect execution of both the church wedding and banquet – two very special events that will remain in our hearts and minds for a long time to come.

There is also an element of serendipity in timing for their guests: when friends and family find a way of flying in from the UK, the Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, Taiwan, France, Japan, Singapore, Thailand etc, you soon realise that you have the ingredients for a very memorable occasion. I am sure each and every one could have found plausible reasons not to attend, but we all made the effort (and for some of us it was a good time to be away from our home environment) and so we were all duly rewarded. Right from the moment we landed, and then punctuated with moments of great camaraderie, for example, the chartered antique tram ride from Sheung Wan to North Point, pulling all-nighters in Insomnia (and sometimes with burger breaks!), chatting up Filipino tarts at the appropriately named From Dusk Til Dawn (I assume y’all have seen the film!), a spot of dirty dancing with a granny (which incidentally cost me a Dior handbag), the congee breakfasts (with and without cockroach!), eating deep-fried octopus mouths in Mui Kee Cookfood stall in Tsim Sha Tsui, being rained in at the Bulldog in Lan Kwai Fong (it bucketed for about 6 hours!), the curious but effective Swiss technique of hailing taxis, the delicious Dim Sum at the Tao Heung Super 88 restaurant and being educated by a 3 year old girl about the different species of garoupa, midnight dashes to the Peak and having our taxi chased away by the Police, a very brief visit to the Bottoms-Up bar of James Bond The Man with the Golden Gun fame (now lap dancing joint) – up to the moment our planes took off when we put our heads down to reflect on new friendships made, and oh yes, catch up on lost sleep 😉

So thank you Waiman and Emily – for showing us all a great time, but most importantly for reminding me the true meaning of love and devotion. Life-timers like Harry and I need a good kicking from time to time to rekindle the fire that we have with our loved ones. I went to Hong Kong to attend a wedding, and returned having left behind a small piece of my heart in that wonderful, wonderful city… which I fully intend to collect. One day. Soon.

home sweet home …

We have moved … and have no plans to repeat the exercise for at least another … oh, say 10 years. Or even 20. As I write, the sun is shining, there is a light sea breeze and from our balcony, I can see the boats motoring by down on the marina, as they negotiate the tight bends into their berths for the night. In short, life is rather good here … and the one thing that can top this lifestyle right now is to be on one of the boats … but ssshhhh, don’t tell J – that 31′ Westerly Tempest is looking very buyable from this angle 😉

And by way of icing on the cake, the company moved the broadband service from the old house and as a result torrents are now fyling down our 8Mbit/s ADSL line like proverbial off a stick! Oh happy days.

compromis de vente …

Yesterday, we exchanged contracts on the sale of our current house and the purchase of our new one. In house buying parlance, this is synonymous to the first few notes from the fat lady’s vocal cords as she delivers her final aria on stage before collapsing from a broken heart, poision or some exotic disease: the end to this dramatic home move is drawing to a close and this Thursday, after 9 glorious years in Wiltshire, we take our final curtain call at Deepwell House before relocating to North Somerset.

With hindsight, I should have maintained a running blog on this move, if only to serve as a reminder to the boys of this eventful period in their lives when change is rife and nothing is stable – but on reflection, this is perhaps one of those life lessons that is better learnt through personal (and at times painful!) experience. I can only thank the designers at EA games for giving us Battlefield 2: Modern Combat – a title that has seen much action on our Xbox 360 in recent weeks and has served as an excellent exhaust for pent up frustration as I frag imaginary estate agents, lawyers and carpet fitters with 120mm shells and FFARs from my virtual Apache helicopter 😉

Roll on Thursday!

Note: Readers should also be advised that I am planning to retire the deepwell.co.uk domain after we have moved – with immediate effect, you should all point your browsers to http://www.ongs.co.uk/ to access this page.

tgi friday …

Ok, it’s been a while since my last proper posting … my sincere apologies to those readers who have had the stamina and a somewhat perverse sense of loyalty to want to come back to this little corner of blogosphere, where the deliberation of nonsense and the articulation of nothingness have almost become a minimalistic art form 😉 Anyway here’s a lame attempt to set matters right with some recent news items from not-so-sunny Wiltshire …

Firstly, our house is sold … subject to contract yada yada. I can’t tell you what a relief that is – actually I can, but the full story would entail more expletives than a Tarantino movie so I’ll just restrict myself to the abridged and relatively polite version. Basically, estate agents (or Realtors for folks living on the other side of the pond) are a fucking waste of space, time and money. That said, a more introspective look into the ridiculous process of moving houses – something both J & I have lots of experience of over the years – established that part of the blame must be self-inflicted because we engaged these people fully cognisant of the stress to follow … “Who’s more foolish: the fool or the fool who follows him?”

And then we had a visit from my friend from Hong Kong, who brought along his bride-to-be to take in the sights and sounds of the West Country. They also took on some unexpected dampness in Bath as the April showers show no signs of abating, yet the hosepipe ban in several water operating authorities (including ours) remains in place. Go figure. Anyway, Waiman and Emily’s wedding plans in July are now at a stage that requires Yours Truly to get off my hind quarters and do something about arranging flights etc. Waiman has chartered an entire tram for the evening by way of a combined hen and stag party. In my mind, I’m trying to visualise the most optimal location on a tram that will deliver the greatest amount of humiliation for a public debagging – a reciprocal act of affection [Ed: are you sure you don’t mean revenge?!] for my semi-naked chaining to the railings on Stephens Green, Dublin during my stag party all those years ago. Buddy, if you are reading this, I would recommend that you go tone up those pecs and don’t forget to bikini wax beforehand … in the meantime, I welcome all ideas for restraining positions although I think the one that involves Waiman lying prostrate on the roof with his testicles in contact with the electricity supply cable would limit his chances for future procreation?! BTW, does anyone know if HK trams have a caboose???

Finally, as it’s Friday, have a look at this guy. Pretty much sums up the way I feel right now, except I suspect I would have dropped all three balls in the first three seconds …

bohemian postcard …

Dear Blog,

Weather is awful (it’s a bright crisp morning here in Prague), the food is lousy (I’ve put on 6 pounds in 3 days living on goulash, duck, dumplings and potato pancakes), the beer is tasteless (Staropramen Granat is just pure nectar), the accommodation sucks (our suite in Hotel Artesse in Mala Strana is one of the most comfortable places we’ve stayed in) and generally having a crappy time (never been more relaxed) …

Lots of love, Pinocchio xxx

p.s. Really missing the UK (Ummmmm, thinking of buying a place here) 🙂

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