french half-term …

Bonjour de Paris … Lille, Auxere, Chablis, Troyes, Champagne and Disneyland! As always, our visit to David saw us covering many more centres than our 4-day sojourn would have allowed. And afterwards, we agreed that we all felt rested and relaxed … even after the trauma of Indiana Jones at Disney, you know the one that loops the loops … backwards – geez, I absolutely hate that ride! But the rest of the time, we turned native and adopted local French attitudes as we surrendered ourselves to David’s kind hospitality and turned into singes capitulards mangeurs de fromage ;o) For me, one of the highlights was the sharing of a Cos d’Estournel ’89, purchased en place when we toured Bordeaux in 1994, when J-G Prats himself gave us a guided tasting. Then there was the delicious cognac by Michel Forgeron, a Grand Champagne at 51%, topped only by something labelled ‘Tonton Andre’ – a 40 year old nectar scooped from the bottom of a barrique that M. Forgeron acquired from his uncle when he took over the distillery. And that was just the first night’s treats!

The next day, we set off early-ish to Chablis, having abandoned grand plans to go further south into the heart of Bourgogne. A Moroccan lunch at our first stop in Auxere (a charming town btw) was lovely – my Zaalook in particular, cooked to perfection. But by the time we arrived at the first Chablis producer, I was fast asleep … and indeed remained so while J, David and the kids tasted their way through the region – a pity as I have since learned to appreciate this rather unique and steely presentation of Chardonnay. Troyes was our destination for the evening, but arriving later in the evening during the half-term break and on a week-end when Troyes was hosting a singing festival, we only managed to find lodgings in a spartan but functional motel some distance outside town. But dinner at the Bon Vivant more than made up for this inconvenience. Our first stop in Champagne was the Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil s/ Oger at a producer called Launois, then another delicious lunch in Epernay, a visit to a superb cheese shop, Les Délices de la Ferme (rue Saint Thibault) for some cheesy comestibles, and back to Le Mesnil to see if David can charm the owners of Pierre Peters (which we had at the restaurant at lunchtime) to sell us a small quantity of bottles. She could spare some (normally one would have to be introduced to be allowed to purchase, naturally) and we spent a good hour there chatting and drinking what is probably the best vintage Blanc de Blancs I’ve tasted to date. The kids were beside themselves (literally), having been presented for the first time with their own tasting glass!

We also fooled around in Avize and took this photo of David. Later that evening, back in David’s apartment, we baked the Mont d’Or (Vacherin) as advised, by scoring the rind and giving it a good soaking of white wine and sat it in the a medium hot oven for about 8 mins. It was heavenly! We also concluded that foie gras, topped with melted Mont d’Or produced a remarkably pleasant combination of textures and flavours – David made a note for further experimentation. Disneyland was the destination on our 3rd day – the kids needed a run around and it was Halloween week-end.

On our last day, David took us on the abridged tour (which lasted about 2 hours) of Père Lachaise. He also reminded us that J1 once described cemeteries (after visiting Montparnasse) as ‘places where dead people live’ and admiring some of the great and sometimes ostentatious monuments to the rich and famous who were either French, lived or died in Paris, I found myself thinking how delightfully observant!

who’s in control …

Ken Bigley is dead – murdered on the same day that the interim Iraqi PM said that there had been some movement in his plight. Funny, he must have source his intelligence from the same cowboys who were sure that there were WMD in Iraq. But maybe it was all choreographed, right down to the ‘escape’ and timing of the announcement – and that means organisation, which means funding, and in this part of the world, that means oil. So should we really be looking to point the finger at an oil-rich state that is funding terrorism in this region to ensure continued supplies of its own oil, or should we continue the hunt for a bunch of fanatics whose religious zeal has overcome their ability to exercise better judgement, and who have not woken up to the fact that they are mere puppets in this game of high stakes, being manipulated by said state for political and ultimately economical gain.

i just don’t get it …

It’s official – there are no WMD in Iraq. So concludes the Iraq Survey Group. And then it was open season … John Kerry, Robin Cook, Greg Dyke, human rights lawyers, pacifists, protagonists, terrorists, bigots – all waded in … in fact, just about anyone and everyone who had lost or could potentially gain something (and it is usually something personal) from this report – a report incidentally which somehow has come to be regarded as gospel proof that the war in Iraq was unjustified. In a pathetic attempt to appease those who are proponents of the invasion, the report tries to demonstrate impartiality by stating that Saddam did indeed have intent to restart the WMD programme – and this apparently was enough to prompt the Bush administration to come up with a wonderful concept, which the Pentagon’s Advisory panel is calling pre-emptive doctrine – almost casually throwing it in as a possible stance to adopt if ever there came a need to ‘deal’ with the emerging problem of Iran and North Korea. I just don’t get it – I mean I don’t get why, in this post-Cold War era, that we as a race have failed to learn anything from another doctrine – the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction that in a conflict, the use of nuclear weapons results in destruction of both the attacker and defender. Then again, I don’t get many things … like I don’t get how it is possible that I can share the same genetic makeup with the c**ts who think it is OK to lob off a fellow human’s head in the name of religion. Let me just say this – we have been looking for irrefutable evidence of God/Allah/Almighty for centuries, and have so far turned up zip – does that mean he doesn’t exist? If people believe he exists, then it follows that we don’t need the proof, since we’ve failed to find the evidence. And if he doesn’t exist, then what the hell are we fighting about anyhow? Answers on a post card please …

nice eats …

We caught up on some decent eating around Bristol at the week-end. The Al Madina is a friendly, cosy café serving Moroccan fayre and is tucked behind the Corn Exchange in the Glass Arcade aka St Nicholas Market. Décor is reminiscent of a bazaar, and when the sun shone, it was just possible to imagine being in the middle of a hot, sweaty market in Marrakesh as we struggled to keep cool by sipping at our mint teas. Actually in the mild dying rays of an October sun, it was more of a struggle to keep warm ;o) Don’t bother looking for it on the web – I couldnt find anything but in return for a yummy lunch, I thought the staff might appreciate some free publicity. J2 and I had the lamb tagine which fell off the bone, and the other mains were way above average … for the price, which only totalled £27 for four including drinks! A tip – try and get there for a late-ish lunch to allow plenty of time for the tagine to work the flavours into the food.

Dim sum on Sunday at the Dynasty on St Thomas Street was also above average and very reasonable. I thought the Fong Chow – chicken feet in black bean sauce – was exceptional (personal opinion of course since none of the others would touch it!) and the kids throughly enjoyed their beef Hor Fun, fried Szechuan style. J2 impressed us by stuffing himself but was clearly agile enough to earn his 10th Kyu karate grading later that afternoon. Good lad!

a bit of fun …

The BBC are running a competition for the story of the century using 101 ‘modern’ words. I doubt mine will be published but I managed 60 of the words in 149 words.

Here it is … Bling bling! Mickey Mouse’s whizzo mobile phone buzz-ed a text message from the wizard in the Big Apple, aka Big Brother, summoning him to another virtual reality of sexed-up, power dressing It-girls in Wonderbras, hot-desking in a dot-commer, as they double-clicked URLs from Google listing Sex with Toyboys. He’s missed her. OK she’s no hip, cool or sexy celeb earning megabucks (naff all actually); can’t chant F-words at cruise missiles or boogie like those 70’s love-in hippy peacenik chicks; or pop acid like some 80’s psychedelic punk; or karaoke like a Botox ridden 90’s granny, ad-libbing hip-hop, gangsta rap with her miniskirt in some ghetto fabulous kitsch bar. So not-U! But Minnie with teddy bear, sporting a dumb-ed down hem-line, dunking her cheeseburger or bagel in latte – that’s tailspin material! Mickey loses his mobile at some fast food drive-in, clicks his kitten heels three times … “Cheerio lumpenproletariat existence!”

too much religion …

Someone once quipped ‘Always and never are two words you should always remember never to use’. As the terror in Iraq continues tonight with the murder of 34 children at the water treatment plant in Baghdad, it is fast becoming a cliché to expect people in the free world always to unite on a common resolve of never giving in to terrorism – no matter the cost. I read the full text of Tony Blair’s speech yesterday. It wasn’t his proposed 10 point plan that warmed me to his party, nor his comical dismissal of the Lib Dems, nor his reminder that we as a nation have undoubtedly enjoyed material changes under the Labour government. No, it was his candour and his insightful summation that the world faces a new, deeply rooted phenomenon – global terrorism, executed based on the perversion of the peaceful and honourable faith of Islam.

Yet last night, in the salubrious surroundings of a dining hall in Holborn, our very own Archbishop of Canterbury addressed a congregation of Alpha graduates, and praised them for taking risks, in the way they have re-branded and marketed Christianity to bring lost or confused souls back to God. I don’t pretend to fully understand the Alpha programme, but I am certain of this: all too often we blame religion (the lack or abundance of it) for the attrocities committed by those who have long swapped faith for guns, idealism for explosives, and forgotten when and why they had done so. And now, instead of WMD, we appear to be peddling WMC – weapons of mass communication. We need a logo/marketing plan like we need a bullet in the head!

Religion should always be personal, and never thrusted on anyone.

labouring the moon festival …

I’m known for my ambivalence about politics and right now, I’m fired up about the state of the nation and will be tuning in when Tony Blair makes his election pledges at Labour Conference 2004. You’ve got to listen to the hype, if only to make up your own mind – especially after the amuse bouche from Gordon Brown yesterday. Prosperity? Call me capitalist, by all means – but social injustice?! Nah, I’ll just take the loot … and keep it all for myself! This morning, BBC Radio 4’s Long View featured China, projected to become the 2nd largest economy in the next decade, but after the Tories’ initiative back in the 80’s, the UK seems quite nonchalant, bordering on apathetic, about strengthening trade links with this emerging superpower.

Today is the 15th moon day of the 8th month a.k.a. the Moon Festival – an auspicious date in the lunar calendar for the Chinese, the mid-autumn equivalent of thanksgiving I suppose. Read all about the legend here. With lots of moon cakes being consumed, I wonder if there will be a rebellious note from Kenneth Clarke tucked inside mine ;o)

on yer bike …

200 calories! That’s all I’ve burned, according to the computer thinghy when we went cycling on Sustrans Cycle Route 4 this morning – bet it didnt include the last 1/2 mile of bike pushing (maybe that’s why they are called push bikes!) all the way home after the air mysteriously escaped from the rear tyre. Ummmmm, somebody’s trying to tell me something. And then our Sky+ system decided to keel over and die … again. The usual hard disk problem, requiring a revival with a low-level format. Maybe I should get the new 80+hour Sky+ 160Gb when it comes out in October ;o) J got me watching a bid on eBay for a Luella Bartley handbag – a scarlet red Giselle, but we didn’t win it. If anyone knows another source for a black one, preferably at 1/2 price, drop me a line!

not so jolly …

On Tuesday, I turned 38. J stuck 3 little candles on my cake … if only! And then I discovered blogging. Quite serendiptous really. Browsing the news that morning, I wanted to find out more about the f***ers who were holding 2 Americans and a Brit hostage – some losers called the Tawhid and Jihad group. Anyway, that somehow took me to vixgirl’s site (respect!), so I decided to start my own blog …It seems appropriate that my inaugural blog should be about our home.

The pub next door, the Jolly Miller, is being changed back to a house, but what infuriated me was the article in the local rag about how people were so sorry to see it go. Someone even suggested keeping the sign up or putting up some sort of commemorative plaque. This is what I wrote to the editor …

Anyone lamenting the passing of the Jolly Miller pub cannot have suffered the years of pointless heart thumping Drum&Bass riffs every week-end, the swelling squeals of under aged drunks, the open and offensive transactions of drugs by the kerbside, the customary screeching of tyres as boy racers pull away at closing time, the permanent carpet of broken glass on the pavement in the mornings, the shameless use of our front garden as a privy, and general damage to adjoining property. As a neighbour, we have endured all the above and experienced the ultimate – a death threat when we asked for a car blocking our driveway to be moved! £50,000 worth of refurbishment in 1997 by the Wadworth group could not save this den of inequity from the inevitable – and the reason is simple: you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. A commemorative plaque? Absolutely! R.I.P.

So there … nothing more to be said.