Sunday, 26 January 2014

maximum consumption

Southbound again - I don't know if I'm going or leaving home

Southampton continues to fascinate me as a culinary town. I have written before about the experience of eating out there. This weekend we hurried down to stay with one of our daughters who has just taken the first tentative steps on the property ladder by buying a house there. Poor weather and an accident managed to ruin our attempt at getting there early on Friday evening (M25 2, M3 nil) but Saturday was fine.

Well okay, I spent much of it sleepwalking around Ikea but on the whole, the day was fine. A very late lunchtime came and second born was overcome by tiredness and excitement - they'd only moved in on Thursday - and her partner had a long-standing engagement. The weather continued to pour and he found that trees on lines can hold up your well-prepared plans. Still, whilst second born slept, Mrs Dave caught up on Friday night tv through the magic of the internet and a PlayStation. Meanwhile, I wandered off to find some cheese.

I found a small shop in the middle of a street with no other shops anywhere in sight. The bearded young chap outside seemed to be the shopkeeper - he followed me in. After managing to scan the price of cheese - two different prices, the most expensive seemingly correct of course - he then informed me that the lower price was, after all, the correct price. As I'd spent over five pounds - I also availed myself of a bottle of Ringwood Old Thumper as I hadn't had a drink for some fifteen hours by now - I had evidently won a scratch card. I wasn't handed the said card, though, I had to watch him have all the fun of scratching off the silver foil. Obviously I could feel the excitement building up palpably. Guess what, he congratulated me as I had won! A packet of Walkers Salt and Vinegar crisps! Not just a packet of Walkers Salt and Vinegar crisps but a "grab bag" of Walkers Salt and Vinegar crisps. That means a huge bag of the dreadful tasting potato snack.

I left the shop with some chagrin especially after I asked if I could swap them for a less foul-tasting pack, but no, I had to have them. I'm sure he smiled as he shook his head. Still, the rain had stopped. The beer was nice. I had to work out how to use my daughter's electric oven/grill combination to make some cheese on toast but it all worked out well. But what of Southampton's culinary fascination? I hear you ask.

Well, after second born joined us and Coronation Street and Silence of the Witness had all been watched, we wandered out to see what the local 'hood had to offer second born and her partner.

We had been recommended a restaurant called something like Stavros Central - oh, hang on, Mrs Dave assures me it's called Santo Lounge (The?). Anyway, we found it, it isn't far away from their house and the menu looked okay from the website. We wandered in and did the usual How About There Shuffle. You know, you sit at one table that you don't feel comfortable at until someone leaves and then you go and sit there even though you ordered food at the previous table's number. We only moved once so the waitress found us.

The actual problem was that our daughter had ordered the food at the bar and asked to have the tapas as a starter. "Oh yes, no problem." This was after going through a list of the daily specials that they'd run out of.

So, when all three meals turned up with the tapas and a bottle of wine within minutes of me getting another pint of (rather fine) Toga Man bitter, it all seemed a little overwhelming. The table was groaning with food, wine and mulled cider. Ah well, what the hell - it all looks good and it's what we've ordered* so let's just get on with it. In truth, the restaurant was probably suffering from  members of staff off ill, so we just got on with it. The rather harangued-looking waitress seemed pleased when another fresher face waitress turned up to help. I must admit, the food was pretty good. It was just having to eat a main meal and the starter at the same time that seemed a little bizarre. Oh, and by the way, Stavros - the ham hock my daughter chose was far too fatty, not quite cooked as well as it could be and looked the size of a normal family's Sunday joint.

I'm not suggesting that if ever you find yourself in need of a meal in the Shirley area of Southampton that you shouldn't go there but it seems worthwhile to make sure that there is an agreed separation between what you consider a "starter" and the main event. There was no such problem this afternoon in the rain-sodden walk to the local Wetherspoons (more of another time) but my personal recommendation for dining in Southampton tends to be for Turtle Bay. Great food. Well, the goat curry is always great and I can't seem to move away from that. I've never been to Jamaica and will probably never go there. However, you can't beat a good goat curry.

By the way, Wetherspoons seemed to be full of Polish people dressed in their Sunday best eating traditional English Sunday roast dinners. There's nothing wrong with that at all, but it's an interesting point that they feel compelled to dress up to go to a rather down-at-heel pub to eat what is essentially a cheap catering enterprise. Not really sure that it's a traditional experience.

Anyway, here's to Southampton and its continuing fun-filled attitude to eating out. Long may they run.

Oh, that motorway living
Ain't it a thrill to be so free, yeah
Got to get away from
Cats eyes, cold meat pies
Thousand on a raft, cold French fries
So tired, tired of livin'
Tired of livin' this motorway livin'

By the way, dear reader, I left the packet of crisps at my daughter's house.

* It's not always the case.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

an eastern sky

Wond'ring aloud,
Will the years treat us well?

A Suffolk Big Sky
My father used to build model gliders. I remember in particular, the balsa wood and red plastic material covering it. For much of my youth, it sat on top of my dad's wardrobe. I think it was my dad's wardrobe because it was a single one whereas my mother's was a double. The smaller one had a suit or two, the larger seemed to house a lot of voluminous dresses. On top of his wardrobe sat a red plastic and balsa wood aeroplane that I used to long to see fly.

The only opportunity to see it fly was on those occasions we went to Dunstable Downs on a Sunday afternoon. We would picnic there, watch dad trying to fly his glider and try to spot wallabies - yes, even then. Like the Unicorns in Bill Caddick's song, they were always there. If you Google it, evidently, wallabies are new to the UK. Oh no they're not. By the way, picnics in those days seemed to include lots of banana or jam sandwiches and, knowing my mother, something involving a very heavy pastry casing.

Anyway, I know that as time went by, my father seemed to lose interest in the glider and trips to the Downs became rarer. This is all a shame and something that I will never, ever, be able to understand why. Best to move on, then. The plastic got ripped and the balsa wood skeleton probably got involved in one of those wars that I seemed to be continually enacting throughout my childhood. I mean, of course, the continual wars of toy soldiers.

What prompted me to think of this - and it's something that I've not really thought about for years - is that last weekend, during our walk, we came across a slightly surreal scenario. We trudged through a ridiculously muddy field and eventually wandered fairly unfettered across a field. The noise of birds singing became less and a continuous droning noise - somewhat akin to the sound of a child that has been told that they are not allowed to do/say/whatever and they are responding in their best low-slung whingeing whine - but, behold! A group of  adults flying their hand-built 'planes. Helicopters, gliders, WWII planes and other such models I have no idea about. No airships, though, disappointingly.

I must admit that we were not distracted for too long - several were well-built and impressive in their own way - but it smacked of some sort of secret society. I believe the term "guilty pleasure" is often used. These guys shouldn't be embarrassed (well, not too much) about their interests but it did all seem a little secretive. A few furtive glances around and each member scrutinised the other guys' 'planes with a fair amount of attentiveness.

We moved on. Mrs Dave mentioned the episode today. We were walking around a very muddy wood in another part of Suffolk. Wonderful weather with gorgeous typical Big Suffolk skies. She thought it a slightly surreal episode. It was like coming across a Punch and Judy festival in Covent Garden after coming out of the hospital after seeing your dad who's dying . . . oh yeah, that actually happened. A long time ago, now.

I wander across the Suffolk landscape with pure pleasure, but on the way home, see friends taking their parents out for a Sunday afternoon trip and hear of them dealing with the issues that the Winter years of their parent's lives bring. I take deep joy in the understanding that all I have to do is make decisions about my own future. I miss my parents, of course, but know that the heartbreaking decisions to come for those peers makes for some tense discussions and sleepless nights.

Suddenly coming across glider fanatics in the middle of a walk brings backs memories of a fairly care-free childhood (they tuck you up, your mum and dad) but I don't envy my many friends who are going through the end of days with their parents. I'm really not being glib, here. I'm just grateful that I'm in the situation that I can look back with rose-tinted glasses nowadays.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

takin' care of business

A few years back there was a tendency for publishers to publish books - both fiction and non-fiction - in a genre I tend to call "My Miserable Life". You know the stuff, even if you've never read it (I certainly didn't), "I was brought up in a chicken coop" sort of novels. Usually written by someone called "David" (Ha!). This reached its nadir in books such as this. I have neither the time nor inclination to read them, but you can prove me wrong about their worth.

So, to enter 2014 with a bit more brio, here's a more positive point.

When the Bose Wave Music System that Mrs Dave bought me for a Christmas present some five years ago started to go wrong - in a sort of Dementia-like decline - a year or so back I must admit to not being terribly impressed. All that was wrong was that the CD part of it was getting sluggish and unresponsive. That is, that it often wouldn't play older CDs (and more recently, new ones) very well. it didn't like fast forwarding. It certainly didn't like Christmas CDs (some of you may have less sympathy at this point), but on the whole it was certainly CDs that were the problem. FM Radio, no problem, iPod no problem. CDs often just stopped. So, something radical needed doing. Given that it was kept all these years in the kitchen so has probably clogged up the lens with cooking fat etc, it was no real surprise.

By reading Googled  responses, you'd have thought that the writers of such books as mentioned above had all contacted Bose during the complete nadir of their appalling lives. They won't do this or that, service is crap etc. But no! Wait - a phone call before Christmas sorted it. Wait until after Christmas, they said - after all, you'll want to use it over the holiday - and get in contact afterwards. A human response, no a humane response!

So, about a week after Christmas we got back in contact, sent it off and in less than two weeks, it's been off to Belgium, fixed, returned and happily playing CDs as I sit here. Mrs Dave is happy as she gets to listen to Radio 4 in the mornings again and I'm happy that it works. Very happy.

So, within two weeks a company can turn a repair round with no quibble or complaint. Even deliver it to our work place (no hanging around at home to sign) and get it back to you by the time they say they will.

Well, I'm impressed. Sorry David Shitlife and co, not everything is as you complain. So for all of you out there who think that life is awful and getting on top of you and that modern life is rubbish, here's a little present. Given that not all things are as bad as you make out, here's a wonderful poem that could help you think through tough times:

Good night. Smile. And in the words of an old joke, "I 'ope you 'ave 'appiness all your life". Gentlemen, read it slowly in a Spanish accent.

Monday, 13 January 2014

the heady heights of suffolk

Saturday morning with a pale blue watery sky and a low bright sun. Whilst friends and colleagues are getting up and shopping - or taking in the internet delivery - we were donning waterproofs and gaiters. Parking in a muddy patch in the middle of nowhere, we set off for what was, essentially, a long walk to a pub that had managed to run out of cask beer.

It was good to get my walking boots back on and get out for a walk around unfamiliar fields. The weather has been pretty mild around these parts, we've barely had to put the heating on too high. As for lighting the log burner, well no chance yet. And I haven't had to scrape ice off the car yet, either. There's been a hell of a lot of rain though.

Still, Saturday morning was very bright with a low sun constantly peeping over the top edge of my glasses so I spent a lot of time looking down. Mostly I was watching the mud build up on my boots. Still, when I did get a chance to look around, it really was all unfamiliar. We wandered around and through villages on the north-west side of Ipswich. We even briefly went into the outskirts of Ipswich, an area I'd not even heard of before. The Old Norwich Road area seemed to be a complete community separate from the rest of the town.

Gradually we worked our way towards what was, literally, the high point of the walk. The Trig Point.  Like everything else that seems a little arcane or unusual, Trigpoints (as they seem to be spelt) have their own fans. The picture here was taken on Saturday at the Trigpoint that marks a typically East Anglian high point above sea level. An astonishing 54 metres above, to be exact. That's my shadow, I was asked by the guy leaning against it for a quick snap to send to his brother who lives up North where they have slightly higher points, I believe. I thought as a few of us are greying well, having it as a sepia photo seemed appropriate.

By the time we got to the pub we were aiming for it was getting quite late into the afternoon. As mentioned, they had two casks of Adnams and one of Doom Bar behind the bar but, alas, they were mainly empty. The bit left in the Cornish one didn't taste too good so we took them back. Now you can see why the Trigpoint was the high point in more ways than one!

It's a new year and by now many who rashly made New Year Resolutions will have probably fallen by the wayside. I made no such things - I can't see the point of fooling yourself. I did agree with Mrs Dave that we need to get out walking even more than last year though. Evidently, it's one of the best forms of exercise that you can do. The other healthy thing to do is to give up drinking for a while. It seems that giving up for January is the in-thing at the moment. Personally, I have decided to give up for about two months.

In a conversation on Friday evening (in the pub, where else?) a friend convinced me that if I don't drink for two or three days per week - Mondays to Wednesday, let's say - then technically by the end of the year, I'll have not had a drink for about a good few months or more. Obviously holidays may be a little difficult to keep up but during the working weeks, that should give me some health benefits.


Thursday, 2 January 2014

the carpet crawlers

There's only one direction in the faces I see.

A small fortune was spent on seeing in the new year. I don't know how much Boris spent on it with the reported "twelve thousand pyrotechnics" but it was possibly only a fraction of the cost of booking a hotel in London for New Year's Eve! Anyway, we spent the evening there in London. A little annoying to learn, then, that we could have got free train transport back to Stevenage. Ah well.

The fireworks were pretty spectacular, and I speak as one who is not generally impressed with them. We'd wandered out of the Albert Hall earlier than expected and found an inexpensive Italian restaurant in Kensington -  no mean feat itself. Then we wandered off to join the rest of the carpet crawlers to watch Boris's budget go up in smoke. The song "Carpet Crawlers" appears on the overblown Genesis concept album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway but still manages to conjure up images of faceless crowds moving slowly towards an uncertain goal.

Hundreds, probably thousands, of Londoners and tourists found their way to a decent vantage point - many outside Buckingham Palace - we found a space in St James Park. Yes, it was spectacular and yes, I did wonder how much it must have all cost. Still, it was probably the most sober NYE I have ever spent. Even walking back to the hotel and drinking a(quarter share) champagne still left me with not so much as a vague feeling of being less than sober.

So well done, me.

The waves of onlookers and tourists - French families with their glasses of wine, less than sober lads with cases of cans of lager, wandering drunkards and very normal families - wandering around London were quite pleasant to be amongst. There were no ill feelings, no belligerent drunks or projectile vomiters. Mind you, it was raining which may have dampened some revellers' feelings.

No attempt is being made here for any form of "resolutions". No point. Still, I did watch the Likely Lads 1974 Christmas Special the other night and was happy to see a shot of the Watneys Party Seven mentioned a few times before. They certainly existed and in various conversations, I'm not the only person who remembers them!

Well, a Happy New Year to all. Once all the dust settles, let's all do something useful this year.

When Winter's shadowy fingers first pursue you down the street
And your boots no longer lie about the cold around your feet
Do you spare a thought for summer whose passage is complete
Whose memories lie in ruins and whose ruins lie in heat

When winter..... comes howling in.