Friday, 31 August 2007

My favourite jacket

...seemed loose and baggy today.

I've been wearing my new suit on and off over the past few days and it would seem that I have quickly got used to the cut and fit of something actually made to fit me.

Does this mean that everything else I own will now seem shapeless or ill-sized? I hope not! This could get really expensive. But I am re-examining my definition of clothes that fit, and the findings are surprising.

The sound of the sea

In her creative living blog, Fiona writes that traffic noise can sound like the sea.

I'm sitting in my office enjoying that exact revelation, with the noise of the A329(M) Ocean drifting across the fields and through the open window.

Wine that rewards attention

There are wines that can be glugged, whilst chatting with friends, as a second thought, an accompaniment to conversation. They might be bold wines that jump up and smack you in the taste buds, so that you can taste them without thinking about it, and be sure that they're there. Or they might be cheaper wines - table wines, perhaps - that you don't expect to deliver too much, and so don't need to wring pleasure from every drop.

And then there are those wines that must be focused on, demanding attention and rewarding it. I had one such last night, a Rasteau by Chapoutier. It's the kind of wine that has a bit of subtlety to it that I find easy to miss if I'm not paying attention, the kind of depth that responds to a bit of attention, and unfolds when noticed. Not coincidentally, it's also a bit more expensive than I might ordinarily choose.

Which suits me rather well at the moment, as I've been trying very hard to live in the moment; to do one thing at a time, and savour it, rather than four things at once and missing the point and joy of all of them. So I've been eating my food slowly, without staring at the TV, and sitting down to have my lunch, chewing slowly and deliberately. Tasting.

And noticing the wine in the glass rather than just chugging it down as my mind wanders about the day-just-past.

A present wrapped in pastry

I rather fond of pies, a fact I've mentioned before.

Indeed, I like the very concept of pies, adore their whole chirpy-cute simplicity.

Those individual, sized-for-one pies are the best, because they're like little presents, pastry-wrapped, just for me.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Tintern Abbey, rich in history

Ah yes, Tintern Abbey, the Cistercian abbey founded in 1131 in the Wye valley.

Now one of the most spectacular ruins in the country, in its long history it has been visited by a King, inspired the Wordsworth poem of the same name, and many a Turner painting to boot.

Interestingly, it's also the place where t'Internet was invented.

Cobnuts and greengauges

...are my seasonal treat today, bought from the local farm shop after a business meeting in their cafe.

I cracked the cobnuts this evening - many of the shells disappointingly empty - to pluck out the plump, creamy kernels. They're quite different to hazelnuts, with a softer, wetter texture and a green slightly bitter flavour.

The greengauges are for another day.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

A late August harvest

Returning from my run this morning, I noticed that the pear tree in the garden is bearing lots of fruit. I picked a couple of pears - rock hard - for later, and wandered back to the house.

As I passed the potato patch, I found myself idly wondering if there were any tubers to be found beneath the withered plants.

Tugging away at the stems, imagine my delight (if you can!) when I found several beautifully purple potatoes hiding not far beneath the surface. I scratched and dug away with my bare fingers to uncover a generous feast - including one that was particularly amusingly shaped.

In the spirit of harvest, this afternoon I indulged myself and took my after-lunch stroll past the blackthorn bushes near the office, where the blueish sloe berries are ready for picking. So much so that they practically fell into my basket - by which I mean re-sealable container - on their way to my sloe gin jars.

Which reminds me that I noticed what I think are quinces on the tree I run past, and a squirrel eating walnuts, and cobnuts in the shops.

Is it Harvest time already?

Friday, 24 August 2007

Word of the day: Slydive

slydive [slahy-dahyv]
- noun
The cheeky skydive you fit in after leaving work early.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Facebook Fatigue

The social utility that connects you with the people around you has become - for me, at least - LifeSuck 2007. It consumes my time - that most precious commodity - at a rapid, alarming and unprecedented rate.

First there was the acquisitive phase. I collected friends ravenously and indiscriminately, simply to increase the numbers, like picking pebbles from the beach. The vast majority of whom I have not contacted since.

Right now I'm in a read-only phase. I spend my hours checking for friend's updates, rather than writing, rarely originating content. I click around the addictive little acquisition games that serve no purpose except to consume my time, and require no skill or judgement whatsoever.

Facebook does, however, definitely succeed in connecting me with the people around me. When we do speak, we talk about our facebook status, or our progress in the games (what level pirate are you?), the number of friends we have. Friends - real friends - telephone in a flap, concerned about the latest status update.

Maybe this is what the creators of Facebook intended.

Or maybe not.

On the bright side, as an Internet Fad, it won't last for long. Not for me, at any rate.

Running out of teaspoons

One of life's little reminders that it's time to do the washing-up.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Simply the best venison I have ever tasted

I ate at Maggie Jones's last night, in Kensington. I can say without reservation that the Haunch of Venison was the finest venison I have ever tasted.

I asked for the meat cooked "as rare as you like" - my usual defence against getting rare that's rather closer to burnt than I prefer. It arrived perfectly so, and the sauce was delicious.

Of course, at nearly £18 for a plate of meat in (rich, deep, flavour-full) sauce, you would hope that the kitchen knows what they're doing and delivers on it. But I did enjoy it very much, and I told the kitchen so.

What's that in the sky?

There's a ghostly ball of light in the sky this morning, glowing orange-yellow through the clouds.

Could it be? Is it?

Is this the fabled Sun?!

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Finding adventure in a tube

Today, I am mostly

  • Eating Kalles Kaviar paste ("Original") with rice crackers and salad. Yum!
  • Wearing my new suit, with my super-cool personalised cuff-links. Fwoar!
  • Brushing bits of rice cracker and Kalles off my new suit. Oops.
Because sometimes you just have to.

I collected my suit

My new suit. My made-to-my-measurements bespoke suit.

I love it. I love the look of it (except for the lining, which I dislike), the fit of it, the feel of it. I love that it is mine; that it fits me.

Two things have happened with the suit - the first being the number of people that ask me if I've lost weight. I suspect it's not so much about weight loss as about having clothes that fit in the right way. Which brings me to the second thing.

It's strange wearing clothes that fit. They feel oddly wrong because I've got so used to wearing my regular clothes, which - it turns out - don't actually fit all that well. But they feel really comfortable, and it's striking that something I would normally have regarded as stuffy and formal and awkward is actually really lovely and easy to wear.

I really want another one.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

A boy, a girl, a lobster: A short(ish) story

One evening, a young(ish) man, attempting to impress his dinner companion, seized the lobster's foreclaw and twisted it away from its body. In his exhuberant - and, alas, largely sober - state, he failed to take sufficient notice of the spines that ran along the claw, and promptly ripped a long(ish) shallow furrow in his forefinger.

Needless to say, the blood that resulted was not particularly impressive to the young(ish) woman across the table from him.

The End.

So, I ate at Eat Fish in Berkhamsted last night, which has the distinction of being the only restaurant I was ever motivated to right a review about. I was previously - and again last night - impressed by the friendliness and enthusiasm of the staff, and their apparently genuine
interest in the food they were serving.

If you like fish, and are in the Berkhamsted area, you might want to give it a try. Watch out for the lobster, though.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Stepping out with Flora

Today, I had some business in town, so Flora and I pottered and tottered off down there, and a jolly nice time I had of it too. Everywhere I went, I left Flora, unguarded and unrestrained, leaning against the racks or the front of the shops as I went about my business.

When I returned, there she was. Unmolested and unremarked. For the most part, unnoticed too, which was a bit of a shame - I think she probably would have liked someone to comment on her. All in all, something of a happy victory, given that one of my motivations for getting her was to be able to pop down the shops without fear of theftery.

But there is no question about who is in charge. When I went out with her the other day, cycling to the swimming pool in the early hours, she left her mark on me in two ways. The first - minor and hardly significant - a blister on my finger from her handlebars. A reminder that she is not a gentle mistress.

The second, more lasting, is the realisation that stopping pedalling is simply not an option. Once I have started her off, she will go on whether I want to stop my legs or no. I forgot this on a few occasions, and barely managed to save myself from a tumble.

Luckily, I am a fast learner. And I am still whole.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Safety on board

In case of an aircraft emergency, make sure you destroy all aliens with your laser eyes before opening the aircraft door.

This may be a little trickier if the window is smaller. Be careful not to hurt any innocent citizens. It may help to lean back from the window a bit.

Scandinavian Skydiving

So for the past few days, I've been at the third and final meet in the ISSA 2007 World Cup of Speed Skydiving (not slydiving, which is something else entirely). Held at Stockholms Fallskärmsklubb in Gryttjom, about an hour north of Stockholm, in Sweden, it was a whole lot of fun.

I was invited to attend in a technical capacity, by the current holder of the women's world record. Which is another way of saying she wanted someone to peer at the computers whilst she competed ;-) Besides, I needed to learn how to do it in order to help with the British Nationals in Speed Skydiving, in two weeks time. Yoikes.

I had a ball. The people were lovely - really, genuinely surprisingly lovely. The dropzone is owned and run by the club members - it's a whole co-operative type arrangement, and the result is a very relaxed, welcoming, family-friendly feel. There's a trampoline at the dropzone, pretty much permanently occupied by the dropzone kids below a certain age. And the dropzone has what is claimed to be the largest sauna on a dropzone in Sweden.

Just let that sink in for a moment: the dropzone has a sauna. And it's possibly the largest dropzone sauna in Sweden. Yowser.

Not to labour the point, but the dropzone has a lot of facilities that make it a great place to stay. There's a bunk house, which is pretty much what it says on the tin, and a huge kitchen where visitors and skydivers alike are practically encouraged to cook for themselves. If that's not your bag, the dropzone's diner-restaurant does a lunch and dinner every day - substantial food at a sensible price.

There's two permanent aircraft: a Twin Otter, and an AN-28. And did I mention that the people are lovely?

One of the most curious things about the DZ is that the weekend opening hours are shorter than in the week - what's that about? The other is that - in common with much of that part of the world, I'm told - the showers (and indeed the sauna) are open-plan, co-educational. Mixed. And there's no shower curtain.

Well okay, there's one shower cubicle with a curtain - it might as well have a Union Jack design on it - in the rest of the open-plan curtainless wetroom. With access to the outside via a permanently-open door.

Which I guess is just peachy-fine if you're from Scandinavian stock, and have a relaxed attitude to nudity. You're probably quite happy with your own naked body, and the public nudity of others. If, on the other hand, you're a native of the Rainy Isles, and somewhat more reserved about the unclothed human form, it does mean that showers become hasty first-thing-in-the-morning affairs, conducted in a scurrying-hurrying fashion before anyone else is awake or around.

And because the changing area is also co-educational, most of your post-shower routine is going to be conducted with your face to the wall, and your head bowed, continually repeated to yourself: Don't look 'round. Don't look 'round. Don't look 'round.

Once - and once only - I was lured into so diverting a conversation that I actually put my glasses on, turned around, and addressed the other party for a couple of sentences before I realised what I had done, and my eyes started to drift, and I felt the blush spread over - well, pretty much everywhere.

Let's just say that I didn't have the opportunity to try the sauna.

A great dropzone, though. Give it a try somtime.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Enjoying asking questions

A few days ago, I mentioned that I'd bought Fiona's book, A Year of Questions. I've been dipping into it regularly over the past few days, and I'm really enjoying it.

Fiona writes humourously, and authoritatively, with a personal touch.

I thoroughly recommend it.

Monday, 13 August 2007

What twisted, criminal mind

...came up with the idea of licorice ice cream?!

Strolling along the picturesque Stockholm harbourside today, I was filled with the joys of sunshine and travel. Spying a conveniently-located ice cream vendor, I ambled over and asked the grumpy kiosk lady for an ice cream called "Pepe". On the picture it looks like it's a waffle cone filled with vanilla ice cream and some tasty crunchy bits, all covered with a really dark shell that suggests fine chocolate, or perhaps some blackberry-flavoured chocolatey delight.

Remembering the Swedish fondness for exotic-sounding berries, I chose it in a moment. I'd never seen the like before, and - filled with the spirit of travel and adventure - I was determined to try something new.

With trembling fingers I tore open the packet - carefully disposing of it in the waste receptacle provided - and set the sweet treat free into the world.

Imagine my surprise and horror when, on biting into the perfectly-crunchy coating, I realised - too late! - that it was neither dark chocolate nor blackberry, but licorice.

Yes friends, an ice cream with a crunchy salt licorice shell. It is, not putting too fine a point on it, fecking disgusting. Sick-makingly awful. Vomit-inducingly terrible. Especially so if you don't like licorice, and weren't expecting it on your tastebuds.

In my involuntary gagging disgust, I'm ashamed to say that I reflexively spat the foul stuff out onto the pavement - not my shirt, thankfully! - before I realised how rude that must seem. So, taking scant refuge in the fact that I must seem like an ignorant tourist, I began to strip the remainder of the licorice coating from the ice cream and surreptitiously toss it into the harbour, or "accidentally" drop it onto the floor. Oh, there goes another piece. Oops, silly me.

Finally, having stripped the majority of it away, I was able to force myself to eat the ice cream, and remove the rank taste from my mouth. The emotional scars, I am afraid, run far deeper, and will doubtless trouble me for some time.

For the wary traveller, there's a picture on the GB Glace website.

Of course, if you actually like licorice, you might enjoy it. Freak.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Friday, 10 August 2007

The Swedes are very civilized

They take their shoes off indoors almost reflexively.

And if a visiting outlander happens to forget this basic courtesy, there are shoe-racks-like-benches just inside the doors; preventing access, prompting memory and manners.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Reindeer tastes surprisingly ordinary

...or at least, the way I ate it tonight did.

For reasons too convoluted to explain, I ate a sort of reindeer stroganoff tonight, and the meat was pleasant but otherwise unremarkable.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

A present in the post

Fiona (of Creative Living blogfamy) recently finished writing her new book, A Year of Questions, and it's available to buy from Lulu.

My copy arrived with the postman today, and it looks gorgeous. Fiona's writing is always a pleasure, and I'm really looking forward to the book.

Hmmm. Lots of links in this post, aren't there?

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Trying too hard

Did you ever have lunch in one of those pubs that desperately wants to be a restaurant when it grows up, but ends up being a pub that tries too hard?

I had a very pleasant, allbeit expensive, roast lunch in just one such establishment. Hands up everyone that just knew I was going to say that.

Now, I know that some of you think I'm overly critical - and maybe I am. But here's an example of what I mean by the whole trying too hard thing.

The two of us (that's my lunch companion and I) were seated at a table that was already attractively set for four people. The waitress, having taken the order for mains only - no starters (it was that pricey) - then cleared away our starter cutlery. But they left the other place settings untouched.

Now call me hypercritical if you wish, but surely if they're going to clear away cutlery we're not going to use, the should at least clear away the other place settings, which we're not going to use either?!

Of course, once I'd had this thought, I amused myself by taking the starter cutlery from one of the other place settings, and putting it on my setting. A little later, the waitress arrived to clear it away again.

I was sorely tempted to repeat with the fourth setting, but sobriety somehow won out, for once.

Shortly after we ordered, the waitress arrived with two little shot glasses, of watermelon granita with orange juice froth. They tasted pretty nasty, but luckily the spoon supplied was too small to fit properly into the shot glass, so we were spared the full horror.

The bread was cold, and the butter so warm it had the consistency of custard. Nice.

By contrast, just look at the finger bowl.

Some kind of finger bowl

(Yes, I know).

Oh - and this really isn't a criticism, so much as a comment - the dessert "A Chocolate Dream" was a deconstructed black forest gateau: an oblong slab of chocolate sponge, topped with a kind of moussy creamy cheesecakey brick, and topped with a layer of chocolate. It was set in a puddle of cherry sauce, with three artfully-placed cherries for accompaniment. The kirsch had been mislaid during the deconstruction process. Or the reconstruction, I don't know.

All that said, the food was really pretty tasty, if a bit fussy. And a few quid over-priced.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Word of the day: nosy

nos - y [noh-zee]
- adjective
Concernedly interested in the affairs of close friends, without any connotations of prying. Kind. Attractive. Considerate, caring. Witty, funny, smart. Peerless.