millionreasons: (cake)
Last Friday I went up west to Fitzrovia to eat a fancy French meal in a fancy French restaurant, courtesy of David. We had the vegetarian tasting menu, which was nine tiny courses. Dave also had the wine flight, which comprised a small glass of wine per course. The wine was accompanied by a Frenchman, who came to show us the bottle after each course and we had to guess the origin, the grape, the year etc. We got one (!) right, which was a desert wine. But then again, our usual wine purchase is £7.99 from the supermarket. There were a lot of staff, one seemingly employed just to serve bread, refill water glasses and brush crumbs, and I was worried about asking the wrong person the wrong thing. What if asked the sommelier for water and he resigned in disgust?

The only downside was the horrendous people next to us: a guy, in blue trousers, lazily stating: "Yeah I’ll just have a prosecco," and "You have GOT to live in Hampstead because it’s nearer town and so that’s easier to get into town. Richmond’s too far out". His dining companion had the annoyingest nails-on-blackbohard shriek for a voice and kept clapping her hands when she laughed. But this was the menu:

Amuse-bouche: bread, olives and a mushroom beignet.
Mushroom and Truffle Soup with Creamed Orzo Pasta, Wild Mushroom Focaccia and Black Truffle.
Baked Baby Beetroot with Mozzarella, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shallot Vinaigrette.
Salad of Spring Vegetables with Beetroot Meringue, Ricotta and Eucalyptus Honey.
Buttered Green Asparagus with Onions, Broad Beans, Peas and Mint.
White Asparagus with Crushed Potatoes, Citrus Sauce and Sorrel.
Cheese Selection.
Mandarin, Vanilla and Coconut mousse.
Chocolate Mousse with Peanut Ice Cream and Pedro Ximenez Jelly.
Coffee and petits fours

It was all so extremely nice and very fancily presented, e.g. focaccia to go with the soup served on a box of dry mushrooms, crackers to go with the cheese in a cracker log - a polished piece of wood with slits to hold the crackers.

I didn't instagram the food. Neither did I have a mobile phone conversation at the table as Blue Trousers did.

The waiter, probably spotting that we weren’t of old money (or new money) asked if it was a special occasion, and on saying it was my birthday, I received a slate with white chocolate sauce and a candle on it.



On Saturday, we went down to Surrey to go to Strawberry Hill House, Horace Walpole’s Gothic pile. Horace was a flamboyant man about town and decorated his house accordingly. All of this was lost on our companions on the Teddington train who were going to a Sci-fi convention in Twickenham. I was at first amused by the Trekkies, Han Solos, Leias (inc. some male Princesses), aliens, Dr Whos and an incongruous Mr Blobby, but after being squashed against the train door with them for eight stops, I started to change my mind. These weren't people arguing about whether Picard or Janeaway was the best Starfleet Captain, these were blue-trousered gits who worked in financial services whose sole purpose for going to the convo was getting dressed up and pissed before 11 a.m. Geek is mainstream now.

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The stunning white exterior was only painted in 2001, the house was more gravelly and castley before that - my favourite part was a false cupboard at the new front of the house, which, when opened, showed the outer wall from the original frontage. There was also a secret chapel in the grounds of the Catholic college next door that now owns the house, and a knight (?) dressed up in cricket whites, carrying a teddy bear. It wasn't quite as OTT as Brighton Pavilion, but it came pretty close.

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In the evening, we trained it over to Victoria Park to go to the Crown pub to meet an eclectic mix of people; it was quite heartening to see people I've known for years chatting to other people I've known for years. As long as they don’t all become friends and like each other better than me.

(Photos by David, apart from Happy Birthday On A Slate).
millionreasons: (cake)
On Friday it was my birthday and we went to the cat café in Shoreditch, which I had to book 2 months ago, such is the desire for hot pussy* in this town. There are 11 cats, and we managed to subject about 8 of them to strokes. None of them was particularly interested in being petted although they didn't seem to mind it - my fantasy of meeting that special cat who'd know me instantly was dashed as the felines wandered around, mostly ignoring people. Fortunately a mad cat lady in waiting was at hand to tell me each cat's favourite toy and to hand out cat treats with which to bribe them. My favourite was Loki, who at least looked reasonably happy when I chucked his chin. I realised that because there is food (and running water), then the cats do not associate humans with being fed, and so there's no reason to play up to them.

Considering that young kitties like to play and older cats like to sleep, I did wonder if they will have to start some kind of replacement scheme as time goes on. I did like the fact that it wasn't a normal cafe, you could wander up and down the stairs, sit on the floor, and un-Britishly invade other people's space to steal their kittens.

* sorry



Afterwards, we got onto the canal and cycled down to the Olympic Park. Usually, it rains on my birthday. As I've detailed on these pages over the last nine years, it always blows a gale on 16th May. But not this year - bright sunshine bounces off the water.

I am happy to remember that I was very much agin the Olympics for various reasons that I won't repeat and very chary about the new park, which I considered an empty promise. However, I do like the area now, it's reasonably cycle friendly, pretty empty and quite well-tended. It reminds me a little of the City of Science and Arts in Valencia. I'm all for public space. Also, unlike during the Olympics, you can access it from the canal, and the swimming pool is only £3.50!



In the evening, we went to the Clapton Hart to meet various people for birthday boozes and rather nice food. Pub food is either over priced or Wetherspoonsy, but I've eaten twice at the Hart and both times it has been pretty, pretty good (this time = asparagus and roast tomato tart with salad (and chips)) and their preferred condiment is Henderson's Relish. By 10.30, I was flagging but after some furious table footballing, I managed to duke it out 'til 1 a.m. at which point I told everyone they should go home, although most people ignored me and were still there when I left.

Sunday, we cycled to LB Bexley, the borough that London forgot. It's basically a crap bit of Kent. Cycle Route 1 took us from Greenwich down to Erith, which houses London's only pedestrian pier. Apparently, people used to come here on day trips from the city. The route takes us through tourist land, near-countryside, the industrial heartlands of Lewisham, the terrible stink at Crossness pumping station, the sugar factory and the astonishing feat of engineering at Woolwich, through windy alleyways, a fast main road, flat wide cycle paths and narrow lanes. At the end of the pier are fishermen and a poignant plaque to Frankie.


We eat at the town's only café, Mambacino, which does a nice line in 90s dance and strawberry smoothies and then go to the railway station, where a man lets me have his paper travelcard for free. The people on the river know how to give.
millionreasons: (pankhurst)
David's birthday week. On Wednesday, we went up the SHARD, to see Alpha Papa and then beer and pizza in the evening. My reviews: 1) Impressive views, but I would have liked to poke around the Shard itself, look at the angled architecture a bit more, 2) Good plot, good lines, good Bruno Brookes joke, but Alan was too happy, there were no dark thoughts à la his exotic dancing in the TV series and, unfortunately, he grew as a character, going from selfish to bully-quasher and new step-dad to two teenage boys. Partridge must remain a static character; it's not funny if you start to sympathise with him. Also, I wondered if anyone under 25 would find it amusing or get any of the references. 3) The pizza lasted me til Saturday!

London, toy town:





Friday, we went to newly gentrified pub, The Crooked Billet in Clapton, once a place you'd scurry past on the way to the train station, now craft beer, ping pong, decking in the garden (née car park) and £9 for a (not very good) burger. When we saw Mark Thomas in May he said: "I prefer being middle class, the food and conversation is better," and the pub is now a helluva lot nicer, but outside, a gang of priced out Hackney-ites, sat on an estate wall and drank cans. The Pembury Tavern down in Hackney Downs, once an estate pub, then "ours", quickly sequestered by hipsters, is empty again as the nouveau E8-sters move north along Lower, and now Upper Clapton road.

At half past twelve, we decided to go onto Great Big Kiss, unfortunately the last bus to Highbury had gone and I ended up wandering round Blackstock Road at 1 in the morning, thinking that I really should go home, but instead trying to find any bus that would take me anywhere. Finally got to the Buffalo Bar and did some hardcore frugging to Edwin Starr, The Supremes, Otis Redding et al as well as this slice of Elvis-y rock n roll. There's something about black American soul music that takes me over like techno. It must be the beat. After shots of toffee vodka, we left at 3 and, eschewing a taxi, decided to walk home, which seemed like a good idea until about half way, at which point it's too hard to renege. Got home at 4, like we were 25, not 40.

Unfortunately, waking up at 10 meant that I hadn't had enough sleep and was not in the right mood to go to a hipster festival in London Fields, which wasn't in London Fields. I had Visions (geddit) of sitting in the park in the sunshine, ignoring the bands, but the festival took place in three different venues, one of which was in Cambridge Heath, E2. 60% of the day was spent walking up and down Cambridge Heath Road between venues, each of which confiscated my bottle of water before I went in, even when we were just picking up wristbands from the fucking booking office (I felt like I was being released from prison when I left, no-one to say: don't go there, move up there, moe down there, don't do that, show me your wristband, show me your bag, you can't take water in there. Hipsters mingled with each other, comparing glitter make-up, shouting down their iPhone about their coke consumption, or ate not very good burgers. None of the bands were my thing: doomy drone, ambient Japanese laptop stuff, loud post-rock or unbearable noise-mongers. There was no pop-pop-pop pop music. I enjoyed chk chk chk's schtick (tight funk fronted by a dancing man who was half pre-heroin Michael Hutchence and half Napoleon Dynamite), but all the songs sounded the same.

I did enjoy sitting on the top of Netil House looking at the view and on the balcony of the Oval Space looking at the gas holders, and in London Fields brewery drinking beer.

millionreasons: (cake)
Yesterday was David's official birthday*, so we went to Jeremy Deller's inflatable Stonehenge in Ally Pally.



The queues were full of children so we sat in the shade and ate a picnic, until it got to 6 p.m. and about to close, so we thought we should have a little bit of a bounce and it was rather good fun, but very tiring.



Then it was all over and the travelling henge had to go off to Wanstead. If only the druids had been able to transport their standing stones so easily.



Looking forward to the inflatable Avebury next year.

We discovered that we could get a bus to the pub where others were waiting and so walked through a light industrial estate, under railway bridges, down guinnels, by the side of the New River and past a block of white, European flats to get to Wood Green. You wouldn't think the N8-N22 backstreets would be pleasant but it was delightful in the early evening sunshine. We went to the Brownswood, and sat in the beer garden with wine and salad and friends and presents and later on, jazz players, chocolate cake, party poppers and fire-eaters. Nice of them to put all that on just for David.




* not his actual birthday,
millionreasons: (cake)
All week, the weather forecast has indicated rain on Saturday. Are you sure you want to cycle from Cambridge? I asked David repeatedly throughout the week. Wendy says it's going to be fine, he huffed. I believe what Wendy says. In the end the weather capitulated to what I think of as The David Birthday Paradox in which it always says it's going to rain and it's always hot and sunny (I'm unsure if Wendy is aware of this).

Dave set off at some un-birthday hour and I a long time after, cycling up the Lea River to meet him at Waltham Cross, although I only made it to the end of the A-Z (Enfield Lock), based on my assumption that the faster I cycled, the longer I'd have to do so. Once past Stonebridge Lock, the dog-walkers and joggers evened out and I had the towpath to myself, only the occasional fisher-dad & bored kids, and solitary male cyclists who tipped me the wink. I never knew I was so attractive to men in lycra (well, two of them).



As ever, I loved the mix of industry and rurality, the incineration plant and the kayakers, the ponies and pylons, blackberries and the bus depot, the sheep on the top of covered reservoirs. Between Tottenham and Enfield is pure suburban hinterland and I feel very at home there. Met David who gave me some cashew nuts and his sunglasses and we cycled back to Clapton, huffing and puffing up the hill in Springfield Park.

A shower, scrambled eggs and birthday presents later we went out t'pub to meet a motley crew of various drinkers and their offspring and stayed there for the next 7 hours or so on the real ales and the rather nice food. I was quite surprised at one point that no-one (I asked) knew who the Chartists were. The hophead beer makes me forget why I started this conversation but I was reasonably shocked that a bunch of intelligent/educated/leftish people weren't aware of the Chartist movement; I thought they were a household name like the Suffragettes or Hitler*.

Please note that I don't assume a sense of superiority for having once read something about Chartism and remembered it; I stand slack-jawed in awe as people put up tents, fix dodgy wiring, understand how science works (I believe things like electricity work on magic and don't wish to be disabused of this notion), assemble ikea furniture and the like. Is my super-power to digest and retain a lot of information? If so, what am I going to do when the apocalypse comes and history ceases to matter? Swap titbits on Isambard Kingdom Brunel for food?

* Watching Coach Trip the other day, one guy said to his friend: "World War 2, that's Hitler, right? So what was World War 1? Hitler's dad?" I love Coach Trip.

***
In other news, I like this meshing of culture website.
I also like this grumpy graphic designer who seems to be involuntarily taking part in a Douglas Coupland novel (I would play Shannon in the film of the book).

January 2017

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