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Dinner at Heston’s place

January 31, 2013

ski and heston 025The preparations didnt go well. Was having a hormonal hair day so thought I’d give my hair a quick wash before heading uptown to meet hubby and two of his work colleagues, one of whom I’d never met. I threw a towel round my shoulders and bent over the bath to use the shower attachment. All was going swimmingly until I tried to turn off the hot water. Suddenly I found myself holding the tap in my hand, completely detached from the mixer unit. Hot water was squirting everywhere. I desperately tried to reinsert the tap but it was having none of it and I succeeded to make the water spray in numerous directions as I did it. I tried again, using more force whilst my hair dripped in to my eyes and the boiling water poured over my hands. I used the towel in an effort to protect mysef but it was sodden in a second. There was only one thing for it. I’d have to do what I love to do. Get a man in.
Luckily there is a plumbing supply shop on our road and I caught him just as he was closing. Five minutes later two strapping men were in my bathroom with me, having seen to the stopcock outside on their way in. They assessed the problem and went off to get their tools. I don’t think they actually used any tools but felt that if they had to charge me for a callout, then they’d better make it look worthwhile. And so it was that 20 minutes later order was restored and the bathroom mopped up.
Hair dried, lipstick applied and I was in a cab in a flash. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel is dirctly opposite Harvey Nicks so had a quick squizz in the make up department as I was early. But I was keen for a pre-dinner snifter having struggled through three whole days completely alcohol-free. Up the steps to the lobby, the top-hatted doorman does his job and greets me warmly. The foyer seems filled with posh boys in pointy shoes, but I am led away towards the restaurant area. Every memebr of staff I pass smiles and says good evening. It’s a very nice feeling. I assume I am the first to arrive, but no! Our merry dining partners are already settled in with champagne cocktail. Nice. This evening is going to be goooooooood.
The little snacky things with the aperitifs are disappointing. Reminiscent of Bombay mix and hard Wotsits. I am a bit concerned this Heston is not going to live up to expectation. We are taken through to the modern, busy dining room. The light shades are inverted white jelly moulds and everything else is pretty grey.
Our waitress appears and is absolutely wonderful. She knows every bit of food on the menu and has tried them all. She is witty, pretty and passionate about food. She talks me through the ones I must avoid which includes the pork I had hoped to have, but it includes tuna flakes in it. So she goes to ask if the chef can make me a separate one and sure enough he is happy to.

How much does this look like a real mandarin orange? Amazing

How much does this look like a real mandarin orange? Amazing

My starter is the signature dish. It looks like a mandarin orange. Honestly. Absolutely perfect -the peel has those ‘pores’ and there are leaves and everything. But it isn’t a mandarin orange. It is a orange jelly coating around a wonderful pate/mousse. Everything but the leaves was edible. Even the toast with it was sublime.
Then my pork with cabbage, ham hock and Robert sauce. Gorgeous soft pork falling off my fork and wonderful proper chips to accompany it. My dessert was brown bread ice cream with salted caramel and then we all had the Heston special ice cream trolley where it is made in front of you using liquid nitrogen and topped with a variety of things like popping candy.

The nitro ice cream maker. And our waitress

The nitro ice cream maker. And our waitress

And the wine flowed and flowed. And conversation flowed and it was a great experience. Service absolutely flawless, food was great and my starter just incredible. Five stars.

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Blogger’s block

January 29, 2013

I’ve been blogging ten months now and have published 155 posts – which is roughly one every other day. And I have really enjoyed it.
But since we went away for a long weekend last Thursday, I’ve not been able to find inspiration on my return. It’s not that nothing has happened. We’ve had a fabulous break with plenty to blog about. But somehow I just can’t get the rhythm right. It normally flows out of me like wine from a bottle. Maybe that’s the problem, I’ve not had a drink since our return as am still trying to be good. Well, not good, but better. Not drinking unless out or entertaining.
And of course I find ways round it – my diary is packed with get togethers! Tomorrow sees us out for dinner, Thursday a book launch and Friday an industry awards lunch that I got in such a state at last year that my son had to pick me up from where I was wedged, incapable in our front porch. Luckily he took me upstairs and threw me on my bed.

That’s what I call good parenting.

This year I have to behave as we are going to the theatre in the evening so I cannot be completely wrecked in the stalls. Then Saturday a friend’s daughter is off to South America so that’s a good excuse for a farewell drink. See, got it all planned. Not a day without a drinking opportunity. And hopefully my drivel, rants and reminiscing will return with gusto. Whether anyone else wants them to or not!

My life in cars; part one

January 22, 2013

This was the early 60s and there were no seat belts or many rules. My father at the time had a beige Hillman Minx which I didn’t like as much as Mum’s car apart from the bench seat all the way across the front, but his number plate amused me – FM 274. I imagined it was a personalised plate and he was Farmer Morgan (as he sold grass seed to farmers) and 274 was  our real telephone number.  (Haha – just thinking about having only three numbers. Brilliant.) The bench seat meant I could sit  right next to him if Mum wasn’t in the car (she made us sit in the back) and he’d let me change gear when he pressed the clutch in.
We were a two car family as Dad bought Mum a Morris Minor convertible – GUT 200.
When we moved away from Scotland Dad had a bigger job and got a bigger car. A big green Zephyr. JHR something, but I can’t remember. It was manual but had the gearstick coming out of the steering wheel. It was so cool. Big and boxy and loads of room to play in with my mates. Which we did lots. Mum still had a Morris Minor, but hard top this time – XVJ 514. Not as fun as the convertible, but again great for playing in.
Then Dad’s boss left or something like that and we got his purple Ford Zodiac. Another oversized car and this time an automatic. Dad didn’t like it so I didn’t either.
In the mean time I was going out in to the night watching rallies through the forest. Getting to hear conversations about RS1600s, watching Timo Makkinen win the RAC rally, lusting after Mini Cooper Ss, and generally staying out all night with an excuse my mother thought acceptable. If only she knew.
Then I left home and came back to learn to drive before I went to University. My father at this time was a Sales and Marketing Director so still had a company car. But he was the one always telling the fleet of salesmen not to let learner drivers use their cars so he asked on of his Regional Managers to teach me. He turned up not in his wife’s car as anticipated, but in the company Granada. My father turned away saying he hadn’t seen and we set off to Radnor Forest where Mel taught me clutch control by making me balance on a steep hill and play with the clutch and accelerator until I understood the biting point. Then he got me to reverse and allowed me to smash in to a gate post just to learn what it feels like. He didn’t care. It was a company car after all.
Then we set off and he would tell me to go as fast as I possibly could on the straight, urging me to put my foot to the floor. I was terrified at 20 mph but I was in a deserted forest so was safe enough really. But he would be shouting ‘Faster, faster’. His father had been a policemen and taught advanced driving skills so he thought he would see which type of teaching I preferred; continuous commentary telling me what to do, or only interjecting when necessary. I opted for the latter after a few sessions of the former. Then I got some lessons with a proper instructor as I needed to use a car for the test and wasn’t insured on the company ones. I had a woman with a Ford Escort.
She turned up to take me to the test in a different car. An estate. Still a Ford so still easy to drive. On the way to my test in December, just home from first term at Uni, I went in to a full blown skid as I rounded a corner. It was a great place to have your first skid as she just told me to keep my feet off the pedals and steer in to it. I wouldn’t have known what to do and would have instinctively hit the brakes I imagine. All was well and we continued to Ludlow with hearts pounding. I had to take the test 20 miles away as there were no roundabouts or traffic lights in the whole county at that time.
I was the first test after lunch a few days before Christmas. Monday 19th. The examiner was a big bloke and was obviously the worse for wear. We set off and I turned left. My back wheels mounted the pavement. I reversed round the corner and ended up with my nose half way across the road. I simply realigned myself and did it again without asking. My back wheels continued to mount pavements. We came to the questions at the end. “What are pavements for?” “Pedestrians” “Yes, not your back wheels.” It was a perfect opening for me to tell him I’d never driven the car before. He told me he’d seen me in town last week in it. I said that would have been my sister who was due for her test in two days time.
Then he asked me “What does a pretty girl like you need to drive for anyway? You’ll always get someone to drive you.” Did I raise my feminist hackles? Did I try to put him straight on the equality of the sexes? Did I buggery. Sitting in my short skirt and my skinny rib polo neck barely containing my heaving breasts, I was able to feed him the perfect line, “Oh, I’m going to be a doctor so I need to be able to drive to see patients. “

My natural habitat for a Saturday night

My natural habitat for a Saturday night

It’s just not right. It’s not natural. Being in on a Saturday night unless you’re entertaining or got small kids to look after. But so it was we found ourselves in this position last night. I would just like to point out that we were a victim of circumstance and not that we had planned it this way. We were meant to be out at friends having beautiful food, wine and scintillating converation. Instead, the closure of Heathrow due to snow meant my husband was still travelling through the South of England on Eurostar on Saturday morning and one of our hosts was stuck in Jersey until Sunday. Nightmare.
So I thought I’d better pop to Waitrsoe to buy us some food. Oh my God it was mayhem. The queue for the car park started way back at the traffic lights. The car park was set up as for Christmas madness with cones blocking various cut throughs. The drivers were as atrocious and lazy as they always are. Waitrose shoppers believe they have a God-given right to park within ten metres of the front door and will wait for a space and block the entire car park rather than drive on and have to walk fifty metres.
Inside the shop was no better. There was panic buying. Cupboard-stocking. Shelves cleared of goods. People rammed in the aisles. I got to the checkout and the queues were three deep. I asked a passing supervisor if they could open more tills. “Lots of our staff couldn’t get in today Madam”. I found that somewhat surprising as London transoprt was working. Think it was more a case of lazy gits thinking they have a ‘right’ to take time off if it’s slightly more difficult to get to work.
But I got the supplies.
Unfortunately the pork, sage and bean casserole was pretty tasteless so that wasn’t a good start to the evening. Then, despite us having every single fucking channel possible, there was nothing on telly that I could see, but husband thought the snooker might be worth watching as he continued to do the crossword. As ever, I was minimal help on the cryptic clue-solving. I trawled our DVD collection in desperation. “Crying with laughter” still sealed and an “Edinburgh-noir comedy thriller” sounded right up our street. So loaded it.
Have to confess now nether my husband or I can work our very posh telly. We always get the kids to do the DVDs n shit as we can’t. And oh how much did I want one of them last night. Or any of our previous housemates.Basically we needed some youth in the room. I could not get rid of the subtitles. I tried everything. Asking it to use French subtitles, asking it to hear the director’s commentary, switching everything on and off numerous times. But nothing worked. After 30 minutes I didn’t want to see the stupid fucking film anyway and husband had abandoned the room with his crossword.

I found Atonement. Both seen it before, but I felt it bore repeating. And it did. Salvaged the evening by being a four star movie and me weeping openly.
Then there was still time for the final frames of the snooker before bed.

So, I need to buy a mobile wifi device. Not a dongle but one that creates your very own wireless hotspot and allows 5 devices to connect at any one time. But I only want to use it every now and again so think perhaps pay as you go rather than contract. Google comes up with a plethora of information and I am drowned in a sea of meaningless contracts and GBs. 3G, 4G, 5Live. It’s all above my paygrade.  My last encounter with a phone shop (O2 in Ealing) left me reeling from the aggression, unhelpfulmness and rudeness of the overweight girl who “served” me. (See how I got an irrelevant personal comment in there – shows how pissed off I was. I revert to being ten and trading insults.) But at least she didn’t get the sale (an iphone) as I took my business elsewhere. (OK, asked daughter to go the apple store and buy one as I was too bamboozled).

So with trepidation I clicked on the Three website to start seeing what they offered. I need to be prepared before facing the shop.  And there I saw a little message “Need help? Chat to an advisor”. So I did and “Janet” appeared in a pop-up window. I put it in inverted commas because Janet is such a vintage English name. No-one under 40 is called Janet. And this Janet did not have a real grasp of English. I only found this out after I requested she stopped cutting and pasting her responses as this does not constitute ‘chat’. I would ask a question and every response would be three or four lines and not really answer my question. And she kept on and on asking me the postcode of where I was going to use it and I told her central London, W1. She needed more information. I said central London is fine for coverage, I’m not worried about it. But she wouldn’t let it lie. Meanwhile I am asking about how many GB I should opt for – what’s average use? I just have no idea. And she doesn’t answer, but sends me a link to a 40 page price package indicator. Grr. This really isn’t making things easier. So I ask again about average use for emails, surfing, listening to music….  And she asks me my postcode. And “Are you with me?” WTF? I said “Where?” As I understood it this was virtual reality. If I had been with her I’d’ve called her manager over by now.

But I do think online ‘chat’ is a great idea, but it has to be ‘chat’.   Not cumbersome company-speak. Real person-to-person interaction. Just as if we were really talking. Otherwise I might as well go to FAQ page myself becuase if you aren’t going to actually listen to what I’m asking and just provide me with a generic answer it actually ends up putting me off your company rather than thinking you understand your customers.

This recent online ‘chat’  left me thinking I know more than her about mobile wifi. Which is a scary thought as I know fuck all.

Quartet

January 18, 2013

Lovely midweek evening out with female friends. Four of us whizzed home from work, quick change and out to Waterman’s Arts Centre. It is one of the most underwhelming venues in one of the loveliest locations – right on the river Thames opposite Kew Gardens.
It has been an institution for the 25 years we have lived in Ealing and serves the community with theatre, films, music and classes. It used to be a great music and quiz venue but despite its recent refurbishment is still a grim building and not one you want to spend more time in than necessary.
However, we had booked to eat in the Indian restaurant within it. Horrendous tables and chairs in a stark arrangement but surprisingly nice food and the wine of course slipped down a treat. Just the chat and the meal would have been a great evening out but there was more!
We were actually there to see Quartet – Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut which tells the story of the residents of a retirement home for ex- musicians. We have Maggie Smith and her withering looks, Pauline Collins as the sweet, loving dement, Billy Conolly who’s mild stroke has disinhibited him, Tom Courtney, Michael Gambon and the list of stars goes on and on. A very easy, Sunday afternoon movie; trite, cheesy, fairly slow, predictable and shallow story but some humour, lovely snippets of opera and other songs, and poignancy made it perfect fare for my Thursday evening. Although I did have to nudge one of my mates to stop her snoring.
Three stars.

Had a hard day pounding Oxford Street and want a rest with a nice bite to eat but don’t want to go to an anonymous chain? Try the Grazing Goat on New Quebec Street. Just north of Marble Arch.

Old pub with a modern feel. Lots of scrubbed wood and friendly efficient staff, tables packed in tight, locals standing drinking after or during work. And standard pub fare but posher. So all the classics, but with feta, sundried tomoatoes and an occasional risotto thrown in. Book a table in advance if you can. It gets busy. Four stars.

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