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January 29, 2015

Party people

Party people

I love parties. I love the meeting old friends, meeting new people, eating, drinking, dancing. Love the positivity about parties. People want to have a good time. And if they don’t, they shouldn’t come. Hosts provide the venue, the guestlist, maybe food, maybe drink,maybe music – but partygoers have an obligation to bring their party spirit and get stuck in. And get stuck in we all did. We went to a 125th birthday party. Not one individual’s birthday obviously, but the combined ages of two friends.

And what a lovely party it was; friends and family in their open plan kitchen – mountains of food, fizz and a playlist that had everyone up on their feet. One of their children gave a lovely tribute, and both responded with their usual warmth and generosity. I, of course, churned out an Ode…

 

Ode on the Occasion of the 125th

So here we are all gathered round

To celebrate two dates

The birthdays of these two young pups,

Our fabulous two mates.

There’s Gerald, Mr Stevens,

Half English and half Mick

Brought up in lovely Twickenham,

But born in Hampton (Wick?)

And Julia, lovely Julia,

Half English and half Jock,

She couldn’t wait to leave old Kent

And don a nurse’s frock

Now Gerald loved adventure

‘Over the wall’ to overseas,

An economics graduate

He wandered as he pleased

Returned at last and set to work,

In computing – he adored

His universal knowledge makes

Him Ealing’s motherboard.

Meanwhile our lively Julia,

A student nurse at George’s

Spent most time dating different lads

She could – she’s bloody gorgeous

They were worlds apart but then one night

Nurse Mary thought she would

Take Gerald to a party and it

Changed their lives for good.

They met across a crowded room,

To the booming strains of Wham

He looked long and deep in to her eyes and

Said “I am your man.”

“But we’ve only met this evening,

There’s so much that is unknown”

But Gerald pulled her close and said

  He could fix her pleasure dome.

A whirlwind courtship then ensued

Engagement and a marriage

Bet Julia did the organising and

Gerald arranged a carriage

They moved to leafy Hanwell

In 1987

The same year the birth of Richard,

Their first joyous gift from heaven

Then Edward three years later,

And Bella number three

Their love and pride exemplified

In their perfect family.

They’ve always loved to socialise

Their friends are far and wide

Dinners, picnics, parties

Their arms are open wide

Julia is a stop out

Be it theatre, dance or bars

Whereas Gerald has much expertise

In doing up old cars

They are giving, they are thoughtful,

Their hearts are made of gold

So here’s to birthday 125

Who knew they were so old?

Please raise your glasses, sound a cheer,

Let the trumpets sound a herald,

A toast to two most magnificent folk,

Our Julia and our Gerald.

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I was born to the strains of Radio 4, had graduate parents , am a qualified professional, went to a privileged boarding school in the sixth form, love goats cheese and caramelised onions, have a Mercedes and a “runaround”, a flat in central London, love the theatre and think Marks and Sparks has gone downhill but still love John Lewis. Believe me, cut me and I bleed  a nice Rioja like the  middleclass stereotype I am.

But what the Hell gives middle class women in Ealing the belief that they have the God given right to park right next to the door in Waitrose.? They aren’t going to walk any further than they can possibly help. Oh no, they will turn in and SIT there, letting the queue build up back in to the road behind them as they wait for someone to vacate a space in the first row.

I have to say the car park is one of the most badly designed I have ever seen (second only to Harry Tuffin’s multistorey in Knighton ) as the entrance is at the door to the shop so then one has to drive away from the shop to find a space. Psychologically this is mortifying for those who do not want to use their legs. It would be much more sense to enter as far away as possible and move towards the shop. But the design is what it is. And the twatty women with their bobbed hair in their big Mercedes roar up and halt, blocking the entire entrance to the car park and not allowing anyone else to move. They’d rather wait for 5 minutes in one spot than park 100 metres away and have to walk.

Horns usually start going but it is pointless because everyone else in the Waitrose car park can’t fucking drive either.They edge forward, desperate to see a spot that won’t mean they have to put one foot in front of the other for more than 20 meters.  I mean, they’ve worked hard for the privilege to be able to get the best spot in the car park. Surely there should spaces  designated specifically for them? Like parent and baby or disabled there should be one marked “Nice part-time working Mums in a bit of a hurry to get to their facial”.

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One Saturday night we went to our local restaurant Charlotte’s Place to celebrate hubby’s birthday. We have been a few times over the years but it has never really done it for me. Mostly because of the lack of atmosphere, although when a load of us took over the downstairs for a birthday celebration then it was buzzing.
But it gets great write ups – has won some award for best local restaurant- and we want to support it. Have to say hubby has always been a big fan and we all know he is the connoisseur of cuisine in our house.
 
Pollen Street Social is the darling of the critics, a restaurant for those who know about food and everyone wants to go there. But the real reason I put them together is that both of them miss the mark when it comes to service and to some extent atmosphere although we had great times at both.

The food is “technically good” in both places, (better in Pollen Street) but that is not enough for me. It is a given that we want good food. What elevates a meal to a fabulous occasion is the service. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what Pollen Street did wrong – the reception staff were friendly, realxed and welcoming – excellent indeed. But the waiting staff too formal. Trying too hard perhaps. No real engagement and interaction. A lack of individuality.

Whereas Charlotte’s Place went the extra mile to stun me with their disinterest in service. That is a bit harsh as our food waitress was OK, it was the sommellier that left me with my mouth open. She opened our bottle of champagne behind hubby’s head, poured herself a quarter of a wine glass, tasted it and then asked if hubby would like to taste. I said that she could tell us what it was like as she’d just tasted it. “Of course. I wouldn’t want to give you anything that wasn’t perfect.” I didn’t want to ruin the atmosphere that evening by complaining, but I have never ever had my bottle of champagne tasted for me. I don’t remember ever having a wine waiter drink my wine ( altho hubby says it has happened a couple of times when decanting a red – but then just a tiny spot). After she’d poured our glasses, she then took the remains of what she’d poured herself upstairs.
Now, I’ve had them smell corks, but never take a good portion. So I wrote to Charlotte’s Place to complain. I see it as a sign that they don’t really want feedback as you can’ t even email direct from their website let alone leave a public comment. So old school snail mail it was. And give them their due they rang me back. But there was no real interest in my experience – apparently that is the correct way to do it, and the person who rang me is a sommellier himself with 10 years experience and this is how they do it all good restaurants. It is the correct way. And our wine waitress had come with him from his last place and was excellent. So I must be wrong. Funny she didn’t do it for any of the subsequent bottles then. Funny how she didn’t simply explain this is the way we are taught to do it. Funny how she didn’t smile all evening or try to engage with us. It is a cold impersonal place because the staff are not a happy bunch.
Anyway, they have marked our account so that next time we’ll get a free round of drinks. Next time? You must be joking.

We all know I like to go out. Alot. I like to do stuff, meet new people, meet friends, eat, drink and be merry. Some may say I’d go to the opening of an envelope if it came with a chance of any of the above. And they might be right. But that isn’t why Thursday night found me at the launch of a fabulous new shop in Ealing Broadway. No, I went to support a friend who makes unique cards and pictures and who is integral to this new venture. It’s called AllOriginal and sells handmade gifts from a wide variety of artists, many of whom are local.
I love local community stuff. Especially because there is a stereotype of London being unfriendly. But I think it’s just like everything else – you get out what you put in. So I set off to the opening with a friend I had made from the gym. We both have the same mutual artisitic friend who makes the cards. And on the way there we bump in to another mate from the gym. Only she is nursing fatigue and trying to get over a chest infection, so we don’t get too close. But I love bumping in to people I know. Perhaps it’s my small town upbringing coming out in me.
AllOriginal is where Baby e used to be on Ealing Green (past Carluccio’s). And it looks lovely – all white and the same “clean but with an industrial twist” look to the shelving that Baby e had. There are lots of bags, jewellery, pottery, cards, purses, gifty things. All original. And there is some fizz to help celebrate the opening and to help us open our purses. And of course I oblige by buying some 3 pairs of ear rings, a purse, a bag and a picture. Couldn’t help myself.

allOriginal earrings

allOriginal earrings

And there in this throng of oestrogen is one of son’s flatmates, who is there in a work capacity as his employer (Orchards the Estate Agents) is sponsoring the evening and plying me with fizz.
Hope he’ll do the same the next time I pop round to their flat!

Weekend dining

February 11, 2013

I was out for dinner Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last week so we thought we’d eat in on Saturday. I suggested I cook a risotto or some pasta but hubby was fancying Chinese takeaway, and the one on our road is under new management so let’s give it a try. Anything would be better than suffering my cooking!
Unfortunately it was inedible. Well, that’s a tad harsh. The cauliflower tempura were not in a light batter as I’d expected, but just cauliflower with tiny bits of chilli and seasoning sprinkled over them. Hmmm. The beef in black bean and chilli sauce was ok. Ish.
Meanwhile husband said the squid was tasteless and the chicken exorable. He couldn’t eat it. Could I make risotto instead? This last comment tells you all you need to know about the depths the Chinese had obviously plumbed. Husband actually asked me to cook him something. I think it is a first.
Then the next day we met up with sister and her partner and had lunch at the Duke of Kent (again). In a similar vein to the previous evening, I had offered to cook but it was declined, opting to go out instead. I could take it personally but I don’t because in fact it was really good to simply sit and chat and have it all delivered.
And I did something I have never ever done before. And I felt guilty, and naughty and it felt wrong. But I liked it.
I ordered a Yorkshire pudding with my pork. I know, I know. It is so wrong. My mother would be spinning in her grave. Yorkshires only go with beef. Full stop. But I was led in to temptation by the menu suggesting I could ‘add a Yorkie’. So I did. I am weak and I have sinned, but it was worth it. Yum. Actually the whole roast was good. Good cracking, tender pork, nice veg – red cabbage, sweet potatoe, beans and more. Others reported similarly for the beef and lamb. The Rioja slipped down a treat too.

Check out the Kent's whacky chandelier made of wine glasses.

Check out the whacky chandelier made of wine glasses.

Puddings didn’t get the thumbs up quite so heartily although the evidence showed a damn fine attempt to clear plates so they can’t have been tooo awful. But the apple crumble did look like the crumble had been added on top afterwards and not cooked with the fruit, the ice cream had melted all over the lemon tart so it had obviously been standing awhile, and the jam roly poly was solid. Really solid.
I had cheese which had a refreshing apple, lovely raisin bread, crackers, yummy stilton and a goats cheese plus a couple of bland brie-like ones I could have done without (but didn’t of course!). Would have preferred a tangy cheddar to offset that lovely apple. But all in all a good lunch, with great friendly service in an unpretentious environment. And the company was good too!

Hello hello hello

February 8, 2013

What a week it’s been so far and it’s only Friday morning. Wednesday evening out at the Grazing Goat in central London – the fairly regular meeting of a bunch of us that met whilst working on a particular drug. Very hard working, and one of the best teams to be in. A lot of fun, a lot of collaboration and support, and a lot of output. Anyway, we are all doing different things – one retired, one on a break, one Consulting and running her own beauty business, and one climbing ever higher in his field.
We had a great evening of chat, food and drink and we are all in awe of the one behind http://www.aureliaskincare.com/
I mean people have ideas and dreams but she has made it a reality in a short space of time. That’s the incredible bit. To actually DO it. People talk of running their own business, doing B and B, setting up an agency, whatever. But so few put their money where their mouth is and risk it all to actually make it happen. And she has. And it’s all fabulous (yes, she brought us samples!). Have to say I’ve had sneak previews and been using it for a while and am a complete convert. Eve Lom and Liz Earle move over – Aurelia and her probiotics are taking over!
When there were only two of us left we were joined by our son and his mate who had been to the Opera. Unfortunately by the time they arrived glowing with enthusiasm for the opera itself and the Byron burger they’d had afterwards, the bar was shut so it was cab home.

Last night saw me at what is fast becoming my regualr haunt – the Duke of Kent. Not my choice this time but that of a friend who suggested we get a bite and a bottle (two as it turned out) that very same evening. Great! Thursday morning had started with no expectation of going out and now there was catch-up conversation and food to boot.

Unfortunately the day was not all joy as whilst I drove in to Ealing Broadway to the solicitor’s office I was stopped by a traffic cop on his big motorbike. He made me pull over and park right outside Carluccio’s. “On the double yellows?” I asked “Indeed Madam”. Basically he’d seen me put my seat belt on as I had turned on to the Uxbridge Road from St Leonard’s. So obviously I hadn’t had it on the whole time. He was incredibly nice and polite and friendly, but the North West Traffic team have been tasked with Ealing for the next few weeks and are on zero tolerance. I mean, I have no defence. Stupid and dangerous to not put the seat belt on. Even if only 400 yards from home. I wasn’t going to try to wheedle out of it.

And so I am standing there in the street being lectured to by the copper and now panicking about whether the car is MOT’ed, insured, taxed. These kind of things can easily slip in my disorganised world, and he says they are on a mission. An immediate six point penalty for no insurance. His PDA is taking forever to find me and the car and a friend walks by showing sympathy but keeping well out of it. Eventually he asks if I have ever lived in S18. “SW18″, I said, “About 25 years ago”. There is a record of a motoring offence for someone with my exact name and date of birth at S18. Luckily he is happy to put it down to coincidence and I am not interrogated further. The car is clean, but I am to be fined. No penalty points thank goodness, but £60 or appeal to court.

I park the car and bump in to another friend. “I can’t stop,” I say, “I’ve got to catch the solicitor’s office before it shuts.” “Christ,” she responds, “You don’t waste any time. I only saw you with the copper about ten minutes ago!” So much for anonymity in London.

Middle class rant coming on

January 15, 2013

I am not a natural housekeeper. It’s a strength I would love to have but don’t. I love to come home to a tidy, sparkling house that smells of polish and fresh flowers. And luckily we earn enough to employ a cleaner. Our current one is great – a whirlwind who does whatever she wants no matter what I say. She is trustworthy, reliable and does a much better job than me. And I am fine with empl;oying someone to do my dirty work – it’s what makes the world go round.

But  we have had a variable quality of cleaners  over the years, but sometimes  I wonder if there is a conspiracy going on. Do they actually  all have shares in paper towel factories? What is it with insisting I buy paper towels for them to use and going through them at about the rate of two a week?? What the fuck is that about? I’ve come to the position now where I refuse. I never use them for cleaning – happy with dusters, cloths, old towels, old pillowcases that get washed in the machine and re-used. No need for endless paper towels.

Then there’s the Pledge or Mr Sheen. Used for everything. Where I would use Cif or Astonish and a damp cloth, they use Pledge and a light wipe. I have had to demonstrate the effectiveness of a bit of elbow grease and a pot of Astonish cleaner to show them that the mantelpiece, the shutters, the painted woodwork all comes up much cleaner if they’d use it. Even after they have allegedly polished it with Pledge. They nod in their Eastern European way and simply ignore me. Admittedly Pledge leaves the smell of polish whereas Astonish is unscented, so perhaps it is a way of making sure I know they’ve been. But to be honest, some of them were as effective at cleaning as if they’d squirted the Pledge in the air.

And of course there’s Viakal. The limescale remover. Used by the gallon. God knows what for, but even our local Waitrose has huge shelf space devoted to it compared to ten years ago. Apparently Viakal is the only decent one so my current cleaner tells me. I’d probably used one bottle in the ten years running up to 2004 , then about one a month since then.

Then of course there is the inability to look up. Becuase the majority of our cleaners have been eastern european and none of them have yet managed to understand I would like the picture rails cleaned and the cobwebs removed from high places. I just don’t think they see them.

I have written notes and explanations, requests and tried demonstrating. But I get nowhere. I don’t have the time to spend the day cleaning as I would like it done every week, but have spent time writing it down so they can take it home and have it translated if need be. All I want is a proper, deep clean of one room each week (that means picture rails and skirting boards and moving the sofa and every picture and ornament cleaned not just knocked out of place), and the rest of the house kept on top of. So over the period of a few months, every room would have been properly cleaned. All the cupboards would be emptied and cleaned and restocked. The wardrobes would be cleaned inside and out. Under the beds would be hoovered and cleared. But have I ever managed to get a cleaner to do this? No.

Then there have been the ones who would happily do the ironing. It was meant to be an extra if they had time after they’d finished the cleaning. But one of them much preferred it to cleaning so would opt to iron instead. Unfortunately she was so slow that hardly much of anything would be done. I had to send the ironing out to be done as I couldn’t leave it in the house or she would opt to do it and not bother cleaning. No matter what I said. She had to go.

What all our cleaners have been great at is tidying. Although the kids have torn their hair out of the years as they can’t find things or receipts have been thrown away. For me, it is a price worth paying that I sometimes can’t find stuff.  I have never been part of the brigade that you have to tidy up before the cleaner comes so they can clean. I only employ those that are prepared to tidy up too. The current one has suddenly got in to tidying the airing cupboard and the towels and sheets are in regimented rows. It looks great. Better that than tackle the picture rails I suppose….

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