11th January 2011
First of all let me wish all of you a belated HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope that 2011 brings you all that you could reasonably hope for. I’m hoping to get fit again, but that won’t happen if I just sit here on my behind all day…
The New Year began quietly – a few hours in the evening with the local campanologists (look it up). Campanology is something I used to be quite active in before I moved to France. Since coming back to the UK I have joined the team for their weekly practice night whenever I’m not travelling. They are a nice bunch of people and very welcoming of a bit of new blood into the band, albeit rusty blood. But I am surprised about how much I can remember.
Hobbies do provide a great way to make friends in a strange town. There is always a common language to share and stories to relate which are linked to the hobby. One of the ringers in the team is very interested in astronomy – a past president of the British Astronomical Society no less – and has his own observatory in his back garden. The cosmos is something else that has fascinated me since childhood. The vastness of space causes my brain to blow fuses at times.
I’m rambling again. At 23:30 on New Year’s Eve we climbed the tower and rang the bells half-muffled. Without going into technical details of how this is done, the sound of the bells goes from “Ding-Ding-Ding-Ding-Ding-Ding, Ding-Ding-Ding-Ding-Ding-Ding” etc. to “Ding-Ding-Ding-Ding-Ding-Ding, Mfff-Mfff-Mfff-Mfff-Mfff-Mfff” or something like that. Just before midnight the muffles came off and at 00:00 we rang the bells again, but this time at full volume with cries of “Happy New Year!” amongst us. We made sure that the entire town was awake to celebrate the New Year…
This week Man, Dog and I went up to the north-east of England for a few days to visit family. I fancied a short break from cooking so we ate mainly take-aways in our very charming rented cottage. You cannot imagine the junk we ate. I’m ashamed, but it is good for my soul to confess what we ate.
Day 1: Fish and Chips, because there was nowhere else open (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it)
Day 2: Indian Ready Meal from Sainsbury’s where I enjoyed a rather pleasant Prawn Masala. We would have had an Indian Ready Meal from Asda except that the choices were Chicken Tikka Masala, Chicken Vindaloo, Chicken Madras, Chicken Saag, Butter Chicken, Chicken Korma, Chicken Bhuna and Chicken Jalfrezi. Where were the veggie or fish options??? Hello Asda! You can cook Desi food with things other than chicken!
Day 3: Pizza at my step-daughter’s home.
Day 4: Pre-packed Spinach and Ricotta Tortellini with a tomato-ey pasta sauce and a tikka naan. No, really! The naan was rather delicious actually.
Day 5: King Prawn Foo Yung with an infeasibly large pile of chips from the nearby Chinese takeaway (which also happened to be the local Fish and Chip shop, hence the chips). The chips were by default, not by desire!
Oh the shame! Oh the embarrassment! Oh the pounds I have gained!
My diet started yesterday, by which I mean no take-aways and no snacking….
21st January 2011
I can’t believe we are two-thirds of the way through January already!
This week I went on my first business trip of 2011 – a two-nighter in Neu Isenburg, just outside Frankfurt in Germany. The drive to Birmingham airport was very straightforward, however refuelling the hire car before dropping it off proved slightly more problematic. As I pulled the nozzle from the pump a cupful of liquid splashed out and onto my jeans. Wonderful. Now I would have to spend the rest of the day wandering round wearing the great smell of Diesel, by Total.
For such a short trip I don’t usually pack a lot, and certainly no more clothes than I imagine I can wear during the trip. In the toilets at Birmingham airport I tried to wash some of the stain out with hand-soap and a pile of toilet paper. I succeeded only in creating a large dark wet patch on my jeans which was covered in tiny bits of tissue. I couldn’t even dry my thigh under the hot-air drier because it was too high.
And so it was that I boarded the plane, looking like I had had an embarrassing accident and smelling like a car mechanic.
I met up with a few of my team for the evening. Teresa from the UK was already there, but both Sona (Czech Republic) and Véronique (France) had also flown in. My colleagues had decided that we would all go to somewhere called Living XXL in downtown Frankfurt next to the European Central Bank. The idea is simple. You pay 7 Euros to get in, eat something from the buffet, then at 8pm the music starts…
It’s been a few years since I was last in a nightclub, and I’ve certainly never been in a German nightclub before. I had imagined in my crazy head that the music would be mostly Kraftwerk, with a few songs such as Aha’s “Take On Me” thrown in for good measure. As it turned out, I was quite disappointed. Mostly 80′s UK and American hits were played, often slightly speeded up, and always with a very strong over-dubbed bass booming out. The bass beat was so strong that often it was hard to hear the tune and therefore identify the song. And it was so LOUD that I was starting to wonder if you could use a bass like that as a weapon. I’m sure that with a few more turns on the dial the music would have shaken my insides out through my ribcage.
My colleagues seemed somewhat unphased by the loudness, but Veronique and I shoved small bits of paper serviettes into our ears to try and protect what little of our hearing we have left.
At 10 pm we decided enough was enough and we went to get a taxi. I was glad to get away from the feeling of being inside a bass drum, but a smile started to grow on my face just as we were leaving. The reason? “Take On Me” by Aha started to play…
I took the opportunity on my drive back back home from Birmingham airport to take a very short detour and get some meat from a halal butchers in the Indoor Market near the Bull Ring. Once again my freezer is filled with chicken, beef and lamb. This time I also bought a kilo of sheep kidneys – I quite fancy doing a Steak & Kidney Pudding in the next few weeks.
I also thought I’d try and get to a hairdressers. Betwixt car park and butchers is the large department store known as Debenhams. On the 2nd floor is a hair salon called Regis and to my joy it was empty! I was greeted by a pleasant young lady called Aroug (pronounced Arooj) who washed and cut my hair. She did a very nice job and I was pleasantly surprised at the price. I’d become used to paying twice that much in Geneva!
I hated going to the hairdressers in Geneva. There was a salon conveniently close to the office and I would go there during a lunch break to get my hair cut. There were three hairdressers in the salon, but I always seemed to get the Italian guy. He was pleasant enough, but he would insist on talking to me in French with an incredibly heavy Italian accent whilst blow-drying my hair. I had absolutely no idea what he was saying to me, and even when the hair drier was turned off I was guessing most of the time. Today was different. Today I could have a conversation with the hairdresser for the first time in over 7 years!
So, if you’re in Birmingham and fancy getting your hair cut, pop in and say “Hi” to Aroug!
28th January 2011
It’s been a busy week this week, and I suspect this blog may be on the longer side of my average length.
Last weekend Man, Dog and I paid a visit to Mr B and… er… his-female-companion-that-shall-henceforth-be-known-as-G! Mr B splits his time between a home in the West Midlands and a home in a tiny village in North Wales. Food and Films are most often on the agenda when we get together and this weekend was no exception. I’ll come to the food in a minute, but we were treated to Mr B’s recently installed Home Cinema setup in glorious HD on a 92” (2.3metres) screen. Gasp! The only things missing were the Pearl & Dean adverts and the lady in the corner with her torch and tray of ice cream tubs (for those who are old enough to remember such things before the days of mulitplex cinemas).
Over the weekend we were treated to “Spiderman” – a film which I had not seen before – assorted episodes of Stingray (“anything can happen in the next half hour!”), and Tarantino’s latest offering “Inglorious B******s”. I find that most of Tarantino’s films start out entirely credible and gripping, but then towards the end the plot goes a bit… silly and everyone dies in a hail of bullets or some other extreme act of violence. IB is no different…
Back to food. There can’t be too many Thai restaurants in North Wales, but we visited one on Saturday night. The Thai Harbwr restaurant in Porthmadog is a small and friendly place serving very good Thai food. I went for a starter of vegetarian spring rolls with sweet chilli and plum sauces, and a main course of Krathiam Phrik Thai, delicious king prawns cooked with (amongst other things) coriander root. The place hasn’t been open long, but I can definitely recommend it if you are in the area.
Mr B and I joined forces on Sunday night to create a Desi feast. We made a mountain of chicken biryani with some spinach added for good measure, a Bhindi Aloo Bhaji (because Mr B had bought some okra and I had brought some spuds to use up), and a pile of chapattis – I rolled ‘em, he cooked ‘em. I set the camera in the corner of his kitchen and left it running while we cooked. Now I have to review an hour and a half of footage to see if I can make a video out of it!
Sea Bass à la Holiday Inn
I was back in Geneva again this week on business. It’s that time of the year when everyone gets an annual appraisal. I got mine from my boss and gave my systems-guru Yannick her review also. Yannick presented me with a book to read. It’s called “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. It tells the true story of Greg’s work in building schools in remote villages in mountainous Northern Pakistan. If you’ve not read it I can definitely recommend it to you! I’ve read about one-third already and I’m not a great reader of books.
During my visit I called in on the old house to check that everything was OK. Someone had stuck a piece of paper on the front door with the word “VENDU” (sold) in large, friendly letters, even though technically I still own the place. I didn’t panic, but went into the kitchen and looked on the back of the door. To my joy my cooking aprons were still hanging there! I’ve been going crazy for the last 2 months looking through every box still unpacked trying find them. They are now washed, ironed and ready to keep me from covering myself in flour, batter, or unspeakable liquids.
Apart from the obligatory “Sushi Lunch with Jen”, I had an unusually-served Sea Bass in the hotel I was staying in just over the border in France. I’ll let the picture speak for itself.
I opened my email this morning to find 55 new emails in the Junk folder, many more than usual. I’m sure you know the format of 54 of them…
I’m sure this will come as a surprise to you (Not really. I get 10 of these a day.) I am writing with my personal respect with regards to your reposed personality as a reliable, Trustworthy and God fearing. (My reposed personality? What on Earth does that mean?) I got your contact through the help a friend who works at the Chamber of Commerce in Ouagadougou the Capital of Burkina Faso. (Sure, everyone in Burkina Faso knows me and my reposed personality)
The deadly OKAPI!
In deed I am the accountant/representative of Late MR. EDWARD JOHNSON from Sierra Leone (Not THE Edward Johnson from Sierra Leone???). Mr Johnson and his entire family met with a tragic fate in 2004 when they were cornered by a pack of slightly irate okapis who proceeded to nibble them to death. I have been unable to trace any living relatives but as you share his surname (huh?) I am authorised to give you 70% of his fortune of $24 (Thirty-six) Million Dollars.
We sincerely wish to introduce and make you our Business Partner and we are prepared to send all the documents regarding to this deposit as soon as you show your concerned interest through an email response including every personal detail we can make use of to defraud you and harass you for the rest of your life. Blah, blah, blah.
It astounds me that there must be people out there who believe and fall for this stuff. Just as they fall for the other typical spam mail that says you’ve won a big prize in a lottery that you never entered. Human greed is behind many of the ills in this world. There are so many people who want to relieve you of your belongings by playing on your basic human instincts. Sadly there are people who don’t believe the old and very wise saying, “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is”.