Monday, 29 October 2007

Two Stories

1) My colleague P told me of an utterly cringeful moment she had with the security guard in our building. She had arrived at work very early and was unable to get onto our floor using her swipe card. She ended up having to go back down to get the security guard - a quiet bloke who looks like he might be West African. He was fiddling around with the door and she filled the silence with some random chater. Unfortunately she came out with "gosh, I don't know why It's not working. Perhaps I've done something wrong and now God doesn't want to let me in". To her mortification the security guard responded "Ah, nobody speaks of God any more! What church do you go to, Sister?". She stuttered something about being new to London and not really having a regular church (she's not religious at all). But he persisted and she ended up having to admit that she was just speaking flippantly. Ouch.

2) Mum was on a train waiting to depart from Liverpool Street. A world-weary Northern voice comes over the PA - it's the driver, and he's making a rather defeated-sounding announcement. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I regret to inform you that our departure will be delayed by a few minutes". Then, almost immediately after, he comes on again: "Ladies and Gentlemen I've just heard that in fact we're allowed to go. Amazing. First time in twenty four years I've got away on time from Liverpool Street. I feel so proud ... [pause] ... I've got a tear coming." Genius.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Those 25ps add up, you know

A long weekend in Venice with S, to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary. Absolute joy. All I'd ever been told about Venice was: touristy, expensive, smells in summer. What I hadn't been told was that it's utterly unlike anywhere else on Earth. It genuinely feels other-worldly. It's not just the canals, it's the buildings. Every single one has decayed to a point of decorative gothicness. Even the boring buildings are atmospheric. Even the nondescript canals are magical. Tiny little details like the stencilled street (alley?) names give it so much texture and character. Bloody loved it.

Some highlights:

A ginger gelatto made with real ginger. Actually hot, like some Fat Duck cullinary experiment (like I'd know).

A side dish of radiccio cooked and sprinkled with oil. We were having lunch on arrival at a neighbourhood bar. Excellent place - our eating companions were builders and boatmen. We felt vey vey authentic.

Frari church with its altar painting by Titian. And another Titian too, which was apparently revolutionary because it dared to place the Virgin Mary off-centre, and made the baby Jesus (or baby Cheeses according to a young relative of mine) alive and playful, tugging at his mother's shawl.

Fabulous Peggy Guggenheim Collection in a beautiful Pallazzo on the Grand Canal. Great Picasso, great Bacon, some very interesting sculptures, scores of gawky British art students manically sketching...

The Biennalle exhibition, featuring Tracy Emin's British pavillion. I have a lot of time for her and was really interested in the neon writings/sketchings. Jenny Holtzer (?) also fascinating - an instalation made of cencored reports of deaths in custody at US military bases in Iraq.

Didn't even mind that we lost the sodding rugby...

Monday, 15 October 2007


L's parents invited us to their beaudiful Camden Town abode to celebrate Joe's naming day on Sunday. He's eight months old, and broadly speaking we all know his name, but I guess the point is to welcome him into the world in a formal way. Suits me fine, actually, to take this sort of thing out of the church's evile graspe and ... do it with canapes. Yay!

To my enormous pride, they asked me to be godfather to Joe (cue interminable semantic jokes and musings about godlessparents, fairy godparents secular christenings etc yawn). Essentially neither parent is religious, neither am I, neither is the godmother. A made a very heartfelt speach about how it was just as important to them despite not being in anyway religious.

I don't really know if I struck the right note or not in my speech - I talked about how I wanted to be a godparent like my own godmother and to take Joe seriously as a person, and to listen to him (when he can talk, of course) rather than necessarily dispense loads of advice and moral guidance. Oh, and a few silly jokes about my Moral Compass building up to giving him a Wisden Almanack, arf arf.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Kings of Lyon

So we went to visit the Noz in Lyon, did Dom and I. We've both been so hectic that we hardly discussed it before we set off for the airport, let alone constructed an itinerary. It hadn't crossed my mind that the Rugby World Cup semi finals were on, and neither of us knew whether our newly-French chum would be into it or not.

Excellently, he was completely into it. We left Ms Noz and Noz junior (gorgeous little boy) at home and we headed off to The Smoking Dog in Lyon Centre Ville. Oddly despite being a "pub" and fairly British in feel, it also felt like a local creation - it was far more eccentric and individual than most British pubs.

I had absolutely no expectations of the match whatsoever, so was absolutely staggered to see Andrew Sheridan and his marvellous colleagues knocking lumps out of the Australians. Bit of a hair issue here - clearly that 'orrible tight-head prop of theirs has the worst hair of the tournament - a mullet so classic it would only meet its match in Hoxton, but our lot are a bit at sea too, I think. Most of the pack seem to be modeling their style on extras in Full Metal Jacket, and I ain't keen.

Half way through the match Noz's excellent friends Benoit and Raphael turned up. They were just brilliant people - funny, friendly, and generally top. Lots of banter and piss-taking, lots of beer too.

Having won. WON! We ambled back to pretend to be sober for a bit and then headed out again for a cracking dinner, followed by the second half of the France match in the bar downstairs. Needless to say the locals were ... ahem ... coq a hoop about it and one of 'em even bought a bottle of champagne and gave us all a glass. Marvellous.

Then, to my astonishment, we went to an nightclub. It's been years. It was fantastic. Tiny, packed little place where all you could buy was lager, in a big jug, with a stack of plastic glasses. Of course the critical thing is to share it out as fast as you can so you can ditch the jug. You're therefore incentivised to keep your chums well topped up.

When we weren't out getting minced and watching sport we hit the food market. Dom's been doing a lot of European travel for work so it had crossed my mind that he might have upgraded his usual "talk loudly in English" policy. I soon found out as Noz and I consulted discretely about the correct way to ask for a particular brie in front of the cheese stall. Dom barged through and, pointing clearly, annunciated "Hello I'll take that piece of brie please" as we stared at him, mildly aghast. The cheese man replied "yes", leading his colleague to comment "huh - bilingual".

We did get some damn fine cheese though, particulary this stuff called Cervelle des Canuts, which was local not just to Lyon but to the hill they lived on. It used to be occupied by silk workers who made this fabulous blend of cottage cheese, herbs, garlic (LOT of garlic) and white wine. Kind of a soft cheese rocket fuel.