Sunday, November 30, 2008

Poetic Inspiration in South Molton Street

For me, one of the real pleasures of walking in London (when I'm not in a rush) is in making little unexpected historical or cultural discoveries. I've known South Molton Street since I was a teenager but last week, ambling down there en route to Piccadilly, I happened to look upwards (a good thing to do in London, if you're interested in architectural detail). Outside number 17, I noticed an impressive blue plaque that I hadn't seen before and was surprised to discover that Georgian poet, lyricist and illustrator, William Blake had lived there.

The discovery led to me to investigate further and I learnt that he was born in London - in what is now Broadwick Street (off Oxford Street, towards Tottenham Court Road). For some reason I had always imagined him as more of a Counties boy. To discover more about the man and his works, or to revive school-day memories, it's worth exploring his society's website.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Early Christmas - Part One

Christmas season started early for me this year - inadvertently! Just over a week ago (sorry I'm a bit late in telling you...) I was invited to a celebration of Christmas, in London's sedately elegant Jermyn Street. Happily, it was closed-off to traffic so - even though it's not the most traffic-driven street in the vicinity - it enhanced the pleasurable evening's experience. All the local shops participated, some holding invitation-only events and others making it open-house, generously offering all- comers enticing festive tasters including Champagne, mince pies, port and Stilton. There was a happy atmosphere amongst the bustling crowds, on this traditional street of sartorial elegance, with enthusiasm moderated by mature well-mannered restraint, tolerance and friendly conversation.

One of the highlights for me (even though I'm not renowned as a major car enthusiast) was the impressive display of (stationary) classic cars. The MGs were especially alluring - I completely fell for a rare, pale bluebell-hued, early model. The shops that particularly impressed me were Czech & Speake and Paxton & Whitfield. If you're not already familiar with the street, treat yourself to a little wander there - when you're next in the area - it's a great antidote to the mayhem and predictability of the surrounding high streets.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Beware Welsh road signs

Did you hear (or see) the recent one about the Welsh road sign? In English it informed drivers: No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only. Beneath was the Welsh 'translation': I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated. Hilariously 'PC'... why wasn't the out-of-office email auto reply sent in both languages, one wonders? The sign has now been removed... What an efficient use of taxpayers money!

Monday, November 10, 2008

New Etiquette

I'm sure I'm not alone in wondering where politeness, awareness or consideration have vanished to, sometimes... As you do, I was out-and-about running errands, when I wandered into Primark, to discover the 'wonders' of their latest economically viable offering. As I was trying on a coat, a woman passing-by (completely oblivious with no spatial awareness, whatsoever) banged right into me with her large bags.

"Excuse me", I muttered (perhaps stupidly). "What happened?" she said, astonished. "You knocked into my legs, with your bags" I replied, in a calm, matter-of-fact tone of voice. "It was only a box!" she countered "I didn't break your leg did I, so it doesn't matter!" OK, so am I supposed to gather that the new 'etiquette' is that unless you break a limb there's no need to say anything or consider a teeny word of apology? Feel free to barge away on the dodgem car ride of life? Strange, but in my world, a simple "sorry", or just a little awareness, would have sufficed - it did slightly amuse me, at the same time though... (especially as my leg wasn't broken!)

By the way - obstacle course, or not - Primark's pretty black lacy jacket, skirt and coat (for the party season) are impressively stylish and deceptively 'designer' in appearance...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Rum and Chocolate

Another rain-soaked day in London, so I'm drawn back to the wonderful time I had - a couple of weeks ago - at the sun-influenced event that was The Rum Experience. First-off, I have to confess that I'm no rum aficionado (although I know a whole lot more now than I did before I attended the fiesta). The real draw for me (and I was certainly proven right) was cocoa plantation owner, Duane Dove, who conducted a truly memorable tasting seminar on rum and chocolate pairing.

We, lucky attendees, had the deliciously educational opportunity to learn about the finer details involved in the process of chocolate production at the Swedish-trained sommelier's plantation, based on Tobago. Attention to detail and quality is paramount, with all harvesting carried-out by hand, to ensure no machinery taint or damage is incurred.

The first rum we tasted (after sniffing out the finer notes of its nose) was the 8-year-old Angostura 1919 from Trinidad. Vanilla notes dominated the nose; the taste was rich and mellow. Accompanied with a square of spicy, smoky Trinidad Pralus chocolate, it was the perfect match. Next, we sampled a 23-year-old Guatemalan rum from Ron Zacapa, a more expensive, sweeter example, paired with Michel Cluizel's fabulous single estate chocolate square, Los Ancones, from Haiti. Then onto the third rum of the day, 8-year-old Trois Rivieres from Martinique; higher in alcohol, this had a more sophisticated taste - comparable with grappa or brandy - perfect as a post-prandial digestif and stunningly paired with Valrhona's Madagascan, orange-peel suffused, Manjari - an amazingly effective duo! The ultimate rum was 10-year-old Guyanese XM Royal; richly flavorsome with fig and marmalade notes, optimally matched with Tuscan Amedei's super-smooth Chuao.

Duane recently introduced his exquisite Cane Tulip glasses in conjunction with Giarimi Design, to enhance the taste and enjoyment experience for rum lovers. His first commercially marketed chocolate will be launched, in collaboration with a renowned French artisan producer, in September 2009.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Bard is back in Kingston

Love's Labour's Lost, at the Rose; photo credit Nobby Clark

I recently went to see the Rose Theatre's first 'home-grown' production, since their long-awaited opening at the start of the year. Love's Labour's Lost is far from one of Shakespeare's best known works but it's dear to the heart of Director Emeritus, Sir Peter Hall, as it was the first of the Bard's works he directed, at the outset of his career.

Shakespeare had a lot of fun with this work - revelling in wordplay - with many moments of lightness and mirth, in the midst of the more serious message about responsibility and being ready (sufficiently mature) for a relationship. The cast were impressive - the set minimalist (replicating Shakespearean authenticity) - but the fairly complex wordiness of the work requires great concentration from the audience. Unless you're prepared for that, you're unlikely to find it as effortlessly engrossing, as you might anticipate, from the early humour of the piece.

If you're on a budget (who isn't these days?) you can enhance the authenticity of the experience by opting for a pit 'seat', at just £7; all you need to do is arrive in good time and take along a comfortable cushion to sit on. The production runs, at the Rose, until November 15th.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Appearances can be deceptive...

You probably know by now that I'm keen on healthy eating (with a little naughtiness on the side every now and then)... So, yesterday I discovered a curiosity especially for Hallowe'en: golden raspberries! In spite of the fact that it's November (already, so soon) they're locally (almost) grown by Nick Evans in Sussex and they're the real deal. Raspberries yes, but a little plumper than their more familiar red-dy cousins, the variety is Driscoll Estrella (in case you want to track them down for yourself).

I tested them both on their own and with yogurt - they were full of taste - just a little anaemic in appearance, when compared with what we're used to. I found them at Sainsbury's, where they're known as 'Ghost' raspberries (for Hallowe'en, even though it's now past...) If you want a touch of indulgence, I think they could also work well dropped into a glass of fizz (Champagne, Prosecco or Cava) so that both the golden hue and the taste are enhanced, with an element of surprise thrown in...

Monday, November 3, 2008

On the edge of a smile or grumpy chic...

A funny thing happened to me today...and transformed my mood! The day hadn't started well: all sorts of boringly irritating problems where nothing went smoothly and everything took ten times as long as it should have done. By late afternoon, I eventually dragged myself out of the front door on a gloomy, drizzly day, feeling far from my best...

En route to running some (yawn) errands, I was dashing through the Bentall Centre, when two women came running after me, asking if they could take my photo. I was stunned when they told me it was because I looked "so stylish" as I was feeling seriously scuzzy and more than a touch frazzled. (My 'stylish' outfit consisted of chocolate brown silky combats, a sleeveless brown puffa jacket, mid-pink cardigan and violet-blue velvet scarf). After expressing some doubts and disbelief, I succumbed and let them talk me into being snapped for a weekly magazine (I'll tell you more, if I'm feeling 'brave' enough about revealing the publication, nearer the time)...

My experience illustrates how we (girls) can be our own worst enemy sometimes; confidence is often all-in-the-mind, when we're having a 'bad' day it can really pay to take the time - even just five minutes - to re-adjust our attitude, put things in perspective and replace a scowl with a smile.