Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

Search this blog

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Scrapbook Update

Today we planted some more roses (David Austin's Gertrude Jekhyll & Scepter'd Isle)so I was thinking ahead to a rose themed scrapbook layout and took some photos. Now I have the "befores," with J digging the holes, and in a few months' time I will have the "afters," with (hopefully) masses of roses in full bloom. And now I can start accumulating rose themed papers and embellishments to go with the layout.

That's how it works. And to such an extent that I sometimes change my clothes to make sure I'm wearing a colour that co-ordinates with the paper in hand.

It's often agonizing when I see a particular paper in a magazine and then find it hellishly difficult to get hold of. This happened last week when I decided I to have some daisy papers from the Twelve by 12 range, Colorflowers II. I looked up the UK stockists but none of them had the exact same papers. I looked at the US stockists. Same thing. The designer has her own online gallery, but no shipping to the UK. Then, in an inspired moment, I asked on UK Scrappers if any of their sponsors (scrapbook retailers) had the papers in stock. I struck lucky, and now have these papers tucked away waiting to be turned into a birthday card for J's mum.

Anyway, here are some recent LOs (layouts to the uninitiated). Next week I am off to the US for work, but hopefully might the chance to find a craft store. I've never been in a US craft store, and imagine it must be a veritable Aladdin's Cave. And of course I do need some rose themed materials.

Friday, March 30, 2007

You've got to read this

One of the funniest books I've read for a long time is "Who moved my BlackBerry?" by Martin Lukes and Lucy Kellaway. It's about the hapless marketing director of the UK subsidiary of a US multinational. In David Brent (The Office)v vein it covers a year in the life of marketing director at A-B Global (UK), Martin Lukes, through a series of emails, texts and messages "sent from my Wireless BlackBerry hand-held." It's just tooo funny. I was laughing out loud on the plane as I read it.

The intro from Martin Lukes is a good opener to what you can exepect: "In your hands is a highly unique book, which pushes the envelope literature-wise. As you will see, it is a 120 per cent honest account of a year of my life - a phenomenal year of personal progress, corporate scandal and marital drama.

It not only chronicles my promotion to one of the foremost executive positions globally, but is also a profound journey of personal learning, aided and abetted by my coach, Pandora.

"I am often asked why I want to share my deeply private philosophies with such a wide audience. I always say, it is because I am passionate about learning. I have grown from my own mistakes, both in the professional space and the personal one, and I believe that there are many key takeaways for you here too. "Who Moved My BlackBerry[trademark]?" is a creovative[trademark] work - to use a phrase of mine that has now entered the business lingo. I anticipate it will be the must-read of 2005. All my very bestest, Martin."

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Disappointing flavours from John Torode

I was very impressed with Australian chef John Torode and his expertise on the recent Masterchef series so I decided to hot foot it round to his restaurant, Smiths of Smithfield, in London's Faringdon.

As a judge on the programme, Torode frequently made comments about dishes not having the right flavours or being seasoned properly, so I reasoned that my taste buds were in for a gastronomic treat. I must say, I get a bit irritated when he constantly berates contestants for not putting enough salt in their food. Isn't he aware of the guidelines regarding salt? Personally I never add salt to my food and I don't like the taste when restaurants have overdone it. Anyway - back to the review.

Smiths of Smithfield is opposite the famous meat market and has four floors all with a different dining experience. We went for the top floor which is the serious restaurant. Offering wonderful views over London it had a great vibe and was packed out (as were all the other floors).

The menu is refreshingly non-pretentious; none of those ridiculous trios, timbales or anything else plagiarised from French menus. Torode specialises in sourcing the best in ingredients and the menu faithfully records the provenance of the fish and beef.

Dorset crab on toast was a disappointing starter. The crab had very little flavour; it didn't even taste very strongly of crab, and the toast was so hard that slicing into it made a piece ping across the table. An inauspicious start. My companion had smoked eel which had a good texture and subtle flavour.

Next up was Hereford sirloin which came with the vegetable of the day, courgettes (a strange choice, as this is the one vegetable that can be counted on to be dull dull dull) and large square shaped chips.

The chips were divine, the courgettes were, well, dull, and the steak was erring towards medium rather than the rare I asked for. For £28 I expected a melting texture and a most memorable steak, but it was very similar to the old cow "aged 21 days" sold in Sainsbury's. It wasn't the best steak I've ever had - that was in an obscure pub in Dublin.

Finally, rum and raison bruelee had a pleasingly crunchy top and a crisp, light shortbread biscuit, but the rum flavour was non existent. What was left was a pleasant enough rich gloop, but disappointing when you were expecting some wonderful flavours which weren't delivered.

So in summary I'd say that Smiths at Smithfield has a great vibe but on the top floor it doesn't deliver the fine dining experience that it promises. More work needed on the flavours and the seasonings, Mr Torode.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

My favourite blogs

"Millions of blogs out there, some of them must be good" is a quote I've seen somewhere. I've been reading my way through the world's blogs, within reason, having become a member of various blogging communities like fuelmyblog , spicypage.com and the excellent mybloglog.

I imagine what we like in a blog is very subjective. I tend to only read blogs from the UK and USA, although I would love to find a well written blog about life in Japan for example. I like blogs which are well designed, where you don't have to click on links to view the content. Pretty photos are good - I should do more of this myself. I like blogs where the writer's voice and spirit comes through, OR blogs that tell you things you didn't already know. Quirky blogs.

So in no particular order, here are some of the blogs I've discovered, and the reasons why I like them:

1.The Slim Blue Line. This is the blog of a UK policewoman. Revealing and no holds barred, it's a valuable glimpse into a tough job. Disheartening sometimes to read about the chauvinistic attitudes that still prevail. Her latest entry is about the dilemmas of dealing with domestic violence.
2. davidbdale.wordpress.com. This is fun. David Bale writes novels in 299 words. Character, conflict, emotional impact. And sentences! Everything you want in a novel, without one extra syllable.
3. Janey Godley is a Scottish stand-up comic, actor and playwright. Her blog is a good example of the personality of the writer shining through. She comes across as funny and feisty. http://janeygodley.blog.co.uk
4. Very useful for my job is this blog about branding. Always something interesting to read.It's promoting a company, but in a very positive way because the entries showcase their expertise. Very clever.
5. Lots of blogs offer a free service. I like this one from designer Dave Richards in New York that offers e-cards and ideas on how to keep in touch with friends. Nice, because with our busy lives it's easy to lose touch with friends.
6. Blogging has become mass media, and big companies have set up blogs, some of them coming unstuck because they attempted to deceive their readers. The Kodak "Ink Is It" blog is a great example of how companies can use the blogging genre and provide value and fun to their readers and not just a promotional platform. It uses two kooky characters who love ink, and it's very quirky and well done.

So that's a few of mine. I'd love to see some of your faves.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Flog It

Speaking to James from the ad agency today, we discovered a mutual interest in selling stuff on Amazon and Ebay. James prefers Ebay, where he's big in cosmetics (I didn't ask), whereas I prefer to buy on Ebay and sell on Amazon. Reason for that is mostly laziness. You don't have to take pictures of your wares for Amazon, not if they're books, CDs or DVDs, which is what I flog.

It's quite a little money spinner. As I keep telling J, my Amazon sales are subsidising my magazine purchases.

The great thing about Amazon is that you set a fixed price; they calculate the P&P and allow for this, and you don't have to do any transactions with the sellers. Amazon deposits the money directly into your bank account.

It's surprising what some items go for. You discover, for example, that the Manic Street Preachers special edition goes for less than a pound (not viable in my view) whereas the Doris Day CD is worth at least eight pounds. I was amazed to see that a John Galliano book I have is offered at no less than £150. Quite a lot of CDs go for around £2 - £4. You have to decide if it's worth it, by the time you've factored in bubble wrap, brown paper, trip to the post office. I think it is worth it to get shot of the damn things. And any greatest hits compilations (particularly Now!) sell very quickly.

I had a biography of businessman Gerry Robinson on Amazon for ages and when he featured in the recent documentary about what he would do to revitalise the NHS, I had an immediate offer.

For paperbacks, I have a different modus operandi. I use a website called Read It Swap It (link on the right) and have only had one bad experience. You choose a book from someone's reading list; they're sent your list and choose a book (or decline); you post the book, and an email is generated to say you've done this, and then when you receive it you give feedback. Very simple and it works perfectly. I had one bad experience when the swapper didn't communicate at all; took about three weeks to send the book (usually it's done in two or three days) and when it arrived, it was so horribly dog eared and dirty I didn't want to read it.

But now I have a little pile of books waiting to be read, which is a luxury for me as I'm such an avid reader.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Europe has nothing to fear from UK Eurovision entry (again)

Last night the nation decided. The UK entry in the Eurovision Song Contest in May is a group called Scooch, with Bucks-Fizz style formulaeic cutesy song.

I've often thought that the BBC isn't serious about winning because we always have such turgid entries, and of course winning it would result in huge expense. But this year, they clearly put some effort into it. All of the songs, with the exception of a dreary ballad from Brian Harvey, were very good. I liked the montage of clips from other countries who have already picked their entrants. And I liked the guest panel from across Europe voted. Unfortunately, the British public didn't back the horse the panel suggested (Big Bruvaz, the rap number). I didn't like it the most, but I reckon it had the biggest chance of Eurovision success.

When I first saw Scooch I knew right away they would win. Classic Buck's Fizz style cheese, where you take a group of averagely attractive people and give them cutesy outfits, cutesy dance moves (aeroplanes) and a few lines heavy with suggestion ("salted nuts sir?").

Win it did, but by the third airing, my brother and I were both groaning and saying we wouldn't want to hear it again. It's beyond irritating.

The only black spot of the night was Terry Wogan, normally the lynchpin of Eurovision, but now so curmudgeonly that it didn't seem he was being amusingly ironic. It seemed like he really does hate it all. Time to pension him off and bring in Jonathan Ross.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Elizabeth Hurley's jaw dropping Indian wedding

If old Liz Hurley was looking for the wow factor with her Indian wedding ceremony, she certainly found it.

The photos in Hello! are truly jaw dropping.

Regular readers to my blog will know I don't care for Hurley very much. As Sarah Kennedy (Radio 2) said earlier this week, what's she famous for? The films all go direct to DVD. That's true enough. My gripe with Hurley is that at 41, and a successful businesswoman with her swimwear and film production companies she should stop acting like ageing cheesecake and posing in skimpy dresses or bikinis and instead become a role model for women breaking the glass ceiling.

Anyway, that's by the by. Round 1 of the nuptials, in the UK, was a disappointing affair I thought. Some old castle, and no sign of the owner's wife (Lilli Maltese, who was famously upstaged by Liz at her own wedding when she turned up wearing a skirt that flashed her knickers). Everyone was wearing white; there were dozens of bridesmaids, and no real celebrities (Patsy Kensit and Trinny Woodall don't really qualify) except for Mr & Mrs Elton John.

Liz's dress was a bit of a disappointment to me. The floaty tulle skirt reminded me of Adam Cooper in the male version of Swan Lake. And I didn't think she would wear a tiara again after her last outing was criticised by one of the weekly gossip mags as mutton dressed as lamb (or even worse, Courtney Love).

One week later, and the bridal party goes out to India, flown around on a private plane. And now we're cooking with gas! Liz is radiant in a deep pink Versace Indian bridal gown; the guests are in pink (Liz's side) or orange (Arun's side) and the colours are dazzling. Arun arrives on a black horse; there are fireworks, Bollywood dancing with Liz flashing her enviably toned midriff, a cricket match and an English tea, plus the spectacle of the guests having to camp overnight in tents at one point, although the tents did have their own loos and showers so it wasn't like Carry on Camping.

Liz looked lovely throughout, except for the emerald worn high on her forehead. I've never liked green with pink. Arun, I have to say, looked a bit wet. Somehow his shoes, many of which were specially commissioned, looked like something Abanazer would wear in Aladdin. Arun suffers from Grant Bovey / Jude Law syndrome, which is when a man knows he is goodlooking and he unfailingly presents his best side and his most radiant smile to the camera whenever it's on him. It doesn't make for the best wedding pictures, which for Hello! are those where the couple lovingly gaze at each other.

I dread to think of the cost, which was no doubt borne by Hurley. One of the papers reported last week that Arun is far from a millionaire, although his parents are wealthy. He was even flying with airmiles until Hurley got him upgraded.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Eurovision approaches - excitement mounts

I'm a huge fan of Eurovision and looking forward to choosing the UK's song on Saturday. I see no expense has been spared in providing the brighest stars in the galaxy for our delectation: Brian Harvey, formerly of East 17, whose car ran over him; Justin Hawkins, the long haired screamer from The Darkness, and Liz Mclarnon, formerly of Atomic Kitten.

I've already heard the Hawkins entry, and my advice to him would be "don't ring us, we'll ring you."

The great thing about Eurovision is that it plays really well into the British sense of humour. It's very kitsch and camp. We know the songs and dance routines and costumes are terrible, but we still like it. Our stiff upper lip and sporting fairness does us proud as we sit through the political voting, quietly seething as nobody votes for the UK because we don't have any Euro friends now (America isn't eligible to vote). We can't even count on Ireland or Malta these days.

It doesn't really matter if the UK song is a pile of poo because we know deep down we can never win. What with the unpopularity issue, and the Baltic block vote, we're destined to always be down the bottom of the list along with France, still resolutely singing in French, and Germany, who always seem to choose someone wildly eccentric.

Last year I felt faintly optimistic because I did think that Daz Sampson was in with a shout. I thought it was sufficiently "Eurovision" to win, albeit a little edgy. I was confounded when Finland won with heavy rockers, a sign that the "la la la" Eurovision song and the ripping off of skirts may be a thing of the past.

One thing for sure: we can never be relegated because UK contributes too much to the funding of the whole shebang.

So tune in on Sat folks, and put aside your reservations about picking up the phone. Lots of irreverent fun. The actual contest this year, hosted in Finland, is bound to break the mould. Will they play it straight and try to dazzle us with dry ice and lighting, or will they play it tongue-in-cheek?

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Monday Pot Pourri: Plymouth Argyle snatch defeat from the jaws of victory; the New Angel reviewed and good news about language lessons

Language lessons from age seven
Glad to hear the news today that language lessons are to be taught at primary school, from age seven. It's a constant source of shame and embarrassment to me how badly the Brits speak languages when abroad. It's no longer sufficient to shout in English. My own language skills are pretty bad, I hold up my hands. I don't know when children stopped learning languages at age seven. I remember learning French at primary school. We sang jolly songs like "Sur le pont D'Avignon," and pretended to be shopkeepers. I don't know why it's not compulsory beyond age 14 either. In my view, should be compulsory, along with English & maths, until age 16.

The New Angel, Dartmouth: restaurant review
Fabulous weather at the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed my time in Plymouth (except for the match of course. How did Plymouth Argyle lose against Watford? They were infinitely superior!). Took Giz to Dartmouth for Sunday lunch at the New Angel. This is the place now owned by John Burton-Race (Channel 4 TV show fame) which has always had an excellent reputation. My verdict is: should try harder.

Service was very good and the pudding - vanilla, Cointreau and orange baked Alaska - was sublime. I could sense that it was a work of love, so painstakingly perfect, with lightly browned meringue that was soft and crunchy, and a gorgeous marmalade-y type syrup around the edge.

But the starter and main were, frankly, disappointing. If Burton-Race has not been spending enough time in the kitchen, I would urge him to return. Both plates were lukewarm and lacklustre. The Dartmouth crab tortellini initially had a delightful explosion of flavours in the mouth, but was quickly overwhelmed by coriander. And why was it floating in a tepid fish tasting water? It was neither a reduction or a sauce, and added nothing to the dish.

Blackawton lamb should have been meltingly tender but was hard round the edges. Mum had the pork plate and said it was tough. And to round it off, Hildon water, which as Michael Winner fans will know, is water beyond the pale.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Good luck Plymouth Argyle

Going down to Plymouth this weekend, the old ancestral home. John is staying in London because he's running the Hastings half marathon on Sunday. Last year we took Rachel and stayed the night, but I didn't take to Hastings very much - very scruffy seafront - and it was bitterly cold, so this time I decided to take the opportunity of seeing Giz (mum), Chops (brother) et al.

Our weekends usually follow a set routine of going to Endsleigh garden centre and Buckfast Abbey; having a look at the cemetery at St Mary's Church, playing consequences and having a roast on Sunday - pork or lamb which is not something I do very often as John doesn't like either.

This time our itinerary will be different for a couple of reasons. Plymouth Argyle are playing Watford in the FA cup, at home. None of us is going to the match, but we're going round to Chops' pad to watch it on Sky. It's a revenge match, for what happened in the early 1980s when Watford beat Plymouth 1-0 in the semi final (see an earlier posting). Let's hope Plymouth win. I gather Watford are at the bottom of the Premier so rubbish anyway.

And for the first time, we'll go on a tour of craft shops. I sent Giz on a recce of a craft shop in Ladysmith Road during the week. She was walking in that area, reliving her youth. Grandma and Grandad lived in Mount Gould Road nearby for 54 years. Apparently a family bought the house, so it looks in fairly good nick (we thought it would be turned into flats). But all the fruit trees have gone from the lovely garden.

It used to be paperweights, not craft shops. I stopped collecting paperweights a few years ago (I have about 30) but the best place for buying limited editions still remains the Devon Paperweight Centre at Yelverton.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Hoorah for Charles & Camilla

Prince Charles and Camilla have been in the news in the last week. Camilla went into hospital today for an operation that's been the cause of too much undignified interest among the tabloid press. I hope it all goes well, particularly the long recovery period.

I think we'll all agree that Camilla has risen to the challenge of being Prince Charles' wife very well indeed and does the nation proud on their foreign tours. She has taken to it far better than any of us ever expected.

If only she and Charles had been allowed to marry years ago, we would have avoided the ridiculous charade that's now going on with Mohamed Al Fayed and his ludicrous claims about the royal family trying to kill Diana. Why oh why? She and Charles had been divorced for some time. The French authorities say she was NOT pregnant. I begin to wonder if Al Fayed is losing his marbles. It seems Dame Butler-Sloss might share the same opinion. This very expert legal brain has painstakingly waded through thousands of documents and can see nothing to substantiate his wild claims.

Meanwhile Prince Charles speaks sense (for once) and condemns the Macdonalds burger culture. Hoorah. If we must "save it for a treat," then so be it, but anyone who has seen "Supersize Me" must be aware that this stuff is poison. Macdonalds can talk about their salads as much as they like: if people go there for a burger, they aren't going to have a salad. And if people want salad by choice, they won't go into Macdonalds where they have to tolerate that awful old fat smell. I wish people would vote with their feet but their profits aren't falling anywhere near fast enough.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Spring has arrived!

Finally the sun came out and I was able to dash outside and take some photos of the spring bulbs in all their glory. We planted these back in October and it's always amazing to me to see how the shrivelled little bulbs are transformed. Last year I had some anemone corms, and I didn't know which way up they went (very hard to tell) so I was thrilled to see that most of them flowered.

The pictures aren't great: hopefully I can get John to take some better ones tomorrow. Because then of course I can make a spectacular Spring spread for my scrapbook! I have everything ready and waiting.

One curious thing: when I printed the photo above, it came out fine except for my hair which turned into a cartoon-like purple haze! Quite nice really :-)
Blog Design Created by pipdig