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Monday, June 22, 2009

An Unexpected Bouquet

Birthdays come and birthdays go. Some are memorable -for the right and the wrong reasons. Some you'd like to forget. Some mark milestones, of which some you'd prefer not to have reached and others it's all-out celebration ie on officially becoming an adult, and, later, of still being around to raise a glass to otherwise absent friends.

This weekend was not a chronological milestone, but a memorable and hugely enjoyable anniversary nevertheless. Enhanced by the presence of our very good friends and regular visitors, Tiff and Stuart from sunny Leyton, and punctuated by "nice stuff" including lots of eclectic music and shared images including the two Jude Wrights!

The highlights were, undoubtedly: being treated to lunch at Zango in Old Lille, an eclectic mix of tapas/mezze and good company plus pleasant service after 1400! - we'll be going again I just know it; then, yesterday, brunch at 34JJR prepared jointly and with great joie de vivre the evening before with the very able assistance of Miss Howick. On the brunchmenu: Tortilla, Buttery Kedgeree, Fruit Salad (with cherries from the garden) and Walnut Cake served with a coffe and star anise syrup, plus the usual continental breakfast/brunch continental suspects.

Add into the weekend mix an interesting Transphotographiques exhibition at the Palais Rameau, part of the Lille 3000XXL season - I'd never before stepped across the threshold of this interesting space -and at the newly refurbed Gare St Sauveur where we shared our delight in Hotel Europa and were then mesmerised by an HD Video presentation of The Feast of Trimalchio , also viewable, although unofficially, on YouTube by searching on AES +F The Feast of Trimalchio.

I can now fully enjoy the delights of vinyl since I now have the requisite gadget which allows me to use our donated record deck via our mini hifi! Thanks originally to Jarred, and now to Max and the Bopes, we can bop to the warm plastic sound of the 70s and 80s.

And this morning I was lured from the second floor by the newly installed doorbell. audible above the white noise of my laptop's fan, to find a delivery from the gorgeous Aquarelle flower company. The caardboard box opened to reveal a bouquet of innumerable delightful white roses thanks to D D and D. A heavenly start to the week.

Merci à tous.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Family values

So it was that on the Wednesday morning the train set off on time bound for somewhere in the north and second stop Grantham. Although my family have always been a little nomadic and there have been times when we were dispersed across the country, for some time now the core of the family has been living in and around Grantham. I claim no other ties as I was in my late 20s when my mother and sister moved there. One brother had already lived there when still in the RAF and having lived further returned some years ago. Sister in the meantime has grown up and has her own, soon to be further expanded, family who also live in Grantham. So I suppose I know it a little.

It's not a bad place and it has much going for it. As with so many medium sized UK towns it suffers from too much traffic, and, apparently, not enough for young people to do. That apart it has all the shops you'd ever need, with larger ones to be had in Nottingham only 25 miles off, or in Lincoln, 35 miles away. The one thing that always strikes me is how much new building has taken place over the 20 years or so I have been visiting the town. It seems to have virtually doubled in size though appearances do deceive. Having checked various internet sites I see there is some truth in my observation since I recall the figure being in the late 28000 and now the estimated figure is 38000 with some 60000 possibly by 2026. In that case something better had happen as there won't be enough of anything to go round! In the meantime it seems a good place to bring up a family and the swarms of pushchairs to be dodged on its pavements bear testament to that or maybe to there not being enough to do. Take your pick!

Mother being otherwise occupied serving tea coffee and bacon butties on Thursdays, I got to spend some time with my very expectant sister (number three). A treat indeed. Later on supper with brother, new sister in law was another asian inspired lentil delight. How fortunate am I?

Then on Saturday I managed to grab a dose of sunstroke in Lincoln - huh? - and can only surmise that even though I was sitting in the shade on a boat at the wharf, that the light was bouncing off the water and frying my brain... It was a lovely spot to enjoy lunch at, at the time. That evening we babysat the littlest nephew and niece whilst their parents were dining out. We were treated to a takeway chinese meal from Mr Man and Mr Pangs (you kinda expect a Mrs there don't you?) and the run of the Wright's wine cellar ie the cardboard box on the floor in the sitting room! As it was we only managed to drain the one bottle.

I had almost forgotten the availability of shopping on a Sunday in the UK so was a tad taken aback to find the shops open and buzzy - indeed, what recession??? TK Maxx was happening for me, not always the case, and I could have gone wild in the aisles had there been any money in the accounts. Nevertheless, a chap needs something new to go on holiday with - November back to Gran Canaria btw - so a bling T- Shirt and a green and slightly pink T-Shirt later I wrenched myself away from shopping heaven and off we went for lunch at the positively scrummy Syston Park Farm café. The outside looked tempting but, no parasols, so we sat by an open door.

National Express East Coast came up trumps with my train ticket: £8.30 each way booked online. Just as with their predecessors, they only appear to get it right half the time as, yet again, there was a delay on the return service. It seems that lightning had struck signals in the Darling ton area and that resulted in a 40 minute delay. The seat reservation printer was also out of commission - I hate to think that it too had been struck by a lightning bolt, or is this just a precursor to our having to pay for the privilege of a seat? - so I was thankful that the train, when it arrived, was not overly busy. I was still in London in plenty of time to catch the last Lille bound Eurostar and to nab an armful of free papers and mags in the Executive Lounge as well as a plate of sandwiches.

During my time away the Bopes were installed chez nous ensuring Max had company (parents plus two dogs) and someone to make his meals. They were also their usual industrious selves and worked like billy-o removing the unnecessary hood thing in the kitchen and, best of all, cutting down the horrid hedge in the garden and putting up a replacement fence.

We now have a garden which is about a metre wider and looks much less long and narrow. Most of the hedge has been bundled up and taken away by the encombrants which come by once a month and all that I need to do is to paint the fence.
We're thinking blue, just like in our Wimbledon garden, as the green leaves look so stunning against it as a background.

Families? Don't you just love 'em. I do both mine.

A Feast in Woodside Park

Rani and I go back a long long way. In fact we met during the very first few weeks at university so this year marks our 30th anniversary of friendship. I've visited Rani in various places including Woodside Park but have only stayed when she lived in Los Barrios, not far over the border from Gibraltar where she worked there in the 90s. It wasn't quite the sit in the garden with a glass of something gorgeous and chilled weather we'd hoped for but the idea of buying Mateus Rosé was a lovely one, if only to remind us why we haven't drunk any in the intervening twenty something years since graduating! The bottle is still an interesting shape.

Woodside Park is sort of part of North Finchley, to the west of the High Road that runs between Finchley and Whetstone. It's not exactly well known and there are few woods to be found though it can fairly be described as a pleasant leafy suburb. It does have a plethora of charity shops and it was there in a couple of hours that I tracked down a pile of paperbacks and my need to raid Asda's 2 for £7 section was no more. The best of the bunch had to be the North London Hospice shop where even the newest least battered book was £1.50, and the most expensive the Cancer Research shop which was asking £2.40. It may be for a good cause, but... They redeemed themselves with some attractive greetings cards at a mere 99p.

Apart from spending some quality time with an old friend, the highlight of the visit had to be the meal we enjoyed together prepared mostly by friend Tippy but with input from Rani - let me know if that's accurate girls! I'd needed a plan B since Rani never knows when she will next be jetting off to deepest darkest Africa or flying to far flung asian shores. Luckily we didn't need to use plan B - which was to go and stay with Rachel in Walthamstow - but instead put plan C into action ie Rachel came and joined us for the feast. I've not yet had the courage to sample asian cooking in France having once tried chinese food in Paris - it was très très bland - so I am always up for something spicy and hot when I visit the UK. And nothing beats having something cooked at home by someone who knows what they are doing and can titillate your tastebuds with a family recipe or an old favourite. You don't even have to select from a menu! Everything was vegetarian and delicious. If only I could remember the names of everything we ate! Anyway, the proof of the pudding and all that, and third helpings were soon dispatched. Oof! I was full till suppertime the next day!

The next morning the tube strike was well under way , we'd made plans for me to be dropped off at a national rail station so that I could get to Kings Cross and thence to Grantham but the gods were smiling on me and the only tube line with a normal service was the one I needed: the Northern Line. OK so Kings Cross tube station was closed but alighting at Euston station was not a problem and only a short stroll - even with suitcase - along the Euston Road.

It's difficult to imagine the realisation of the plans to redevelop Kings Cross station. Currently such a shabby terminal with a pokey concourse and little in the way of amenties, it has lost out tremendously to the all singing and dancing and internationally connected St Pancras International next door. The plans look v interesting and I like the idea of opening up the front space ie the current concourse plus the existing pavement area, to be a public square. The new concourse will be to the west side ie opposite the side of St Pancras. I did think that at one staget there were plans to join the two stations with a glass covered canopy and open space. It was probably too expensive.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Weekend in (a) New England

Sometimes a short break away can be as good if not better than a more extended leave. Now in London for few days catching up with friends, this lucky individual has been made to feel so warmed and welcomed he almost wonders why he left these blighty shores!

Thursday evening saw my arrival in East Dulwich and quality time with Clare. Supper (and lunch at home the next day) was delicious as was the company at Green and Blue in Lordship Lane and C's flat was awash with sunshine showing it off beautifully. Loving the new curtains cherie!

Friday afternoon the extended trek to Brighton was made additionally worthwhile by a brief but much overdue reunion with the ever gorgeous Matt. Here's someone who knows how to live! I knew him as a museum administrator then a project manager in the same industry, when our contact faltered, for reasons unknown to either of us, I heard he had become a property developer. Now he is a ceramicist. Check out Matt Smith Ceramics.

On to Roland and Amy who had generously offered to put me up - again! Theirs is a generously proportioned, wonderfully eclectic comfortable ramble of a home. Bit like my good self these days!!! The Tin Drum bar in Seven Dials took our custom before we dived into Amy's special vegetable ragout and we left not a trace to say we mightn't have enjoyed every scrap. Saturday didn't look obviously promising weatherwise but by the time Gladys - those voilet eyes! - had arrived, the sun was trying very hard to break through. And when, with Janet D in tow, we all piled down the hill it really did treat us to some rays.

Nigel and Brian, newly removed to Brighton, though to a home they already possessed, were hanging over the kitchen balcony, both resplendent in shorts and B sporting a deep tan, which wasn't after all from South Africa but from Silverdale which abuts the Lake District up there on the North West coast. Suddenly Kathryn was there and as we were saying our enthusiastic hellos Clare W turned up too and we were ready for a glass of wine, a tour of the house and lunch on the (downstairs) terrace, where the sun warmed us all afternoon.

I am fortunate to have experienced some gorgeous moments and try to capture them so that they won't be forgotten. This was one of those lazy, wine flowing afternoons of early summer, spent with fabulous friends, people who care about each other and look forward to meeting up as we have done for some 17 years. People who became acquainted through work and who've soon become firm friends.

Saturday was far from over. Roland, Amy and I went to pick up a DVD - The Changeling, Angelina Jolie's showpiece, not in itself a bad film but it would have benefited from some heavy pruning and a proper conclusion - and a tasty takeaway curry.

Sunday night's torrential rain gave way to a bright blue day. Amy's piano playing filled the flat - how I adore that sound -and the sun streamed through the sash windows. It was just perfect for checking out what has been happening in Brighton since my last visit two years ago. I was impressed by the changes and am happy to report that the resort is even more improved. Everything is looking clean and new and the Brighton buzz was still in the air. Lunch in the beer garden at the Battle of Trafalgar in Guilford Road and back to R'n'A's for the French Tennis Open men's final in which Roger Federer easily took the prize for best outfit, best legs and ultimately achieved his goal of becoming Champion too!

Is it just me or is there always a problem on the London- Brighton line. Mustn't complain though as I'd conjured up a couple of 3 pound singles... Next stop leafy Woodside Park in N12.