Sunday, 27 February 2011

Of Blowing the Right Notes

I went to the south coast yesterday for to help an old mucker, EP, hunt for some property. We ended up in a place called Rottingdean which is one of the most quintessentially English villages I have seen in a long time. It has its own bakery, florist, butcher, local post office, village hall, private men's club and some gorgeous quaint little pubs serving some really good pub grub. I don't think I've seen a village with so many blue English Heritage plaques on the wall boasting that famous Englishman so-and-so used to live here including one for Rudyard Kipling himself who apparently was inspired to write "Wonderland" by a secret tunnel nearby that leads to Roedean the famous all girls school just up the road.

In the evening we went to the Ivy Restaurant in Covent Garden. Both the food and the service were exceptional. The French waiter lovingly presented me with a bottle of Lebanese red to try which slithered down the throat beautifully as I tucked into my Eggs Benedict followed by chocolate pudding with mint ice cream. When I asked him the rugby score he said he didn't know but would find out returning with a piece of paper presented on a silver dish with the message 17-9 to England written out in full.

Afterwards we headed to the Royal Opera House to see the highly acclaimed "Nicole" which tells the tragic tale of Anna Nicole who married a billionaire octogenarian when she was just in her twenties. You know the opera is going to be different when the leading lady's first line on stage is "I want to blow you all". In fact I think this we the bluest show I've ever seen on any stage making even Rigoletto look like Mary Poppins. "Nicole" was brave, daring, outrageous, shocking, thought provoking, funny, sad, tragic and one of the best West End productions I've seen. It finished by the way with the lead singing "I want to blow you all.... a kiss goodbye".

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Of Early Day Starts and Humiliations

I squished my jogging gear into my cabin bag before coming to London so I was determined to use it while here. This morning I got out my pit at 7a.m. and made straight for the local park at Russell Square. I wasn't the first there. As I did my stretch exercises I spied a lady already on her first lap. I decided I'd try and catch her at least by the time of my 10th and last lap of the park. It was a plan that was to back fire badly. By lap 3 it was clear I was making no ground on her. By 5 she was getting away and by 7 she was clearly catching me. By the last she'd caught me up and was on my shoulder. I said hello largely in an attempt to hide my secret plan and cover its dastardly failure. She asked me a few things including what I did but I don't think she caught any of my answers - something to do with my heavy panting at a guess. It turned out she was a professor from the local African & Oriental Studies and 63!

Friday, 25 February 2011

Of Little to Complain About

I'm in London at the moment and it's just looking beautiful. It's sunny and everyone is out like they're celebrating Spring and the fact they've managed to survive a pretty awful Winter.

I'm staying at a hotel near Russell Square at the moment. I don't know why but I always seem to gravitate towards this part of London. This may be because I spent a good part of my London student days studying in the Advanced Institute of Legal Studies at Russell Square but it's also handy, by lots of great English pubs, near to the British Museum (which looks great at night this time of year) and has a lovely park to hand to lap up the Spring sunshine.

Today, I'm off to meet a friend for lunch at a French cafe at St Pancras Station. I love this place. The architecture is just wonderful. After work in the afternoon I'm off shopping in Covent Garden. How much can I buy and stuff into a small suitcase to get back home remains my most troubling problem of the day so far. Guess I don't have much to complain about do I?

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Of Google n Geeks

According to Google Analytics I had a rag bag of visitors to my blog from all over yesterday, including a single resident with obviously nothing better to do in Ecuador, New Zealand and Mongolia as well as my faithful follower in Metzingen, Germany...Guten Tag to you.

This online world is a curious thing. Last night I attended a monthly lecture and meeting of the social media association in Belfast. It consisted of people who are seriously into social media many of whom admitted to me that they devote "at least" two hours to their online life every day. What struck me about these people is that they appeared surprisingly normal and actually very capable of operating well in the "real world" and carrying out interesting conversations with people. They didn't look particularly geeky and there wasn't a pair of socks in sandals to be seen.

I wonder what the equivalent group of people would look like in Ecuador, New Zealand,Mongolia or Germany. Now there's a debate we could have on social media....

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Of the Importance of Possession

I've just finished reading Clive Woodward's Winning! I'm not sure if business books, autobiographies or indeed books on sport come any better than this. It's a great read.
It tells the story of how on day one the new England rugby coach turned up at the home of English rugby, Twickenham, to find a sorry looking reception area, a few plants that had seen better days but no-one who was expecting him. He had no office, no secretary and was informed by surprised staff that they thought he would want to work from home.
The book explains how he took the English team and indeed English rugby from this to World Cup glory in just a few yers by building a side focused on nothing but excellence and success. Being a business man he applied many business principles to his team building efforts and these are clearly explained as he goes through the book. This is why every business leader should read it.
His pursuit of excellence left no stone unturned. By the time of the World Cup competition he had a team of 18 experts travelling with him including a QC lawyer to sort out any legal tussels, a chef to show each hotel how to do food for world class athletes and a vision expert who would coach them on how to see space on a field.
Once finished I was going to lend this book to a friend but I guess like a rugby player with the ball going for the line I just want to hold onto it. I'm reading it again -always the sign of a great book.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Of What No Spam & Chip?

I snapped this menu this morning coming out of the local sports and leisure centre. For anyone not local to Northern Ireland reference to a "chip" actually means "chips". So a "gravy chip" actually means you gets lots of chips with lots of gravy.

You'll see if you live in Antrim for lunch today you can have "chip", "gravy chip", "curry chip", "cheese chip", a burger, a cheese burger, a jumbo hot dog, a pastie bap or if you really want to treat yourself a bacon sausage bap.

Emmmmm yummmm

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Of True Grit Grounded

I went to see True Grit last night at the flicks with an old friend AB. It could have been a great film but I struggled to understand the main character played by Geoff Bridges. His deep American drawl proved too much for me and as a film which is largely based on 3 characters and good script it proved a fatal mistake.

Before the movie AB and I went for a Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet. We were surrounded by rather large people who were certainly doing all that they could to get maximum value. Although the buffet counter contained some really healthy options including broccoli and runner beans most plates were filled with junk. The mother to my side had a plate with just three items on it but in plentiful amounts : prawn crackers, green (luminous) jelly and chocolate cake.

AB is married to a multi-millionaire but she hasn't lost her understanding of the value of money. Sometimes we'll meet and she'll tell me what a good weekend away she had recent at a lovely hotel and best of all at bargain rates. I really like this about her. She likes her luxuries and treats but doesn't depend on them for who she is. She is, grounded, down to earth and great company despite not having been in the best of health recently.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Of Long Speeches and Long Journeys

I went to a dinner last night at Stormont. The third speaker, the Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson MLA, was amusing. He promised to keep it short bearing in mind we had already heard two speeches and were keen to get going on dinner. He went on for longer than the first two combined.

The guy opposite me had travelled a lot in the old Soviet Union and had some great stories to swap about his days in Moscow and St Petersburg. He did some pioneering work in the early 90s trying to teach them entrepreneurship - not something that came easy to people who had for so long laboured under a communist regime.

There's always a bit of a glint in the eye of someone who has travelled to Russia - like they know it's tough to do, hard at times but really fascinating and always likely to lead to memories you'll treasure for ever. The conversation did make me want to go again and soon but somewhere different. The Russians laugh at the Western European obsession with the Trans-Siberian railway. We think it to be one of the great romantic journeys. They know it to be a journey from hell. Plain food, flat countryside smelly toilets. What could be worse they ask? Suddenly I felt better about sitting through a long speech and waiting for great food.

I went to a dinner last night. The third speaker, Sammy Wilson, was amusing. He promised to keep it short bearing in mind we had already heard two speeches and were keen to get going on dinner. He went on for longer than the first two combined.

The guy opposite me had travelled a lot in the old Soviet Union and had some great stories to swap about his days in Moscow and St Petersburg.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Of Networking & Questioning its Value

This networking game is a funny business. You spend ages away from your desk meeting people for breakfast, coffee, lunch or dinner. Sometimes you think it is a complete waste of time and it is. Then occasionally you get a break and something big happens because you've met the right person and you can join forces and do something that would be impossible for both of you on your own. Most of the time however you question whether it is time well spent. That said, when occasionally Legal-Island does an event which doesn't meet our own very high standards it's usually because we haven't done the networking earlier to supply it with the best resources possible.

Tonight I'm out networking at some dinner or other at Stormont. I'll no doubt see many of the same faces I see when I go to the IOD dinner or the Chamber of Commerce NI lunch and have much the same conversations too. Some of my best networking recently has been in an environment in which you can't speak that much at all and certainly don't have to dress up for : Antrim Pool. For example, this morning in the lane on my right was a guy who owns a company that has recently pitched for some work from Legal-Island. On my left was the HR director of a large employer who often comes to our events.

A friend told me that some of the best networking he ever did was at the meetings of the Antrim Fox Hunt fraternity. I wonder if, a bit like with golf, this ex hunt saboteur could apply for non playing membership?

Maybe they'd smell a rat ......or should that be the aniseed rag in my trouser pockets?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Of Blowing your own horn

I attended a BNI breakfast networking meeting this morning at the crack of dawn. 6.45a.m. to be exact. I was sat next to a lady who plays a French horn. It made me wonder how much business there was up for grabs in her line of work. I suppose she has the luxury of not having to worry about the competition - in Antrim at least.

We all swapped cards, recommendations, referrals and endorsements furiously as we tucked into our bacon and eggs. Apparently they had "swapped" £60,000 worth of business in just four months. Impressive. But they're looking for new members.

Maybe they're just not blowing their horn loud enough?

Monday, 14 February 2011

Of Secret Valentines

It's great being single on Valentine's Day. You don't feel compelled to go out to dinner and pay twice what you normally would do for very average food. Nor do you have to shell out for flowers that are three times what they were last week. Bunch of roses £30! (and that's Lidl!)

I shared a house once with a lady in Clapham. Her name was Mary-Jane. She was single, fast approaching 30 and feeling very left on the shelf. I dreaded each Valentine's Day because she was especially moody when nothing dropped through the letter box. So one year I thought £30 would be cheap to keep her from sulking for a day at least so I ordered flowers to be delivered, signed no doubt, with some corny pseudonym too clever to reveal the sender's identify. When the flowers arrived she was momentarily cheered. By the end of the evening she had a face like a month of wet weekends.

When I asked her what the matter was she said "This really annoys me. There's a guy out there who wants me and I've no idea who he is -f...kin hell."

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Of Black Swan

I went to see Blackswan last night. I can't work out whether it's a great movie or rubbish. Moreover is it a thriller, a horror, a sex film or just something about ballet or even mental health? Guess I should go see it again, read the book or give the film the benefit of the doubt and tell everyone it's destined to be a classic.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Of Counting them out and back

I cooked dinner last night for 5 employees. They came. They left and they have reported for work this morning. In the words of the late great Falklands War journalist Brian Hanarhan as he watched the harrier jump jets take off from the aircraft carrier and go to war "I counted them all out and I counted them all back".


Thursday, 10 February 2011

Of Dreams and Nightmares

Nightmare! That's all I need! It turns out one of my dinner guests tonight is the daughter of the woman who makes the finest Rhubarb and Apple Crumble in Northern Ireland. I might just have to switch desserts now to Bread Pudding and keep it quiet that I am a very close relative of the woman that makes the finest samples of that same said pudding known to man.

I shopped for an hour in Asda last night (for I hadn't seen Gruyere cheese at Tesco and had to chance my luck elsewhere). When I couldn't find the cheese I broke a very male tradition of not asking and went to the woman behind the cheese counter for help. She had never heard of Gruyere and assured me with confidence that I wouldn't find it anywhere in "Anrim". I couldn't find the napkins so I asked her where those were. There was no sign of the tomato puree so she helped me find that too. By the time of my third request I thought she might as well have hopped into one of those toy cars attach it to my trolley and navigate me round for the rest of the evening.

I left with my third full trolley in as many days.

I soldier on knowing that by tomorrow's blog the ordeal will be over and it will all seem just like a dream....

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Of great teams and indivudal efforts

I was master of the Titanic in the kitchen again last night. The carrots and celery in the quorn veggie stir fry were too hard. The rice too dry. Overall, it was completely tasteless.

I have 36 hours and two more attempts left to sort out a middle course before "Come be poisoned by me" on Thursday night. If I don't make it, I guess I'll have to fill the kitchen with smoke, fake an oven explosion and offer to take guests somewhere less threatening to their health and safety like a good local restaurant.

It's perhaps ironic I guess that my current reading (other than a multitude of cookbooks) is "Winning" by Clive Woodward who coached the England rugby team to World Cup success in 1993. I've just got to the point that the team has returned heads bowed from a tour of the Southern Hemisphere where they got a good drubbing. Remarkably, Woodward doesn't appear rattled. I guess the sign of a great team is how it handles failure until success comes its way. Let's hope the same applies to a chef too...

Of Rhubarb Ramblings

More disaster. Had a go last night at stewed pairs in red wine. Hard and tasteless. Then tried rhubarb and apple crumble. Edible but apple too hard and crumble too powdery. Also an errant bit of garlic found its way into the dish which didn't help at all. Beginning to panic a little now as I have just 48 hours until "Come be Ill with Me" happens on Thursday. This goal of mine to eat, appreciate and cook better food was designed to help me keep in shape. Instead, I'm just stuffing my face full of all these aborted practice runs. I can't leave even bad food go to waste. Guess it's a "I've been to Africa and seen too many starving people" kind of thing.

In an attempt to burn some of the rhubarb and custard calories I ran to work this morning at 7a.m. through the woods and along the river. It was dark, cold and a bit creepy but at the same time lovely too. The sun was just rising over the Lough as I sped round the corner of the meadows on my way through the park. I arrived to work pumped up and ready for the day. Who needs to be able to do rhubarb crumble anyway? It's hardly a life skill is it??

Monday, 7 February 2011

Of three strikes and you're out

It's been a productive weekend although not always of the best quality - at least where the cooking is concerned. I had another go at homemade bread on Saturday. This time it rose but it was gooey inside. Too much water I'm guessing. I'm trying again tonight. Let's hope it's third time lucky. If it's not I'm just going to stick to the sliced Mother's Pride from Tesco. Maybe I'm one of the those who just can't need dough properly. Gran used to say that their are people like this in the world - their hands are just too cold. Or was that Gran just sitting out another household chore?

The trouble with my coooking is that once I've finished the kitchen looks like a tornado has hit it. I can't seem to use the one knife in a process of carving, cutting and chopping. Instead I seem to use 24. Perhaps the solution is to tie three essential utensils on a string round my neck so I know what is to be used and where it is to be found.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Of Strange Starts & Finishes

Yesterday was a strange day. I awoke late. Too late for breakfast. I couldn't find anywhere to park near my first meeting that wasn't reserved for unnamed others. I missed lunch. By late afternoon I was walking to meetings in driving rain and gales. By 5p.m. I was Mr Grumpygit personified. Then came a decision. Hang around for two hours and go for dinner with a dozen strangers as a guest of a partner company or call it quits and go home. I stayed and sat next to someone who is probably one of the most inspiring people/leaders I've ever met.
Strange how days start and finish and the bit in between....

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Of Knocking ya Panne in and Of Bad Workmen....

It was an utter disaster : "BP's bake your own bread day". I followed the recipe precisely but that was the problem it wasn't at all precise. No - it wasn't really ....

It told me to put in half a sachet of yeast but my yeast from Tesco came in a tin and a large one at that. It advised me to let the dough settle "somewhere warm". Would this be somewhere of room temperature? the airing cupboard? a gently heating over? Spain? Egypt? It didn't say for how long either, 10 minutes? an hour? 2 days? 3 months?

They say you should always take a positive from a negative. Here are my three positives : 1. Nobody died during this experiment, 2. The house still smells lovely, 3. I now how a door wedge for at least the next three days.

Of Talkin About Revolutions

The local swimming pool is closed now for two weeks for renovation work. This morning I had the cross trainer out at the end of the garden for a quick work out.

It was a lovely morning, the air fresh and healthy and the sound of the river soothed the pain as I battled my way to 30 minutes of serious sweat. The only problem was that the cross trainer has developed a squeak and 30 of them every minute proved enough to wake the neighbour who didn't look too pleased at 7 o'clock in the morning.

I was listening to the news as I went. The Beeb seems totally obsessed with Egypt at the moment but then I guess everyone likes a revolution. The news also reported that Chelsea has paid $70million for a footballer whilst recording almost as much of a loss last year. I think the world has gone mad. Perhaps my neighbour would agree....