Category Archives: Conversations
One day it was sure to happen: Monsieur and I would look in the mirror to find Tweedledum and Tweedle-ette staring out at our over-nourished selves. Recently, that day arrived. I wondered if we were indeed genetically linked to Jabba the Hut, such were the rolls of flab about our bellies. In our enjoyment of food, Monsieur and I had each gained a cautionary number of kilos in the years we’ve been together and now it was finally time to shake them off. I’d started to dread getting dressed because nothing looked right, yet I was loath to buy the larger size. My wardrobe was in dire straits and our families no longer ate alongside us discussing subjects like current affairs, travel or politics. No, they would recognise our love of food by kindly offering us seconds as the next deluge of diet tips tripped off their tongues. Family mealtimes were now too often filled with unsubtle reminders that my husband and I were FAT (God bless the honesty of blood relatives, not…), so, lest we anticipated living a life where conversation with loved ones would revolve around DIETS and EXERCISE forever after (yawn), we had to act. Now. The diet would no longer start tomorrow; in fact, it started a few weeks ago and you’ll be relieved to hear that Monsieur and I are already smaller versions of our roly poly, butter-loving selves and happily continue to shrink towards our target weights.
To coincide with the change in our eating habits, Fuelmyblog asked if I’d be interested in reviewing a framed enlargement service at a branch of the photography shop, Snappy Snaps, a stone’s throw from where I work in Hammersmith. Ah, now this could work out nicely, I thought, for I needed one of those weight loss inspiration photos somewhere prominent in the flat and the front of the fridge wouldn’t work in our case – it’s non-magnetic laminate and I hatehatehate sellotape on appliances.
Choosing the right image wasn’t too hard; I went back through the pictures of my hike up Ben Nevis some time back, Before I Got Fat. Downloading a picture of me at the summit of the highest peak in Great Britain, looking slimmer, fit and happy, a version of moi that I’m determined to see again, I took it on a USB to Snappy Snaps, who checked the image on one of their computers, agreed some minor cropping for the enlargement, asked the all-important question: “gloss or matt?” and told me to return at lunchtime the following day to collect the finished product.
The service was a breeze. I returned on time, almost to the minute stated on my receipt and, sure enough, my inspiration photo was ready. The 10 x 8 inch frame was affordable (less than a tenner total) simple in black and sturdy enough to stand but can also be hung on the wall. It now lives next to a papier mâché fish on a chest of drawers in our hallway. The photo certainly does the trick. I pass it numerous times each day and it spurs me on to keep up the shrinkage. Here it is:
(The red fish is my friend, the lucky Vietnamese water puppet! She guards the framed photo now and with piranha-like teeth will maim the hand of anyone who tries to move it… )
Where I think Snappy Snaps most deserves praise is for keeping their high street stores in spite of so much online competition. I admit it’s been a while since I visited a physical photo store; I generally let my mouse do all the walking. However, when I order prints, enlargements, greetings cards made from my photos or other photo products online, it can be a very hit-and-miss affair. Colours alter, finishes vary and one photo book ordered by a family member had to be sent back to the printer 4 times before they got it right. When I speak to my friends and colleagues, this sort of experience is perfectly common, after all, we’re dealing with computers here, not people. So imagine how refreshing it was to pop into my local Snappy Snaps, for a friendly, fast and efficient service given by real human beings. It only serves to reinforce the importance of the physical store in a world where shopping is done more and more frequently online. Agreed, computers are great. Online shopping can be practical. But sometimes, we just need a person.
This was a review post for Snappy Snaps & Fuelmyblog. I received 1 framed photo enlargement so that I could review these for you. My review is honest and in my own words.
Snappy Snaps online – click here
Fuel My Blog – click here
All the talk about beans on the London Bloggers network recently made me do some odd things. Well, odd for most people but probably quite normal for me. This includes taking photographs of BEANS in a French supermarket, planning extra beans into our weekly diet (they’re very good for you – slow energy release), checking the glycemic index of beans (mostly somewhere in the 30s but BROAD beans are naughty with 79) and opening a certain kitchen cupboard door to gaze longingly at our emergency stash of ready-to-go French flageolets…
The bean talk also brought to mind a little Epicurienne anecdote, which hopefully will amuse.
It’s no secret that the French love to believe that English food is little better than pig swill. In fact, I recently fought hard to defend the cuisine of Old Blighty in a family ‘discussion’ in France. Contrary to French belief, England’s positive attitude to food has skyrocketed since I moved here 16 years ago. We have fantastic ingredients at our disposal, the media has helped increase public interest in what they’re cooking and eating, we can enjoy a different ethnic cuisine every night of the month if we feel like it and regional flavours are enjoying the support of increasing numbers of farmers’ markets and eateries that favour local produce. Certainly, it’s still easy to find pork pies filled with more gelatine than pork, and if you’re not careful, you’ll come home from the supermarket with a bag full of tomatoes that taste of cardboard (that’s why you’ll find me sniffing tomatoes in the aisles – more perfume equals more flavour), but it really isn’t fair to say that the English don’t know how to eat and in my experience it remains hard work trying to convince the French otherwise.
So when I was stopped at the X-ray machine at Eurostar in the Gare du Nord I was interested to see which product from a French supermarket shopping binge had piqued the interest of the two uniformed guards now glaring at me with suspicion. You see, there really wasn’t much in my suitcase apart from food and on unzipping the case it was obvious that Monsieur and I had enjoyed our recent trip to the supermarket. Out spilled our favourite soaps and packs of spaetzle, half a dozen bottles of persillade, delicious wine vinegars and various other items that are either hard to find (albeit not impossible) or over-the-top expensive to buy on the other side of the channel. Then they spotted the food criminal that had caused them concern.
“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” asked one, rattling a box of mogettes – a white bean which is popular in the Vendée region of France.
“They’re mogettes.” I replied
“What?” asked the uniform,
“Mogettes,” I answered.
Uniform 1 turned to Uniform 2.
“Do you know zese sings?” he asked his colleague.
“Yes, zey’re delicious. Some of ze best beans in France.” he said, nodding sagely. Then the uniforms turned back to me.
“What we want to know is ‘ow YOU English know about zese beans.” Ah. So I’d confused them. I wasn’t French yet I knew more about a regional French bean than a certain uniformed Frenchman. What an enigma. Perhaps now they’d realise that Anglo Saxon(e)s CAN cook and DO care about their food. Then again, perhaps they were going to arrest me for attempting to remove a French food treasure from their country. Two pairs of eyes narrowed as they focussed on me. It was obvious that they were confused to find that someone living in England actually liked to cook.
“My father-in-law is French and he introduced me to them. I saw them in the supermarket and thought I’d take some home.”
“Ah, yes. Of course. Because in England ze food is so bad.” Uniform 2 was laughing now. “So you have to come to France to buy REAL food. Hahaha.” That wasn’t quite accurate, although I wasn’t about to argue with two men carrying guns.
During the course of the examination of my mogettes quite a queue had built up behind us, but the uniforms didn’t care. They were now interested in how I was going to cook my mogettes.
“My father-in-law said I should soak them overnight and then cook them with a bouquet garni, a little onion and some carrots. I’ll probably serve them with chicken or duck.”
“Ah, yes.” Uniform 2 was practically dribbling. “I love ze mogettes.”
“So why ‘ave I not ‘eard of zem?” asked Uniform 1. “You say you can buy zem in ze supermarket?” he asked me. Suddenly, the ‘ENGLISH’ was the expert on French beans instead of a suspected terrorist with explosive in her shopping.
“Yes,” I said, trying to zip up my bag and make way for the grumbling travellers behind me, “You can buy them in the supermarket.”
As I walked away from the Uniforms, they were still discussing mogettes, which just goes to show that even though the prevalent French attitude to English eating habits needs some correcting, it’s true when they say that if you want to enjoy a really passionate discussion in France, just start talking about food. And hopefully now there exist at least two more Frenchmen who know that sometimes, just sometimes, those folk across La Manche might know a bit more than just their onions when it comes to food.
My dear people,
Epic is back. As you may know, the past few months have seen me very much stuck in blog limbo, that is to say that I wanted to blog, oh so very much I wanted to blog, but Monsieur and I were planning our wedding and for anyone who hasn’t done this, it is not to be recommended to bloggers unless your blogging specialty is wedded bliss.
Anyone who knows me will understand that it’s somewhat of a surprise that I climbed into a big, white dress and got passionate about invitation design. I simply wasn’t born that sort of girl. Jeans are my Alexander McQueen and the only shoes I get truly excited about are my Fit Flops. If you’ve ever seen that episode of Friends where Chandler proposes to Monica and she immediately pulls out a massive scrapbook filled with clippings and cuttings and samples for her Big Day, i.e. she’d been planning her wedding since well before a ring was popped onto her finger, that is not me. How was I ever going to pull off a wedding day when I had zero interest in floral arrangements? Truth be known, I did it for Monsieur, my very own Groomzilla, and in hindsight, it was a good call to follow his wishes. We had a blast.
On the day, however, I started off as The Bride on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. It’s a wonder my make up went on straight, I was trembling that much. My friends did what good friends do in such situations and tried to relax me with champagne. Normally I’d neck the bubbly in a single gulp, but anything that passed my lips had a tough time going further. In quite the unprecedented of drinking events, I only managed half a flute. My chest tightened up, I ingested about half a bottle of Bach’s Rescue Remedy spray, much to the amusement of the photographer, and once in hand my bouquet shook as if it was having its own personal earthquake. But once by Monsieur’s side the shaking slowly subsided and the day proceeded at a calming pace. Well, mostly calming. The dancing to the Hawaii 5-0 soundtrack needed to be seen to be believed as quite a number of us flailed about pretending we were on surfboards. Bride on surfboard? Probably not a good look but oh yes, that was a You Tube moment if ever there was one. Unfortunately, no one caught it on film and if I have any regrets about the day, that would have to be it.
Happily, I can confirm that marriage is suiting Monsieur and me. We still get excited about using those terribly grown up words of ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ and all the hard work seemed to pay off because we did indeed enjoy a truly beautiful day. But never, ever again will I arrange a wedding. The stress of it is astronomical and every spare hour goes into the preparations. In the end it feels as if regular life is a strange and distant memory.
Matrimonial planning also affects sleep patterns, as I found out. I never knew that one person could have as many wedding nightmares as I did. They started as soon as we confirmed the date and venue, and only finished about 6 weeks. That makes seven months of nightmares. No fun.
Here are some examples of wedding nightmares: at different times I dreamed of forgetting to book the florist, being 4 hours late for my hair appointment or getting married in an amphitheatre which demanded I walk down ancient and crumbling stairs without tripping. In one such ‘mare I lost my bouquet. In another, long-dead relatives visited to wish me well and when I asked how it was possible that they were there sitting next to me, they replied “Ah well, the bus from Scotland had a few delays and it certainly was a long and difficult journey, but we’re here now.” So now we know: the dead live in Scotland. As you can see, some seriously random stuff was going on between my ears each night so I was always relieved to wake up and see Monsieur and know that there was still time to fix whatever had been bugging my subconscious. But then my dreams started to freak him out to the point where a typical early morning conversation went something like this:
ME: “Darling, I just had another dream about the wedding.”
HIM: “Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. You’re starting to freak me out.”
ME: “But I just wanted to say how happy I am this morning because I woke up.”
HIM: “Yes. That’s great. You woke up. So did I.” (looks at me with puzzled face)
ME: “No, you don’t get it. I’m relieved because my dream wasn’t real.”
HIM: “That’s right, darling. Dreams are NOT real. That’s why they’re called ‘dreams’.”
ME: “Seriously, listen! In my dream I married the wrong man by mistake and I couldn’t get out of it and you were so annoyed but I couldn’t see his face at the ceremony part and he kind of looked like you but then the registrar said…”
HIM: “Didn’t I just tell you NOT to tell me?” (Before I can say another word, Monsieur hurries to the bathroom where he can lock the door and find peace, however temporary.)
So it won’t come as any surprise to hear that Monsieur and I are extremely happy and a big part of our wedded bliss is down to no more nightmares and not having to take care of any more wedding preparations. There’s definitely a reason why you’re only supposed to wed once and it must have something to do with stress levels, which in our case were not helped by that belching Icelandic volcano and grounded planes or trying to decide the lesser of the various evils in the UK’s General Election 2 days before our wedding.
The good news is that looking back at our wedding day will always bring a kaleidoscope of wonderful memories. 95% of the day went to plan, the atmosphere of love and friendship all around us was overwhelming (in a good way), the cake was so perfect that it brought a tear to my eye and the tables all looked wonderful. Apparently yes, I do care more about floral arrangements and stationery motifs than previously, but I still maintain that this is the first and last wedding I’ll plan. Ever. Besides, on the day we were so busy with the photographer and guests that I didn’t try a single canapé and then didn’t realise that I hadn’t tried them until a full 48 hours later. As for nerves, I could barely eat at the wedding breakfast. Unusual behaviour for a foodie? You bet. It’s precisely what this particular Epicurienne considers a travesty not to be repeated and I’m sure that you, my food-loving friends, will concur. To spend months planning a wedding and not even have a single delicious little bite of canapé? Not. Blooming. Happening. Again.
And so to Hawaii! Tune in soon for tales from the honeymoon where Monsieur and I benefit from the healing effects of sun, surf, sand and sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.
When Monsieur and I travelled through Vietnam some time back, this fascinating country and its people had such a profound effect on me that I haven’t yet blogged about it. Every time I think of our journey, my mind fills with such a kaleidoscope of vistas and tastes and people and experiences that it overwhelms. But now, sixteen months later, I’m going to try to share our experiences.
To start with, here’s a synopsis of how we did it. We didn’t see everything that we wanted to see, because Vietnam is a big place with troublesome roads and slow trains and we only had two weeks within which to learn how to cross the roads and explore as much of the country as possible. The upshot of that is that there’s plenty to keep us busy when we go back one day. And we will go back one day. If I could wangle it, I’d go back right this minute.
GETTING THERE AND BACK:
Monsieur and I flew on Eva Air from London to Bangkok because direct flights from London to Vietnam are exorbitant and this way we’d both save money and see a little bit of Thailand. It’s significantly cheaper for UK residents to fly to Bangkok and then hop across to Vietnam on one of the region’s low cost airlines. In our case we flew Air Asia from Bangkok to Hanoi, and from Ho Chi Minh City back to Bangkok. Air Asia is cheap and efficient, but the baggage allowance is a meagre 15 kilos. Going out, this wasn’t a problem and my packed suitcase only weighed 10 kilos, which is somewhat of an achievement for this girl scout who likes to be prepared for all eventualities. Quite naturally, as we travelled about, Monsieur and I picked up more baggage weight in the form of clothes and gifts for family and friends, so that by the time we left Vietnam, our baggage excess was such that we had to pay a hefty $125 US dollars. The way we looked at it this was that once added to the cost of the flights themselves it just made the flights feel more regular in price as opposed to a real bargain. You have been warned.
Internally we flew Vietnam Airlines, which we found to be pretty good. We later found out that they have a terrible reputation but that wasn’t our experience at all. Had we had more time, we would have liked to try the train that travels up and down Vietnam, but unfortunately the journey times were too long to be practical for us.
So here’s what we got up to. It would be great if you pick out something that you’d like to hear about, leave it in the comments and I’ll write it up for you.
Day 1 – Arrive in Bangkok. Stay at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Swim off the travel grime and enjoy lovely buffet at the hotel.
Day 2 – Breakfast by the river. Hire a driver to take us around Bangkok for 5 hours for the equivalent of a 15 minute cab ride in London. We manage to take in the Golden Buddha, the Grand Palace and a vibrant weekend market before returning to the hotel. Cocktails at the Sirocco Bar with fantastic views over Bangkok and dinner at the Blue Elephant.
Day 3 – Fly to Hanoi. Have fun with immigration officials and ATMs at Hanoi airport. Stay at the beautiful Sofitel Metropole Hotel. Learn to cross streets without being mown down by a tidal wave of mopeds. Walk to old town via Hoan Kiem Lake. Visit Ngoc Son temple. Circle the lake. Dinner at the Spices Garden restaurant at the hotel.
Day 4 – Take tour to Halong Bay. Long day. Epic ingests an entire dish of MSG. By herself. And suffers the consequences.
Day 5 – Walk around Hanoi. Visit Temple of Literature, Hanoi Hilton. Just about evaporate in the heat and humidity.
Day 6 – Fly to Danang. Pass China Beach on way to Hoi An. Stay at Ha An Hotel. Lunch at Banana Leaf. Do walking tour of Old Town – temples, Japanese Bridge, a ‘real’ Vietnamese home etc. Visit Yaly tailors. Dinner at Mango Rooms.
Day 7 – Fitting at Yaly then a lazy day at nearby Cua Dai Beach. Lunch at the beach. Dinner at Brothers Café.
Day 8 – Fly to Nha Trang. Stay at Six Senses resort. Laze around at the beach and in the pool. Dinner and DVDs in our room. We need to slow down for a couple of days, and so we do just that.
Day 9 – All meals taken at the hotel. The much-needed chilling-out period after so much travelling helps a lot so we spend another day at the beach.
Day 10 – Travel by road to Dalat. Looks close on map. Takes hours each way. Visit our driver’s family shrine, rest stop in village, see Dalat train station, Prenn Falls. See coffee/ tapioca/sugar cane plantations. Afternoon at Dalat Palace Golf Club. Interesting drive back to Nha Trang with our fascinating driver. Much of our conversation is taken up by what Vietnamese eat, which is just about everything.
Day 11 – Another day chilling out. Vietnamese coffee rocks. We watch Vietnamese musicians at dinner. We also have a sunburn relief massage with fresh aloe vera. I’d never had a massage before. What total decadence!
Day 12 – Fly to Ho Chi Minh City. Stay at Majestic Hotel on Dong Khoi. It rains buckets. Visit the post office, haggle with street vendors, give thanks for safe travels at Notre Dame Cathedral. Walk to Reunification Palace. Dinner at M Bar with great views over river. That river is a floating highway, even at night.
Day 13 – take tour out of HCMC. Visit Cu Chi Tunnels and My Tho on the Mekong Delta. Boat ride to Ben Tre for lunch. Coconut candy factory, snakes and longboats. Cao Dai Temple. Lacquerware factory visit. Dinner with Adam from Vietnam Travel Notes – we go to Bin Thanh Market together. REALLY good night!
Day 14 – last day in Vietnam. Shopping in town. Lunch at Lemongrass. Dong Khoi. Back to the airport. Long delay because of riots in Bangkok. Stay at The Peninsula Hotel.
Day 15 – Fly home with a head full of wonderful, colourful memories of Vietnam.
+16 months – Epic finally gets around to blogging about it.
When Jaz Cummins of Londonist approached me for an interview for their London blogger series, I was naturally delighted to oblige. As usual, I’m late with posting the result, which went live on Monday 6 July. And, as usual, ‘better late than never’ is my catch phrase. Voilà – the Epic answers to some Jaz-y questions.
The London Blogger Interviews #22: Epicurienne
(Villefranche sur Mer, 1 January 2008)
If you had to describe your blog in less than 15 words how would you do it?
Tales of travel and culinary adventure in London, Paris and Auckland (and the places in between).
Why did you start blogging?
I’ve always been one of those people who suffers irrational panic attacks if I don’t have a notebook and pen with me at all times. For that reason I wouldn’t last a day in the Big Brother house. I’ve been keeping journals since I was about nine years old, mostly filled with jottings about travels and restaurants and recipe ideas and inspirational quotes… A blog seemed like the logical next step to take.
What about London inspires your blog?
London full stop inspires my blog. I love the melting-pot atmosphere and the fact that if you can’t be it/ wear it/ try it on the streets of London, then you might just say it’s impossible. I particularly appreciate the fact that it’s possible to eat a different cuisine from a different part of the world every night of the month if you were really so-inclined. And I love the parks and green spaces all over London. Come rain or shine they’re a great place to go and observe Londoners and visitors to London, undertaking all manner of activity from picnicking to roller-blading or sitting quietly under a tree with a book.
What’s been your favourite cause, series or post on the blog?
I thoroughly enjoyed writing about our travels in Malaysia, which earned me a few fans in that part of the world and an interview with the Malay Mail, and you don’t have to ask me twice to write about Italy. But my favourite ever post has to be the video entry I made for the London Bloggers’ Meetup competition stating why I deserved to win a ticket to Blog08. I promised to wear big, wooden clogs to the conference, which someone obviously decided to test, because I did in fact win. And yes, I wore big cow-pattern clogs to the conference, earning me more than my fair share of odd treatment, but I’m pleased I did it.
Tips I can share with wannabe clog- wearers are 1. take them off before taking stairs OR take out comprehensive medical insurance before attempting to go up or down any number of steps. 2. they’re very warm. 3 wear thick woollen socks to make them really comfy. 4. they’re completely waterproof and 5. they make great pot plant holders when you get home.
What are your ‘last supper’ essentials if you had one day left to eat in London?
This is a really tricky one. I think if it were my last day in London, I’d go to Borough Market for breakfast, taking whatever was seasonally available for a snack. Needless to say, I’d take a tonne of photos to remember it by, and probably splurge on a few culinary bits and pieces for my new kitchen cupboard, wherever that might be.
I’d probably lunch somewhere Asian, like LiKo in Lisle street, where the tempura noodle bowls are fantastic value and you really get the feeling of being somewhere completely different from London, which is one of the reasons I like it so much. If my bank balance was looking really healthy, I might be persuaded to go to Nobu. But the main event of the day would be dinner. I’d invite our friends over for a big raclette buffet with asparagus and new potatoes, garlic button mushrooms and sweet vine tomatoes, with some fine French charcuterie courtesy of Monsieur, Epic’s herby chicken fillets and some crusty sourdough bread from the Hammersmith Farmer’s Market. I guess my last day in London had better be in May, given how much I love asparagus! The raclette would come from La Fromagerie in Marylebone, and I’d ask the nice chap at Nicolas to supply a few bottles of his driest Provençale rose to wash it all down. I have a tendancy to make myself hungry when describing food. That would be right now.
Would you feel more or less connected to London, or missed out on things without your blog?
I’ve lived in London for 15 years now, so you might say there’d be something wrong with me if I didn’t feel connected to London by now. However, the blog has made me feel a greater connection to London through extending my London-based community.
It also makes me think twice about things we take for granted as Londoners, which can be of interest to readers elsewhere in the world.
How has your blog connected you to another community of bloggers in London? The world?
In my earliest blogging days I found out about the London Bloggers Meetup Group, run by the most welcoming self-confessed marketing blagger Andy Bargery. Through the Group I have been lucky enough to meet a lot of London-based bloggers, which is definitely helpful when most of the people you might get to know through a blog live miles away. The LBM Group gives a sense of reality to writing in the ether.
As for the rest of the world, I have had the great good fortune to ‘meet’ a group of regular readers, who give me a kick up the backside when necessary, are also funny, supportive and intelligent folk. I count them as friends and they live as far afield as the States, Japan, Australia and Paraguay.
What’s the most underrated thing about London?
It might sound crazy but in my opinion the weather is the most underrated thing about London. Why? Because when the sun shines, even if it’s just for a few hours, it transforms everyone’s demeanour from grumpy to friendly. Admittedly, it can be too grey, too cold, too wet, too depressing at times, especially in the winter, but even that’s good because it means we don’t take the good weather for granted. Ever. Even the heavy snow in January seemed to unite neighbours as they moaned about not being able to get to work, whilst secretly enjoying building their snowmen and igloos.
And for some general London chat…Where do you live and why do you love it?
I live in Maida Vale, which neither Monsieur nor I knew very well before moving here. It didn’t take long to convince us that it’s a great place to be in London, though. It’s handy for getting to the West End and has good connections to most parts of London. It’s not far from Paddington. It’s leafy in summer with hidden communal gardens where we can picnic. There’s a great sense of community. On Guy Fawke’s Day there are some fantastic fireworks displays in the area and at the end of a rough day at work, it FEELS like home. There are some great pubs in the neighbourhood and people are as friendly as I’ve ever found them to be in any part of London.
At our tube stop there is one London Underground employee whom I swear must be the happiest man in their employ, writing silly messages on the whiteboard each morning to cheer us on the way to work, and Little Venice is a picturesque place to visit – with canal cruises to take with visitors and decent eateries with water views. Right now, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in London, although now I’ve said that, we’ll probably find ourselves on the move.
What’s your favourite place in London?
My favourite place in London would have to be around the river. At lunchtime I sometimes walk down to the Thames near Hammersmith, where I work. There’s always a tonne of interest going on down there – rowers in training, people walking their dogs, runners, pub-goers, interesting places to eat, strange buildings… The river gives a sense of openness. When entertaining visitors to London, it gives a lot of options. I love walking along the various sections of the South Bank, be it in Battersea Park or past the Tate Modern, or hanging out at Butler’s Wharf, or taking photos of Tower Bridge, or having a pint by the boats at St Katherine’s Dock… There’s the wobbly bridge to cross, strange river traffic to watch, not to mention the wonderful views of the city, including St Paul’s and the Gherkin. If you want to invite me somewhere, just make sure it’s on the river and I’ll be there, bells ringing loudly.
What do you know about London that noone else does?
I once met a woman whose husband fell seriously ill quite out of the blue. He went into a coma and the doctors were quite certain he wouldn’t come out of it. The woman had heard about the Tyburn Convent at Marble Arch, going there each day to pray for her husband. He subsequently made an astonishing recovery, encouraging his doctors to write about it in medical journals. They couldn’t explain it. Everyone called it a miracle and the woman has no doubt that that’s exactly what it was. So if you’re ever in the honest need of a miracle, I would recommend visiting the Tyburn Convent, which is dedicated to the Catholic nuns who were hanged during the Reformation on the site where Marble Arch now stands.
Have you ever been sick on the tube?
No, thankfully I have never been sick on the tube, as in physically lose my lunch all over someone’s Jimmy Choos. I’ve felt faint in summer and claustrophobic on sardine days and certain armpits have made me gag at times, but luckily I’ve always made it to my stop without having an Exorcist moment. Having said that, as I was thinking about this question, I overheard a guy on the street chatting to his friend about having vomited on the tube the night before. That made me chuckle.
Anything else we should know?
Nope, I think that covers it. Thank you for asking me to do this interview.
For a link directly to the page, please click here.
(photo courtesy of TFL’s press images)
The Epicurienne Day Job has zero to do with food or travel, apart from having to travel to and from work each day on The Dunderground. The frequent long waits on one of the lines I use are frustrating. I can never predict when I will reach work. If I’m running late at the home end, sometimes everything will go to plan and I’ll get to work early. But only sometimes. On the other hand, if I leave home early because of a deadline or early meeting, sod’s law dictates that everything will be delayed and I’ll arrive at work late and flustered.
As many of you know, The Epicurienne Day Job involves HR so it’s safe to say I know a fair amount about the devastating effects of the current recession on good, hardworking people. We’ve lost a lot of staff to redundancy due to the domino effect of incoming projects being cancelled or failing to materialise because a client has pulled the plug. Our directors have taken pay cuts and the remaining staff have had a 0% pay increase at a time when the cost of living has risen, in spite of a cut to VAT and talk of deflation. As are many others, I am much worse off financially because of this, but I’m one of the lucky ones; I kept my job. So far, anyway. And yet, in January, tube fares went up but the economists talk about deflation. How about telling that to London Underground?
Last week we had two days of tube strike in London. Why? Because tube staff think that in the current climate they are worth a 5% pay increase for fewer hours. FEWER hours, people. I mean to say. WHAT??? Do these folk not read the papers?
Naturally, there was mayhem. Those who could, drove, creating nightmarish traffic conditions. Others cycled. One colleague complained that on her overground train which was already a human sardine can, one man brought his bike ONTO the train. Methinks he should have just hopped on it and ridden instead of taking up valuable sardine space. Then one of our directors had his state-of-the-art cycle nicked while he was at the theatre, to which he’d had to cycle because there was no tube. Meanwhile, I walked to and from work on both days, clocking up 2.5 hours a day of exercise. And one large, bleeding blister. But the buses were full and bus stops overcrowded and the overground trains are nowhere near me so my Tube Replacement Service simply had to be my feet.
On the second day of the strike, there was apparently a reduced service on my line, but when I walked past the stop nearest home, its shuttered gate was firmly locked, so I kept going. When I finally reached the stop nearest work, it was open. Somewhat confused, I stopped to read the update sign. Just then, a striking tube worker, sat cross-legged on the ground, said:
“take the tube at your peril today! No safety staff are working.”
Hrmph. That really ticked me off.
“What you’re doing is greedy.” I retorted. “Most people are happy to just be in paid employment right now and you want a pay rise? Unbelievable.”
This wasn’t exactly what Tube Woman wanted to hear. With venom, she spat back. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Actually, lady, I know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.” Or so I thought.
End of exchange, I stomped off, toe bleeding, to work.
Then yesterday, the man who sells papers and soft drinks at the tube station told me he’d heard there were going to be more strikes. This is a man who lives outside of London and who therefore had to get up at 3.30 each morning of the strike in order to open his shop at 7.30am, not to mention his lengthy commute home. He’d had about 4 hours sleep each of those two days. Needless to say, he wasn’t too impressed about the potential of a repeat performance, and I was seriously considering applying to be a tube driver because they earn more than I do and get guaranteed pay rises each year and a tonne of holiday and free travel on public transport and additional days off whenever they feel like striking, which seems always to be when the weather’s nice. So I told him this and as I did, his friendly face froze as his eyes moved to a point behind me. I turned around, to find a tube driver in his nice blue syntheticky uniform. Woops. He’d heard my moan and smiled.
“It’s really not that bad being a tube driver.”
“That’s what I was saying. You’re much better off than I am and I figure, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
Tube Driver’s grin widened. “Yep, and our job security is top.”
The way he said it was spiteful. Boastful jerk. Ticked off yet again, I stomped off to work wondering how on earth it is that I have four sets of letters after my name, yet struggle every month whilst a tube driver laughs all the way to the bank. Even Monsieur seems to think it’s a joke that tube drivers earn more than I do. Yep, I’m laughing. Oh yes, I’m laughing hard at that one. NOT.
So this morning I googled London Underground to see what I could expect to take home if I worked for them. Here’s a typical TFL benefits package:
- 30 days annual leave plus 8 days stats (That’s 9 more than my current entitlement. Oh, the travel possibilities with those extra days!)
- Self and nominee oystercard giving free travel on London Underground, buses, Docklands light railway, Trams (NB not contractual benefit) (that would save me somewhere between £1,032.00 and £2,720 per annum multiplied by 2 users)
- Private Medical insurance if over the threshold on payband one (that would save another £600.00 per annum)
- Discounted Eurostar travel (more beans saved, especially as Monsieur and I are high-end Eurostar users)
- TFL Pension fund – contributory, final salary scheme (5% employee, 15% employer contribution) (our firm does 5% and 5% and it is not a final salary scheme)
- 75% reimbursement 75% of an Annual Season Ticket for National Rail travel (which would make train travel affordable again instead of ridiculous)
And we mustn’t forget the 5% pay increase for FEWER hours that will soon be added to this list because the RMT always gets its way. Nor should we overlook the benefit of belonging to a highly effective union. I think I’ve just about convinced myself to send off an application to work for the TFL ‘cos in this climate, every penny counts and as I obviously can’t beat ‘em, I just might have to join ‘em.
On Tuesday night there was another of our Bloggers’ Meetups, this time at the Silk Route-inspired Shish bar and restaurant in trendy Hoxton. This meant quite a trek from one side of London to the other following a hard day’s work, but it helped that the sun was shining and the tubes were all working. For once. Hallelujah to The God of Small Things.
Before long Epic Brother and I were downstairs at Shish, being greeted by Fashion Targets Breast Cancer reps who gave us smart little target badges, a couple of little target drinks vouchers and credit card-sized USB cards. PR Krista, who later made a presentation about the launch of the charity’s first online campaign, encouraged us to enter the evening’s raffle for target tee shirts. In case you’re wondering why it’s target this and target that, the target is the FTBC charity emblem so we saw quite a few of them in the course of the evening.
It was great to catch up with Splendid Chris and Formerly-of-Splendid Rax, who’s now enjoying a solo venture in PR, in between bites of gherkins and marmite on toast. Lolly and I ranted about the high cost of utilities mid-Credit Crunch and we chatted with Florentine Barbara about wine tastings and Italy, Photographer Peter who was quintuply booked up so had to leave early to attend his other four engagements of the evening, but not before enjoying the fruits of his drink vouchers. We even discussed creativity with newer meetup member, Creativity Consultant, Gregg Fraley. You can buy his book on creativity here.
Perched on a poof in the dim bar with North African-style lanterns swaying from the ceiling, I nagged Post It Note Politico Chris into writing a new book; so much so that the next time he sees me he’ll probably hide under a bus, moving or otherwise. Chris’s girlfriend, Nina, is working on a website promoting tourism in Mozambique, adding yet more diverse flavour to the evening’s conversation. Checking out one of the many charity fliers dotted about the place, Nina and I decided we liked the target tee shirts. They don’t look like the sort of tops you’d buy in the knowledge that 30% of the sale revenue is headed directly for a charity. Made by fashion retailers such as Top Shop, Warehouse, Marks & Sparks and River Island, the styles are current and perfectly wearable. Little did I realise how important that was to be later.
PR Krista took to the floor with great aplomb, explaining the story behind Fashion Targets Breast Cancer. It was established in 1994 by Ralph Lauren, who had lost his friend, Washington Post columnist, Nina Hyde to the dreaded disease. Hyde’s dying wish had been that Lauren should use his influence in the world of fashion to raise money for breast cancer research, campaigning and education. He kept his promise and the charity reached the UK’s shores in 1996. We heard about the importance of online outreach for charities such as FTBC, and interactive attention-grabbers, such as FTBC’s Million Model Catwalk, a site where you can put yourself on a catwalk with your favourite model/s and check out the latest in FTBC’s fashionable merchandise.
Following further discussion on how the blogging community can raise charity awareness, PR Krista presented a prize to a blogger called Derry who’d stated in 100 words or less the answer to:
Why should charities use online communications to support their cause?
His winning reply employed a quote by cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Krista and the FTBC team, who’d deliberated over which entrant should win, says that this statement “can be applied to both charities and to online groups such as bloggers.”
Derry took home the prize of a £100.00 shopping voucher kindly donated by FTBC partner, Marks & Spencer. Hopefully he’ll spend it on target merchandise for all his friends!
Next, the raffle was drawn (cue drum roll) and much to Andy Bargery’s dismay, my name was the tenth and final one out of the hat so I subsequently went home with a snazzy FTBC target tee from Top Shop. Later, when Andy told me he couldn’t believe my luck with meetup competitions, I said “I don’t know what’s going on. I never used to win anything before I joined this meetup group. Now it seems like I’m on a winning streak!” Long may that last.
A press release from Fashion Targets Breast Cancer states the following:
- Nearly 46,000 women and around 300 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK.
- Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK and 1 in 9 women in the UK will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime.
- More women than ever in the UK are surviving breast cancer thanks to better awareness, better screening and better treatments.
The last statement is particularly pertinent to me as I know two breast cancer survivors, one of whom has lovelier hair now than before she lost it through chemo, and for whom a subsequent breast reconstruction has been so successful that she is known to grab a hand and say “feel”, because she’s so proud of how natural she feels and looks following such a long and painful ordeal. I take my hat off to her, and to all such brave fighters of cancer, be it breast or otherwise. Their inner steel is awesome in the truest sense of the word.
For further information on how to support the Fashion Targets Breast Cancer cause, check out the relevant links below.
Ralph Lauren – this is one seriously gorgeous site. Even if you’re not a clothes horse, take a peek!
Million Model Catwalk - this is where you can buy FTBC merchandise and put yourself on the catwalk with your favourite models.
(Flags in Toulouse)
The events of recent weeks have been an uphill struggle, to put it mildly, so Monsieur and I were in dire need of a date to distract us. On a recent weekend, instead of brunching on my fine Eggs Benedict at home we went out. I’d been hearing good things about a place called Bloody French in Westbourne Grove so we thought we’d give it a whirl. Well, actually, I thought we’d give it a whirl. Monsieur was in favour of our local deli, Raoul’s, or nearby Café Rouge. In hindsight, his preferences were safer, but I argued that it was time to try somewhere new, so Bloody French it was.
The online reviews for Bloody French gave a very different picture from what we experienced. The positive posts were high in praise for everything from the food to the service; the negative complained of lackadaisical wait staff and booking mix ups. We were also cautioned that it got quite crowded at weekends, so we booked a table but on arriving no one bothered to ask if we’d reserved. A waitress with a rushed air about her, even though the restaurant wasn’t even half full, plonked us down next to the front door, and thus we benefitted from gushing cold air every time it opened, which, luckily for us was not too often.
The menus were written on small blackboards which stood on the table. There was a deal on – 2 courses and a hot drink for £16.90. Hot drink? Could they be more specific? When Monsieur later asked the waiter to clarify this, it was as you’d expect – coffee, tea or hot chocolate, but it just seemed strange to offer a free “hot drink” with a lunch menu. Breakfast – fine. Lunch – wrong. Given that the menu only had a couple of vaguely breakfasty options, and it was now past 1pm, this was definitely lunch.
The bread arrived and Monsieur, the resident bread connoisseur in our household, took one sniff and said “Ocado.” For those of you who don’t live in the UK, Ocado is the supermarket delivery service that we often use. Sometimes we buy long-life baguettes that we can keep in the cupboard as an emergency measure, flinging one into the oven on the odd occasion where we’ve run out of bread and can’t be bothered battling the ‘fine’ English weather to run out to the shop for more. This looked like an under-cooked emergency baguette to me. I took a slice, bit into it and had to agree with Monsieur. “You’re right,” I said, “it tastes just like Delice de France and it needs another 5 minutes in the oven.” In a place that purports to be French, with French wait staff and visible patronage from the local French community, this was a proper faux pas. The real French don’t do heat-up bread, at least not in public.
Surprisingly (if you believe the bad online reviews), we didn’t have to wait long for our food to arrive. Monsieur and I both ordered the feuilleté with chèvre and pesto to start. The pastry was spread with tasty dark pesto, more like a tapenade in flavour, and the chèvre was perfectly warm as opposed to sticky melting goo but the pastry itself was once more undercooked. By rights it should have been golden and crackling when it arrived, instead of which it both looked and tasted a bit pale and soggy. I started to wonder whether the feuilletés were also bought in from somewhere like Delice de France and then someone in the kitchen hadn’t read the directions on the side of the pack.
To give credit where it’s due, our waiter was an eager young Frenchman who presented and cleared our plates without delay. We were well looked after in that regard. However, my main course just about finished me off. I had chosen the Salade Landaise – a country salad of endive tossed with potatoes, slices of smoked duck breast and duck gizzards. This is one of my favourite French salad treats, but sadly not at Bloody French. The salad looked a few days old, with brown bits on leaves that should be white and zero crispiness left in it. It was limp, like wet tissue. The new potatoes, which should have had some texture to them, were wrinkled and mushy. They tasted like old kitchen leftovers, which are fine if they’re in your own kitchen, but not when you’re dining out. The redeeming feature of the salad was the duck breast – to me these morsels embody the south west of France. I even like the gizzards. Normally. But when I bit into my third or fourth gizzard, something went horribly wrong and for the first time ever I had to say I didn’t like the gizzard. In fact, that’s a mild way of putting it. I almost gagged my stomach contents into the middle of my still quite-full plate. That was the end of my interest in lunch. I make a far superior Salade Landaise at home so I won’t be coming to Bloody French for a repeat performance of this weak effort.
As I quietly choked on the foul-tasting gizzard Monsieur was tucking into the far more reliable steak frites and they were, quite simply, steak frites. You’d have to be the village idiot to get this meal wrong but for once, at a single glance, I could tell that Monsieur could also do better if he’d cooked this himself. Monsieur may not cook very much these days, not now that he’s ‘hired’ me, but he certainly knows how to make himself a good plate of steak frites.
On the beverage front, I had asked for a glass of rosé. It was a small glass (175ml) of regular pink plonk that certainly didn’t warrant the £5.00 we paid for it. The sparkling Badoit was as you’d expect, but rather pricey considering that it’s water, not wine, and Jesus isn’t likely to perform His miracles at Bloody French any time soon. The cappuccini were hot, as advertised, but I’m not going to dedicate any more time to a hot drink with nothing more exciting to its name than a frothy top. It tasted exactly as you’d expect – nothing more, nothing less. This could have been a Starbuck’s coffee i.e. nothing to write home about.
Speaking of frothy tops, the couple just next to us were the obvious product of a Big Night Out and a subsequent one night stand. He was tall, strawberry blond and very English, right down to his Oxford flop of hair, tweed jacket and tan brogues. She was blonde with big eyes and a fine pair of bazookas which were pushed into the public arena by a hypnotic lacy pink bra which was difficult to ignore as it peeked out from a leave-nothing-to-the-imagination white blouse. The food at Bloody French was awful but the entertainment of this pair partly made up for that.
“Are your eyelashes REALLY that long?” asked English. The girl giggled, batting said lashes up at the object of her interest in a way that screamed “I want to lick whipped cream off your torso!” And somehow, without ever mentioning the words ‘false’ or ‘fake’, she admitted that her eyelashes were enhanced as she pushed her upper arms into her sides, promoting her assets once again. “I really shouldn’t go out so much,” she purred, coyly. “Why not?” asked English, genuinely confused by this statement. “Oh because I’ve been out so many times recently and I get really tired.” If you’re male and, like English, you’re confused by this, let me explain what she’s really trying to say. By mentioning that she goes out a lot, she’s saying that she’s popular with a keen social life. She probably thinks he’ll find that attractive, so call this self-advertising, but for all we know, she’s a homebody with a knitting habit. She’s also trying to tell him that she’s ready to give up the long nights for something a bit quieter, presumably him, if he plays his cards right. Given the amount of hair flicking, giggling, bosom thrusting and eye-batting that was going on to my right, I’m pretty sure this girl thought she’d found a catch and she wasn’t about to let go in a hurry. Isn’t human nature fascinating? Lastly, had Darwin been with us, he would have used this couple as an example of natural selection. Physically, they were very well matched.
Apart from the table-side entertainment with heaving bosoms, however, we won’t be returning to Bloody French. Why? Because for us, eating at Bloody French was a Bloody Big Mistake. Point final.