Last night I joined fellow bloggers for another rendezvous of the London Bloggers Meetup Group. After some humming and hah-ing about which venue to assemble at, we found ourselves back at the Coach & Horses in Soho, for a night of blog-ducation.
M3Mobile sponsored the evening, buying beers for the first twenty-ish people. I must (typically) have been number 21 to arrive because there were no beers for me and the upstairs wine was £5.75 a glass! (Didn’t realise at the time that we weren’t supposed to bring drinks up from the downstairs bar, so I avoided the queue and did just that. The downstairs wine was cheaper by far! Later on in the ‘Naughty Corner’, as we dubbed the tiny upstairs terrace, we wine drinkers had a therapeutic moan about that. We need to corner a wine sponsor!) Almost immediately I managed to meet Barbara, one of the bloggers on my must-meet list. She runs a company called Glocal Travel specialising in sustainable travel to Mexico and blogs about it. She’s up for an award so congratulations on the nomination, Barbara!
I also chatted with Chris, who blogs about music and must meet The Plummet Onions writer, Tim, who was at a gig last night so unable to join us. Then there was Mehrdad, a photographer who is also web-design-techy enough to give me good advice about how to get help jazzing up this site so it doesn’t look so WordPress-y anymore so thank you to him. Kate, who blogs for cheapeats told us about a wonderful Thai in Waterloo. Apparently its looks belie the tasty food to be had inside for a song. Kate – when you read this, please would you send me the name again?
Then Andy introduced the first of our Blog School lecturers, Xavier Damman, who told us all about his brainchild, Commentag, a tag filtering plugin that helps organise your discussions and displays tag clouds for your comments. “If you have no tags, you have no visibility,” he told us. “And if you make a comment that receives no response, it’s a waste of time.” Well, yes and no. I think it depends on what you want to get out of your blog.
Next, Improbulus took the floor to talk about her blog which receives upward of 2000 hits a day. Here’s some of her advice for us blog-folk:
- The title is important. Use good words in the title to capture your audience’s attention.
- The first 55-60 words should contain the key words relating to that post.
- When tagging, use synonyms, UK AND US spelling, singular and plural forms, and when words could appear as one, two or hyphenated, use all forms. As one blogger pointed out, this is often sorted out for you automatically by the search engine.
- Link OUT, especially to Wikipedia. This encourages discussion.
- Multi-link the same reference to Wikipedia and one or two other sites.
- Refer to previous posts. You don’t have to do the “click here” method each time; you can highlight key words and link them instead.
- When you get your own domain name it will take a while to build up your readership under the new name so if you’re intending to change, do it sooner rather than later.
- A single comment feed for the entire blog helps raise traffic.
- Specialisation tends to help. (although some disagreed with this point. As one chap said, it depends on what you’re looking for.)
- Use Friendfeed to aggregate all your activities, such as Twitter.
- Frequency of publishing is important.
- Write posts ahead and build up your stock.
- Re: Google Adsense, put the Google search box on the blog. Most of Improbulus’s revenue comes from the box, not ads.
After a quick break for a chat with our new best friends (cue Jed and a crowd from Qype), we had further presentations from Tony Scott about the upcoming Wordcamp UK and M3 about their product. Then it was time for me to go, or so I thought, only somehow I ended up (yet again) putting the world to rights with Tony, Andy Roberts DARNETand Tony’s friend, Tim, over some extra beverages. We talked about the blogging evening, whether or not marriage is a valid institution, Wordcamp, the meaning of smirting and new age festivals.
That’s what I love best about these evenings: how many conversations you can have about completely unrelated topics with people you’ve only just met. I went home with a handful of new Moo cards and a head full of ideas. Thank you again, Andy Bargery, for organising the event. I will be back.
PS Do you think I squeezed enough tags into this post???
The next London Bloggers Meetup will be on 29th July at 7.30pm, venue TBC
Epicurus recommended to his acolytes that they not fear God. The fact that he lived from 341-271BCE means that by mentioning ‘God’, it is not necessarily the god that springs to mind when we read that statement. Why?
1. Christianity’s official start date came 271 years after the mortal demise of Epicurus,
2. The Prophet Mohammed was born in 570 AD, 841 years after the death of our illustrious philosopher, so his godly teachings were of a later thought set,
3. Depending on whom you are listening to, the Exodus of The Old Testament took place in either the 13th or 15th Century B.C., making the Old Testament tales quite ancient indeed, and as Judaism uses the same first five books as their holy book, The Torah, we are talking about the same god, yet again, i.e. a god of hell-fire and brimstone.
4. The ‘god’ that Epicurus referred to in his writings must have been influenced by the gods of Ancient Greece, i.e. Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo and that gluttonous, grape juice-quaffing Dionysus. They weren’t always such a nice bunch.
As Epicurus must have been had the precepts of Ancient Greek theology directing his thought processes, let’s look at why he might have thought that man feared god/s in the first place.
According to mythology, Zeus, the head honcho of Ancient Greek heaven, had a thunderbolt that he’d fire at mere mortals whenever they did something he didn’t agree with. That story is enough to make anyone quake in a thunderstorm, although rationale should tell them that a thunderstorm affects more than just one person so if you believe what you read, a whole cloud-covered region must have annoyed Big Old Zeus at any one thundering time.
If you were a Greek who sailed for a living, you’d be careful to make lots of flashy offerings to the almighty Poseidon, god of the sea, lest he decide that you and your sailor friends have upset him, encouraging him to stir up a shipwrecking storm.
Hades, god of the Underworld, was a pretty unhappy chap who never felt the need for charm. He kidnapped his wife, Persephone, holding her to ransom in his very own hell, where he spent his time ruling over the Dead. He only liked people who added to his population, presumably murderers and warmongers. Not exactly the sort of god you want infiltrating your dreams.
Speaking of warmongers, Aris, son of Zeus and Hera, was god of war. In fact, he was so nasty that neither of his parents liked him. Oh dear.
Then there was Athena, goddess of war, who popped out of Zeus’s head one day when he had a headache. If you read the mythological accounts, it sounds like a particularly painful way to give birth. On top of which, in spite of Athena’s numerous attributes, she was a dab hand at flinging Zeus’s weapons about when she’d had a bad day.
And if the people displeased Demeter, she might go off in a huff causing crops to wither.
That’s just a basic summary of some of the gods Epicurus was dealing with when he said we shouldn’t fear them. No wonder there was agitation among the people! If we believed in such tales today, we’d all be nervous wrecks with sleepless nights before a harvest, concerned that our every human error could elicit devastation, quaking under tables during thunderstorms and signing up for cryogenic burials, lest we should be confronted by the wrath of Hades.
Now that we’re clear on what the problem was, what did Epicurus want us to do about it? In a nutshell, the Wise Man himself realised that the gods were nothing but representations of human ideals that we could aspire to. Having said that, I don’t know if I’d strive to be like Aris, although George Dubbya is almost there…
So, if we’re dealing with ideals, as opposed to real entities, there is surely nothing to fear apart from our own imagination.
Epicurus also sought out scientific explanations to explain things like earthquakes and thunder, so that his followers could wake up to the fact that just because there’s a storm today doesn’t mean we’ve upset a celestial being somewhere. His thoughts were so new at the time that for some poor, nail-biting folk they must have been the equivalent of philosophical prozac.
Lastly, some say that Epicurus taught his following about the presence of evil in the world. Given that in teaching the concept of evil, he referred to the benevolent gods by way of contrast, I wonder which gods he was talking about?
As everything in life becomes greener and more environmentally aware, if not friendly, there is an interesting site in the UK called ‘Freecycle’. Its aim is to link people who want to get rid of unwanted items to find people who need them, and vice versa, with the result that less rubbish ends up in landfill. The only catch: no money is to change hands. You give and you receive, but you do not pay or receive payment.
As Freecycle’s community is split up into areas, I belong to the one nearest my home. A digest is sent through to my personal e-mail and there I can see at a glance if anyone needs something from my Bin Department, or if I might have a use for something in theirs. The digests make for interesting reading, especially as it’s quite astonishing how many people can be so specific in their requests:
“WANTED: A copy of Marriage Inside Out by Clulow and Mattinson”
“WANTED: John Handy live at the Monterey Jazz Festival – CD”
There’s no harm in asking, I suppose, but how many people do you think will have these exact items lurking in a drawer somewhere? Hmm. Not convinced.
Then there are people who really push the boat out. One subscriber asked for “Booze and baking stuff”. The reason? She couldn’t afford to celebrate her birthday without donations of flour and baking soda and other store cupboard items (presumably to bake a cake?) and was happy with donations of half-bottles of alcohol left over from Christmas. Honestly. I don’t know about anyone else, but if I can’t afford to celebrate my birthday, I don’t.
Some people ask for the strangest of things: “a fertility monitor – any brand is fine, as long as it works.” Given that measuring fertility usually involves peeing on a stick, I do wonder at the wisdom of taking one second hand, even if the sticks do end up in the bin.
It’s also surprising how many people ask for cars “in good running condition” or plasma screen TVs. Remember, everything is free here. Epicurus would lecture such folk on the flaws of acquiring happiness through acquisition. Cheeky acquisition, at that. Still, if it works, there seems to be no harm in asking.
The people offering items can be incredibly generous: I’ve recently seen two pianos up for grabs, and lots of baby items are handed down to new parents through the network. However, the offers can also be a bit unusual. A cement mixer? I guess if you’re working on a new patio, it could come in handy. A very large, thick cardboard box? The odd thing about this is that the person making the offer is living with said item until they can find a willing person to remove it from their lives. An envelope, C4 size? This has been re-offered on a number of occasions and perhaps the offer-er isn’t getting the fact that it’s not worth anyone’s time to travel across London to collect a single envelope just to keep it out of the bin.
Occasionally, there will be an entry which makes me stop and smile. “Terrapin, age 7, looking for loving, long-term home and friend,” or “WANTED: Inspiration, imagination, compassion” – this was a concerned citizen looking for practical help for a local homeless man.
But my favourite all-time entry is the following:
“I have for offer…My Mum!!!!!!!!! First come first serve, collection
A 1949 model, comes with own teeth and slippers.
very fast with a zimmer frame and won’t cause you a problem.
we have decided to up grade to a more slender model and with more
we will also throw in the dad too, he is an older model a 1947, very
fit, may need a MOT, as I don’t think he would pass…for no extra
charge I may be able to service him ready for pick up.
Go on give a home to those past the sexual age of errrrrr My Mum & Dad
don’t do that any more.”
I wonder if the parents ever found a new place to park the zimmer frame?
I don’t really like to swear but sometimes I find myself possessed by a demon with Tourette’s causing a few choice words to exit my mouth. Usually the result of surging female hormonal activity or stress in the workplace, such moments even take ME by surprise. I knew it had to stop and the problem certainly improved, as soon as I chose a lexicon of alternative swear words.
The one I use most often is “farts”. The tube is delayed? “Farts.” A meeting’s cancelled? “Farts.” I jam my finger in the door “Smelly farts.” It may not be the most elegant of words, but it works for me.
I’m certainly not alone in using alternatives to the fruitier words of the English language. Tintin’s friend, Captain Haddock, survived his most annoying moments by shouting “blistering barnacles!”, so suitable for a man of the sea, and Raymond Briggs’s Father Christmas got around on his sleigh, saying “blooming this,” and “blooming that” rather a lot.
At work, a colleague exclaims “ooh, my sainted trousers,” or “big, fat pants,” when she is surprised or irked by something. If the problem is worse than usual, it may extend to “big, fat, smelly poo pants”. Graphic, maybe, but very effective without having to resort to any of those unseemly little four-letter words.
Alternatively, a rather well-bred friend prefers to swear in foreign tongues, so his expletives will generally involve “merde” or “scheisse” of some description whilst another pal quotes Father Ted’s “arsing tarts” and “arse biscuits”. Deee-licious.
Here are a few links to places where we can jazz up our daily usage of expletives in the English language without resorting to inane profanity:
Shakespearean Insult Generator
Blackadder Insult Generator
There’s also plenty of nostalgia to be had with the following:
From our American friends: cripes alive, tarnation, heaven’s to Betsy, jiminy cricket, darn, jeepers, Holy Cow, heck, fudge, shoot, Great Scott
From Ye Olde Blighty: crikey, balderdash, my word, heavens above, blimey, blooming (blimmin’) heck, blasted, piddle, poo, bugger, botheration, bollocks, frigging, feck
However, if this is all too much like hard work for you, perhaps you have a confirmed profanity problem. If that’s the case, watching South Park is always good for updating your profanity and insult lexicon and if you’d like to interact with like-mouthed individuals, there are on-line swearing groups to join. Meanwhile, I think I’ll just stick to saying “farts”.
It astounds me how many people use buzzwords these days. I can understand (to a point) the necessity of industry-specific jargon, but what on earth does it mean when someone says “I’ll cold towel those documents and get them to you later,” or “he’s just had a brain dump,” A ‘brain dump’? You have to be kidding. Just what sort of person thinks the usage of this term is anything less than crass? I have an image of a smelly item squeezing out of a cranium, no? Perhaps I’m simply not hip enough to get it.
My boss talks about ‘blue sky thinking’, then laughs. Neither of us knows exactly what it means, but presume it’s something to do with positivity. Thankfully, Boss shares my frustration with the cool language that floats around in meetings and was amazed when I told him about Boardroom Bingo, the game where a different buzzword fills each square of a bingo board and you mark them off as you hear them spoken in meetings.
We now collect buzzwords in the office and a group of us use them as often as possible because it makes us giggle. A typical exchange might be:
A: “I’m off to a meeting now,”
B: “Well then, let’s get your rocks of that runway and clear it for take-off. I sure hope those 404s don’t car park your new strategy.”
A: “Yeah, we’re ready for any potential blamestorming from those idea hamsters. Perhaps we can get a chainsaw consultant to uninstall them before they cause us any more salmon days.”
How about this?
“I’m having a non-proximity distance issue with a vital file for that meeting.” (In spite of its total pomposity, I can’t wait to use that one.)
This is pretty bad, too:
“How about putting a couple of slices of bread in your intellectual toaster to see what pops out?”
In structure it reminds me of:
“Let’s put some milk in the cappuccino machine and see it comes out frothy.”
Funnily enough, some buzzwords that were new to us 8 years ago, are in common usage now:
“They’ll work on it 24-7,”
“He’s been left out of the loop”
“It’s a complete no-brainer,” and
“We’re being proactive, not reactive,” If we’re honest, we all use them, and they’ve probably made it into the O.E.D.
So what are the latest buzzwords buzzing around right now? See The Buzzword Dictionary at http://www.buzzwhack.com, a website ‘dedicated to demystifying buzzwords’. It would seem that I’m already a ‘buzzwhacker’, ‘cos I whack the hell outta them there buzzwords. So proud… But I still don’t know how to ‘cold-towel’ a document. Damn.
One of the things I miss most about living with my Former Flatmate is his shrine. On entering his flat, there is a large dresser covered with so many religious knick-knacks that it’s hard to tell exactly what colour it is. The shrine, as FF has named it, is not mono-theistic. In fact, most of the world’s religions (if not all) are represented in some way. Even celebrities who are venerated by FF have a presence. The only rule is that you cannot appear on the shrine unless you are dead or religious in a good way.
Counting among the various objects on the shrine are: a Lady of Lourdes holy water bottle in the shape of the Virgin Mary, a nun doll circa 1970 valiantly rescued by FF from a charity shop, pictures of Hindu gods with various skin colours (blue, green…), a Buddha sat happily on a pile of glass pebbles and a Pope-on-a-Rope soap from the John Paul II era. There’s a box of matches depicting a serene Christ, saying “Jesus is coming, look busy!”, a monk doll in miniature sackcloth habit but no indication of precisely who it’s meant to be, and a Princess Diana doll (yes, FF was a Di fan). Heath Ledger’s picture was placed on the shrine following his untimely demise and Kylie is represented, both in doll-form and in a Kylie and Jason postcard of some age. (She is the only living person to make it onto this dresser of sanctity, partly because FF worships her and partly because her fight against cancer makes her worthy.)
At home with Monsieur, I’m trying to get my own shrine started, but it’s not very well populated yet. There’s a Lady of Lourdes statuette next to a postcard that looks like Saint Bernadette or the Virgin Mary, depending on which way you hold it. The Archangel Michael is there in technicolour plaster, with his spear stuck into a demon at his feet. This one came from an ecclesiastical shop in Naples, where the owner insisted on wrapping the spear separately as he explained that the spear must be packed in the hold on our way back to England, lest it be confiscated from my carry on as a ‘dangerous weapon’. Well, it worked for St Michael when he slayed Satan…
Anyway, in homage to FF’s shrine, I’ve decided to create an on-line shrine, depicting deities and people who have had an influence on me. Here it is!
I don’t really get homesick, as in getting overly emotional because I miss New Zealand, the place where I was born and raised. I suppose that’s because I’ve lived in England for so long now that I consider it home. However, there are a few things that make me realise that I am still a Kiwi lass.
For years when I first lived in London, the onset of winter had a strange effect on me. Each November, just as Spring was warming New Zealand on the other side of the world, I would have waking dreams of walking along a beach in the sunshine, surrounded by blooming Pohutukawa trees with Rangitoto Island a permanent fixture on the horizon. Those dreams were incredibly unsettling, especially as the alarm would then sound and my eyes invariably open to yet another dark, grey, wet day signalling the start of winter. Moreover, those dreams were mean. They teased and reminded me that although my body was in London, my subconscious was 11387 miles away. And then I’d realise that I was using England’s miles as opposed to New Zealand’s kilometres to measure distance. I really was starting to acclimatise to this very different place.
Just this morning, as I watched the shampoo suds go down the plughole in the shower, I thought to myself ‘that still looks wrong to me,’. Here water spirals down a sink in a clockwise direction and in the Southern Hemisphere it goes anti-clockwise. I’ve asked a friend in Auckland to verify this because I can’t remember and now there are some scientists disputing the fact that the Coriolis Force, as it’s known, applies to water. Apparently it relates more to the movement of weather forces in the different Hemispheres. The fact I even care is somewhat disturbing.
I still think that Crowded House is the best band ever to have walked the planet. Occasionally, if I’m home alone and thinking about New Zealand, I will crank up their song, ‘Tall Trees’, and sing my lungs out. I’d say this could be quite an ‘interesting’ (in the worst sense of the word) sight, which is why I never do it with an audience and I certainly don’t do it often. Over time, I’ve also deduced that mood at the beginning of my one-girl-band festival has an impact on outcome. For instance, the Maori singing at the end of ‘Kare Kare’ makes my soul yearn for All Things New Zealand and it is then that my eyes may sting a bit. If it’s been an ‘I Hate London’ day, I’ll probably need kleenex.
I still eat Vegemite. Can’t stand Marmite. Monsieur has yet to have a bite of Vegemite toast because he doesn’t like the smell. I won’t marry him until he tries it at least once. Mind you, in the interests of retribution he might then force me to eat Nutella and I must admit that the concept of chocolate spread on bread seems just a bit odd.
I still consider fish and chips eaten on the shores of Lake Taupo to be the best in the world. Anyone who disputes this simply hasn’t tried it. So fresh and tasty, wrapped modestly in the previous day’s New Zealand Herald, it turns me into Pavlov’s dog each time I think of it. In fact, one of my favourite photos shows my Late and Great Aunt M sitting on a park bench in Taupo. She’s eating her fish ‘n’ chips with the incredible backdrop of the lake and mountains and a huge, blue sky. Her gaze is somewhere, but it’s not with the photographer. I still wonder what she was thinking that day.
Then there are the food parcels from the concerned relatives of a New Zealand colleague. Apparently the rumours that food is terrible in England have reached the South Pacific so, just as in times of war, families send foodstuffs to their loved ones stationed abroad. We don’t complain. Thank you very much for the Pineapple Lumps.
Before moving to London I never considered how much I’d miss certain food items: Toffee Pops, Arnott’s Shapes, Tip Top’s Chocolate Ripple ice cream, the cheese, terakihi fish, Jelly Tip ice lollies (there you go: I used the term ‘ice lolly’ which is very un-Kiwi) and roast kumara, the New Zealand sweet potato. Sadly, anything frozen cannot be DHLed to London and because that saves my waistline from a few unwanted inches, we’ll call it a good thing. However, I have been known to surf NZ supermarket websites, just to remember how many wonderful foodie items there are over there. Shrewsbury biscuits, Watties creamed sweetcorn (perfect for sweetcorn fritters) and jars of passionfruit pulp. There I go again.
If you mention the All Blacks, watch out. I know exactly where my All Blacks shirt lives so I can pull it out on match days and my mother thinks Dan Carter is a god. I may have moved to London but that doesn’t mean I don’t know who wins the Bledisloe Cup each year.
There’s more, much more, to write about being an ex-pat Kiwi. But most importantly, I may have moved out of New Zealand, but New Zealand has never moved out of me.
Walking along the famed Croisette on New Year’s Day, I had to give Cannes dix points for people-watching potential. There were troops of tiny little pooches bouncing along the promenade, most sporting designer dog accessories which would each have cost more than the combined total of my own outfit, and lots of short women in their twilight years drowning in hefty fur coats. A gold-painted street performer stood statue-still, his movie camera pointing out to sea, whilst an artist carved portrait busts out of blocks of wood. May-to-December relationships strolled arm-in-arm as the beach stood bare in the January chill, which, might I add, was still a good ten degrees warmer than London. I couldn’t help but sneak some snaps of the characters of Cannes’ Croisette.
On a recent visit to Paris, we rendezvous-ed with an old friend of Monsieur’s on a Friday evening. He zoomed across town on his scooter, arriving in a flush of excuses “so sorry I’m late…” and then a lot of finance-world explanations which I don’t understand in English, let alone French. In fact, Old Friend wasn’t more than fifteen minutes late to meet us, so he was far from being sent to Coventry, and more than made up for any tardiness by leading the way to a bistrot he’d discovered on rue Casimir Perier.
As we walked down a zig-zag of back streets towards that evening’s meal, Old Friend gave us a preview of our destination. “I was brought here a few weeks ago for a business dinner. It was a bit quiet that night and the atmosphere seemed old-fashioned, but the food’s great! They even serve marrow in the bone!” his excitement was infectious (in spite of comments about marrow being banned during mad cow years), and my mouth started to water. “I went back a few nights later and it was a completely different atmosphere – young, fun, crowded…” as it was when we walked through the door to one of the best meals we’ve ever eaten in Paris.
Old Friend had obviously visited Restaurant Le Basilic a number of times in the previous weeks because the maitre d’ welcomed him like an old friend. (We later learned this was due to a late-night session at the bar where they bonded over some fortified wine from Bourgogne, stumbling off home in the very small hours.)
As we settled into a booth, I checked out the decor. It was, as Old Friend had suggested, a renovated bistrot/brasserie with many of the original features: large mirrors, brass lighting sconces, red banquette seating and dark wood floors. But there were a few quirks of style to make sure you were paying attention, such as the life-sized sculpture of a sheep on the terrace. It served as a seat, was humourous and arresting, and caused patron after patron to stop in their tracks with that look that says ‘I wonder if I’ve drunk too much?’
The suggested apero was called ‘une piscine’, or swimming pool. Served in a red champagne cup, it consists of bubbly on ice and is a Piper Heidsieck marketing ploy to get people drinking their champagne in their branded glasses. Very refreshing… and although new to me, apparently this is a style of serving champagne that is already well-known in the Riviera.
The menu featured traditional French offerings with heavy Basque influences. We decided to choose a starter each, adding Old Friend’s recommendation of marrow in the bone as a fourth option, and tried a bit of everything. We had a black pig jambon serre (apparently this is the best kind of cured ham to be found in France), red tuna marinated herring-style, and red peppers stuffed with a fishy farce. All were tasty; I even braved a taste of marrow spread onto a piece of baguette, in spite of the offputting slices of bone out of which it came! Everything was tasty, but the red tuna was incredible. It looked raw but tasted slightly smoked, with a tougher texture than you find in either raw or cooked tuna. Drizzled with oil and a handful of small, pickled vegetables, I could easily order this again right now.
As main courses we each chose a different fish . Mine was raie on a bed of spinach. Tasty and light, it was perfectly seasoned with a sprinkling of capers to add flavour. Old Friend wasn’t in the mood for meat tonight, but tipped us off that gigot of lamb is what this restaurant is best known for.
As a sweet I ordered a ‘colonel’. This comprises scoops of lemon sorbet swimming in a shot or two of straight vodka. Once finished, I felt a warm glow of alcohol blush hit my face and had to go outside to cool it by the sheep in the fresh air.
By now, the boys were hitting the fortified Burgundy that was responsible for Old Friend being so matey with the maitre d’ and therefore, for the personal service we were receiving tonight. O.F. explained that it’s made from the second tier of grapes in the Burgundy harvest before being fermented into a brandy. It was lethal at this time of night; my eyes were only open with sheer will force and had I not felt as if I could fall asleep right then and there (as anyone who knows me will attest, this is not so funny as I will not wake up until ready to move, which could be hours away) I probably would have enjoyed another glass or two. As it was, Monsieur and I had another busy day ahead of us so had to bid adieu to Old Friend, the bottle of brandy, the cute girls who were giving our friend the welcoming eye, and the sheep. On leaving Old Friend at the bar, perhaps to continue his ongoing appraisal of the brandy and/or the girls, we walked past the church next door. In fact, it was another sort of ‘basilique’; this time a stunning construction dedicated to Sainte Clotilde (475-545), a feisty Burgundian lass who converted her husband. Clovis, King of the Franks, to Christianity. Perhaps, following a day of hard converting, she, too, enjoyed the Burgundian brandy that we’d sampled tonight, and yes, we will be back for more…
Restaurant le Basilic – 2, rue Casimir Perier, 75007, Paris /Tel 01 44 18 94 64
To add to the list of restaurants that I really rate, I must write about L’Epicure, a restaurant in Corbeil-Essonne. Located in a traditional stone house that looks as if someone could be living inside it, sitting with cat on lap in front of the fire, the restaurant may be found a short distance from the Seine in Corbeil, to the south-east of Paris, and this is a place worth knowing if you happen to find yourself in the area. Having said that, you really would have to know about it, because its location in a dark street, possibly more appropriately described as an alley, makes it not the easiest of Corbeil’s eateries to track down.
Luckily, we were guided to l’Epicure with Monsieur’s mother, who’d made us a booking for a small family celebration not so long ago and a very pleasant evening ensued.
I’ve spoken French for many years now, but have never lived in France, so I find it quite a mental drain towards the end of the day when we’re across la Manche and my synapses cease to function in multiple languages. It’s like a neurological twister game. I know what I’m saying but it might just come out in the wrong language, or in more than one language, or in a blend of languages that only I comprehend. At times like these, small things have the potential to revive me and one of them was walking into l’Epicure to find a Jamie Oliver cookbook – in English – sitting on a table in the foyer. That table was a bit of a dream for this amateur gourmet. It was covered in cookbooks by the French greats and others. How I would have loved to sit down and flick through them all. But we were here to eat, so stop and read we could not.
The maitre d’ showed us to our table in a room that probably housed half-a-dozen tables, with another room containing several more just adjacent. There was a newish stone and plaster wall at one end of our room, bearing the year 1981, which had been carved deep into the plaster, and a door gave onto a terrace for use in warmer seasons.
We ordered an apero each of champagne with peach liqueur, and our drinks were presented to us by an immaculately-presented lad of about thirteen. He wore the traditional waiter’s garb of black trousers with white shirt, black waistcoat and bow-tie, and had spiked his shock of dark hair with gel. Throughout the evening, he presented drinks and collected plates without a single mishap, and when the senior waiting staff spoke to him, he listened intently. We wondered if he was being trained into his family’s metier, or if he was some sort of protege who knew he wanted to be a restaurateur already and was working his way through the ranks. Either way, he was a charming addition to the staff.
We were brought an amuse-bouche (cappuccino of mushroom, served in an espresso cup) to tickle our tastebuds into action, and I followed that with a starter of tartare and carpaccio of scallops, swordfish and salmon, marinated in spices, with cream of lime and chives. It was laudably fresh but the swordfish tasted a little bitter so I couldn’t eat it all. Also, anyone who thinks that fish carpaccio is a light dish hasn’t been travelling with me recently. This was huge!
Monsieur and Belle-Mere went for a house special of avocado and lobster, which appeared on dark plates, arranged in a beautiful display of green and orange with artistically-placed claws. It was the sort of dish that makes one sad to begin. One mouthful and the art disappears into the usual mish-mash of food on a plate.
Foie gras features regularly on the menu at l’Epicure – in papillottes, seared, with magret de canard, in ravioli, tossed through salad and as a warm accompaniment to veal. It therefore wasn’t a huge surprise to find a piece of delicate foie gras on top of a tuna steak for my main course. It was an unusual, yet successful combination. However, I was filling up fast and yet again could not finish the generous helping.
Meanwhile, Monsieur and his mother polished off steaks, served with foie gras yet again, and the room, which had been a little empty when we arrived, was filling up. There was a family with an impeccably behaved pair of young boys at one table, a pair of young lovebirds at another, and in one corner sat a chic blonde woman with her male partner, both effortlessly presented in designer jeans, tailored shirts and boxy jackets. Her grooming was expensive – perfect highlighted hair, flawless skin and a splash of natural make-up. She reminded me of a more relaxed version of Caprice, causing me to wonder if it was indeed her. Sipping away at their flutes of champagne, they ordered liberally from the menu and each of their plates was clean when removed. How on earth can it be that they remain so slim whilst Monsieur and I battle to keep our waistlines in check? For now, I’ll call it genetics.
We finished the evening with a chocolate fondant pudding… oozing calories all over our plates and into expanding tums, and waddled out just after coffee. It’s a bit of a trek if you don’t live in the area, but I can unreservedly recommend l’Epicure to anyone visiting Corbeil. Just be sure to bring an appetite.
Place de l’Hotel de ville, 5 et 7, rue du Grand Pignon, 91100 Corbeil Essonne
Tel 01 60 88 28 38