Monday, October 31, 2005

Vabulous Valencia

We had a wonderful long weekend in Valencia, Spain's 3rd city which is around 200 miles south of here. Often touted as the new Barcelona (especially in the property business) it is nothing of the sort. They are completely different cities and you worry that the hype surrounding Valencia - much of it based on the upcoming America's Cup - will go as quickly as it came.

But it has tonnes of charm - a fabulous old quarter that has a much more colonial feel than Barcelona. And the aquarium at the stunning city of arts and sciences lived up to its much hyped reputation, even if the queues were gigantic and Spanishly inefficient.

the squares are the best feature - we were very close to the cathedral where Ben and I witnessed a newly married couple exiting to a deluge of rice and a deafening blast of firecrackers. It seemed everyone was getting married in Valencia that Saturday - come nightfall we counted nine formally dressed newlywed couples being posed for pix by the fountains in the gorgeous Plaza de la Virgen or sitting at outdoor tables having a fag. The next day there was formal dancing in the square. It's a fun town and we will definitely go back soon.

Eating highlight was seuxerea, one of the few modern restaurants in town, run by Stephen Anderson who used to work for Alastair Little.

Sarah and I had the lovely cod with creamed porcini, and crunchy vegetables while Ben declared his entrecote steak to be 'the best ever' and Rebecca was equally keen on her duck with stir fried artichokes and blackberry sauce. Stephen has run the place for 10 years and like any good restaurateur, says it is hellish.

ps click here for pix

Another reason to stay

From the wires:
Barcelona produced their best performance of the season to trounce 10-man Real Sociedad 5-0 at the Nou Camp on Sunday.

That's three straight wins. Any more like this and the press will have to start liking Rijkaard again...

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Middlesborough 4, United 1

Did I say we were staying in Spain for just one year?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Books bought on trip

Best Sports Writing of 2005 - a great series this. Despite ESPN and the web, US sports writing in magazines and newspapers is still streets ahead of the UK because writers there get more time to do their job. The story of the downfall and terrible death of great baseball play Ken Caminiti is especially gripping as is the far more cheerful story of the Red Sox miracle of 2004.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning - A book that focuses on the car-crash that was NYC in the mid 1970s amid the city’s bankruptcy, tying in the hopeless mayoralty of Abe beame, race riots in the Bronx and the titanic ego clashes between Yankee slugger reggie Jackson and manager Billy Martin. Oh yes all that plus son of sam and studio 54.

The Long Ball: The Summer of '75 - more baseball, more 70s. you probably get the picture by now.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Service with a sale

New York service is legendary and seems better than ever. But sometimes it can be a pain in the ass.

i eat dinner with Stephen Claypole, legendary ex BBC news exec who has been running a photo start up in NYC for 18 months. The restaurant is Django’s an upmarket midtown fusion place.

The food is more than good but we get one of those ‘and tonight’s speciality is seared this on a bed of that with overtones of ...’

she moves on to the wine and after 3 full on minutes of what she really wants us to choose, we ask just how much it is.

‘The bottle is $75 sir’.

we settle for something that costs around the price of a main course (or entree as the americans irritatingly call it) rather than four times the price as recommended by the real sommelier, and a pretty good pinot noir it is as well.

I love my ibook

My new Apple IBookG4 has arrived and what a piece of beauty and wonder it is. You open it up and it logs on to the Yale Club’s fine wireless network in seconds.

No drivers, no this, no that, no virus scans as with PC laptops. God bless Steve Jobs.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The beauty of mid town new york

more foul weather which eases off in the afternoon. I’m staying at the Yale Club courtesy of a friend who is a member and very preppy the clientele are I have to report.

It’s all brooks brothers, tortoiseshell glasses, crew neck sweaters (business casual works here) and more than a few bow ties - the smart conservative look that is almost unknown now in London.

Best of all it is opposite grand central station, one of the great station open spaces of the world. The body of the main hall with its massively high ceilings (saved by Jackie O from demolition) still radiates enormous dignity being totally free of the adverts and shops that litter british stations.

Downstairs, the dining concourse is a bit of a mess but it does contain that great wonder of the new york dining scene, the Oyster Bar. I graze for lunch on some fine clam chowder and delicious main scallops with garlic.

Monday, October 24, 2005

call me neptune ...

... or St. Swithins or whoever it is that brings rain. Having done my bit to end the drought in barcelona, it promptly starts deluging in NYC five hours after my arrival. Oh yes and 40 mph winds. it's a hurricane in all but name

i venture out in the foul evening to see les paul, basically the inventor of the electric guitar who continues to play at the iridium club every monday night.

Les was born in 1915 which by my watch makes him 90. he still looks extraordinarily fit in mind and body and can still play the guitar just like ringing a bell as the old saying goes. basically grandfathered anyone who is anyone in guitar playing, most notably steve miller who grew up at his feet in minnesota.

George Melly - not yet 80 and not in very good shape at all - eat your heart out.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Ben rides a bike!

It was the sunniest of Saturdays so Sarah took Ben down to the beach bike hire shop and after 20 minutes of weaving and wobbling, he was off on his own, mowing down any errant skaters, joggers and pedestrians who dared get in his way.

Sunday was dry as well so we hired again and spent an hour criss crossing the gorgeous (and rather calmer) Citudella park in the old city. One small step for man ....

smokin' city

it's hard not to smoke in spain - everyone does and fags are just £1.70 a pack. there are a few no smoking areas in restaurants and there is talk of public area bans. but not just yet. i've never been in a restaurant that completely bans smoking - even the rather posh lunch place across the road from us which is part of a healthy and beauty complex (massages, treatments etc) offers you a smoking table if you want ...

how small is my city

It's difficult sometimes to realise how small Barcelona is compared with London. Top to toe - from the high ring road to the sea front is about 6km - that's the length you'd drive down from where we live just off shoot up hiil/kilburn high road/edgware road to marble arch - ie about 1/3 of what you'd think of as central london. within that you go through everyting - the zona alta area where we live, gracia, the posh shops of the eixample and the old city itself

widthways is around 9km or around notting hill to old street in a straight line. after that you are out to the airport or heading out to the costa brava.

it seems an awful lot bigger than that with its broad one way streets and new york like grids. i guess the mountains and sea maybe give it a bigger perspective

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Another titanic restaurant

Friends were in town and with our original choice Cinc Sentits full, we were forced (I know, I know) to try another of the city's leading edge restaurants - El Raco d'en Freixa, just 10 mins walk from here and very much in the same vein - Bulli-esque type dishes ranging from themes on corn, tomato and coconut to wierd extras such as foamy blue cheeses in a glass jar and a small vodka and peach alcopop to start with. Great stuff.

There seems to be no end to the city's eating possibilities... as puts it:

For the first time in centuries, Europe's gastronomic laurels are up for grabs. Barcelona is not only challenging Paris, but may have even surpassed it as the most exciting place to eat in the Old World.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Alfred, Meg and Jack

Here's a safe bet - Sarah and I were the only people who went to see both The White Stripes and Alfred Brendel, both playing Barcelona this week.

Meg and Jack brought down the house at Razzmatazz, one of the best rock concert venues I have been to and Alfred was brought back for three encores at the Palau Musica, Barcelona's beautiful classical music venue. In both cases performers at the top of their game.

While the Stripes amde and demanded a might noise, Alfred was rather peturbed by the coughing from the nicotine-infested lungs of the Barcelona bourgeoisie. But that is always his bugbear - hence his poem:

The Coughers of Cologne
have joined forces with |Cologne Clappers
and established the Cough and Clap Society
a non-profit-making organization
whose aim it is
to guarantee each concertgoer's right
to cough and applaud
Attempts by unfeeling artists and impresarios
to question such privileges
have led to a Coughers and Clappers initiative
Members are required to applaud
immediately after sublime codas
and cough distinctly
during expressive silences
Distinct coughing is of paramount importance
to stifle or muffle it
forbidden on pain of expulsion
Coughers of outstanding tenacity
are awarded the Coughing Rhinemaiden
a handsome if slightly baroque appendage
to be worn around the neck
The C & C' recent merger
with the New York Sneezers
and the London Whistlers
raises high hopes
for Cologne's musical future

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

happy birthday to me...

... and a great one it was as well; lots of lovely presents including CDs, books and a great Paul Smith scarf from my wonderful children.

The weather was dreadful - more pouring rain - but I packed up work at midday and went for lunch with Sarah at the new restaurant next to Santa Caterina (fast becoming a fixture for us) and then in the evening we all went for dinner at Senyor Parellada, one of the city's most charasmatic restaurants which serves great Catalan food. Happy days - being 28 is going to be lots of fun ...

Monday, October 17, 2005


Sotherans, the best bookshop in the world, sends me the catalogue of the Alastair Cooke library they are selling. One item is The Groucho Letters signed by the man himself and inscribed:

Dear Cooke, three generations of imbiciles are enough - love Groucho.

I ring up but of course the damn thing went in an instant at £750 ...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

birthday weekend

It did stop raining and we had the most fantastic weekend away to celebrate (in advance) my birthday which comes on Tuesday. We headed for Tarragona and stayed at Mas Passamaner, a beatiful hotel and spa set in a 1920s modernist pile. The rooms and spa were stunning - all huge, modern, lots of slate gray with a touch of Babbington House about it. We all had massages and spent lost of time swimmiing in the indoor spa pool (the outdoor pool looked lovely but after another massive thunderstorm (yes) was a tad chilly.

The food was an odd contrast - a very classical French cusine of very high quality but completely out of kilter with the post-modern design of the hotel. And the service was very slow. That apart, the hotel deserves top marks for its enlighted policy of giving journalists 50% of their room rate!

We were going to have lunch in Tarragona but were so full from the night before 9and it was so hot and sunny) that we headed back to spend the afternoon on our favourite beach, Garaf near Sitges, where we read, ran around and Ben swam in the surf. Wonderful ...

Saturday, October 15, 2005


I got back on Wednesday night from London and it has been pissing down ever since. amazing volumes of the stuff all day and most of the night. We wake up on Saturday morning but it is still gray. The papers say it was even worse up the costa brava which unbelievably got twice as much as we did here. Four people got killed in floods in Girona.

The good news is that the drought seems over. The resevoirs got six months rain in three days and water restrictions seem likely to be canned. taht's enough, you can stop now

Friday, October 14, 2005


we were going to see a film but we ended up going with friends to botafumeiro, one of the best and most famous fish restaurants in Barceona - and Galician like all the best ones. A huge place in the heart of Gracia it's open every day until 1am, with all sort of rooms coming off the main one, very smart, wood pannelled, white jacketed waiters etc. It was exceptionally rainy (again) and the whole place filled up early (by BCN standards) with people trying to escape the deluge. By 9.30pm it was packed with bougeois Catalonians.
The food was wonderful - I had Galician broth followed by squid with vermicelli and a reather powerful rioja. we never made the film but ended up instead in one of those little bars that Gracia (and Barcelona) does so well - packed full of good looking people having a good time. Great cocktails.

high life, low life

next week we are going to the white stripes one night and alfred brendel the next. full reviews here

small world

the extent of globalisation still surprise me from time to time: i have just ordered an apple ibook to be delivered to me in NYC where i go next week. Tracking the order on Fedex I see it left China yesterday and gone via Alaska and is now in Indianapolis. It should be in NYC next Monday. Amazing ...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

lynnyrd bloody skynnard

or however they spell it. i hate them. but yet again today i found myself singing along to Sweet Home Alabama on the car radio. Not only is it a paean to southern redneckery and white trashery but it is also a response to one of the best and darkest political songs ever written - Alabama ('Your Cadillac has got a wheel in the ditch and a wheel on the tracks) by Neil Young. Yet it's a damn fine song. bugger

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

what's wrong with barcelona?

back in London for a few days and a friend asked me what had gone wrong in settling in Barcelona. The only thing I could think of is the banking system which is increasingly bizarre.

Last month I brought out some euro travellers cheques, deposited at the bank and was told they would take a month to clear. When I told the bank these chequeswould be accepted as cash in the remotest Kashmir hill village, I got the answer 'Yes but this is Spain'

And while my payment from Citywire went through swiftly last month, the UK bank found this time that the IBAN number, which combines a sort code and account number, didn't exist. For some reason Barclays Spain had seen fit to change the first two numbers in the intervening period...

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Great new restaurant

Cuines Santa Caterina is the stunning new restaurant next to the revamped market of the same name in the old city. An enormous space beneath the market's high vaulted ceilings, it has taken the old menus served by market cafes, added to them and given them a modern twist eg dishes like chiperones and fried eggs. We've eaten there twice in three days already ...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

contact details (updated)

Planta Baja
Calle Copernico 11

Tel: Our Vonage VOIP phone is now working on 020 7078 7659
Our Spanish landline is 0034 93 209 66 37

emails (just change 'at' to the @ sign)
richard at
sarah.barclay at
rebeccalander at
(ben - in cae you were wondering) funkylovesmanu at

mobiles (0034 then)

Richard 697 912 769
Sarah 697 912 766
Rebecca 697 912 767

hair cut

I managed to get my hair cut today for the first time here - and realised that this is the first time in my life i have done so in a country where english is not the native language (I lived in France for seven months in my gap year but can't ever recall getting my hair cut)

With a bit of sign language and my improving Spanish I got out alive. In fact it looks rather good. As usual they left in the grey bits ...

Sarah gets her cut tomorrow - a rather more daunting task

Apologies from the local sports papers...

... which may have given the impression recently that Barca were once again showing championship form and that manager frank rijkaard was a genius.

in the light of sunday's lucky 2-2 home draw against zaragoza they would like to make it clear that barca are a shadow of their former selves and that rijkaard is an idiot who couldn't run a piss up in a brewery