Sunday, December 31, 2006

It's goodbye to 2006...

From a humungously wet and windy Glasgow. Even the Scots say it's pretty rough out there and who am I to argue with that?

Three highlights of 2006? Try these:

  1. Dinner at El Bulli with Sarah
  2. Barca winning the Champions League
  3. Not being 50 yet

Friday, December 29, 2006

The journey begins

... With the first of the 11 Powell and Pressburger films in my Christmas DVD set - A Matter of Life and Death. Just a wonderful and surreal love story. It was almost as good as watching The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp for the first time.

But not quite.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ain't no sunshine ...

Number of days in London: six
Number of minutes sun has been seen: zero

That apart it has been a terrific Christmas, as indeed was the run up to it. I signed off from Barcelona in Bacchanalian style, with two rescheduled meals concatenating into the same day barely separated by a couple of hours in the recovery room.

The first one - the now ‘annual’ Christmas lunch with my friends from the Catalan Ministry of Education – was particularly special – held in a tiny, crowded neighbourhood bar in the back end of Poble Nou, not one of the city’s more travelled barrios. But the food that poured out of El Porrón’s tiny mom and pop kitchen was sensational, from the oysters, kidney and liver we had to start with to the arroz bogovante – a soupy Murcian version – that was the main course. This was after I was almost taken out by a chilli, bitten right on the seed, that lurked within the octopus stew.

The drinks, Catalan style, came arse about face with red wine followed by cava and finishing off with gin and tonic. It reminded me of the Guardian’s fictitious cricketer columnist Dave Podmore who once organised a reverse gala dinner which started with the assembled party vomiting in the car park, followed by cigars and brandy and ending six hours later with canapés and cocktails.

Ah yes, Christmas. We left one tale of airport woe (South Americans seeing their Christmas home go up in dust after budget airline Air Madrid stopped flying) to another one (Heathrow shut down for three days because of fog). And it was foggy. The first we saw of Luton airport was when we touched down in the mist and the next day Ben and I crossed Hampstead Heath in truly sepulchral dense fog. It’s cleared but only to leave a uniform greyness that does London few favours.

But since then almost every minute has been sparkling, catching up with friends and family, eating various Christmas feasts or lazing around reading and watching TV. Two shows were taken in – the peerless Monty Python’s Spamalot and Mary Poppins – while Santa was more than good to me with a wonderful selection of books, CDs and best of all, the complete films of Powell and Pressburger in one box set.

We’re off on Friday to New Year in Scotland. Have a great one…

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Good news, bad news

  • the sun is still shining in Barcelona and it remains freakishly warm for this time of year
  • the city is aglow in soft, white and very calming christmas lights
  • the markets are looking magnficent. we went to La Boqueria to pick up a goose and a duck for a pre-christmas dinner with friends and we reminded what a special place it was.
  • the very bourgeois delis and wine shops around us have the christmas best on with displays of whole hams, cava, nuts, dried fruits and turron filling their windows, while the flower stalls have dozens of poinsettias for sale.
  • It's Chanukah! and the city's jewish community celebrated with an open air party in the park by our flat. Yiddish music in the heart of Barcelona
  • We ate at Cinc Sentits and it was as good as ever


  • It looks like the Ashes are over
  • United and Barca both lost. Not a goal between them
  • Too much sun means no snow in the Pyrenees. The ski resorts lost the December holiday weekend and now it looks like they will lose Christmas as well.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Two more reasons to hate Chelsea

1) craven attempts to muzzle the press: From 101 Great Goals

The Daily Mirror turned down an interview with Jose Mourinho, once the club
demanded copy approval. Chelsea demanded the interview appear in question and
answer form and also demanded “a 400-word sidebar about Chelsea’s charity work - written by the club - that could not be substantially changed.”

The interview with Mourinho ran on Friday in the Times, the Daily
Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Sun. All four papers ran the requested sidebar
about Chelsea’s charity work with children’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent.
Shame on those papers

2) ludicrous attempts to be the 'biggest brand in the world'. From Matt Dickinson in The Times:

I bumped into two gangs of English lads walking into the Nou Camp last week before Barcelona’s Champions League match against Werder Bremen. They were on a trip to Barcelona to pay homage to one of the world’s great clubs, with its cathedral of a stadium. They took in the museum and then were among 100,000 fans treated to a spellbinding show from Ronaldinho. No doubt a few beers were sunk afterwards.

When Peter Kenyon, the Chelsea chief executive, recently talked of his aspirations to build “the world’s No 1 club”, it was hard to think what would be an accurate measure. Perhaps this is it. Chelsea can claim that honour when you walk into a random match at Stamford Bridge and bump into a group of gawping, awe-struck Catalans.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The good and bad of London

Sorry. Posting has crawled to a snail’s pace what with work, travel etc. Just back from five days in London – the longest I have spent there since we moved here - where I got a dose of everything that was good and bad about the city.

Good was seeing my family, making time to meet lots of old friends, a terrific Citywire Christmas party, the elegant Christmas lights of Bond Street and discovering two (in their own ways) great places to stay: here for cheap, clean, all rooms look the same with the lights off and here for affordable (by London standards) luxury.

Bad? The sheer crappiness of the spine of the city centre – most of Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road, Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue - just cheap, grimy, tacky and downright unattractive. Is there any major city in the world that lets its commercial heart wilt like this?

The shops in these areas are almost uniformly trashy – Selfridges and John Lewis excepted. A new report by a Mayoral commission here backs this up and says in effect ‘something must be done’. Yes, like Crossrail, a cross twon fast rail project which has been in limbo for the thick end of 20 years now.

More? mind-numbingly expensive taxis and public transport that gets worse as yet more money is spent on it. And the press – nasty, brutish and trivial.

Here’s a really crap story from the trip. After a fantastic night out of Japanese-style karaoke (ie with friends, not in front of 150 strangers; try it here) we faced the task of getting the two female participants back to south London at 1am.

We somehow hailed a black cab and a mini cab at the same time. The black cab driver refused to take them as it was more than 12 miles (as is his right) but he then became very threatening when they tried to get into the mini cab (which was not licensed to pick up on the street). He wedged his cab in front of the mini cab, got out threatening and screaming at us and started to dial the police.

In other words - he wasn’t prepared to help two women get back home in the small hours and he was quite prepared to ensure nobody else did.

We demurred, the caveman departed and the women got back in their mini cab. But what an unpleasant experience.