Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Vintage Roots

It’s high time I gave some public praise for the excellent Vintage Roots, which is an organic wine delivery company. We regularly order a case of wine from them (which we always seem to get through a bit quicker than we probably should). They have a wide range of wines from all regions of the world, all of which are organic so have no nasty chemicals in them. Julie and I have fun choosing 6 bottles each and then noting who chose what, so we can praise or berate each other for our choices when sampling them. Although to be honest pretty much everything we’ve ordered from them has been good. They cater for a range of pockets, starting at £5 a bottle and going up to about £30, although you have to order a minumum of 12 bottles. They also do beers, liqueurs, chocolates, fruit cordials and other items (all organic).

Delivery is quick and efficient. Normally within 2 days of ordering, the heavy box of delights arrives. Only once so far have we had a bad bottle (corked), and this was handled brilliantly by their customer service. I phoned them and without any argument they just sent us a voucher which was actually worth more than the corked bottle.

So overall, they’re highly recommended by us. Salut!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Down and out in Paris and Barcelona

This is the story of our run of extremely bad luck trying to get to Barcelona last weekend. I should point out that once this disastrous day had run its course, we had a fantastic time and so overall the trip was very enjoyable and we soon forgot about all the problems.

We were travelling in a group of five - me and Julie, another couple, and another single friend. The original plan (which was all booked months ago) was that we would go to Paris on the Eurostar from London, have a day in Paris, stay overnight, have another day in Paris, then travel to Barcelona by overnight train arriving Friday morning for a long weekend.

However, 2 days before we were due to leave London, a major strike by French transport workers was announced which meant our overnight train was cancelled. The Eurostar was still running. So at the last minute I booked a taxi from our hotel in Paris to Orly airport (because there was no metro or trains or buses in Paris), a flight from Paris to Barcelona with Easyjet, and an extra night’s accommodation in Barcelona (as we would be arriving a day earlier than planned). The other option would have been to stay in Paris an extra night and fly the next day but because of the rugby, all accommodation in Paris was very expensive and miles out of town. Even accommodation in Barcelona was hard to find, and I ended up having to book a different hotel to our main one.

After our day and night in Paris, Thursday started well. The taxi turned up and got us to the airport in good time. However it turned out that our flight to Barcelona had been cancelled, also due to strikes! The earliest Easyjet could get us to Barcelona was Saturday. This was no use to us, as it meant we would have lost half our weekend in Barcelona, but also there was nowhere to stay in Paris. We quickly decided that we would just try and get out of France as quickly as we could, preferably to somewhere in Spain. Easyjet had a flight to Madrid leaving at 2pm so we decided to get that and just take it from there, either by train or more flights, or possibly staying in Madrid overnight.

Our flight was a bit delayed but we made it to Madrid at about 4:30pm. We had found out that the train would be a very long journey and wouldn’t get us to Barcelona until very late at night so it wasn’t really a good option. So from Madrid airport we booked internal flights to Barcelona, leaving at about 6pm. That flight was mercifully uneventful, and got us to Barcelona at about 7:30pm. If nothing else, it all reminded me how much I dislike flying and would far rather travel by train.

Then we got the airport transfer train into Barcelona city centre and then on to the Metro to Lesseps which is North of the city, near Parc Guell. An uphill walk through a dark and mainly closed part of town finally brought us to the hotel tired, grimy and hungry. The prospect of a shower and a nice meal out was by now very tantalizing.

However just as we thought things couldn’t get worse, when we tried to check in to the hotel at 9pm we were told there was no record of our booking and the hotel was full. I showed my booking confirmation from lastminute.com and explained it had been already paid for. The desk attendant (Alberto) seemed quite shocked and then proceeded to ring round other hotels to try and find us alternative accommodation. For the next hour we just sat in the lobby of the hotel with Alberto giving us occasional updates, but no nearer having anywhere to stay. Apparently Barcelona was also booked solid because of a conference. By now even my usually fairly deep well of optimism and practicality was starting to run dry. At 10pm Alberto offered us some food in their restaurant which was welcome and lifted our spirits a bit. At this stage we were starting to eye up the sofas in the hotel lobby and wondering what they would be like to sleep on! At 11pm Alberto offered us a solution which was to take two double rooms from other guests who had not showed up. It meant some unexpected sharing but we were grateful just to have somewhere to sleep. We thanked Alberto profusely who had worked tirelessly trying to help us, even sending other guests away from the desk. They had put a single bed in one of the double rooms and so me and Julie shared that room with Colin. We finally got to bed about 11:30pm, absolutely drained.

In the morning, we left the hotel and went to our originally booked hotel who thankfully knew who we were, and from then on the weekend proceeded without incident and we treated ourselves to lots of nice meals and drinks.

Now we are all trying to sort out various refund and compensation issues. One of my tasks is to deal with lastminute.com who were responsible for the failed hotel booking. I will do some updates on that as things progress. I am very displeased with them. If I don’t get a satisfactory resolution I doubt I will ever be making use of their services again.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Lazy Authoritarians

The government is attempting to ban an anti-war demonstration today, however Stop The War Coalition insist it will go ahead regardless. They are trying to use an archaic 19th century law that can restrict demonstrations while parliament is in session, supposedly to make sure MPs are not prevented from getting to parliament.

The obvious concern is that the Brown government is behaving just as badly as the Blair one when it comes to supression of free speech and peaceful protest. I was hoping things would improve with a new administration.

But another point is that this protest is not starting until 1pm today. Well, if MPs aren't already at work in parliament by then, I think they should get their lazy arses out of bed a bit earlier.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Two Breadcrumb Tips

I cooked two meals involving breadcrumbs last week, and as a result have a couple of culinary tips:

For crisp breadcrumbs to sprinkle over a finished dish

Toast some bread until dark but not burned. Allow to cool. Break up the toast and put in a food processor. Whizz until you get the desired crumb size, then sprinkle over. This gives you nice crisp crumbs without having to fry them, and also they are lower in fat.

For breadcrumbs on a dish to be baked or grilled

Take some bread and break into pieces. Put in a food processor and whizz until the crumb size is right. Put the soft breadcrumbs in a bowl, and add a small amount of olive oil. Using your finger, stir the oil through the breadcrumbs gently. Sprinkle over your bake or gratin, then they will go crisp and golden under the grill or in the oven.

Friday, June 29, 2007

God Save The Clientele

I wrote a belated review of a gig by The Clientele that I went to in April.

I just wanted to start using last.fm's journal space for gig reviews.

Friday, June 01, 2007

6 Mix Dumbs Down

6 Mix is a really cool slot on 6 Music, where a special guest is invited to program an entire show and is given free rein to play whatever tracks they like. I’ve discovered many new artists from the show in the past. I normally only listen if I’ve heard of the guest and think they’ll play something interesting. They’ve had sets by Jose Padilla, Lamb, Coldcut, Ladytron and loads of other interesting people. However, the last one I listened to (Richard Colburn from Belle and Sebastian) was ruined by the playing of jingles and redundant comments from the host (Asha), IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TRACKS.

I haven’t listened for a while, but the last time I did, the guest had control over the output and could decide whether to back-announce tracks one at a time, or maybe play three in a row, or even not make any comments at all (the playlist is on the web next day if something piqued your interest). Now, the guest is seemingly not allowed to talk directly to the audience at all, but is ‘interviewed’ by Asha every few tracks.

The last straw on this show was when Asha blathered on about nothing for about a minute right in the middle of Yello’s electro masterpiece “Bostich”.

I don’t have any objections in principle to track announcements, or even the odd jingle reminding me what station I’m listening to (even though that can be irritating). But they should be kept strictly near the beginning and end of tracks. On this kind of show, a particular personality and flavour is communicated through the music itself – that’s the whole point of it. It feels patronising, like they think we can’t handle some free creative output without having to have it continuously explained.

This comes on top of the axing of Radio 3’s Mixing It early this year which was another tragic episode of killing off unconventional and diverse programming. You can read a slightly sinister account of the presenters’ experience of the cancellation here.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

EMI give away music?

EMI have struck a deal with Apple to offer their tracks through iTunes with no copy protection (albeit at a higher price). The commercial reason for this is to open up the user base to those who use, or would like to use, digital music players other than iPods. Currently tracks bought through iTunes are locked into the iPod.

This all makes sense for the parties concerned - EMI and iTunes get a wider audience (although Apple are taking a risk that people don't stick with iPods). But I'm sure they've all done their maths and they think that overall they will both benefit.

However in the Guardian's reporting of the story they state that "you will also be able to share tracks with friends". While that's undoubtedly true, I am pretty sure that it would be illegal. Just because the music has no technology to prevent copying doesn't mean that you have the right to make copies of it for others. I'm sure the Guardian is either mistaken on that, or are advocating illegal file sharing.

Of course those of us in the know would never buy copy protected music anyway, as we want the freedom to listen to the music we've paid for wherever and however we like, for as long as we like. That's why we use music download sites such as Bleep, eMusic, and Calabash to name but a few excellent examples.