Monday, October 31, 2005

Travels in the South

On Thursday, we headed to the countryside. We started off at Stonehenge. It was a glorious day, with spectacular sun and warm temps.


Next stop - Wells and their cool cathedral. Wells is a really cute little village, and there's this great ruin of a medieval castle right next to the cathedral. Not to mention some really fabulous shoe stores.




Then on to the Cheddar Gorge and Bath. Our hotel was in a great location...centrally located within walking distance of everything. We went to a cool little bar for cocktails, where Patricia helped strike up a conversation with the bartender and a local guy who was bellyed up. We enjoyed a couple rounds with them, then headed down the street to a little French place for a scrumptious dinner.

Friday we spent the day in Bath seeing the sites. In the AM we did the Roman Baths, and then in the afternoon we split up. Patricia and Susan went off for more costume stuff (Bath has one of the best collections in Europe.) Katie and I stopped for a beer and then went to the Bath Glassworks for a glass blowing demonstration. Katie got a wineglass, and I got a pair of cufflinks and a shiny ring.

We stopped at Sally Lunn's for a Lunn bun snack. Yum Yum. It's this crazy, fluffy, kind of sweet kind of savoury breadlike thing, and then they put a delicious topping on it and broil it. I believe our table tried the strawberry jam, the lemon curd, the cinnamon toast, and the welsh rarebit (basically cheese and worcestershire sauce.) Oh. And tea, which is killer yum. Perfect fortification for the drive to the Cotswolds. Though we did hit a traffic jam and I needed a little supplement with some roasted peanuts.

We stayed the night in Painswick, this picturesque little stone village nestled into a hill. Driving in this town was a total trip...imagine single lane switchbacks with six feet tall stone walls on each side, and two way traffic trying to use them. Our little inn was built in 1472, and had low ceilings, beams, and four-poster beds. They had a pretty decent thai restaurant with a fixed menu, as well, and so we had a delicious dinner there. There was a crazy couple in the corner getting drunk and talking loudly, and we ended up engaged in conversation with them until about 1 AM, mostly because we couldn't find a graceful way to exit. The guy (in fact, his name was Guy) was pretty much a muscular, over-cologned, hairy jerk who talked too loudly and told bad jokes, but his girlfriend (Lorna) seemed nice enough, poor thing.

On Saturday we did a wander through the Cotswolds. Really pretty area...all sheep and hills and little twisty lanes. We were overly ambitious so we didn't have time to walk the fields, which in retrospect would have been a good thing to plan, but it's a beautiful area of England and we saw some breath-taking scenery. And the best part...it's near Milton Keynes so we could come back to my place that night for a dinner of nibbles and wine, with a few loads of laundry on the side.

We had a great little breakfast, and then the weary travelers headed to London. I said goodbye at the train station (no tears, just hugs), and then Patricia and I drove the luggage to Hampton Court, where the girls spent the night. I came home and went to bed at 9...I was positively exhausted...and then everyone returned to their real lives today.

Midweek

Monday and Tuesday, Susan and Katie spent the days in London...and then I'd pick them up at the train station. On Monday I was too tired to cook, so we went to a cool old pub in town and had delicious pub grub like Beef and Speckled Hen pie (SH is an ale.) But we were smart and went to the grocer on the way home so on Tuesday we made a Burmese Chili Pork Salad.

Burmese Chili Pork Salad
2 Tablespoons of groundnut oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Three or four shallots, chopped
One package of mushrooms, chopped
2 large dried chilis, coarsely chopped (or just use dried chili flakes...maybe 1 1/2 Tablespoons)
Minced pork...like maybe a pound?
Tender young broccoli stems, cut in bitesize pieces
Carrot slivers
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
Lettuce, tomato, and cucumber

Heat the wok. Heat the oil. Toss in the garlic and cook for a minute or two, ditto for the shallots, and then the mushrooms. Add the chili and stir for about 20 seconds. Then add the pork and cook until almost done. Now add the broccoli and carrots and toss around until they're to the tooth. Add remaining ingredients and heat it up properly, simmering on a low burner.

Now prepare salad dishes with the lettuce, tomato, and cucumber. Then you're ready to put the pork mixture on the salads and enjoy.

It was yummy...we had cocktails (sidecars and manhattans) and it was a perfect evening.

On Wednesday, we went into the city again. We headed to Kensington Palace to meet Patricia. She had the costume curator give us a behind the scenes tour of the collection and the palace...very fun. (Susan is the textile curator at the Atlanta History Center, so for her it was shop talk.) We stopped in the Orangery for lunch and then high-tailed to the V&A for the afternoon. Late afternoon coffee stop, and then a stroll through Kensington to a nice little Italian place for dinner.

I'm back

I've had a wonderful week. My friends Susan and Katie were here. It was great.

They arrived via National Express from Gatwick, which took a little longer than expected but got them here just the same. I took them to the Indian restaurant in the church in Stony. It's got a big wow factor, and as long as you avoid the saag dishes (which are just so-so) the food is really good. We had a scrumptious banquet of spicy things, then came home and watched Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and talked forever. Couldn't believe they made it until midnight before going to bed.

Saturday we went to Hampton Court to pick up Patricia and took the train to London. Our first stop: the Ice Bar! It's a totally lame marketing ploy, but it was still fun. The bar is kept at about 5 degrees, and they serve vodka drinks in ice glasses. You are allowed a 45 minute slot, and you're given thermal capes and gloves to keep warm. I had an appletini.

Patricia wanted to go to the Arts and Crafts show in Chelsea, and Susan and Katie preferred the double-decker bus tour. I elected to go with them to check it out for future visitors. It was pretty good, actually. They take you past everything and they tell you all sorts of stories. It was sunny and nice, but MAN it was cold up top. I was pretty glad when we reached Green Park and were able to get off and walk. We met Patricia for a drink in Leicester Square, and since there were no cheap show seats that we really wanted we wandered into Chinatown for dinner. We found a pretty decent place (it was a sauce-heavy sort of place, and I prefer the drier kind, but everything was flavourful and delicious.) We took the train back to Hampton Court and stayed there for the night.

On Sunday we did a comprehensive tour of Hampton Court. Patricia sweet talked the head of customer relations to be our guide for part of the day, which was great fun. Here I am grating some nutmeg, while Patricia looks on from the fireplace. Patricia also gave us a behind the scenes tour of the conservation area, which is her domain at the palace. Since she and Susan are in the same business, they were able to talk shop and museum stuff, and Katie and I got to see a pretty cool view of things. You feel really important when you get to walk into the security only area.

Okay, time to go to work. I've been waiting for the Sky box engineer to come fix my satellite, and he's got my tv working again so it's time to go. More soon.





Saturday, October 15, 2005

Going Quietly?

If you're a Republican and you receive some sort of correspondence criticizing your beliefs this week, it's possible that this is the source.

I must say, that definitely shows commitment to a cause.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Best song EVAH

One of the best songs ever is called "Debra" and it's by Beck. It's on Midnight Vultures. Do you know it? If not, check it out on itunes or wherever you get music.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

School Girl Crush

"In 1997, Miers sent Bush a belated birthday card featuring a sad-looking dog and the note: "Dear Governor GWB, You are the best Governor ever -- deserving of great respect!"

I wonder if she uses a little heart to dot her i's when she signs her name?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

I love Charlotte Church

This is a new thing for me. I was never a fan of her creepy, other-worldly, faux opera thing when she was a child. I thought she was wholly unsettling, actually.

But Charlotte has grown up, and now she is one of my favourite celebrities in England. She's curvy, bordering on chubby. She wears too much makeup. She says outlandish things and takes the mick out of herself, and she occasionally swears in public. She's managed to grow into a down to earth person, which is an achievement considering her childhood fame. She occasionally binge drinks and she dates dishy rugby players. She is basically a big mess, and doesn't really care what people say because she's 19 and she's enjoying her life and making mistakes and putting herself before her career.

And she's not one of those trampy Britney types, either. She doesn't wear tight, revealing clothes and she doesn't do pole-and-lap-dance gyrations when she performs. She's actually an interesting mix of posh and trashy...oddly managing to pull the good parts from both.

Her new music is even kind of pop-rocky and, although it isn't deep or particularly complex, it is actually really catchy and fun.

She slammed the Pope for condemning Harry Potter. She's also openly ridiculed a guy named James Blunt, who has one of the worst songs on the radio right now but no one seems to want to point out that he has a bad voice and his lyrics are vaguely stalkerish.

Yes, Charlotte Church is now cool. Can you even imagine it?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

New baby name

Many people think it's a good thing I don't have kids. This is not usually linked to their assessment of my potential parenting skills (or at least they claim it's not,) but more to my questionable choice in names for kids.

My mom is an identical twin, and that makes me the generation that could carry this on...therefore I used to plan my names in pairs, just in case I ended up with unexpected babies and had to think fast. (Don't take that sentence at face value...you know what I mean.) The boys would be Otto and Oscar (my grandfathers) and the girls would be June and Esther (my grandmother and her sister). And, on the off-chance that my partner had his own ideas about names and might think these are a bit naff, I always kept Astrid and Delia and Bjorn and Thor in my back pocket as alternates, just in case. (There were also Christopher Hans and Dinah, the fictional children Tom and I were planning, but those were specific circumstances and not on the main list.)

Even though I'm old enough now that the baby name list is pretty much a non-issue, I can't stop myself from adding to it anyway. Today I've officially decided that Gemma, Hazel, Ellis, and Sherlock are joining the list of potential Hanzliks. Gemma is sassy, Hazel is artsy and introspective, Ellis is cool without being macho.

And Sherlock, well, it's just Sherlock. I might even adopt just so I can use it.

Burning Question

I wonder which is worse to live with...Narcolepsy or Tourette's?

Helpful Hint

If you've had a long day and decide to order chinese food for delivery:

A) order from a good restaurant, not one that serves everything in sweet and spicy, sticky red sauce; and
B) when you discover that you've ordered foul chinese food that belongs in the bin, stop eating, you moron.

If only someone had told me this three hours ago. Pleh.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Shipping Forecast

I have discovered a new oddity to love about England. At 0048 each day, the folks on BBC Radio 4 read the shipping forecast. I'd heard tell of this, and absolutely every Brit I've questioned on it raves likes it is some sort of mystical oracle.

I've been up at 0048 and still alert quite a bit in the last few weeks so I tuned in.

I, too, am mesmerised by its power.

It's not unlike the commodities prices they read on the AM radio news in the midwest US. There's the part about the indecipherable language that's fascinating, but the shipping forecast is even better. (And it's hard to get better than futures on corn or beans or the price of cattle at the Ronan Trading Barn.)

The shipping forecast sets one's mind to thinking about the possibilities of life...of sailing off into the sunset/sunrise, heading out for adventure in the great unknown. As you sit snuggly in your dark, quiet house in the middle of the night (made snugger now that the heat is on,) it makes you dream of distant shores. It's oddly calming, like a verbal lullaby. Reassuring even. As you tuck yourself in under the duvet and turn out the light, it puts the wind at your back and sends you to sleep.

Listen to it here. Nighty night.

Update

In retrospect, even Michael J. Fox has a little Elvis in him. I've decided to forgive him for Family Ties. I mean, he got to work with Meredith Baxter Birney.

London Calling

It's been awhile since I have had a good long dose of London, and my friends Kat and Anna were feeling the same way. I'd had a difficult week, to say the least (11PM was my average leaving time from work) and I'd been out with the chairman of our company on a presentation Friday that put me home around 9 PM. I was in the mood.

So Saturday we took the train to the city. Anna had arranged for free rooms at a hotel, which is code for "We'll put you up for free but you have to tour the place first." We did the tour, and then headed into the city. Met Kat in Leicester Square and had some tapas and a glass of wine in the sunny early fall day. Went to tkts and took a gander at the choices. Richard II is in previews, and Kevin Spacey...dishy pasty-white-stay-inside if ever there was one...is playing the lead. Made a mental note to do that one soon. There were tickets to High Society and I've always loved that (MY she was YAR!) but Epitaph for George Dillon won because Joseph Fiennes is a "horny beast" as Kat says (I believe that is Northern Irish for dishy.) Tickets were half price (the fun of tkts) and so we booked for 7:30.

We did a Covent Garden wander, and I ended up with a pair of new shoes. They are a lovely chocolate brown and will go well with trousers. I can't always wear my red boots. Made the obligatory Lush stop (I needed face wash) and then sat for a cappuccino. Caught a taxi to Kensington Palace for tea. Apparently I flirted with the cabbie (though I'd say I just had some friendly conversation, much as my mother did with strangers when we were on vacation as a kid,) and so he not only dropped us off, he drove on the sidewalks in Hyde Park to drop us right next to the building because it was raining. We had a delicious cream tea. (That means tea, cucumber sammys, fruit scones with clotted cream and preserves and a piece of cake, orange in our case.) Walked off the sweets by strolling back to the hotel, had a complimentary cocktail, then caught the tube to the theatre.

We had great seats and the play was interesting. Joseph Fiennes is, indeed a "horny beast." The play was written in the 50's by John Osbourne and his partner, Anthony Creighton, and foreshadows some of the themes in the more well known Look Back in Anger. Quick synopsis - it is about a supposedly artistic, clever, engaging man who quits his day job and moves in with a work colleague and her stereotypically lower class family so he can pursue his acting. Although he is contemptuous of the banal lifestyle of his hosts, eventually life batters him down and he succumbs to their mediocrity because it's easier than pursuing his dreams. The whole staging has that Leave it to Beaver look about it, and the family who takes him in are two-dimensional, predictable people. George is always saying a-bit-too-clever stuff intended to make you think, thus making him just as much a two-dimensional stereotype as the people he ridicules with his sardonic humour. But there were some good laughs and it was engaging and I though Joseph Fiennes was certainly a bit more than a pretty face. (He's tall, too. Oh. And he's a talented actor and gave a nuanced performance.) Read review here.

Stopped at Wagamama for plum wine and noodle soup. Went to the hotel, and I slept like a log. Got up for breakfast and met Anna at 11. Wandered a bit and caught a 130 train home.

I love London. Twenty-seven hours in the city and I am no longer stressed about work. Why? Because I live in ENGLAND. How bad can it be???