Jacuzzi, sir?

Remember that classic line from “Trading Places”, when the butler Coleman asks Billy Ray Valentine if he wants to have a whirlpool bath?

Recently, I was chatting with a friend of mine who was telling me about a weekend away with his girlfriend to a spa retreat. Not really his bag – he’s more of a five pints of Peroni and eighteen holes of golf man – but he agreed to go along, because he loves her and that is no bad thing. Of course, for many ladies, a weekend of relaxation, pampering, away from the daily grind is the idea of perfection. No need to make any effort, you can spend the whole weekend in comfy tracksuits, fluffy dressing gowns, your hair wrapped in a towel and discard your heels for a pair of fluffy slippers. You float from massages to facials to saunas all while sipping from an outsided cup of herbal tea. Bliss.

It’s not quite so straightforward for unreconstructed men, who are perhaps awkward with the idea of a bit of self-indulgence and trying to feel good about yourself. For men of a certain type, that merely involves holding your stomach in, ruffling your hair to try and disguise your balding pate and remembering to squirt a bit of Lynx to disguise that fact you forgot to have a shower.

Anyway, back to my friend who was dragged off to a country retreat. On arrival, his girlfriend, who was well versed in these events and had carefully planned and booked a whole series of treatments and consultations. He, however, was well out of his depth. His girlfriend, being the caring type, soon noticed this and helpfully suggested he try a whirlpool bath to try and relax, while she went to get her nails done.The an agreed, each went in their separate directions. An hour later, the girlfriend is hunting the hotel bar, or maybe the coffee shop, where she had fully expected to find my friend. With nobody reporting seeing him, she went to check the jacuzzi area and sure enough, there was our hero, sat bolt upright in the bath in his knee-length board shorts, the water as still as a mill pond. ” This is so, so overrated,” he announced. “I’ve been sat here an hour…nothing!”. His perplexed girlfriend helpfully replied, “Maybe next time, try switching the blimming’ thing on?”

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One lady owner…

I have had a fairly unhealthy obsession with cars all my adult life. Ever since passing my test as a cocky seventeen year-old, then being given a lairy Ford Escort for my eighteenth birthday, I have spent much of my spare time watching motoring shows on tv, reading online car websites and following YouTube channels where men with spiky hair, beards and luminous trainers gurn at the camera in their latest piece of exotic or outrageous hardware. Sooner or later, all this attention inevitably ends up feeding a desire in me to buy something I hitherto had never realised in needed so much. Women tend to display a similar trait with shoes and handbags, but in men it manifests itself in cars. Particularly if you live in Essex or work in the City. Or both in my case.

The pattern then follows of impulse buying, then convincing myself I don’t drive enough to justify having such an expensive car outside my house, calculating the depreciation, deciding to sell (usually at a loss) and then the cycle starts again when I spot something shiny and new and feel I must have it at all costs. An irrational and sad state of affairs. I dread to think of how much money I have lost down the years on cars and the financial ruin is tempered by many happy memories, but hindsight compounds the pain, because, almost without exception, if I had hung on to the cars I have owned, I would have made a killing, instead of pouring money down the drain. You see, I have always had a good eye for a good car, not necessarily a bargain, but always something that. stood out. A limited edition, a discontinued model, a future classic, a head turner. Buying these cars was always easy, selling always proved tricky. Both were always impulsive.

In the. old days, you’d place an ad in the classified section of the local paper, or maybe Exchange & Mart. Then along came Auto trader, who revolutionised things by sending someone along to take a photo of your car, to adorn the ad on its pages. All of that has been set aside by the internet and now you take your own photos and write your own words in the hope of securing a sale. This has always been a fine art, because your chances of success depend on how you word the description of your pride and joy. Colour, mileage, optional extras, service history, etc, etc. It’s long been viewed that “lady owner” was always a sign of a good car, when mentioned in a classified ad. I saw this recently, when trawling the internet and it made me think. You see, the term is made to convince the potential purchaser that the car is a pristine example and has not been ruined by some boy racer, who has thrashed the engine and burned the tyres. In my experience, it’s the opposite that is true.

A man’s house is often a tip, with piles of discarded takeaway cartons, vying for space on the carpet with old newspapers, dirty trainers and smelly socks. Doors hanging off their hinges, dirty dishes piled in the sink and nothing in the fridge. His car, however is a shrine to cleanliness, always waxed and polished, kept away from the elements and fastidiously vacuumed, dust free and fragrant inside. A woman’s home is spotless, but her car….

Women may like to give their car a name, put eyelashes on the headlights, paint it pink and play Taylor Swift non-stop on the stereo, but inside it will always be something a first year university student would be proud of, with rubbish on the floor, sweet wrappers and empty milk shake cartons in the door bins. Lip sticks and mascara pens in the centre console, foundation fingerprints on the gear knob and the mirror. Chewing gum in the ashtray and lolly sticks stuck to the carpet. And don’t go looking in the glove box…The array of lights on the dashboard show the car has never been serviced, the oil never topped up and there is more water in the Sahara Desert, than is present in the radiator. The tyres are flabby and a selection of dents and scratches serve as parking sensors. Years ago, I remember an ex-girlfriend arriving at my house complaining that her car was making a strange groaning noise and emitting a nasty burning smell. It turned out she had made the half hour journey over to mine with the hand brake on the whole time. Another one had caused an accident, because although she indicated right, of course she really meant to go left.

So here’s some good consumer advice to all you would-be car buyers out there; if the ad says. “One Lady Owner”, avoid like the plague!!!

No negotiation, no deal…

She forfeited her right to be part of our community years ago. In that time we have had no meaningful communication, she was influenced by her own people and left. Now, years later, she wants to talk, fearful for her survival. Now, with her back to the wall and her enemies closing in, she wants to cut a deal. She wants our help. When it happened, she knew what she was doing and just walked out, wanting to have nothing more to do with us. In light of this, there is no way we can, in any way, shape or form, have her back. She will use her experiences to influence others and that could be a real danger to our very existence. There has been no remorse, no admission of guilt or wrong doing and while she has suffered two sad losses in the meantime, her current precarious position cannot be held up for consideration. We are under no obligation to help her, she chose her own path and must now deal with the consequences. She may indeed have been brainwashed, forced to accept views that she was not brought up with, but radicalised by extremists and thus cannot be trusted now, or in the future. President Trump has told us we must deal with it and will happily leave her to live with her decisions. She will have to find a way to survive without us. She chose that path and there is no need for us to pave a way back for her. I think she has found her own special place in hell. Theresa May, you’re on your own with your Brexit baby. Regards, Donald Tusk.

Cheers!

Yesterday, I read an article headed, “Man Gives Up Drinking for One Year, Loses Three Stones”. Impressive, but as I read further, it was not quite as straightforward as the headline made out. For a start, the man weighed in at twenty-one stones to start with and was given a stern warning about his health from his doctor. Getting down to eighteen stone is not exactly knocking it out of the park, but it also transpired a change in diet and a new found enthusiasm for exercise, including the gym five times a week, running half marathons and sea swimming (the latest exercise fad) also played their part. So, cutting out alcohol probably only played a small part in this “transformation”. His drinking diary did make me think, however, that how much alcohol is a part of British culture.

From the cradle to the grave, alcohol marks every milestone of British life. When a baby is born and the phone call is made, “It’s a boy (or a girl)!”, the usual response is, “Great! When’s the head-wetting?”. At the other end of life’s cycle, at every funeral in every draughty old church up and down the land, the black-clad congregation itch and fidget, urging the reverend to hurry up so they can get to the wake, where the deceased’s life is celebrated with a good old-fashioned booze up. Every life event between those two momentous occasions is marked by alcohol: that proud moment when your dad takes you to the pub for your first legal drink on your eighteenth birthday. Freshers Week at university is a booze fest; indeed the whole of your time at university is basically a three year course in managing hangovers. Your first pay cheque is marked by a big night out with your mates with you in the chair showing off your new-found wealth. Once in work, birthdays and promotions are traditionally marked with a liquid lunch or after work sesh. Even the day before you zip off on holiday, a “sunshine drink” is largely expected. You probably meet your other half in a pub, bar or nightclub. Of course, when you get engaged, there must be a party and ahead of the nuptials an obligatory stag/hen party where alcoholic consumption must reach biblical proportions! Weddings are rated by the amount of champagne drunk.

Hot weather is marked by garden barbecues where the beer outstrips the burgers. Cold weather is mulled wine and hip flasks. Skiing is all about the après ski and beaches are all about cocktails. Friday nights are pub nights and Saturday nights are for romantic meals, where the wine list bears as much importance as the menu. Sundays are about a bottle or two of red with your roast beef, before heading to the pub to watch the football with the boys. Even actually going to a football match requires beers before, midway through and after the game. Same with rugby, where it is the law that you have to start drinking at Richmond after stepping off the train then making your way via various hostelries to Twickenham Stadium. And cricket, well, it’s just one long drinking session, especially at grounds like Trent Bridge or Old Trafford, where the tv cameras are quick to find the “beer snakes”, twenty foot plastic tubes made up of all the empty pint glasses, discarded by thirsty fans.

Of course, the use of drink at all these occasions is to help loosen that famous British reserve.Other culture find it easier to express themselves, whether it is by eating a series of foot-long hot dogs, cramming all your friends and family into a battered old Peugeot and heading into town to beep your horn or maybe stand proudly on the roof of your house firing an AK47 into the night air. Abroad, local people are always surprised at the British national pastime of imbibing alcohol. Some will embrace it, even sensing an opportunity in places such as the Costa Brava or the Greek islands, where local bars will entice those British Euros with jugs of beer, bottles of Prosecco and Jägerbomb shots at rock bottom prices. You see, your usual British holiday maker is not really interested in lapping up a bit of local culture, picking up a bit of the lingo or sampling the local cuisine; holidays abroad are judged by how often you can drink (that includes check-in at the airport) and how cheap it is, compared to back home. And just where you can get a full English breakfast too.

So clearly, alcohol consumption is a big part of our DNA and the grand claim of that newspaper article is misleading. Giving up alcohol for a year will not make you drop three stones. Diet and exercise will do that. Giving up drinking will make that one year seem like ten, you will become even more reserved, less sociable, more boring and you’ll lose all your karaoke abilities and on Saturday afternoons, you would not be able to scream “City”, “United” or question the referee’s solo sexual habits.

Anyway, it’s Friday, the sun’s out, I just got a new job, so I’m off down the pub with the boys. “Who are yeerrrrrrrrrrrr????”.

Do you give a toss?

December is a month that seems to last only days, as we are caught up in the whirlwind preparations for Christmas and the New Year, juggling parties with friends and colleagues and trying to fit in your shopping (how did we manage before the internet?) and remembering to get the turkey. After the climax of New Year’s Eve, January descends like a funeral pall. No parties, no rushing about and the long, dark days drawn out by the self-imposed penitence of no drinking, giving up smoking or the more recent trends of Veganuary and even Januhairy (not shaving one’s body hair). Thirty one days feels like thirty one weeks as we sleep walk through the month. And then February arrives, a month where the merry-go-round speeds up again. Daylight is noticeably longer. The days speed by and as I write, we are already nearly half way through the month. Adverts on the telly for perfumes and chocolates remind us that Valentine’s Day is just about upon us. Confectionery on the supermarkets shelves tell us Easter is not far away, but amid all this frantic scribbling in my diary, as sudden panic strikes me.

My Facebook “memories” page reminds me that February is a time for tossing pancakes and yet I can’t find any mention of Pancake Day anywhere. Nothing in the papers or on the tv or radio. Not even any pleas from the children to have friends round for Pancake Day, though this may be more to do with the fact they are now both fully fledged surly teenagers would wouldn’t dare be seen doing something so uncool as making pancakes in their spare time, or posting it on their Insta page?!? A quick bit of delving on Google reveals Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday to be correct, falls on Tuesday, 5th. March this year. March! Why? Surely it always falls in February? Well, Shrove Tuesday (or Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras) is tied to Easter, which in turn is tied to the phases of the Moon. This confuses me, as it is the commemoration of the death and resurrection of Christ, so as with his birth, surely it should fall on a dedicated date? I have done some research, but now my brain is hurting as the explanations seem even more confused than I am. In a nutshell, Easter can fall on any Sunday between 22nd March and the 25th. April within seven days after a full moon. Easter Monday was declared a public holiday so that people could have a lie down and recover from the head spinning confusion. It’s no wonder the true meaning of Easter has been lost and now, like Christmas, is associated with eating a lot of chocolate. Shrove Tuesday is the traditional feast ahead of a forty day fast that precedes Easter Sunday. But again all that has been lost and it’s now known as Pancake Day, though I suppose there is a tenuous link between the eggs used to make pancakes and the Easter eggs that signify life? Or maybe I’ll go with the intellectual analysis that accompanied an episode of “The Only Way Is Essex” a few years ago, when some of the county’s finest minds were debating why they were making pancakes, when one of them proudly declared it was a tradition to celebrate “Saint Pancake”. Tossers.

“Have you been to a Harvester before?”

Have you ever noticed when you are ordering food, especially Chinese or Indian cuisine, whether for a delivery or at a restaurant, the need for a menu is often irrelevant? Everyone always chooses their “usual” and never deviated from it. It’s the same with pizzas, no matter how many new variants of crust, base or toppings they come up with, everyone always asks for the same as they always have. Is having a wide choice not always a good idea, because it makes no difference? Aircraft food is often derided for being “chicken or beef?”, but how about if you completely remove any kind of choice, disregard the demands of vegetarians or vegans, could it possibly work? Well, yes it could and actually be an astounding success…

Paris is a wonderful city, full of unexpected joys, if you are prepared to venture beyond the usual tourist haunts, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triumph. During my time there I made many surprising discoveries, one of my favourites being the Relais de Venise, also known as the Entrecôte. Before realising what it was, often I used to walk past and would wonder why there would always be a long queue outside, waiting to get in. The sort of queue that you might see at an achingly hip nightclub, with all the beautiful people eager to gain admittance to an exclusive venue. But this was no nightclub and indeed, the queues would be forming as early as six in the evening. The address was chic enough, a side street off the Champs Elysées, but the frontage gave no clue as to what went on behind the wooden door and frosted windows. Curiosity got the better of me one evening and I stopped to ask someone in the queue what all the fuss was about. He told me that this was where you get the best steak in town and was also Paris’s best kept secret. Being an avid fan of steak, my appetite was truly whetted and before long, I found myself part of the queue, gradually advancing toward the door.

Eventually, I got inside and was met with something completely unexpected. A heaving, bustling dining room with all these beautiful people sat cheek by jowl in their expensive furs, Birkin handbags and Chanel No5 heavy in the air. Waitresses dressed in a turn of the century black dress and white apron rushed back and forth, arms laden with plates of food. I had never seen so many people shoe horned into such a relatively small dining room and the noise of excited chatter and orders being shouted to the kitchen gave it a very heady atmosphere. We were seated on wooden chairs at a square wooden table, covered by a tracing paper tablecloth. Giddy with the adrenalin, we barely had time to catch our breath, when a waitress greeted us with, “Have you been to the Relais de Venise before?”, much in the same way as you were welcomed at a Harvester eatery back in the 90s, but instead of us being told there was an all-you-can-eat salad bar, we were asked how we would like our steak cooked. We could have anything long as it was medium! A carafe of house red arrived after another brief discussion and it dawned on us that we had not been offered a menu. A couple beside us spotted out bemusement and explained that there was no menu at the Entrecôte, it was a fixed menu and the only choice was whether you wanted a dessert or not. In a city of such exacting dining standards, how could this be?!? But no time for pondering, as a walnut salad arrived, along with some sliced baguette. We tucked in using cutlery I recognised from my infant school and were pleasantly surprised at how good the salad was; simple green leaves and walnuts in a light dressing. Soon the empty plates were whisked away and replaced speedily with new ones bearing slices of steak, drizzled with a greenish sauce. I asked my neighbour what this sauce was, but he smiled and said, “Try it!”. Like everything else being served, the recipe was a closely kept secret and this was the charm and attraction of the place. My friend was spot on, the meat, with the accompanying sauce was outrageously good, as were the chips that arrived to go with it. No fuss or frill, just steak and chips done exceptionally well, washed down with a very good house red. Then came the twist; just as we were two-thirds of the way through, our waitress returned to serve us second portions. Wonderful! “Are you having a dessert?” asked the waitress, as she cleared the empty plates. Our friend at the next table said it was a must to try the profiteroles, “They’re legendary!”, he said. And he was not wrong.

As we fought our way out of the restaurant, I could now see the quirky attraction of this place and understood the simplicity of the menu and clockwork nature of the service as people continued to stream through the door and the queue outside did not appear to diminish. We became regular visitors to the “RdV” and were thrilled when a few years ago, a London branch of the famous restaurant opened. An exact copy of the Paris original, even down to the furniture, the staff outfits and the school dinner cutlery. I love taking friends there and watch their reaction of bewilderment at no menu and no choice turn to astonishment and pleasure at what they end up receiving.

There are now several Relais de Venise restaurants dotted across London and also now even in New York, as the success goes from strength to strength. Depriving people of any kind of choice and giving them only what is good for them is thriving in a world where democracy is eating itself.

http://relaisdevenise.com

Not mentioning any names…

Down the years, I have rubbed shoulders with the great and the good of this country; I have met lords, ladies, knights, dames and stars of stage, screen and sports fields. I have steadily grown more and more fascinated by how these people deal with fame and how fame affects them. For example, one of Britain’s most successful and recognisable people jogs past my house on his daily run. Always polite and happy to chat, it was he who told me to get writing this blog. His personality is very natural and unaffected; what you see on the screen is very much what you get in the flesh. In turn, he rarely gets bothered as he goes about his daily life. Others can be more guarded, building a protective bubble around themselves, but once you are “in”, they relax. Then there are those that are famous, who don’t want people anywhere near them, but always want to remind everyone just how famous they are. For example, driving a fluorescent Italian sports car with a noisy exhaust and number plate betraying their identity, but hiding behind a pair of shades as some sort of disguise. Or maybe you might see them looking glum in some trendy nightclub, shielded from the proles by their hired entourage.

Most interesting are the “has beens”, those that had their fifteen minutes of fame some time ago, yet refuse to acknowledge that their time has come and gone. No matter how fleeting or tenuous that moment was, they continue to act as though still in the spotlight or some target for paparazzi. Typically, these types were maybe once in a tv soap, wiggling their hips as part of some long-gone pop act or in a team that played top flight sport before they were relegated into oblivion many moons ago. I saw evidence of this while watching my daughter play u13s netball at her school.

Stood away from the gaggle of chattering parents was a shady figure dressed head to toe in black with the hood of his parka pulled low over his face which was already obscured by a hoodie, a beanie hat and a baseball cap. A scarf pulled high over his chin completed the “incognito” look. Of course, this had the exact opposite effect as everyone else nudged each other, whispering, “It’s not THAT cold!”. At full time, he rushed past us on his way to the car park, gaze averted to avoid any possible eye contact, but not before I had recognised him as someone vaguely well-down back in the 90s. Amused by his bizarre behaviour and finally realising just who this character was, I decided to be polite and bid him a cheery good morning. He spun in horror at being recognised and wheeled away after a rather dismissive hand gesture, much to the amusement of those that witnessed it. Last seen jumping into his old Mercedes and wheel spinning off down the road, I looked round for any chasing photographers, camera crews or screaming fans, but, alas, there were none.