Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The breezeblock of disappointment shatters the window of contentment.

I have returned from the mini-break intact and without having a major argument. (Or even a minor one, actually, apart from the strop I threw on realising Boyfriend had not thought to pack smart clothes). We stayed at a small hotel in the Cotswolds, where in return for wallet-weepingly high prices we were pampered to within an inch of our lives.

We had champagne ready in the room when we arrived, which we drank in the jacuzzi (tacky? yes. awesome? YES!) and a four-posted bed hand-carved by some horny-handed artisan in 1657. It was so high off the ground that you had to use a stool to climb into it, which I think is possibly the best thing ever.

The only slight disappointment was our dinner at Cotswold House. The dining room looks beautiful, but (and sorry to come over all Michael Winner) the maitre d' sat us at a table right in the entrance, and next to the waiter's station. It was also clearly a table for four rather than two, so we had to shout at each other across a foot and a half divide, while waiters and people on their way to the loo bodged us. (It's the table at the front of the picture here.) So, feeling like a bit of diva, I asked to move to the corner.

We had some gorgeous starters (scallops for him, ham hock and foie gras terrine for me), mine served with a brioche that looked uncannily like a loofah. You'll be pleased to know there was no guinea fowl to provoke an argument, so he had beef.... which admittedly was what I wanted, but no matter. I had some venison with endives and... well... this aerated grey foamy squidgy thing that looked like a breeze block and tasted a bit like black truffle. It bemused me. I couldn't remember it being on the list of accompaniments, and it looked positively unearthly. When the waiter arrived back, I made (for me) the courageous move of asking him what it was.

"It's a shittake foam," he said. I must have looked nonplussed, because he continued. "Did you like it? A lot of people say they don't." Well, that knocked me back. I bit back the response, "so why is it on the menu, then?" and made a mental note to be more wary of foam-reliant restaurants in future. You can tell how dispirited I was by the mushroom breezeblock if I tell you we didn't have pudding - or even a cheese course.

Oh dear, look at that. I start off talking about my lovely weekend break and end up waffling on about cheese. Still, you didn't want to hear about the boring romantic stuff, did you?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Don't go mini-breaking my heart....

Tomorrow, Boyfriend and I are going on a mini-break, a word which gives Leon no end of amusement, but strikes fear into my heart. I'm just certain that Boyfriend and I are going to have a massive row provoked by something absurdly small, like towel usage or who gets to order the guinea fowl if we both want it.

I can't help thinking that doing any self-consciously romantic activity is likely to lead to the opposite of romance - like those party organiser who tries too hard to jolly everyone along, not realising that regimentation is the enemy of fun.

Talking of romance, Boyfriend bought me the complete box set of Sex and The City (the gift that says - you're a drippy hormone-addled girl, but I love you) which I have been tearing through at a rate of knots. I've heard lots of criticism of it recently - Indy sex columnist Catherine Townsend got really shirty on Screen Burn about the fact they keep their bras on in bed, then Lucy Mangan in The Guardian opined that the girls were rubbish role models, based on the scene where Carrie is more upset about her Manolos being stolen than her wallet.

Well, yah boo sucks to them. Before Sex and The City, the idea of a female-led comedy or drama was, er, laughable. There was Cybill, but that was extremely ropey in places, and there was.... see, I'm already thinking about Babes In The Wood. And that's a bad place to be.

Besides, I've being trying to understand the following question for ages; maybe you can help me. What is intrinsically more shallow about appreciating, studying and collecting shoes than, say, modern art? It sounds horrifically pseud-y to put it that way, but really - why is fashion less interesting or worthwhile than theatre?

Maybe that argument could be the one we have on the mini-break.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

No use crying over spilled Liebfraumilch

DISCLAIMER: If at any point during this point I sound like a braying arse, I apologise. It's the subject matter - honest.

I went to a wine tasting last night. The residual student in me was squealing internally "Free booze! Free booze!" while the young urban professional part of my brain was desperately trying to contort my features into an interrogative, judicious frown. I'm just here to pick up a few bottles for the cellar, my face was supposed to say: I taste £93 bottles of Krug all the time!

As it was, I insisted that Boyfriend (who had acquired the tickets free through work) and I try all the champagne and as much of the dessert wine as humanly possible, as these are my two vinous vices.

Taste in wine is an odd thing - I can't get on with dry whites and most reds, as my cripplingly strong sweet tooth revolts. (Without the cruelly judgemental eye of society, I would probably drink alcopops and shandy down the pub, as they rarely provide a good selection of Gewurtztraminers and Rieslings). I've learned to appreciate a decent Beaujolais thanks to my parents' affection for holidaying there, given the slightest chance... but my true love is the dessert wine.

And there were some beauties on offer last night - their stall cunningly positioned next to the foie gras supplier. Sadly, I can't find the best one on the Majestic wine website, depriving this whole entry of its utility, really. The Peter Lehmann Botrytis Semillon was pretty good too, despite the other wines from the range tasting of precisely nothing. I'm still not sure I'd want to drink it with smoked salmon as the website recommends. Pass me the Stilton instead.

We also tried some ridiculously expensive Johnnie Walker Blue, which I can't abide. To me it tastes the way all alcohol you snuck from your parents' cupboard did - raw and yet strangely sickly. As for the £93 Krug - yes, it was good, but I can't get over the fact that Jeffrey Archer has Krug and shepherd's pie parties at Christmas. It's the kind of branding you'd pay millions to avoid.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Nostalgia: Not What It Used To Be.

Last week, I did two very sad things indeed. I joined Facebook, and fell off the YoHoHo Puzzle Pirates wagon.

Facebook first: I've been resisting for ages, ostensibly on moral grounds (I'm far too cool to care whether people I was at university with are more successful than me!) but really because I had forgotten the password to my Oxford alumna email address.

Sadly, they've now opened Facebook up to the hoi polloi, me included, and the number of invitations pinging into my inbox was becoming untenable (not just from Facebook, but also the jauntily named 'hi5', Bebo and 'WAYN', short for 'Where are you now?', mais oui). Anyway, I joined, and was immediately confirmed in my suspicions that I shouldn't do things like this because I. must. be. cynical. I just can't seem to write about my life and achievements, such as they are, without affecting an arsey sort of jocularity, as if to underline the point that I'm not really taking this seriously and please listen I'm not a complete twat and you'd like me if you got to know me, honest.

It all leaves me feeling vaguely sullied, an impression now added to by the fact that people who I had lost touch with seem intent on reminiscencing fondly about twattish things I said at university. Oh, and I'm being chatted up by a physicist from the year above, who claims that I spent an hour during a Freshers Week pub crawl asking him if he was celibate. What can you say to that? It sounds eminently I like something I might do, but I haven't the foggiest as to whether I did. Conversation on that kind of basis is necessarily somewhat strained.

Anyway, it's better news on YoHoHo! Puzzle Pirates, which obsessed me for about two weeks after finals while I waited for friends taking other subjects to finish their exams (English being freakishly early in the exam calendar).

The one play on it I had turned out not to be a gateway drug to another fifteen plays on it, as I had feared, but instead served to remind me of precisely how dull a game it is. In fact, it's probably the least fun that has ever masqueraded under the banner of a game in history, apart from a Gladiatoral combat.

The premise is this: you, and your fellow players, are pirates. You sail round a variety of amusingly named islands pillaging, trading, and buying absurd hats. Unfortunately, the creators have obviously thought that other games are too, well, playable. YoHoHo is a bit like some kind of online totalitarian regime.

What you want to do, of course, is build yourself your own boat, pimp it really hard with some custom drapes and a gold rudder, and call yourself a Rear-Admiral. But the game won't allow this. Instead, you have to join a crew as a cabin-person (thank you for the equal opportunity to be a grunt) and play the puzzles of the title which bilge, sail and repair the ship under the aegis of your Captain (who will, no doubt, have been playing the game 14 hours a day for the last six months). Let it be very clear: there are no shortcuts to glory here, no cheat codes or secret tricks. Just hard graft for hours, at puzzles which quickly become old. Even worse, you're expected to make conversation with 14-year-olds from Idaho as you do this.

Anyway, I quickly realised that the rest of my life offered ample opportunities for staring at a screen, performing repetitive tasks and talking to people I have nothing in common with. So back to Guitar Hero and the dance mat it is.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Nudity and Nazis

On Monday I went to Cabaret at the Lyric theatre - and jolly good it was too. Try not to be too shocked when I tell you that up until then, I had no experience of Cabaret at all, apart from through Bowleserised - hadn't seen the film, heard the songs, anything. I was quite excited about this. It meant I could go along without the weight of expectation about what the play should be like, how the characters should be, how the songs should be sung, and especially how it ended. When you know the drama takes place in 1930s Berlin you already have a sneaking suspicion it won't end well.

And so I loved it, even if Rich Colleague (who had taken me, Boyfriend and his little sister) was perturbed by comparisons with Jane Horrocks in the Donmar's version in the 90s. The staging was very cool - starting off with a camera aperture which opened to reveal James Dreyfus's MC (looking in his white make-up, sadly, a little too much like The Penguin). Angled slabs of scenery kept whooshing across the stage - on one occasion nearly knocking over Anna Maxwell Martin, who played Sally. Anna was good, I thought, if unfeasibly thin. I can see how she got away with playing Lyra in His Dark Materials at the age of 26.

But most of the time it was the chorus who held my attention. They'd come dressed as an Agent Provocateur catalogue, apparently, all stockings and waspies and leather harnesses for the chaps. Their speciality seemed to be opening their legs while upside down and in very small underwear, and I was convinced at any moment one of them was going to, er, pop out. This kind of thing is much more attention-holding than actual full-on balls out nakedness, of course, and was thus quite distracting. Anyway, by the end of the first act they'd clearly realised this and just went the whole hog, dancing to Fatherland in the buff.

As I said, I'd expected the second half to be dark - but perhaps not as dark as it turned out to be. I can remember watching Cats once and wishing that the whole cast had been gassed at the end, but it was still a shock to see the MC and dancers huddled together, naked, in the snow as the curtain went down.

Parte The Seconde

... anyway, after the theatre Rich Colleague had wangled us a table at The Ivy. Well, I say wangled, but actually he'd just phoned them and book a table for half ten. Presumably, Lady Victoria Hervey or whoever would have eaten her three breadsticks and tottered off into the night by then.

I know, I really do, that being excited about eating at The Ivy marks me out as the worst kind of media wannabe ponce, but I couldn't help myself. I had high hopes there was excellent celeb spotting to be done, particularly as everyone else I know seems to see famous people on a daily basis (e.g. Victoria Beckham, Jennifer Aniston, Roger Moore, acclaimed film director Mike Leigh) whereas I am seemingly celeb-proof.

So who did I get? Hmm? I'll tell you who. Bob Hoskins. Yes, Bob 'It's Good to Talk' Hoskins. Tcha.

Still, I liked the food (very faux-down-to-earth, apart from the white truffle risotto and the caviar) and the service was impeccable.