Sunday, 30 September 2007

Give cheese a chance

Yesterday, we went off to the Great British Cheese Festival which was serendipitously being held at Millets Farm, a mere 2 villages away from Abingdon. 2 years ago we went when it was held at Blenheim Palace and though the day was cool and drizzly (conditions luckily not repeated yesterday, we even had a few glorious sunny spells) the almost overwhelming varieties of cheese, free water biscuits, real ale tent and general overconsumption meant for a cracking day all round.

This time there were slightly fewer of us going (we missed you Susan...) and the cheese sweats and cheddary limbs were conspicuous by their absence today. Learning from last time we didn't round the day off with the Dil Raj's finest curries, as this was the tipping point from which certain of our group did not fully recover for weeks, possibly even months. Instead we ambled along to Abingdon's finest - or indeed only - Lebanese restaurant for some cleansing salads and falafel, along with the finest of Lebanese red wine (actually quite nice).

At the cheese festival this year current Observer darling Alex James was there, presumably preening about his new found bucolic idyll and launching his Little Wallop cheese via a video podcast. We didn't see this, thank goodness, though Ali did pap him using his unfeasibly large lens. I'll post a photo up soon so you can see his drippy hairstyle and 'farmer's' tweeds in all their glory. We did try the Little Wallop - it was OK - but tellingly the guy that gave us a taste said he had only ever met Alex twice, and didn't even know if he had a dairy herd on his farm... There were so many other, better cheeses than this as well: Lincolnshire Poacher (vintage and non-vintage); endless varieties of soft and hard goats cheese; plus gourmet breads from de Gustibus were consumed with gusto, and the wide variety of real ciders and perries was smashing - amazingly far greater than the single real ale on offer. Ha! In fact the only real disappointment was the lack of free water biscuits, Carr's were obviously cutting back this year.

Bring on the brie!

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

These are a few of my not-so-favourite things...

  • Cyclists who ride on the pavement and assume pedestrians will just skitter out of the way deferentially.
  • Pedestrians who stop dead in the middle of the street with no warning, especially when you're right behind them.
  • Train drivers (or more accurately, First Great Western timetable fiddlers who control where train drivers are going) who announce suddenly 'this train is now the fast service to Slough' when it was until a mere moment ago the stopping service to Maidenhead.
  • People who chew gum noisily, with their mouths open (or any gum chewers at all, in fact).
  • Royal Mail, especially their customer services department. If ever a department deserved to lose that title, they would be my first choice. Closely followed by Vodafone, of course.
  • Running out of screenwash just when your windscreen is full of dead flies.
  • Activex controls buggering up my Firefox browser. What's a dll file anyway?
  • And finally, blogging platforms where all of the commands when you've logged in have weirdly become German. I mean, what's that all about? What's a tastaturk├╝rzel when it's at home?

But on a positive note, the nights are drawing in, it's getting nippy in the evenings (time to bring the lime tree indoors) and that can mean only one thing.....Strictly Come Dancing is coming back on our screens again!!

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Books, recommendations, and apprehension

At the last meeting of our book group, we discussed Tokyo Cancelled by Rana Dasgupta. I really enjoyed it – it’s a collection of short stories, loosely bound together by the premise that all the storytellers are stranded in an airport waiting for a flight to Tokyo airport, which is closed due to a snowstorm. Thirteen passengers from a connecting flight cannot be accommodated in any hotels in the unnamed city they end up in, so are reduced to sitting around and telling stories all night. Quotes on the back of the book reference the Arabian Nights, Canterbury Tales etc – although this was rubbished by everyone in our group.

Apart from the last story, which was quite honestly just rather unpleasant and even distasteful in some areas, I thought the book was excellent. The tales reminded me in some respects of a book of Chinese Fairy Tales I had when I was little; and were magical, fantasy-filled, contemporary, intriguing, and full of vividly drawn characters. The style reminded me very much of Haruki Murakami, an author I rate very highly; and I think this may have coloured my view of the book as a whole, as I enjoyed the reading of it so much. I was, however, in a minority (that’s a minority of one) among my fellow book group-ees. A lot of folk didn’t like the style, didn’t think the stories had any point to them or anything to teach us about the human condition; lack of characterisation and plot was a common theme. And everyone loathed the last story of the thirteen.

So it doesn’t bode well for the next group meeting, at which we are discussing the frankly stupendous The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by the aforementioned Haruki Murakami. I recommended this book to the group a while ago; it made it onto the shortlist; and then was selected for October’s read. Last time I recommended this to a book group was a long time ago when I was attending the Blackwell’s Reading Group, and to a man they all hated it. Since then I’ve met a lot of Murakami devotees (and read about more, including the infamous Scott Pack who apparently is a Murakami completist and collects all known editions of the great man’s work. I haven’t yet gone that far) and so am feeling slightly more confident about this next meeting, especially as I know at least one person in the group was impressed when she read it before. However, I am still a little apprehensive about how it will go down (as it's also quite a chunky tome, and so needs a considerable investment of time).

I’m also slogging through The House By The Thames. It's been hard going, which I was slightly surprised by, as the subject matter has the potential to be really absorbing. But it's too focussed on the occupants of no.49 Bankside and corresponding census information (yawn) and not enough on the periods of London history that I find so fascinating. Not a bad read but just not that gripping.