Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Feet firmly on the ground

Check out this article on Expatica: I am quoted! I get to see PJ's musings appear frequently in major publications, but this is my first press appearance since a photo of me playing the violin appeared in the Eastern Daily Press about 28 years ago. Go me! And go Sandra and Leo!!

Static Cling Death

No, not the name of my fantasy band or the answer to one of the quizes so favored at company get-togethers, but the reality of hotel-based existence for the past two days. I don't know what the Boston Sheraton carpet is made of, but I'm guessing it contains a high percentage of artificial fibres. I keep getting electric shocks from the elevator buttons and my new, wonderful, fully-lined Ann Taylor trousers have attached themselves to my legs. It's a strangely erotic sensation and has enlivened a very long, PowerPoint-rich day.

And after spending 48 hours inside, I've decided that fresh air is a much under-rated necessity. It's just a shame it's so difficult getting from the hotel to the outside world; the mall keeps getting in the way, throwing stores and cheap, cheap shopping in my way and sapping my will to escape.

More of the same tomorrow. Hurrah!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Location, location, ceiling height?

We've had lots of viewers visit our apartment, but no offers. (Yet, PJ's just told me to add.) Apparently, the common problems are the height of the ceiling and the sloping floors. Great. Two things we can do absolutely nothing about. Also, they're not exactly uncommon in 17th century converted warehouses in the centre of Amsterdam, and it's not as if the photos of the apartment on Funda are misleading. Why can't people accept that these are characterful features, not drawbacks? Don't they watch house-buying shows?

Monday, January 29, 2007

And finally for today


Children of Men

So, just back from the cinema, where we saw Children of Men. What a miserable 105 minutes. Filthy London buses and streets, bombs, gun battles, multiple deaths, and only a deadpan Clive Owen and entertainingly bonkers Michael Caine as an aging hippie to leaven the gloom. Why do dystopian visions of the future always have to be so grim?

Architecture around Cambridge, Mass

Some more photos from this afternoon's stroll: MIT, more MIT, Gehry, and Cambridge's own little nuclear reactor.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Charles River, Cambridge, Mass

Poor duckies.

Another cold day in Boston

Given the sub-zero temperatures, it made perfect sense that we would head out to spend the day walking around Boston shopping and taking advantage of the weak dollar. After being frustrated in our attempts to buy a ticket for the T -- it's introduced a new "Charlie Ticket" but doesn't appear to let you purchase a single-ride ticket -- we took a cab to Downtown Crossing. First stop: Designer Shoe Warehouse. No joy, just ugly, ugly shoes. Second stop: Boston City Sports. Success! Lots of stuff on sale, mainly fleece (my favorite fabric), but also the wonderful snuggle hoodie that I'm now wearing as I type. Honestly, that's what came up on the till! It is pale blue, matches the pair of snuggle socks I bought here last year, and is super-toasty. I also got another pair of snuggle socks, a waterproof jacket, and a couple of tees -- all for $122.

A bitterly cold walk to Copley Plaza followed, resulting in total numbness of the face and thighs, with more shopping in Barnes & Noble. I got yet another baking book, a cookbook from Boston's North End, and a book of beer recipes -- shaped like a beer can! -- for PJ. At that point, we'd had as much as we could take so headed back to veg out at the hotel before meeting up with friend/colleague Ted for dinner.

Ted picked us up and we drove along Tremont Ave, trying to find a restaurant and lucked out at 28 Degrees, a very lounge-y place with "small plates". The food was exceptional: calamari, chips, roast cauliflower, spicy shrimp tacos were all beautiful. The other people in the bar were much more smartly dressed than us (although I did leave the snuggle hoodie at the hotel), so it was just as well we were in a dark corner. We were in and out in around an hour -- the joy of American service -- and then went to Toscannini's in Cambridge for ice cream with hot fudge sauce and on to The Miracle of Science for beers. Wherever we went, though, U2 was in the air. Bizarre. Is it the faux-Irish identification of this city or just a lack of imagination on the part of bars here? (By contrast, City Sports played an excellent emo/grunge version of Lola and some Hole -- yay! I love City Sports!)

And so to bed . . .

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Airplane movies

No, don't call me "Shirley". I mean the sort of movies you watch on airplanes. Yesterday, I had the option of watching The Departed or The Last King Of Scotland, fine, worthy films both. Instead, I ended up watching The Devil Wears Prada and Little Miss Sunshine -- excellent plane fare. Little Miss Sunshine was a quality film and I'm hoping it takes the Oscar for Best Picture over turgid Oscar-bait like Babel. The Devil Wears Prada was also good fun, if very slight, but my age and cynicism meant I was unmoved by the central message of the film: Feel guilty about doing an excellent job and wearing gorgeous -- and free! -- clothes! Come on, as GOB would say. The boyfriend was a whiny, passive-aggresive jerk; the friends were irritating guilt-trippers; and our young heroine would have been far better off binning them all and sticking with Meryl Streep's character.

Friends? Who needs 'em when you've got Chanel boots and free Valentino!

Oo, little bit of politics

It's too cold to go out and I'm jet-lagged out, after waking up at 4 a.m. and spending three hours listening to PJ sleep the sleep of the dead. So, we're in the hotel room, eating (excellent) room service and watching The Dukes of Hazzard movie. It's entirely adequate, but this line was a subversive little gem:

"You're so stupid you couldn't fix an election if your brother were governor."


Cold unlike no other

We flew into Boston last night, greeted by temperatures around -4C. No problem. My very fetching Nintendoworld hat was enough to keep me warm. While watching NBC's excellent Thursday night line, however, the local news kept shouting about plummeting temperatures.

And they were right.

It was 7F, today -- -14 on a more sensible temperature scale. But the windchill took it down to a lung-freezing MINUS 26C! No snow, just clear blue skies and an inability to breathe. No wonder the Pilgrim settlers had a hard time of it when they first arrived.

They say that it should warm up tomorrow, just in time for us to take advantage of the weak dollar and go shopping. For warmer clothes.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Winchester or Worthing?

Yes, we did make progress over the weekend, despite my somewhat negative post. We "think" we're going to rent somewhere instead of trying to sell, move back to the UK, and buy in the next 8 weeks. And we think we're probably likely to possibly rent in Winchester, rather than Worthing. Worthing was a bit pikey; Winchester was more middle class with lots of lovely restaurants and wine bars, but the property available to buy wasn't so hot -- lots of 1980s houses on big estates some distance from the town centre. However, the rental market was great -- lots of charming period cottages close to the cathedral. So, acquiring kitties will go on hold while we settle back into UK living, get used to towns and driving, and hope that interest rates continue to rise and the bottom drops out of the housing market, leaving lots of lovely repossessions for us to snap up.

Does that make me a bad person?


When we walked home last night, it was clear, dry, and very very cold. When I woke up this morning to the sound of Emmie's paws scrabbling on wooden floors, it had snowed. Yay! Unfortunately, the buses were running, so no days off school, er work for us. Boo!

Pub quiz!

Last night saw us accompany Clive and Pippa to dinner at The Prince in Stokey -- and participation in its weekly music quiz. Our combined knowledge consisted of the minutiae of The Clash's and New Order's back catalogue (Clive and PJ), some 50s/60s stuff and celebrity gossip-related questions (me), and 1990s pop and an admirable tolerance for quiz-related nonsense (Pippa). This should have been a reasonable spread, but unfortunately, we were up against the sort of teams that play weekly, wear woolly hats and drink pints of real ale, and revise for this sort of thing. They did have great team names though: Devon 17 and The Trucks Don't Work were my favourites.

We finished 9th out of 12 teams. PJ and I thought this wasn't so bad; Clive railed against our shabby performance on the long, cold walk home. I'm just proud that I got the answer to "Who did Michael Hutchence date after splitting with Kylie?" (Helena Christiansen) I am untouchable on celebrity gossip!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Normal service will resume soon

House hunting for the past few days in Worthing and Winchester. It's all too depressing. I need about 300,000 pounds more than I have to get somewhere decent -- and by that I mean with some character.

Is it so wrong of me to want a characterful late Victorian/Edwardian house with a decent number of bedrooms and a 60ft rear garden AND off-street parking? I'll take a semi-detached (I'm not greedy, after all) and it only has to be within 20 minutes of a town centre (on foot). But ti turns out the south-west is blighted with estates -- hundreds of estates with identical houses and no facilities.

I think I just want to go away and cry for a bit. Or read some celebrity gossip.

Back later.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

BBQ baked beans

We'd intended to have take-out tonight; we've run down our stock of fresh food, given that we're going to be away for some time, and haven't done a decent shop in ages. However, the bad weather meant that I felt guilty about calling for food -- and somewhat sceptical that they'd even be open. Desperate times indeed. But wait! What's this? A tin of beans. Why, that reminds me of a recipe I saw on this excellent food blog. Onion? Check. Garlic? Check. Molasses? For once, check!

I had to make a few adjustments. No bacon, for starters. To capture the smokiness that bacon gives, I used a generous teaspoon of smoked pimenton -- Spanish paprika. This is the stuff that makes gives chorizo its rich, rusty colour and is excellent for beefing up (pardon the pun) veggie stews and chilies. And I didn't have three cans of different beans, so just used an ever-handy can of Heinz's best. 40 minutes later, I served this smokey, beaney sauce over the remains of a bag of bulgar wheat, cooked with garlic and ginger and liberally laced with harissa -- another peppery paste. Just right for today's blustery weather.

Told you

I made a dash for home mid-afternoon, picking a relatively calm 30-minute window in which to cycle home. It was definitely easier than cycling in this morning, the strong winds pushing me home with a minimum of effort. I had to dodge the overturned bikes, roof terrace furniture that had come crashing to earth, and the muppet drivers who saw this as a great opportunity to go the wrong way down one-way streets -- as well as lots of bits of tree. And then I saw this. And had to stop to get a picture.

Yet another day on which I'm glad I live between brick walls, rather than on a houseboat.

Another windy day in Amsterdam

Cycling in to the office despite the dreadful weather this morning, PJ and I were smugly agreeing that we'd only not cycled in on days when there was several inches of snow on the ground -- or our bikes were defunct/stolen. However, I think I might need to amend this. The weather services here are advising people not to cycle, and having witnessed a huge piece of corrugated siding get torn off the tram shed opposite and roof tiles plummeting to the ground from a nearby apartment building, I might just take their advice.

Ah. Update. PJ just called to say there's a huge tree down across the Overoom, which has snapped several tram cables. Maybe I'll chance it on my bike after all!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Illegal activity No. 2 (sort of)

Does sharing vidz on YouTube count as illegal nowadays? I mean, YouTube's owned by Google, the wonderful people who also provide this service, and they wouldn't allow any illegal content to exist, right? Anyhoo, I just wanted to share this -- a penguin with a backpack. It's SO cute -- like if kittens and puppies had babies!


Illegal activity No. 1

I have now broken the law in the Netherlands -- the first time in five years (that I'm aware of). What heinous crime did I commit? No, not letting off fireworks outside the permitted time of 10 p.m. New Year's Eve to 2 a.m. New Year's Day -- one of the most common crimes in the Netherlands -- but riding a bike without lights fixed to the bike. I had a rear light attached to my bike, but my front light was clipped to my jacket, and I discovered last night while waiting for pizza that this is no longer allowed. The ministry of piddling little bylaws -- sorry, traffic -- has just announced this change.

Fortunately for me, the Amsterdam fuzz don't seem willing to start fining people ... yet. This could have something to do with the fact that many of their own officers clip lights to their bags or jackets. Or it could just be a question of time.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Tedious IT stuff

A new work laptop means new monitor resolutions. For some reason, I was getting teeny-tiny text, the sort that makes your eyes bleed after just a few minutes. An hour or so spent playing around with screen resolutions, DPIs, and text view has resolved the problem: I now have a screen image similar to those books for the semi-blind in the library.

I feel very old.

Cleanliness is next to godliness

No time to blog -- too busy cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. We've got 12 viewings of the apartment lined up in the next 7 days, and so I hardly dare breathe indoors. Every time I use something, it has to be washed or folded and put straight back. Even for someone with my OCD tendencies, it's exhausting. Our makelaar told us that we shouldn't worry too much, that our apartment shouldn't look sterile -- but I can't help imaging potential purchasers running a finger along a work surface, looking in disgust at the dirt, and muttering "I'd never buy a house from such a slattern!" And PJ and I have different ways of doing things, hence the spat this morning over how best to hang the towels in the bathroom.

Please keep your fingers crossed that someone makes us an offer quickly. I don't think I can keep this up for very long.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

PJ with Holly

Which one looks more scared?

Sunday afternoon with Holly (and Alan and Jo)

The wind and the temperature had dropped today, leaving clear blue skies over Amsterdam. Time to head out for a stroll through the Westerpark with Family Flanagan, admiring the daffodils (see Photo 1) and then failing to get a table at Pacific. A short walk over to Cafe Restaurant Amsterdam on the Watertorenplein was a sensible move (see Photo 2). Housed in a former pumping station, this good value (and family friendly) cafe was a real treat (even if the wheelchair lift wasn't in operation today) (see Photo 3). The building is gorgeous -- turn of the century brickwork outside, with beautiful wood ceilings and lights from Ajax's original stadium (see Photo 4). The food was equally enjoyable: A big rocket salad, followed by kaas krokets and frites -- fortifying for the brisk, chilly walk home. En route, we passed a square that I have never been to before, complete with a fab art deco-esque bus shelter in the middle (see Photo 5). Amsterdam is still a city full of hidden gems.

Norwich 1: Plymouth 3

We were leading at half-time. At home. It's not that unreasonable to expect a win, is it?

Restaurant review: Scarlett

Or should that be incandescent with suppressed rage? No, not me for once, but one of our companions at dinner last night. I'd booked a table for four at Scarlett, an Italian restaurant on the Harlemmerstraat. I've walked past it many times and admired the flower displays in the window -- admittedly not a great criteria for choosing a restaurant -- and last night presented the perfect opportunity to try it out. The reviews on the IENS site had been very positive...about the food. Service, not so much and with good reason. We turned up, had our coats grudgingly taken by the maitre d' (the only front-of-house staff) and sat at our table. And waited 15 minutes for the menus to arrive. This is not totally unusual in Dutch restaurants -- they're often waiting for the one or two English menus to return before handing them to us, but we can translate restaurant Dutch pretty fluently now. The menus arrived, we chose what we wanted, and then waited. And waited. And waited for someone to take our order.

Keep in mind, this was not a large restaurant. There were perhaps 18 customers last night, so even with just one waiter, it should have been fine. But no. Mr Slowcoach would go sit down at a table and chat to a couple of ladies there, admirably ignoring all the diners trying to catch his eye. After he took our order, he asked if we wanted wine, took his own sweet time bringing the wine list, took even longer to actually bring the wine we ordered, and then failed to open it. Seriously. He left it at our table and headed off for another chat for 10 minutes. At this point, Zjef went over to ask him to perform the task and was told "Time out, time out!" -- as if he'd requested something completely unreasonable.

The rest of the meal continued in the same vein, even down to forgetting to bring us the second bottle of wine we'd asked for -- but remembering to include it on the bill at the end. When we asked for forks to eat our main course with -- again, a not unreasonable request in a restaurant -- he told us to be patient. While our food was getting cold. If there's one thing that is guaranteed to send my blood pressure sky-high, it's people patronising me when I'm making a perfectly reasonable request and am just a teensy bit put out about the fact that something isn't right with the "experience" I'm paying for (c.f., the KLM check-in employee who was completely unapologetic when telling me that I'd been bumped from a flight because they'd overbooked it and that I shouldn't get upset with him because it wasn't HIS fault. Aargh!!! Where do they find these people!) I don't want or expect American-style rushed dining, but I would like to be able to eat a meal when it's put in front of me.

But, the food was fantastic. Very reasonably priced and absolutely delicious. I had salmon tempura with salad, two huge pieces of salmon beautifully cooked -- and only 7.50 euros. The pasta main wasn't quite as good but still very nice. All the other dishes on the table were highly praised. We paid 100 euros total for 4 starters, 4 main courses (including two of the more expensive ones), bread, a bottle of a decent Pinot Grigio, and a bottle of sparkling water. We couldn't face the agony of ordering dessert and coffee, but from what I saw going to other tables, both looked excellent -- when they arrived. However, the restaurant lost at least 50 euros of additional business from us -- and almost certainly from other tables, too -- and that makes it hard to recommend to anyone else.

Approach with caution -- and plenty of time on your hands.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Te koop

If you put it on funda, they will come. Even unannounced on a Saturday lunchtime.

Friday, January 12, 2007

California, here I come

"Everybody knows the Beckhams are a cash cow. Their pictures sell in every magazine around the world. LA is the celebrity capital of the world and this move is going to rocket them into superstardom. We are going to have Beckham experts who know what they are doing around the clock. It's going to be total chaos."

I think I've just found my dream job.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Enter three witches

Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

Disgusting weather again today; at this point, I'd prefer cycling to work over ice than battling the wind and rain down the Kinkerstraat. The planes are coming into Schiphol very low over our building, emerging from the swirling clouds a couple of hundred feet away with their fog lights on. It's slightly unnerving watching them battle the winds, tilting to one side in the event of a sudden, strong gust. Glad I'm inside and not up there.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Baked mushroom rarebit

I think about food a lot. On my cycle rides to and from work. During "down time" at work. In relaxation at my yoga class. Before I go to sleep and when I wake up. I most enjoy thinking about food when I'm trying to figure out what to make for dinner, trying to remember what's in the fridge and mulling over the possibilities. This evening's cycle ride home saw me considering mushrooms, eggs, some taco shells, and old spring onions. The mushrooms were portobello, so baking them seemed in order. I could do an oniony omelette to go alongside, and maybe break the taco shells in half, sprinkle them with cheese, grill them, and dollop on some sour cream. So far so good. But what baked mushroom recipe? I turned to the trusty Interweb and came across this: Baked Mushroom Rarebit.

The mixture takes about 5 minutes to pull together:

And 15 minutes later, the mushrooms are out of the oven and next to an omelette. Oh yes, it's one to remember.

Kaizen this, muthaf*****

A recent Observer article tried to understand why so many people keep diaries -- or blog, as it's known in the 21st century. The assorted luminaries responded with uplifting replies along the lines of "Remembering those I love" and "Recording my memories as a way of confirming that I'm alive and can still remember things" -- the usual bollocks. They failed to ask why I blog, but I will tell you. It's so that every petty irritation that life flings at me is matched by an equal, yet opposing twinge of glee: "That will make a great blog post!"

So in this spirit of blogging being my way of dealing with crap customer service, I give you this little gem. And no, Dutch readers (if there are any left), don't despair: This time I'm pissed off with the Japanese. A few months ago, I bought a winter coat from Muji, and very nice it was too. But then, the tape covering the zips started to peel away and get caught, and one of the press studs embedded itself in its "hole" and wouldn't come out. In the last few days, the zips on both pockets have given up the ghost, making it both non-waterproof and time to complain and ask for this to be fixed or for my money back. I head over to the UK Muji Web site, looking for their customer complaints department. This is what I found.

Muji has always encouraged strong communication with both its customers and employees. Through a process known as “Kaizen” or “Continuous Improvement” we welcome comments and suggestions about all aspects of our business. If you have any comments or suggestions please feel free to contact us.

OK, sounds good. Where's the list of ways to contact Muji. It turns out there's just one: snail mail. No email address, no phone number, and a list of FAQs that allow you to report a technical problem with the Web site but not with the goods they actually sell. WTF!?!? What global company that sells stuff online only has a postal address for any forms of contact? How can one possible continuously improve your service when you only get a tiny percentage of potential feedback because most people don't know how to write/post a letter anymore? I thought that dealing with a Japanese company would result in at least one ritual disembowelling for every complaint registered!

Hey, but at least it made a good blog post.

Meet Zizou

Zizou lives with Laetitia and Chaim. He loves cuddles in the morning, rummaging in cupboards for toys, and eating tomato sauce out of the pan. He also enjoys trying to steal food from your plate, but usually fails, thanks to Chaim's vigilant eye -- the paw-print on the chocolate fondant last night was clearly an abberation.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Tips on plumbing

If you take a look at your house's plumbing and discover that back in the dim -- very dim -- past, a cheap-ass plumber used this sort of pipe:

Replace it, immediately. This is the second piece of "bendy, shiny material" piping that has caused us leaks in the past year. Clearly, they were easier to install in small spaces than proper piping that doesn't rust. And, while they have a life span of 12 years -- which was when this building was converted into apartments, why wait that long for it to start pissing water all over your floor? Look at the close-up:

It's rotted right through, causing rusty water to drip out and drive me mad. Hmm, maybe that's what the Chinese meant by water torture -- it's not just the dripping, it's the hassle of trying to find a plumber to fix it.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Monday morning pop quiz

It's 6.55 in the morning, and you can hear the rain lashing down outside. Do you:

a) Turn over, get another hour's sleep, and then get the tram to work?
b) Get up, pull on your waterproofs, and cycle like a demon to the gym?
c) Pootle along on your bike, as if it were the most beautiful summer's afternoon and you have nothing better to do except obstruct the people behind you in the bike lane?

If you mostly answered a, you are probably sane and/or an expat; if b, you're me; and if c, you're almost certainly Dutch. Apparently.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Integration -- at last!

Unlocking my bike on the Spuitstraat in the pouring rain this afternoon, I was approached by a man asking for some money so that he could sleep indoors tonight. I replied with "Sorry, but I don't have any change on me" (true). He said thank you and wandered off to approach someone more generous. And then I realized that the whole exchange, including my response, had been conducted in Dutch. What a shame I only have 3 months left to take advantage of my newfound fluency.

Sunshine (bread) on a rainy day

I tried. I really did. PJ headed off to the gathering of the geeks in Vegas on Thursday and I was determined not to bake while he was away. After all, I have a tonne (metric) of Christmas chocolate to get through, as well as a large batch of frozen strawberry daiquari's -- both calorific enough to keep me alive for several months. However. It was a miserable afternoon yesterday and I was idly surfing and came across a recipe for Cornish saffron cake and given that I have a couple of tubs of saffron that Tesco's sold off unbelievably cheaply at one point last year, I decided to have a go. As usual, there was an element of delayed gratification involved: I had to soak the saffron in boiling water over night before making the yeasty cake mix. It's amazing stuff, saffron. A small pinch of stamens and you get an incredibly deep orange yellow coloring along with an odd flavor. It's rather musty, savory, and yet very moreish. So despite not getting the rise from the dough that I'd expected, I'm pretty happy with the results; just look how colorful it is!

It's just a shame that I haven't got anyone to share it with. Sniff.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

FA Cup 3rd Round: Norwich 4: Tamworth 1

That's better and should cheer our boys up, even though Tamworth are hardly testing opponents: They're currently languishing at the bottom of the Nationwide Conference. However, if we don't pick up our form in the league, we could find ourselves competing with the likes of Tamworth in a couple of years time.

Sweet, sweet schadenfreude

As I sat, catching up with the latest goings-on at Clive's World Order, I heard the entertaining sound of crunching metal, followed shortly after by an irate car horn and raised voices. Naturally, I rushed to the balcony in hopes of catching sight of an altercation. It turned out that one of the larger street-cleaning vans had scraped alongside a badly parked car, probably detaching its wing mirror, and had braked suddenly, causing the SUV behind it to come to a sudden halt -- and sliding gently into the back of the van. The street cleaner showed little remorse or inclination to apologize, but irritatingly the matter seemed to be resolved without resorting to fisticuffs. Perhaps this is because the Dutch don't appear to care about damage done to their front and rear car bumpers; many's the time I've watched someone attempt to reverse into a far too small parking space, using their bumpers to gain an extra inch by crushing a bike underwheel or nudging the car ahead. Either that or the car drivers will hunt the street cleaner down and, when he's least expecting it, exact a bloody revenge using the damaged wing mirror. Let's hope so.

Mad cat woman strikes again

My little trip down memory lane turned somewhat emotional on seeing these photos of Plato and Aristotle as kittens. So adorable! I can only hope that I'm half as lucky later this year when I get two more kitties. I know that I've not been doing a particularly good job of selling the joys of cats to PJ recently, but these pictures should help change his mind.

Children of the damned

The best Christmas present this year was a photo album (on disk, of course) that my tech-savvy parents had painstakingly put together for each of us children. One disk contained general family pictures, carefully scanned newspaper articles, and our occasional radio appearance; the other just pictures featuring us -- or in my case, me and my cats. You see, after 1982, there are remarkably few pictures of me until, oh, now. It's as if I'd been shipped off to an asylum for a decade at a time, occasionally emerging for graduation or a wedding. Looking through those photos that do exist though, I'm not surprised I was so reticent about appearing in front of the camera: I have truly atrocious hair in most of them. It's not Flock of Seagulls or Miss Katie's teenage perm embarrassing, but just badly cut for the most part. Pudding bowl variations in the 1970s, wedge cuts with the odd Princess Di flick in the 1980s, and of the 1990s there's no record.

However, there are some gems on the disk, photos that I'm not ashamed to share with the world. I particularly like this one of me and my big brother on Horseshoe Common in Bournemouth. And having just reread John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos, I rather think Simon looks like the "children" in that novel -- blond hair and all. I, meanwhile, look faintly disturbed and have that lovely pudding bowl chop. Good times.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Down on the farm

Ah, 2007. The year we move back to the UK -- in less than 3 months' time. Which means we need to start looking for somewhere to move to. It turns out that there is such a thing as too much choice and it's incredibly hard to decide where to settle. We started off looking at Lewes and move westwards on a weekly basis. Lewes: too few restaurants. Brighton: too noisy and expensive. Hove: not bad, still in the running, still quite expensive. Worthing: up and coming (words to strike joy into middle-class hearts), but further out and possibly rather dull. Now Winchester has entered the fray, thanks to Papa Dumpling mentioning that it had been rated the best place to live in Britain. And it's not too far from Heathrow -- good for PJ when he's off on one of his many jaunts to the US on Mr Branson's nice airplanes.

Inevitably, in a quiet moment, I turned to the Interwebulator to check out property in Winchester. And found a rather nice six-bedroomed property in the Badger Farm area.* Yes, that's six bedrooms for a couple with no intention of ever having children. But, six bedrooms would mean one for us, one spare, one each for the future kitties, and two home offices -- a necessity, given how many phone meetings we both seem to end up taking. In addition, we have three next-generation game consoles and vast amounts of content to house, so six is starting to look a bit tight. Anyway, I rather pessimistically requested further details from the estate agent via one of those online forms and heard nothing via email (as I'd requested). Plus ca change, etc, I thought -- UK customer service will suck just as much as it does over here. But, amazingly, the further details arrived in the post this evening! Not that they contain much more than was on the site -- in fact, they have fewer of the murky, camera-phone pics snapped by the agent (without the owners bothering to tidy up first -- there's still washing-up in the sink!) than the Web site does. But it's a start.

Still, let's not count our chickens etc. We have yet to sell this place and we haven't yet been to either Worthing or Winchester -- both might appall us, leaving us back at square one. Any other suggestions of places to live -- excluding Stoke Newington?

* Who would farm badgers? And what for? Their tails?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Visit Miss Katie -- you know you want to

Chaps: Did you mess up your girlfriend/wife's Christmas present this year? Did she sigh as she unwrapped a cheap, scratchy red nylon g-string, bought at the last minute from a dodgy high-street store? Or was she less than impressed by the tea-towel/rubber glove combo, even though they had pretty flowers on? If so, head over to the new and improved Miss Katie site and check out the gorgeous range of corsets available. She will love them, I promise.

Or you could just look at the pictures of scantily clad women lounging around in saucy poses. Your call.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

2007: The year of culinary simplicity

As I promised myself following the devilled quail egg incident, I'm aiming for simpler cooking in 2007. And what could be simpler than rustic Italian fare, as set down by Giorgio Locatelli in The Guardian? Tonight, I made lasagne della Vigilia -- Christmas Eve lasagne -- so wrong time, but the inherent simplicity of the recipe appealed. Melt together butter, garlic, and anchovy fillets. Cook sheets of fresh lasagne, drain and dry, lay on a plate, cover with huge amounts of parmesan and black pepper, then drizzle with the anchovy butter.

This was intense. It's essence of fish with the added saltiness of parmesan and the richness of butter, so not one for people on a diet -- or who don't like anchovies. And it's not quite so simple if you make the pasta yourself (which of course I did), although again that's only two ingredients and about 10 minutes of effort in total. I guess culinary minimalism will be harder to attain than I thought.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A chocolate-flavored coronary on a plate

Along with the overly complicated devilled quail eggs and stuffed courgettes, I made chocolate cake -- one of those incredibly rich cakes that has your life flashing before your eyes with every bite. This one came from Gordon Ramsay's Sunday Lunch cookbook and involved 250 grams each of dark chocolate, butter, and chestnuts, 4 eggs, sugar, and cream. It tasted fantastic -- fudgy, yet mousse-like -- and has kept beautifully. Not that there's much left: I had two slices with whipped cream on New Year's Eve, my student years having given me a huge capacity for rich cake. And then I went swimming this morning and felt that I could just about face another piece with a cup of tea and the remainder of Norwegian Wood this evening. What next? To read, I mean, not to eat. Suggestions, please.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Crystal Palace 3: Norwich 1

Hardly the perfect start to 2007. Relegation -- unthinkable a few weeks ago -- beckons. No wonder Jo and Alan didn't answer the door when I called round earlier today; as a Crystal Palace fan, it would have been hard for Jo not to be graciously triumphant. Damn.

Happy New Year

Last night was all about friends, food, and fireworks. Lots of fireworks, despite the crappy weather. This year, two lots of pyromaniacs set off colorful whizz-bang rockets and Roman candles across the candle, providing much entertainment for our little party -- including 11-week-old Holly, who observed it all placidly before falling asleep on her mother's lap.

Today was clear and bright, well-suited to a quick spot of recycling and a walk to inspect the damage wrought on the Amsterdam streets.

We hadn't spotted the usual fire on the bridge between the Prinsenstraat and Herenstraat, but the resulting debris showed that it clearly took place.

The tourists were out in full force, wandering the streets looking cold and slightly lost, while the locals packed out Cafe Thijssen on the Brouwersgracht, 80s disco, excited chatter, and alcoholic fumes pouring out of the fuggy interior. Our last New Year's Eve/Day in Amsterdam -- where will we celebrate next year, I wonder?