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Saturday was my 34th festival of the year, and it was fabulous.  The London Restaurant Festival is only in it's second year but has over 800 participating restaurants.  Saturday's Gourment Odyssey event took in three popular restaurants in Shoreditch, and was hosted by Masterchef's John Torode. 

We started at L'Anime, with a Champagne reception and nibbles (delicious fish balls and mini pizza nibbles).  John Torode took his hosting duties very seriously and mingled with everyone in turn.  I foolishly asked him which of the three restaurants for the day he preferred and he politely refused to answer because he owns one of them!  So then we quizzed him on his restaurant and had an interesting few minutes conversation (don't ask him about builders). 

Starters was at L'Anime, polenta with a mushroom and truffle sauce.  The polenta was a tad bland but delicious when combined with the mushroom sauce.  The wafer thin truffle was surpisingly not particularly tasty, but that didn't matter as the mushrooms gave a lovely whack of flavour on their own.  The chef then came round to mingle with everyone in turn, and looked positively startled when I gave him my feedback but politely thanked me for my honest opinion and asked me if I was in the trade!

Then the whole crowd was led by John through the streets of Shoreditch, to the second restaurant, his Luxe at Spitalfields market.  He gave a little bit of background to the local buildings; explaining they were built to have shops on the ground floor, homes on the first floor and silk weaving loom factories on the second floor.  The workers of the looms were poorly paid and would supplement their incomes by raising song birds in cages in the hot factory attics.  Hence the inspiration for the song bird decoration theme at his restaurant.

At the Luxe (elegant but friendly) we had more champagne and a main course of Lavender chicken with honey and chinese five spice.  Normally I can't stand five spice (I loath ainseed) but the sweetness of the honey and the lavender toned it down and turned it into something absolutely moreish. 

Then we were herded up the road for a 'punch bowl trifle' with raspberry port at the Hawksmoor.  An unusual combination but a little too sweet, none of us managed to finish the trifle but all of us finished the port! 

John Torode ended the event with a goodbye and thank you speech.  Then my friends and I headed back to the Luxe for one more drink, as it was the venue with the most atmosphere.  But when we got there there there was no where to seat and we were just about to leave when John arrived.  Bless him, he asked why were leaving and when we explained got us seats at the bar.  We offered to buy him a drink in thanks but he refused and told the bar man that the drinks were on him!  Very kind and a lovely end to the event.
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New!boy and I had a lovely long weekend in Paris, being complete and utter tourists. 

Saturday/Sunday we blitzed the tourists spots; Notre Dame, Saint Chapelle, Louvre (Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo),  Jardin de Tuileries, Champs-Elysees, Montmarte, Sacre Coeur, Moulin de la Galette, Moulin Rouge, Pere Lachaisse cemetary and last but not least the Eiffel tour at night.

Monday we had a lazy wander around some of the Fete de la Musique (festival 19 of 40) events in the Luxembourg Gardens (Latin american guitar), Saint Eustache (World music) and Pont Neuf (jazz).

All in all a grand weekend.
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Whilst my 'Forty Festivals' and being with new!boy are fabulous they have taken a serious toll on my book reading time.  So far I've only read 13 books this year ... 

1.  Terry Pratchett - Nation
2.  Richard Morgan - Altered Carbon
3.  C J Sansom - Dark Fire
4.  Naomi Novik - Temeraire: Black Power War
5.  Douglas Adams - Last Chance to See
6.  Stuart Sutherland - Irrationality
7.  C J Sansom - Winter in Madrid
8.  Peter Whitfield - London: A history in maps
9.  Quinn - London: the strangest tales
10. Ian Mortimer - The time traveller's guide to medieval England
11. C J Sansom - Revelations
12. Anne Rice - Interview with a Vampire
13. Anne Rice - The Vampire Lestat

For some reason I've developed a fascination with the evolution of London over time.  The London History in maps was great for that, seeing out the city expanded from within the original Roman city walls to it's current shape.  How the separate towns of Westminster and London grew together, how the monastery grounds were taken over and reused, how the elite expanded westward and the merchants and workers eastward.  How the city rebuilt after the great fire.  

Did you know that there is a London church called St Andrews by the Wardrobe?  Dating back to Tudor times when the King's clothes of state and regalia required an immense warehouse and the church was built tucked into it's shadow.  

Or that the chapel bell at law court of Lincoln's Inn has rung a curfew bell every night since the 16th century?

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Friday evening K and I went for a tour at the National Gallery in Trafalagar Square.  It was very entertaining.  I'm now inspired to go back and spend longer meandering through the endless galleries and enjoying to the immense variety of paintings. 

Saturday morning was a Sams shift, but in the afternoon it was warm enough for new!boy and I sit out in the park and read the newspapers.  If the evening we finished off our re-watch of the BBC's Pride & Prejudice.

Then on Sunday new!boy and I explored the medieval and renaissance galleries at the Victoria & Albert Museum.  They are gloriously laid out, a perfect blend of artistic settings and historical information.  Over a thousand years of European style as you travel through the galleries.  There is so much to admire and the pieces are given the space to be appreciated.  There is an incredible wealth of exquisite objects, far too many to describe.

New!boy, like me, appreciated the history of the object as much as the object, so we were devotedly reading virtually every label.  However this did mean we had no hope of seeing the entire one gallery in a day.  In the end we decide to live the final floor for another day and retired to the cafe for a delicious cream tea (raisin scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream the perfect cream tea).

An outrageously civilised weekend.

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My colleague just rang the Dell helpline for some advice only to told that they couldn't help because their servers were down ...


Festival 4

Mar. 11th, 2010 01:47 pm
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A very belated festival post here ...
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Yesterday was spent lounging and relaxing at the Nirvana Spa with new!boy.  Back on Valentine's day he bought us spa days and we decide to go midweek to avoid the crowds.

Nirvana Spa's facilities include a Surf pool (with 53 jets positioned around the pool at different angles for jacuzzi like pampering) at bath temperature with plunge pools for cooling down, a proper Jacuzzi, an aromatherapy steam room (as well as single sex steam rooms and saunas), an excercise pool (cool for active swimming) and a Roman room with a warm pool for floating and chatting, several cafes, a dead sea pool (with the same salt concentration for amazing buoyance) with a ceiling of stars, a gym room, a tepidarium (with a fountain and heated ceramic couches for relaxation) and numerous treatment rooms for massages, manicures and assorted treatments.

The day flew past, definitely going again.
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Last night K and I went to the first ever night safari at the Natural History Museum, it was superb.

The glorious entrance hall at the NHM was enhanced by an elegant bar, with table and chairs, under the waving tail of the gigantic Diplodocus, where we had champagne waiting for the start of the tour.

Our group started with one the scientists (there are 350 working behind the scenes at the NHM) who specialised in plant eating dinosaurs.  For the atmosphere the gallery lights were turned off and the we had torches for illumination, which made for lovely dancing dinosaur shadows and dead stuff in the dark.  Fun talk from the specialist, very proud of the original exhibits, particularly the only T.rex skull outside of the US and the first ever identified.

Next we saw the fish curator, which could have been a little dull except he decide to dedicate his talk to sharks and had the glorious complete jaws of a great white shark.  Did you know the skin of a shark is covered in tiny teeth for the hydrodynamic properties in the water? 

Then it was the beetle man,  with an amazing selection of pinned and regimented beetles, including a drawer of Darwin's specimens and an amazing collection of silver and gold beetles. 

After a half hour break, and more champagne, we moved onto the Vault and the lead curator let us handle a selection of exhibits.  A huge chunk of gold nugget from the Klondike rush, a 4.6 billion year old meteorite, diamonds embedded in their original source rock.  Fascinating.

Last but not least the botany curator had some glorious examples of early botany books and samples, including a 16th century apothecary's book and of some Sir Hans Sloane's original collection (the founding collection of the NHM and British Museum) dating back to late 17th century.  

Such a fascinating evening, absolutely to be recommend. (tweets by a techno journo in my group taking photos)
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You know how when you register for something online the title box usually gives you a choice of Mr, Mrs or Miss?  Well at the Natural History Museum website you get the choice of ...

Eur Ing
Flight Lieutenant
Lieutenant Colonel
Lieutenant Cdr
Lieutenant Cmdr
Group Captain
Lance Corporal
Honorable Alderman
Reverend Canon
Right Honourable
Right Reverend
Squadron Leader
Wing Commander

I'm stuck between choosing Princess or Squadron Leader ....
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The last month has been a little crazy.

Workwise I'm manically working towards completing the Group interim accounts.  This involved a week in Sao Paulo harassing the overworked finance team to give me answers.  Mostly successful but now I have less than a week to finalised the first draft for the auditors.

Festivalwise I've been to another three festivals, and as soon as life slows down I will post about them.

Bookwise I've just finished, and loved, Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan.  A gripping cyberpunk sf with a noir supermercenary detective.  Do find and read.

Romancewise I have a new boy.  We've actually been seeing each other since the start of the year and it's going well.  He's a tall, smart, code monkey and a fellow Samaritan.   We actually met via a blind date set up by a mutual friend, who reckoned we'd get on as we're both 'tall and liked movies'.

Samaritanswise I'm now helping out as a leader, on top of my normal weekly shifts.  This means that once a week I'm on call to support any Samaritans who need advice or who have been upset themselves by a call.

Hopefully life will slow down a little next month.
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2010 continues to speed past at an alarming pace. 

This week has mostly been spent in pain.  Despite liberal use of Nurofen, Paracetamol and Dihydrocodeine my wisdom tooth is still agony.  I admitted defeat yesterday and got antibiotics from my dentist.  Hopefully they should kick in by the end of today.  The lack of sleep is actually the worst thing, I'm exhausted.

Last week was an overdose of Samaritans, with shifts, leads and training.  I still managed to go and see Simon Keenlyside at the Wigmore Hall and finally (possibly the last person on the planet) saw Avatar. 

The week before that was my third festival ...

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Well the insanity is underway, my first festival was yesterday. The details and photos are here ... Any comments or thoughts on the layout, or just words of encouragement would be greatly appreciated!
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La Boheme, Lucky Voice, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Ten Ten Tai times, Slumdog Millionaire, The Now Show, Twilight, Kew Gardens, Rob Brydon, The Reader, Speed dating, Push, Frost/Nixon, The Orrery, Coraline 3D, Rio, Sugarloag Mountain, Hang gliding,  Bluebell Railway, New Forest, Sanctuary, Star Trek, Britney Spears, Mary King's Close, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Leeds Castle, The Barber of Sevile, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Henry VII @ BL, Billy Elliot the Musical, Pandora's Box, Art & Conviviality, Moon, District 9, Up, Superfreakononics, Don Carlo, La Cage Aux Folles, Lindisfarne Castle, The Alnwick Gardens, Barter Books, Science Museum Lates, Go Ape, The Men who Stare at Goats, Nirvana Spa, Moctezuma Aztec Warrior @ BM,The Tsarina's Slippers, Budapest, Jersey Board meeting, Bootleg Beatles, Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Nation, Sherlock Holmes
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Book 49 The Best of British Festivals by Barney Jefferies.  A catalog of all the British festivals by region and month, a very useful read indeed.

Book 50 Temeraire: His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik.  A very engrossing read although I'm not entirely sure why.  The premise of dragons in the Napoleonic era is just so well done and the characters engaging.

Book 51 Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris.  A enjoyable quick read, despite not realising it was actually the second in the series not the first.  Must remember to dig out the first in the series.

Book 52 Temeraire: The Jade Throne.  Not as engrossing as the first but enjoyable and I would have read the third in the sequence but it was out of stock in all four bookshops I tried!  

Book 53  Sovereign by C J Sansom, kindly lent by TQ and much enjoyed.  A legal whodunnit set in the Tudor York of Henry VIII.

Book 54 Budapest guide by Lonely Planet, a lovely city well described.
Book 55 Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris (most delightfully sent by slowfox), the latest Sookie installment did not disappoint. 

Book 56 Dissolution by C J Sansom, the first of the Shardlake Tudor mysteries, great fun.

Book 57 Tutankhamun: the eternal splendor of the boy pharaoh.  A deliciously photographed reference work of the key items discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun, with introductory chapters on Egypt in his time and the Carter digs leading to the discovery.

Book 58 The Vampire Prince by Darren Shan, the end of the first six book story arc.  A very light read.  I enjoyed it but I feel this is a good point to discontinue reading the series.

So a grand total of 58 books read in 2009, slightly less than usual but still exceeding my long term goal of a book a week.  More importantly they were all books I enjoyed, fingers crossed for 2010.
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Possibly the best afternoon tea ...

 ... the auditors are taking us for lunch here.  Looks like an excellent way to spend my last day in the office this year.

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Our work Xmas do last Thursday involved a trip to the NT to see Terry Pratchett's Nation.  I'd been looking forward to it for a long time so I'm sad to say that I was a little disappointed.  I wasn't alone either, of the eleven of us who went only two said they liked it without qualifications.  The fact that around ten percent of the audience disappeared at the interval is also rather telling. 

Having said that the main characters were sympathetic, the staging and effects beautiful and the parrot most amusing.  It was the plot that let it down; it was disjointed with chunks of exposition dump.  Now I'm curious to read the book, to know whether that or the interpretation was to blame.

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Whiteshadow and I went to see "Men who stare at Goats" last night.  Great ensemble cast; George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges.  It was very Coenbrotherseque, in a delightfully odd way.  

McGregor plays a naive reporter, Clooney's weary psychic warrior (honestly), Spacey the baddie and Jeff Bridges is outstanding as the psychic Shaman.   It's mainly set in 2003 Iraq but with crazy flash backs to previous decades.  Very enjoyable, go see.