Every so often my local paper runs a ‘dine for £10’ collect the tokens style offer in association with selected restaurants. Having for once actually bothered to a) buy the paper and b) cut out three tokens, I went to Seven Dials in Brighton last night to redeem the offer. Now, admittedly, Seven Dials is several degrees posher than I would normally go, sans financial incentive. And I didn’t dislike my posh fishcake, posh lemon tart, and not particularly posh all-inclusive (small) glass of wine. But on the whole it was a bit of a old swizz.
Firstly and most heinously, the two courses offered for £10 were from the lunch menu, which is *already* £10 for two courses. So all our hard won tokens were entitling us to was the right to, erm, eat lunch at dinner time, while all around us more affluent diners were chowing down on the full dinner menu. Hardly calculated to make you feel special. And call me demanding, but when I go out to eat I like to be able to choose from more than two options, and for there to be at least one vegetarian choice. We did get an unexpected ‘complimentary appetiser’ – an espresso cupful of broccoli soup and a solitary slice of bread, but again where was our choice in the matter? It just felt slightly patronising.
Seven Dials is a converted bank, and the interior feels lofty and gloomy at the same time, with I’m sorry to say the residual stuffiness and formality of a million financial transactions. The waiting staff were friendly but quite keen to make us spend more than £10 each (noting that ‘the fishcake is quite small, you probably want a side dish of potatoes’ – no, I probably want DINNER not lunch grr – and bringing mineral instead of tap water. 12.5% service charge also not covered by increasingly rubbish-looking ‘£10’ offer. The final bill came to £30.)
The whole experience was dispiriting, in that for the same money we could have created a huge and delicious meal for the two of us and several friends at home, or gone to a nicer but more modestly priced restaurant, and not been made to feel like the plebs at the feast.
Mario Puzo’s The Godfather is that relatively rare thing: a book that most people agree is surpassed by its film adaptation(s). I agree too, but crikey, some of his other books are GREAT.
I am very fond of The Sicilian, which takes the true-ish story of peasant outlaw and popular hero Salvatore Guiliano and sticks it onto Michael Corleone’s lost years in Sicily. It’s a fantastic, action-packed, romantic adventure with great psychological depth, and I was rather disappointed to discover that the film version stars the rubbish Christopher Lambert.
I’m now reading The Fortunate Pilgrim, Puzo’s second novel. It’s an impressively understated account of a poor first generation immigrant, Lucia Santa, and her struggles to bring up her family with little money, great misfortune and the conflicting values of Italy and America. In a sense it can be read as a preface to The Godfather, showing us the origins of that book’s world and the values of its characters. The drama is on a smaller scale than in the Corleone books, essentially grim social realism built around the wonderfully believable portrayal of Lucia Santa. Believable perhaps because she is based on Puzo’s own mother, who was to be given an equally powerful male incarnation in Don Corleone.
If I was a good blogger with my finger on the pulse of current literary developments, I could now discuss The Godfather: the Lost Years by Mark Winegardner, which has just been published. But I haven’t read it.
RIP Michael Donaghy. Far far too soon.
The Robin Hood is a People’s Pub. All the net profits are given away to worthy community causes. Hurrah! I have no idea how much money is actually left after costs are met but judging from the beer prices (usual Brighton extortion) it must be a fair bit. Although the website gives the impression of a burgeoning network of pubs run on this principle, it seems like the Robin Hood (do you see?) is the only one at present. So does its social conscience make for a better pub experience? Well, it’s big, red and friendly. Not much different inside from your average nouveau pub – rough wooden tables, sofas, youthful trendy bar staff, usual limited choice of beer etc. You can get a stone-baked pizza for £4.50, and watch local news with the sound down. I was sort of hoping for a hotbed of revolutionary activity, but if this is indeed where the last remnants of Brighton socialism hide out, it wasn’t obvious. I certainly couldn’t detect any particular aura of community spirit emanating from the clientele on Friday (we were all silently goggling at the Olympic opening ceremony). But I did leave with a warm glow that was surely only partly due to the ale. I hope the concept does sweep the land (although maybe it would be simpler and just as public-spirited to spend the profits on giving the bar staff a living wage?)
Possibly the greatest advantage of working with international students is the exposure to international snack foods that comes with them. Recently I have eaten home-made Iranian sweets (actually too sweet for me despite much good will and obvious authenticity), Peanut Kisses from the Philippines (crunchy and moreish, although perhaps not technically Philippino) and best of all German Yogurette – an unfeasibly good concoction of yoghurt-centred chocolate with strawberry bits in. It’s the shame that this isn’t widely available in the UK, as it’s much nicer than the naff old Rocher blobs for which Ferrero are famous.
Vodou Nation is essentially an allegorical rock opera about Haiti’s troubled past, from the slave rebellion and the founding of the first independent black state, to the continuing struggle against leaders corrupted by money, alcohol and sex. High-energy set pieces use music, dance, costume, masks, video projection and props to give a taste of the psychedelic stew that is Haitian culture. Some of the symbolism is obvious to say the least – female dancers representing Serenity, Courage and Wisdom revive the bodies of dead slaves that they may rise up against their colonial oppressors, a beast with a Stars and Stripes tail forces back a boatful of fleeing Haitians – while some of it means nothing to those ignorant of the specific cultural and religious objects of Vodou. But the whole cast is hugely fit, energetic and talented, although the Bono-esque vocalist with RAM (‘Haiti’s foremost Vodou rock band’) strikes an unfortunately MOR note. Highly recommended for anyone teaching post-colonialism to bored students, anyway…
P.Y.O. spells SUMMER
It’s that time of year again when middle-class families don the suncream, stock up the Volvo with punnets, and drive down A-roads until they see the magic words: Pick Your Own.
I’m not sure if they have the PYO concept in other countries; it seems a very British thing, inextricably tied up with our work ethic, our obsession with getting a bargain, and our vague, guilty love of the countryside and its traditions. Strawberries are the classic PYO fruit, which is odd really as they are actually quite difficult to pick, requiring much bending down and rummaging. All in keeping with the British belief that one shouldn’t have TOO much fun during the summer holidays, then. In fact, kids tend to quite enjoy PYO despite it being technically Work, mainly because they get to eat/throw/squash more fruit than they take home. But as I found out on Saturday, it’s not all soft fruits and stained lips. Roundstone Farm in West Sussex is a huge, fantastically well organised operation, with ‘tractor trains’ to take you to different crops, signs everywhere saying what to pick when and how, and a massive range of produce. As well as strawberries you can get raspberries, gooseberries, loganberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, peas, sweetcorn, onions, carrots, mangetout and loads more. We picked strawberries for ice cream, more strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants for summer pudding, and peas for… well, because fresh peas are too good NOT to pick.
It was unfair of me to call it a middle-class hobby really, as half the people there on Saturday were clearly buying their week’s food, not just fooling around with a few strawberries for a dinner party. And it makes perfect economic sense, as you could easily see from the price comparison charts Roundstone had kindly provided. Everything was half the price it would have been in the supermarket, if not less. With twice the taste. And you get a fun day out in the fresh air (albeit with Worthing disturbingly close).
The Post-TV Diaries: part 6
Through various mechanisms I have had the opportunity to watch television in my own house twice during the past week. And what did I vicariously experience? 1) desperate humiliation (England v France) and 2) someone farting (Big Brother). And quite frankly I can get plenty of both of those in my own life should I wish to. As you were.
The Post-TV Diaries: part 5
Something incredibly wonderful has been restored to me since television left my life: TIME. Not just in the sense that I have more of it, though I definitely do. But the whole concept. When you have TV, clock-time becomes disturbingly irrelevant – so what if it’s 3pm and I should be at work: there’s Voyager repeats! It’s 4am? Never mind, it can’t be time for bed when the world of QVC is wide awake! Time passes stealthily, without you noticing, in TV land. Now, I savour the different character of each hour of the evening. I know when the sun sets instead of when Eastenders starts. Time doesn’t come to me packaged in half-hour slots (minus adverts). And if it does sometimes drag, because I’ve got no money and no TV… well, I feel bored for 5 minutes and then I get up and DO something.
The Post-TV Diaries: part 4
During the English summer, there should be absolutely no need to watch TV. All our traditional activities such as attending car boot sales, playing amateur versions of cricket in turdy parks, erecting gazebos, and getting drunk and red on the beach come into their own. As for summer sporting fixtures: who needs to OWN a TV when you can go to the pub to watch them, and build beautiful new friendships with sweaty accountants and inebriated teenagers into the bargain?
Of course, a less traditional but equally popular summer activity is now watching OTHER people getting drunk and red, on Big Brother. And I have to confess, dear diary, that I deliberately started, and maintained, a Big Brother conversation yesterday. While on the beach. In my defence, I was talking to my dad, and we didn’t have anything else to talk about. And the only information I gleaned was that he strongly disapproves of someone called Kitten, so my BB5 innocence is still almost intact.