Mr Fancy TV Reviewer

Sorry, blog, I’ve been having sexy Edwardian trysts with another blog these last few weeks. It’s not me, it’s Hugh. Anyway, if you want to see just what I’ve been up to, have a look at my Downton Abbey reviews on the awesome Tellysquawks blog.

800 words a week! It’s inhuman!

These are a few of my favourite things

I ate 5 donuts (doughnuts? The anal part of me (i.e. all of me, the same part that likes putting brackets within brackets) says yes, the actually having to think of other people part of me says “stop being such a prig”) yesterday. I’d probably eat any donuts put in front of me, in any situation, but 5 is quite a lot, especially when accompanied by two sandwiches, a brownie, a crumpet* and a half, a glass of elderflower cider, a glass of elderflower** prosecco and four cups of tea.

I was put in this staggeringly perfect situation thanks to the delightful Hannah, who is a friend of B’s from their Masterchef days and who still juggles cooking astonishing spreads of mouthwatering fare with a full time, high pressure job. Oh, and writing – the reason behind the donut orgy is that she’s compiling recipes for her 9th book, and we’ve been requested to act as guinea pigs for four of her newest recipes.

Not that the non-donut options were disappointing (her brownie was breathtakingly perfect – I can’t even think of how to describe it, other than “I’ve never had a better brownie and I never will”), but the donuts were something special. There were four on test: Rose petal, coconut, coffee, and pecan pie. The two former ones will appeal to the fluffier type – pink icing and a heart shape for the rose petal, which was the lightest in both flavour and consistency, and pink and white coconut shavings and edible glitter for the latter, which were also baked rather than fried, not that you’d know it (I asked to try an ungarnished baked doughnut and it was much more cakey than donutty, but delicious for it and probably easier to eat in significant quantity).

But my two favourites were coffee and pecan pie. The coffee ones looked disconcertingly (I felt a positive comparison to a mass-marketed sugar bomb might be against the spirit of real home baking, though it turns out everyone is friendly in the world of deep-fried dough) like Krispy Kreme donuts – Hannah has the classic “white stripe” perfected, and they were beautifully shaped and glazed – but tasted even better, delicious and not overpowering, with a lovely dreamy filling. And the pecan pie donuts (see pic), octagonal and fried golden and sugared, were the best of all – perfect dough filled with amazing vanilla custard and pecan pie topping. I ate three of them (I am disgusting), and had another for my breakfast today. Oh god, so good.

So thank you to Hannah and Sacha for looking after us, and I hope our orgasmic moans and exhortations were helpful in terms of reviews. I think, after 25 years without, it might just be time to get a deep fat fryer.

* this was no ordinary crumpet. This was a crumpet prepared by an awesome chef, and was a Welsh rarebit crumpet, which turns out to be one of the best savoury food ideas in history. Seriously, try it.

** I’ve never been too keen on elderflower but, as part of the inexorable death march to middle age, this may be changing. The cider was lovely – refreshing is so obvious an adjective as to be basically redundant but I’ll use it anyway, and prosecco with a dash of St Germain liquer took refreshment to the next level. It’s not even close to summer any more, but the drinks at least couldn’t have been more so.

How to waste money

I’m not a great traveller, by which I mean I get nervous and defensive when making long trips. But it turns out I’m also not a great traveller in the sense of being really fuckin’ bad at it. Here, then, is M & B’s guide to royally buggering up a trip to Italy.

  1. Forget you have a car (this is important as it turns out, so remember this bit)
  2. Book a minicab to Victoria (at 5.30am) from the local cabbie which doesn’t turn up, so we wait a short while, then walk up the road and find a
  3. Minicab from Uxbridge Road (£18), which bombs through London as fast as possible. But we miss the 6am
  4. Gatwick Express (£27 I think for a return?) and have to take the next one which
  5. Arrives at Gatwick South terminal, so we hop on the monorail, but after queuing for the bag drop we are 7 minutes late for our
  6. BA flight to Venice (£204 each). BA close the flight 45 mins before take-off – wtf? So we rush to the ticket desk where we’re told the next flight to VCE, at 1.30pm, is business class only, and the 7pm one after that only has very expensive tickets left. But as “luck” would have it, there’s a
  7. BA flight to Verona that leaves in an hour – and for only £165 each!
  8. The train from Verona to Venice takes an hour and a half and costs €20 each.
  9. A 3-day travelcard in Venice is €33 each, though we barely use it – a regatta on the weekend means that it’s useless for a full day. But at least we’re now on holiday and can relax, because when we get back to the UK,
  10. A 1am cab from Gatwick airport – booked in advance because even in the best case scenario, we’ll just miss the last Gatwick Express to Victoria, despite having return tickets – costs a whopping £110 including tip.

So, as you’ll have realised, if we’d remembered we had a car, we would have paid, what, £50 each for long term parking and petrol, got to Gatwick in plenty of time, and had a nice easy drive on empty roads home? Instead we paid just over £200 extra EACH just to travel. What a pair.

There is a post-script to this story. On our return, B went to the cab office to complain about our non-existent taxi. As a result, the owner of the cab firm is refunding us the cost of the Verona tickets at £50 a week. Back of, and indeed, the net.

Materialism gone mad

Over the last few months we’ve been moving house. As a result, we’ve had to deal with a large number of companies, and the experiences have been, well, mixed.

So, in the spirit of the internet’s role as a place you can say nasty stuff about things without accountability, here’s a rundown of which companies have been cuties and which have been cocknockers.

Better than expected:

  • BT – ironically, we ended up cancelling BT, despite their service being slick and polite. Moving house with them was really simple and very quick, and cancelling was painless and professionally handled. Considering what you’ll find further down this list we may end up back there sooner than expected.
  • made.com – just about making it onto the “yay” side of the equation on the strength of a) ultra-friendly customer service and b) cheap prices for nice stuff. Made’s schtick is selling high quality furniture at prices that undercut the high street equivalent by about 70%. The do this by making stuff to order and having no middlemen. On the down side, it takes three months for most deliveries to be made, which makes planning tricky. And it’s doubly frustrating when the item arrives after three months and has a dirty great stain on it, necessitating a return and a re-order (only 7 weeks this time, mind). But I can’t fault their helpfulness whenever I’ve dealt with them and it’s slightly pathetic that this has become the sine qua non of a positive customer experience.
  • Max Inc. – a second hand furniture store in Shepherds Bush who get bonus points for being an actual old-fashioned small local business, which slightly assuaged my corporate guilt, but who deserve bigging up for great service and prompt delivery (and agreeing to a discount).
  • Tapstore – a confession. We only ordered a showerhead from them, but I thought we’d ordered a sink and pedestal too and hassled them about not delivering them. After several helpful phone calls, the chap even asked his courier to go and see where he’d dropped the delivery off. Our house. There was no missing sink. Sorry Tapstore, and thank you for being so helpful in the face of a befuddled idiot.
  • B&Q – scraping the barrel a bit here, but they’ve been there when we needed them, and one thing stood out to propel them into the positive: a helpful sink salesman, when confronted with our concern about their tap range, suggested we go to an independent bathroom shop just down the road as their stock and prices would be better.

Meh:

  • Santander – not really a meh, but meh on average. Pluses and minuses here. The annoyance at having to pay £1250 for the right to a mortgage has to be gauged in terms of all the fucking banks demanding your first born for the right to own a house. So I’ll concentrate instead on their helpfulness when setting up a joint acount and the (as far as I can tell) genuinely competitive savings terms, but offset that with their home insurance quote being double what the advisor airily suggested it might be. We still bought it, though, because it’s good for bicycles.
  • Daniel Beds, Chiswick – we got a nice bed at a nice price, and dealt with real people in the process. But it took 4 weeks instead of 2 to arrive and it’s fairly obvious why that’s not ideal.
  • John Lewis – all very easy and efficient – our appliance buying was basically a cross-referencing of the John Lewis catalogue and Which? magazine. Points lost for selling us a non-existent washing machine and thereby delaying delivery, which is a BIG CRIME when you’re trying to get a whole house sorted.
  • Fired Earth – yuppily efficient and pretty and expensive. I guess they did their job fine – I just resent no other tiles sellers actually being cheaper and still nice.
  • Homebase – see B&Q, by and large, but they lose points for having vegetal debris dropped by the exit which resulted in my other half slipping over and jarring her already buggered knee with added clothes damage. They were good about it, but until we get a massive compensatory cheque (hint hint) they can sit with the mediocre (NB there is every chance I’ve got my B&Q and Homebase anecdotes horribly muddled, but it’s not really going to make any kind of difference to anyone).
  • Hammersmith & Fulham Borough Council – as numbingly bureaucratic as expected, but ultimately some poorly paid, stressed-out people unhappily obliged to toil for Tory filth caried out what was required.

Annoying:

  • Nationwide Bathrooms – so THAT’S where we ordered the sink from. They get a low rating for taking inordinately long to deliver and not telling us when it would be.

Apoplexy-inducing:

  • Sky – I’ve been looking forward to this. Fuck you, Sky. As we’re nowadays so pathetically useless we can’t take a dump without using the internet, 8 sodding weeks without broadband is a bit of a big deal. There were issues with non-delivery of a viewing card, repair of said viewing card, and a big porkie-pie regarding the pricing of the Sky-branded phone line (installed by a BT engineer – maybe they’re all as bad as each other after all)

But what took the biscuit was that at each stage of the process, we were informed of ANOTHER two week delay which, apparently, isn’t because anything was wrong, or faulty, or out of stock – it’s just how they do things. If that’s the case, tell us in advance, you appalling bunch of arses. Okay, we probably wouldn’t have ordered if we’d known broadband would be activated 2 months to the day after we got the keys (I am being generous here – the sticker on the box says “do not try to activate broadband before 31st May” – Christ knows what would happen. A phone call saying “well look what you’ve done. Are you happy now?”, I expect), but right now I am tempted to wait 29 days of their 30-day “cooling off period” (props for nailing THAT phrase, Mr Murdoch) and then cancel on their ass.

I bet I don’t, though. And bonus points for any of you who read between the lines and figured out my discomfort and hypocrisy in using their services in the first place.

So, in case I wasn’t clear, anyone tempted to sign up for (shameless Google-seducing here, sorry) Sky Talk, Sky Anytime+, Sky Broadband Everyday Lite, Sky Broadband Unlimited or Sky Unlimited Broadband – for the love of God go elsewhere. These people LIE TO YOU, and that’s way worse than mistakes or delays or faulty goods.

Look at my filth. Look at it

Packing. It’s an evocative word. Evocative of deep boredom. I’ve started packing in earnest for this weekend’s house move (something I haven’t done in over 11 years – I’m no mug) and when I shut my eyes, brown cardboard boxes dance and frolic in my mind. Even the ones still flat-packed and tape-naked. Especially those.

I bought a “value pack” from a storage company and I’m now the proud owner of 15 brand new boxes of varying size (plus two free rolls of tape, which smell like a damp toilet – and I know this because one of the characterful features of the new places is a damp – fetid would be too strong a word – toilet under the stairs). And there are more boxes in the loft – not that I can get into the loft as I need the ladder, which is in the shed, but my neighbour has the shed key… but anyway.

That’s my front room, on the right. The first packing task was the straightforward bunging of 20 years of records and CDs (my parents would like to say “apart from the hundreds you stored at our house” at this point) into, out of necessaity, the smallest of the value pack’s offerings. For anyone who grew up in the post-vinyl era and doesn’t realise, records are pound for pound heavier than uranium. I hate carrying around records so much. But, I love records. The things you do for love.

I also realised what an awful lot of CDs I bought at a time when I was really into music – like, REALLY into it – but without a terribly effective level of quality control. If I’m honest, can I actually remember what It’s Jo And Danny sound like? Did I actually BUY that Kinks compilation, or did I win it in a game of Here, Have Some Crap? Bad DJ Shadow is still bad. And being DJ Shadow won’t change that.

So quite a lot is probably destined for the loft. But – and this is the kicker, which will infuriate my girlfriend and turn me into exactly the kind of anal music bore I’ve sort-of-successfully not been for most of the 21st century – I don’t yet know what. It’s Jo And Danny will require a listen, maybe two to be sure. And DJ Shadow is just the kind of hip cut a groovy freak like me wants to have on display, right? Gear!

So if you’re after dodgy nineties indie freebies, ask me in about 4 weeks time whether I’ve been through it all yet. Reckon you’ll get lucky.

Nostalgic interlude

Just for the hell of it, here are ten things I miss about being a kid:

  1. A full head of hair and a permanently flat stomach
  2. Not caring how I looked, which morphed into caring a bit but not having any idea what a complete buffoon my fashion choices made me look. In fact, “blissful ignorance” could make up at least half of this list.
  3. A fervent belief that anything my dad said was gospel. I’m still discovering things to this day (literally – it was about potato skins) that he told me then that turned out not to be.
  4. Being cleverer than most of my peers. I had the “brains” role in my primary school gang. No specs though.
  5. A deep and abiding passion for some of the worst TV ever made (honourable mentions to 3-2-1, Game for a Laugh, Russ Abbott’s Madhouse and any sitcom featuring Keith Barron)
  6. Not having to worry about doing in any part of my body with any sudden movement or extertion
  7. Having just the right level of knowledge and imagination to be able to invent amazing games, but not too much to make them over-complex or boring
  8. Anything made of plastic was automatically superior to anything that wasn’t. But then again I own a beloved carbon fibre bicycle so maybe not much has changed
  9. The first time I saw Big. I think it somehow coincided with the sine qua non moment of my childhood identity. Or something
  10. Ford Granadas. Saw this the other day and just had a need to take a photo:

 

 

An earnest post about cycle lanes

Every time a cyclist gets killed or injured in a road accident in London, people raise the issue of the lack of safe cycle lanes in the city. Or rather, they don’t just raise it – it is indeed a shame that they don’t exist – but a significant minority demand that this be rectified for the safety of the 550,000 journeys made by bike every day in the capital.

The problem is, of course, that there’s nowhere to put them. Almost nowhere in central London is there room for cycle lanes that:

  1. are guaranteed to be free of other road users
  2. wouldn’t impact negatively on either pavement or road space
  3. are not crossed by side roads, driveways and other turnoffs
  4. are rideable at a decent speed over a decent length on a decent surface

The most nebulous of the above, and yet the most important to faster (ahem) riders like me, is number 4. By and large I don’t hold up traffic for more than a small part of my daily commute – I can regularly travel at ambient speed, and indeed I can often go faster than traffic, so in principle I fit *with* traffic, which means I can use the roads as best suit me with minimal inconvenience to big angry metal boxes.

However, if I were ghettoised into a cycle lane which suffered from points 3 or 4, I’d be constantly stopping and starting, just as at risk from motorists turning across me (more so, I suspect, since as soon as you cordon off cyclists they become “not my problem” to drivers), undulating over driveways, chicaning round road furniture, and dodging the inevitable debris that ends up at the side of the road.

Most riders aren’t trying to commute quickly, on silly racing bikes, so these issues are less of a problem for them. But truly safe bike lanes – the holy grail – would work for everyone. And London’s just too tightly packed.

If you think this is too negative or one-sided, or you have other suggestions, I’d welcome comments!

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