A little bit of politics there

I would love to be the kind of blogger who can write about SRS ISHUZ but it seems I don’t really have it in me. Mainly, I never know enough about whatever I’m talking about to feel confident in expressing an opinion – or at least not an opinion which can’t be more lazily published in short, unaccountable form on Twitter.

However, recently I have been following more socially-conscious tweeters. Invariably they have to be funny or engaging along with it – just like my real friends have to have multiple facets, I get bored embarrassingly quickly when people just talk about, say, politics or work or what product of theirs I should be buying. But these people do at least stir the political animal in me, which I continue to be gratified to realise remains strongly and fundamentally socialist, despite my champagne tendencies and middle class self-interest.

And they’re all young(er than me). I have a very basic belief that to embrace the politics of the left* is the right and proper, even the natural, way for young people to be. I’m more aware each day that cynicism and pragmatism rule the world, and that the ever-growing desire for comfort above all can translate quickly and silently into selfish nimbyism. But I’m not young.

No, I’m not young, even if vestigial elements deep inside might beg to differ. But the young MUST fight for the rights of their fellows, MUST counter the vicious apathy of their elders, which inevitably includes the holders of power – how can it be otherwise? If their idealism and straightforward, honest appreciation of right and wrong is warped by reactionary or solipsistic thinking, then we’re all fucked, not least the complacent middle-aged who reach their dotage and are befuddled or crippled by the lack of care, consideration or even the acknowldgement by the rest of society of their needs and desires.

The grown-ups (for want of a better term that deals with, say, the ages 30-60) will always be in control. But without the checks and balances of people who are easily and deeply outraged by the injustices of the world, our lives would be that much more controlled, oppressed and ground down by the innate self-interest of the human condition. I hope the fearless, rebellious iconoclasm of youth is something primal, fundamental about their beings, because if it ever disappeared then who knows what vicious circle of degradation of human rights would follow.

 

*I’m not comfortable with this phrase. Political parties have an important function of politicising their members, but they themselves are an amoral machine of massive self-interest and offer little more than a lazy way to claim some kind of political agenda. Perhaps I’d feel differently if the Labour party and the Liberal Democrat party hadn’t, in recent years, utterly let me down with their ideological shifts. Anyway, please insert a better word for “politics” here if you like.

Coffee shop follow-up

Since my Soho coffee shop study post (with accompanying updated map here), I’ve been extending my knowledge and tasting the wares of half a dozen other local coffee sellers. I’ve also changed the order of the standings of a couple of the other shops after re-sampling their mochas. Here are my thoughts, with their new entries in the standings:

  • Hummingbird Bakery — Not at all bad. The coffee is Illy (top marks) and while it’s a bit strong for me (and yes, I appreciate that if I’m looking at coffee critically I may as well say “this is a bit too high quality for me”), it’s well-balanced and classy. And this time, they didn’t look at me askance when I said I didn’t want a cupcake. (#12)
  • Foxcroft & Ginger — Perhaps the least sweet of all the mochas I’ve had and enjoyed. A hint of cinnamon is a lovely touch (I guess some people might hate it – and it wasn’t optional it seems!), and the coffee is excellent. One for the days when I’m feeling austere and grown-up. (#11)
  • Mrs Marengo’s — Really good. A lovely shop with great staff and home-made, tasty food (the vegan carrot cake, I understand, is to die for) and the mocha lived up to my hopes. Probably deserves a higher place than, say, Bar Chocolate, where I didn’t feel like my custom was terribly appreciated, though the coffee is perhaps not quite on their level. (#5)
  • Ben’s Cookies — Is it unfair to expect as good a coffee from a place that self-evidently doesn’t have it as a priority? It doesn’t matter – they have a proper coffee machine, they can make a proper coffee. Not crazy about this place – the coffee, generously sized was the most expensive coffee I’ve had so far, and the staff were a bit… shifty. I haven’t tried the cookies, but I certainly won’t go there again for a mocha – the coffee just didn’t taste right, and the chocolate was just a bit wrong. Not appalling, but really should be better. (#23)
  • Vida e Caffe — A South African chain, with three stores in central London, I learn. Ebullient and friendly staff, but just about the most expensive mocha I’ve tried (£2.80 for a regular). Flavoured with Lindt chocolate, and perhaps I’m just suggestable but I think I can tell. The coffee’s good, the chocolate is underpowered, and there’s an odd aftertaste of whisky, which may be the packaging – the cups are a different material from any others I’ve tried. Not a top-of-the-lister, but very solid nevertheless, and I’d be tempted to go back for the amazing-looking muffins and custard tarts. (#15)
  • Marks & Spencer — the fancy hot food counter in M&S Oxford Street has been a mystery to me so far as I tend to only go there when I’m trying to be relatively healthy. But today, for the benefit of this blog, I decided to purchase their mocha (medium, served in a large soft drink cup with accompanying straw-inviting lid). It’s okay, but there’s nothing either delicious or unusual about it, and the chocolate taste is humdrum. Since I’d never choose an M&S coffee on the run, or to sit in M&S and nurse a cup, I doubt I’ll be going back. (#21)

 

Cornwall part 2

I never got round to writing part 2 of our Cornish adventures, so, more to bolster my crappy memory than anything, here’s a bit more of What We Did On Our Holidays.

Being based in North Cornwall, equipped with car, worked out pretty well, although our one attempt to go a decent distance failed about halfway along as we decided making it to St Ives, taking in the views and the light, and not having to make uncharacteristic haste wasn’t going to happen. And we then failed to make it even as far as Newquay. But Padstow made up for that,a s I said in part 1, and we managed to spend a delightful and unhurried few hours in several other charming villages:

  • Boscastle, scene of a terrible flood 6 years ago (though I did slightly unworthily wonder to myself how they promoted the town before the flood), was a unique valley-in-miniature with an amazing little harbour and seals bobbing about under the imposing cliffs
  • Port Gaverne was little more than a cove and a pub, albeit a highly recommended one, and we got to have our only proper conversation with true south-westerners, only slightly spiled by the fact that they were on holiday from Somerset
  • I’d been looking forward to Bude but it was, to be honest, primarily somewhere with a supermarket – neither of us really took to it, its relative size and modernity detracting from the views and rolling cliffs and valleys. People seemed a bit surly their, too, though my driving may have had something to do with that

The other people we met, weirdly, were never locals. Even the chap who handed us the key had a midlands accent, and the woman whose tyre I replaced at the side of the road was from Shropshire, had moved to Cornwall a month earlier, was about to be made homeless and hated everyone and everything about Cornwall (she was actually lovely, just horribly disillusioned). And the ageing DJ still off his nuts on goofballs from the night before who we gave a lift to the main east-west road so he could get home to Newquay was from South Africa.

We also made it out of Cornwall for an afternoon. I took Bree to Dartmoor, which I love, though I’ve never been to the north side before. First off, we were disappointed with Castle Drogo (as you read this, say it out loud in the classic deep action-movie voiceover – this is obligatory btw) which was relatively new, almost completely invisible despite the fuss the National Trust make of the site, and didn’t allow puppies. However, Ludo was let about as loose as possible once we got to the appropriately-named Hound Tor, at one point jumping 15 feet off a rocky outcrop, rolling over and accelerating effortlessly back into a sprint, which was terrifying but kind of impressive.

The last place I wanted to mention may have been our favourite. We visited Widemouth Bay at both the start and the end of the holiday, because its awesome rock formations and wide, flat sands made it an awe-inspiring joy to clamber and gambol on.

And rather than post the best photo as a 500-pixel-wide understatement, please click here for Widemouth, and Ludo, in all their glory.

Poker part 3

This post was written a few months ago, and for some reason I saved it as a draft rather than publishing it. It’s the third in a series of posts exploring poker and, specifically, my experiences of it, following on from My Poker life, part 1, and My Poker life, part 2. There’s a good glossary of poker terms on Wikipedia, if that’s useful. Thanks for reading, and please question and comment!

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In this post, I want to get a bit further into looking at poker as a game, and give, I hope, an idea of why it’s so appealing as an intellectual exercise. Obviously I recognise I’m talking very much from my own perspective here, and a game like poker fits the way my brain works more, I suspect, than it does for many people. Fundamentally, it’s a game with an almost perfect learning curve. Once you understand the rules – memorising the hand ranks and learning how betting works – you can start to play (and you don’t have to play for money, in real life and online) and you can start to get better.

I was also able to print graphs of my winnings – here is April 2007, picked at random as it was the first one I found in my folders:

It demonstrates pretty well the way poker works in terms of success and earnings. I would have made about £200 this particular month overall, but over the course of the month it was a bit of a rollercoaster, albeit with an upward trend. The freefalls that you see at 5.7k hands and 9.2k hands are demonstrations of the concept of “variance” – horrible to go through, but very much a feature of the game . They come hand in hand with the successful runs at 200 hands, 6.5k hands and 10.5k hands – both ups and downs will happen with variance the method through which the laws of probability affect the game. And as long as there is more of the latter than the former, you’re a winning player.

The tricky part, though, is that to win big, you need both strong hands and strong play. It’s possible to lose big with strong hands, played badly, and it’s very very easy to lose big with poor hands played badly. And that’s why poker is a difficult game to master and why, most of all, it needs absolute discipline.

That doesn’t mean taking no risks, or always playing defensively – you can be aggressive and risky as long as you pick y0ur spots, and let reason rather than passion control your actions. This is easier to do when you’re winning than when you’re losing, and maintaining discipline when things aren’t going well is the single most essential quality of any successful poker player, no matter the stakes. It hurts to lose, especially as it’s real money you’re losing, and the moment you let this pain change the way you play, or take away your reason and discipline, is the moment you need to step away from the table and not play again until you’ve calmed down.

This anguish is called “tilt”, and every person who’s ever played the game has stories of multiple buyins lost through tilt, promising situations thrown away, bankrolls decimated and tantrums thrown. Minimising tilt will minimise unnecessary losses. The beauty of poker is that even the best players lose sometimes, and the worst players win – it’s why it’s such a perfectly poised game, and it’s why noobs and idiots will keep flocking to the tables, which is absolutely what you want if you’re a skilled and disciplined player. So there will always be “necessary” losses – the function of playing a game of imperfect information, relying on probability, psychology and other essential variable constructs.  But a good player will negate this types of loss by maintaining focus and allowing their skill, and the flaws of their opponents, to win in the long run.

And the long run is everything in poker. I can’t stress that enough. Literally anything can happen on the turn of one card, one play, one session. But once the hands run into the thousands, the sessions into the hundreds, the powers of probability will make their presence all the more felt, which is why, after twelve thousand hands in the above graph, I was able to be a winning player, despite all the short term fluctuations.

In no particular order

1. It’s Movember, and it turns out I’m unintentionally cheating as I decided a couple of weeks ago to grow the ol’ face fuzz for a while. However, screw the haterz – not only will I shame the hipsters who are taking it seriously with my luxurious growth, but in a week or two I’ll manage to achieve this (photo taken last winter and one of my favourite looks, I think you’ll agree).

2. My puppy is now practically a dog, in size at least (most definitely not in behaviour). 18 inches tall at the withers and just under 10kg isn’t bad for a lady whippet, so unless she’s going to be a monster, she must be close to done. And she’s not even 6 months old yet (which won’t be a happy anniversary as it’s when she gets spayed, poor darling).

3. Christmas shopping has started in earnest, and this year I actually feel in control. It’s a good feeling – I have something akin to inspiration, I have most gift-recipients covered, and it’s likely to be my last Christmas for a while when I can be something close to generous, because…

4. I’m in the process of buying a flat. It’s only been 11 days since all was agreed in principle so we’re still probably a month away from exchange, so anything could go wrong, but it appears on the surface that things are as solid and hopeful as they can realistically be in this situation. It would be tempting fate to give too much information at this stage, but it looks like I’ll be living north of the river for the first time since I was 1 year old. I feel like such a traitor (though to be fair, west London feels less like the filthy north and more like an annexe, if you will, of leafy, comfy SW London, so I’ll go with that).

5. For my dad’s birthday, my brother and I are going to take him to learn how to shoot clay pigeons. I am slightly disgusted by my enthusiasm about holding and firing a gun. I loved guns as a kid, and I can’t pretend they don’t hold a similar fascination for me now. That’s not bad, right? Right?

6. Downton Abbey is the best thing on TV I can remember. It’s utterly addictive, beautifully, cleverly written, with a fantastic cast and a storyline which gets deeper and more immersive with every episode. This Sunday see the first series come to a conclusion (but thankfully, there’s a second one on the way) and I can’t wait. Especially now that Masterchef: The Professionals has finished too. Though there are two new nerd-TV shows starting next week that I’m excited about – Giles Coren and Sue Perkins reworking The Good Life, and the BBC2 series Ancient Worlds which will explore the various roots of civilisation. Mesopotamiawesome!

7. I broke my bike! Frame failure isn’t exactly common in steel bikes but I guess I bumped into one too many kerbs/taxis/potholes and that’s the result. I am 99% sure I’ll buy the same frame again – a Bob Jackson Vigorelli – but this time I get to choose the colour. Please feel free to make suggestions – I have no idea!

 

 

Coffee shop study, Soho

Over the last few months I’ve been semi-intentionally trying to compare coffees from as many of Soho’s coffee shops and food boutiques as possible, and I think I have enough to put together a reasonably useful list. I must admit, at this point, that I am not a proper coffeephile, and always order a mocha wherever I go. Anyone who actually likes coffee tells me that mochas definiteively do not count as real coffee, and as such this list is redundant. But they’re all rockist stick-in-the-muds and should be ignored.

So, here, in descending order (it’s more fun that way, like exam results at school and the hit parade) are all the coffee retailers I can remember visiting in recent months. I know there are loads more I need to visit, and please please make recommendations (or otherwise) in the comments section.

17. Starbucks — A confession – if I’m not trying to be healthy, I get my mocha with cream on top and spoon on their vanilla powder and nutmeg. And I love it. But I can’t judge it on that basis when every other shop on this list is compared by their naked mocha. And Starbucks’ naked mocha is a weak, miserable cup of coffee. End of.

16. Costa — Too strong. A chain. Just not to my taste.

15. Caffe Nero — Another chain, another low score. Inconsitency is a strange complaint in a chain, but I never know if a Caffe Nero coffee is going to taste good or not, whch is really off-putting. When it does taste good, no complaints beyond its chaininess. When it doesn’t…

14. Pret a Manger — Decent coffee, if too strong, but keenly priced and swiftly brewed. My complaint here is a strange one – what relegates it to this level is the way that the chocolate sprinkled on top doesn’t melt or blend into the drink, but ends up in the bottom of the cup resembling nothing as much as sand. I dread getting close to the end.

13. Crepe Affaire — A bit unfair as coffee is a minority interest here, but the chocolate in the mocha is far too cloying and slightly artifical. It’s tasty but it’s too much and it feel wrong.

12. Le Pain Quotidien — Perhaps this is harsh marking, as the coffee’s really pretty decent (if invariably lukewarm), but I dislike their staff, their pricing and their atmosphere. Really, it’s fine – just an irrational meh from me.

11. The Breakfast Club — High quality coffee that is too strong for my tastes – people who drink mochas are usually those who don’t want such a full-tilt coffee experience. Also loses marks for fancying itself rather too much (this includes the staff) – it’s a hipster hangout and perhaps a bit too self-consciously proud of the fact.

10. Yumchaa — I’d love to put this place higher as it’s an absolute delight – a proper tea shop (I feel like a traitor asking for coffee, and not even proper coffee at that) with great staff and a lovely atmosphere – it’s great for meetings – all less than 50 yards from my office. But the coffee is too strong for me.

9. LJ Coffee House — A mid-table place for somewhere I’ve only been once, and was happy with but I honestly can’t remember anything more… This may be a mover when I’ve had a chance to re-sample.
View Coffee shops of Soho and environs in a larger map

8. Nordic Bakery — Perhaps the mildest of all the coffees I’ve had, and with a certain pleasant nuttiness. Underwhelming if I’m not in the right mood, but I often am in the right mood. It helps that it’s the perfect distance from my office for a pleasant afternoon stroll.

7. Milk Bar — This probably deserves higher, but it’s marked down because I’ve only been there once and it was full of hipsters. Like, really full. Seems to be a Flat White clone (the menu’s the same to I think) but without the charm or, going by this tiny sample size, quite the same level of quality.

6. Reynolds — A real find, though more for its fantastic lunch choices (seriously, check it out). Real coffee, well made, and I’m very happy to patronise (in every sense).

5. Eat — A wonderful surprise, especially compared to the woeful placings of the other chain stores. It’s not artisan coffee, but it absolutely hits the spot in terms of strength and sweetness.

4. Sacred — Sacred will be disappointed to only make #4. New Zealand clearly makes astonishingly good (read – to my personal taste) coffee, and Sacred’s offering is thick and creamy, sweet and potent. But it’s a little bit patchy, which drops it a place or two. They also have a franchise in Westfield in Shepherds Bush which is a Very Good Thing.

3. Paul — Only tried once, and it was the thickest, smoothest, most full-on mocha I’ve ever had. Perhaps a bit too much – it takes perfection and then it overdoes it, hence its #3 rating. I can’t wait to have another one, though, and it has a lot to live up to.

2. Bar Chocolate — A surprise discovery, since Bar Chocolate is a hipster bar whose staff obviously serve coffee as a bit of an afterthought. But it is gorgeous – everything a mocha should be. The only place where I’ve had my change returned to me on a little silver plate.

1. Flat White — Number one among a host of contenders for the consistency of greatness over the dozens of coffees I’ve had from there. It’s a bit trendy but somehow gets away with it because it has a slightly embarrassed charm, perhaps helped by the staff who just seem to get it right.

Torm Torm Torm

Last week, I discovered a new range of cycling jerseys from a new British manufacturer (I assume the ø in “Tørm” is a stylistic device but I may be wrong). To be fair, what led me to look them up was the suggestion that they were a straightforward Rapha rip-off (and it seems Rapha’s designer feels the same way), “made in the same factory to the same specifications [NB I have no idea if this is the case], but 1/3 the price”.

Obviously that last bit was what got me salivating. Rapha is a hyper-premium brand which produces top-quality stuff but has created an entire lifestyle, or even mythology, around its products. Wearing Rapha transforms you into a lean, wiry, chiselled climbing legend, conquering cols for fun, regardless of your actual reality. But in my humble opinion, it goes too far up its own arse, and I’m too self-conscious to wear Rapha without feeling a bit of a branded ponce.

I do own one Rapha garment, though, a short-sleeve sportwool jersey I won in a Bikeradar competition a couple of years ago. And it is a superb garment – beautifully designed and perfectly fitting, made from the ideal cycling material (39% merino wool and 61% polyester) which keeps you warm in winter, cool in summer, and never smells. So the prospect of gear of similar quality, without the subtle yet somehow ostentatious branding and under half the price, was a big draw.

A few days earlier, I had vowed to myself I wouldn’t buy any more cycling tops (I’m approaching 30 of the buggers, not including base layers), or at very least I would save up money I didn’t spend on buying expensive coffee and only then treat myself to some polyester loveliness. It didn’t work. And (in a counter-intuitive occurrence that should make marketers everywhere salivate with excitement), when I noticed that the price of the jersey I coveted had gone up by £10, I could no longer resist.

I bought the T5 jersey for £50 (and a short-sleeved sportwool base layer for luck), had it hand delivered to my office, which is a nice touch, and wore it home yesterday and into work today. It’s getting chilly now, maybe 10 degrees C or so on both rides, and I wouldn’t want to wear this jersey alone, despite its long sleeves (and the fleecy bib 3/4s I had on underneath), in much colder weather.

Having said that, the comfort levels were excellent, the material is soft and cosy, and the jersey fits well. Tørm’s Large size is a little more generous than Rapha’s (I have to admit I was expecting it to be identical), which is a real plus as that means you can actually take the sizing at its word – a rarity in cycling clothing – but it was slightly disappointing that the arms were just a bit too short.

They’d be fine on a civvy jersey, and the T5’s subtle stylings do make you wonder if some of its more, er, confident owners might wear it as such – the base layer even more so, as it looks fantastic on and I’m tempted to co-opt it as a t-shirt, especially when I shift the remaining spare tyre. But on a racing bike where you’re leaning significantly forward, the sleevs are pulled backleaving a gap of almost two inches between the cuff and my gloves. My arms are fairly long, but not that long, so I reckon adding an inch in the sleeve would be a good move.

That said, it is a really attractive top with great attention to detail. The logo is nice and subtle, and the colour is a gorgeous deep grey (not nearly as blue as it looks in the above pic). It’s cut in a very cycle-friendly way (notwithstanding the arm issue), with three open pockets and two smaller zipped ones on the back. The full spec is on the website, so I won’t repeat it, but I will note that it’s fully machine washable and tumble dryable – I’m always buying lovely things that I only later discover have to be dry cleaned.

Tørm also do a jersey that’s supposed to “protect from the elements”, the T6, and if it’s a windproof version of the T5 (I’ve emailed to ask), I’ll definitely get one. One of the pluses of dealing with new companies is you often get very personal service from the staff, and this has been the case with Tørm, with hand delivery, feedback to questions and an email to check all was okay. Add in the bargain price and it’s a no-brainer – as with the Shutt bib shorts I bought some weeks ago (and reviewed on this site), I’m delighted to support small businesses which prioritise value, service and quality.

Cornwall part 1

A couple of weeks ago B and I took our “summer” holiday in Higher Crackington, a hamlet just inland from the wild Atlantic in north Cornwall, primarily because we didn’t want to leave the puppy anywhere for days at a time. For days, calling it a “holiday” felt bizarre – we’d got there by car, we didn’t take passports, and no-one abused us under their breath in an indecipherable accent. Actually, the last one may not be true.

But I’m so spoiled by foreign trips and city breaks that holidaying in the UK was a novelty that felt anything but novel. My brain can deal with the concept of a long weekend in the provinces, but when Monday came around and I still wasn’t back at work, something clicked.

We chose a cottage pretty much at random from the Helpful Holidays website (such a homely name – if a company could be thatched, Helpful Holidays would be) for an incredibly cheap sum, for which we got a 17th century former dairy, all low lintels, wood beams, flagstone floors and the obligatory thatch. It sleeps six (at which point it’d be so cheap as to be essentially free), but it was perfect for the two of us plus pooch, and for our two weekend guests (though being 6’6″ in a cottage where you can only really stand up in the stairwell isn’t ideal).

Higher Crackington is about a mile from the seaside village of Crackington Haven, where we passed many happy afternoons in the local pub, the Coombe Barton Inn, gazing at the omnipresent surfers outside while listening to Michael Jackson (I swear I didn’t mean to play quite so many Jacko classics on the jukebox), drinking the most gorgeous ales from the Tintagel Brewery. Castle Gold was my favourite, just the most fragrant, smooth, delicious pint I can remember, and their brand new ale Cornish Legend was also superb. Track them down if you like beer, or if you have a soul.

(It’s a shame Tintagel itself didn’t live up to the promise – the mythical birthplace of King Arthur was a slightly depressing tourist resort with an enormous cliff-top hotel shaped like a medieval castle. Called “Camelot”, of course.)

Talking of pubs, one bonus of our cottage was that it came with the Good Pub Guide 2009. Unforutnately, having to drive everywhere meant we couldn’t take full advantage, but it was an essential companion on our travels, and led us to gems such as the Blisland Inn in the appropriately named Blisland. It required several miles of driving on single track roads through the most astonishingly green, swoopy, bucolic lanes before we came across the picture postcard village green. The pub was also recommended on the excellent Doggie Pubs website.

One thing we didn’t do in Cornwall was eat out. We visited Padstow, but for cream tea and a long walk on the amazing beach with Ludo, who discovered digging for the first time (she’s a natural, it seems), rather than for Steinage (we also visited Rock, over the water from Padstow, and gambolled among the dunes). Jamie has a place nearby too, I understand, but a combination of puppy and the need to drive, along with the addictive and visceral pleasure of a log fire, kept us in the house every evening, us reading on the sofas and Ludo depositing an eye-watering amount of excrement among the slugs and unusually vicious stinging nettles in the otherwise lovely garden.

Roy Castle moment

Anyone who follows me on Flickr (and if you don’t, please do, I’m brilliantly mediocre with an outstandingly average eye for a good photo) may have already seen this, but the week before last I met someone genuinely and undeniably astonishing – Sultan Kösen, the tallest man in the world and one of only 12 people ever recorded who have stood over 8 foot tall (he’s 8’2″ and reputed to be still growing, and also has the world’s biggest hands and feet).

I had been sent along to a conference which in honesty had little to do with my job, so my expectations were low. The Guinness World Records people were giving a presentation on their brand, which was all a bit slick and showy, and at the end they introduced Sultan to us. It felt uncomfortably like a freak show, but my fascination, based on a deep childhood love of the Guinness Book of Records and the unforgettable Robert Wadlow, overcame my distaste, and I took advantage of the photo opportunity. A genuinely unforgettable moment.

Baking Happiness

So I guess half my readership (hah! I don’t have a “readership”, I only get readers when I nag friends on Twitter or Facebook) has no interest in sport(s).  Which is kind of appropriate, considering that’s what I was whining about. Anyway.

There’s a place in Soho where small businesses go to die. It’s on the corner (or rather corners) of Berwick Street and D’Arblay Street, and every few months a new, excited, plucky foodmonger opens there, no doubt wondering how such prime retail space has become available.

Of course, it’s only free because some other courageous but browbeaten underdog has folded, spewing legions of young, mostly foreign catering staff onto the cold streets with little more than a three-month McJob on their CV. I guess they’re learning how much pragmatism they need to get by in the dog-eat-dog world of filling the gobs of entitled media idiots like me.

As well as the demise of Coffee Republic (north-east quadrant), which I can’t really blame on this small corner of Soho, the latest closure is Pastry Pilgrim, motto Baking Happiness (north-west quadrant). I don’t think so, somehow. I went in there a few times – their fare was decent, hearty baked goods with an English theme which sat slightly uncomfortably within the gastronomic multi-culturalism of the West End. Baguettes? Mais non! You will enjoy your Wensleydale or Stilton in an English Stick! Still, the sausage rolls and coffee were good, and they were noticeably friendly, perhaps tinged with desperation.

Before Pastry Pilgirm was Wrapid, which churned out perfectly acceptable things in wraps. My favourite was the pizza wrap, which was pretty much what it sounds like. I also tried the spaghetti bolognese wrap, equally straightforward but perhaps a slightly less successful idea. Neither was particularly healthy, despite tasting good, but I’m not sure Soho can support too many places you only go for treats.

Which also, I imagine, ruled out The Gourmet Hot Dog Company (south-east quadrant). I was very excited when I saw it appear, having been to the legendary Hot Doug’s in Chicago and marvelling at the choice and innovation that could be applied to encased meat products (though chips covered with cheese from a can? I’d give that a miss). But I only ever went there once, bought an undersized hot dog in a dry bun (I should take some blame here as I forgot to actually add any sauce), and never went back. Six months later, six months of walking past, slightly guiltily, seeing the initial rush of diners dwindling to essentially no-one, it closed its doors for the last time.

But now the shop-front is plastered with signs telling me that Wrap ‘n’ Roll Kebabs is soon to open there! And honestly, I don’t fancy their chances. Nothing about the name (admittedly, that’s all I’m going on) inspires imagining of innovation or deliciousness – yep, I like filthy doners as much as the next ex-student, but I reckon that’s not exactly what they’ll be aiming for. The poor pun also brings out the Cassandra in me.

And the worst thing is, I feel genuinely terrible for all these people! The depressing churn of staff, the fickle disappointment of customers, and the demolition of the owner’s dream of building  a happy, successful takeaway food business – hell, maybe even a chain! – in a thriving part of town. I sometimes (and I’m being literal here, I am that sappy) imagine the final tearful meeting with the bank manager, realising that the debts won’t be repaid, the business plan  isn’t viable, and that the nest egg of capital has dwindled to nothing. Poor sods.

So, good luck to Wrap ‘n’ Roll, and I hope even as I speak there’s a stylish, original food outlet being planned for the old Pastry Pilgrim space. But I fear the curse may be unbreakable.

(In case you’re wondering, the fourth corner isn’t a restuarant and hasn’t been in my memory. It’s Star Jewellery (south-west quadrant), and it’s doing very nicely, thank you.)