Thursday, 28 March 2013
Now my head has finally cleared after an amazing night out at Boisdale of Canary Wharf I can report that I wasn't disappointed. The food, the music and the ambience is unique and worthy of the cost to enjoy pure unadulterated quality at a venue that clearly cares about all of its clientele.
My son and I arrived in a freezing north east wind-swept London with a few hours to spare before the event so we spent it wandering around Piccadilly Circus to kill some time. Then it was back to the hotel in central London to get our glad rags on and head for the tube to take us to Canary Wharf via London Bridge. As a visitor, I love the tube and could spend hours travelling on that with no particular destination in mind. I guess if I worked or lived in London then I might have a different view.
The warmth of the restaurant hit us as we entered and we immediately felt at home. We were given a free glass of Italian champagne each as we browsed through the menu. I chose potted smoked mackerel served chilled with horseradish chantilly and melba toast as a starter, and followed that with a main course of fish cake with cod and smoked haddock served with gentleman's relish and lemon. It was sublime. My son eyed up the rib-eye steak and devoured it, and ordered himself a scotch whiskey afterwards. The opulent and cultural setting is unlike anything available at home where restaurants however hard they try are pretty standard.
All of this was serenaded by the gentle jazz of Mark Crooks on horn and clarinet as part of a trio of players that included a cellist and a guitarist playing the music of Artie Shaw. They didn't just play, they caressed those instruments to make them sing and bring life and emotion to the music. It really hit a nerve and stopped me mid-mouthful as I ate to marvel at the talent on offer. My son also looked on in admiration.
When the band took a break, we left the restaurant and headed down to the Cigar Bar and Terrace. My son bought two cigars and we shared one. He kept the other as a souvenir. As a smoker, nights out are often ruined by being forced outside and the air that night was freezing. A waiter noted my discomfort and brought me, and other diners outside, a blanket which was very much appreciated. A humble act of care that makes all the difference.
It was my first proper cigar and I enjoyed it immensely although I hadn't realised that you could smoke it inside the warm and comfort of the bar with other cigar smokers. It was only when my son told me how he'd got 20 per cent off the price for the discomfort of smoking outside that it became apparent. Oh well, next time perhaps.
We then went back upstairs to finish our drinks and listen to more music before we headed off back to the hotel, exhausted after our day and splendid night out. I guess between us we spent about £100 but it was well worth it and definitely a place we'd both visit again as a special treat if we found ourselves in London. As part of the competition I won, I get free honorary membership and I feel sure that will come in useful. I simply can't wait for the next time which might well be when the next free choice event is held which I hear is on the cards.
For more information about forthcoming Boisdale competitions see HERE and for more information about Boisdales and what's coming up see HERE
Thursday, 21 March 2013
I'm told my great grandfather Palmiro Londi was a legend in his lifetime and, with some time on my hands, I decided to see if Google had anything in its archives that might tell me more about him.
My search only returned one possible result which is the story of a 90 year old man from my mother's home town Cecina Mare in Italy who recounted his war experiences and says how he was a student of of my ancestor and returned to fishing after his Italian war service ended.
What I do know about the great Palmiro is written in this book published to celebrate the new millenium which features high profile characters in the town and included chapters on a few of my relatives.
It said that he was a very strong man, the only one who could swim from the Cecina shore to the far away lighthouse at Vada and he liked his wine. Apparently he never drank from the glass and prefered to lift the barrel with strong forearms and drink direct from there.
The book - E Nel Mezzo Il Mare - also tells me that he was awarded the French Legion of Honour medal for saving the life of two French pilots whose plane crashed into the sea at Cecina during the First World War but I can't find any record of that on the internet and wonder where I should start looking.
Palmiro, it is said, also loved his women and romanced them all in Cecina in true Casanova style but I have no idea who his wife, my great grandmother, was.
His son was also a legendary figure in the town. Roberto Londi, also a fisherman, was my mother's father, my grandfather. I never met him because back in those days travel was not as easy or as cheap as it is today and he died before my first ever visit to this charming fishing village which is now a tourist haven. That began, apparently, when my great great grandfather Giannacio Londi hired out the beach where they launched their fishing boat from to soldiers stationed in nearby barracks so they could admire the beautiful young women sunbathing on the beach.
Roberto, however, did get a mention in the Corriere Della Cecina when he saved the life of a nine year old boy who was drowning in the sea. Apparently after retirement, he took up Palmiro's old spot on the beach to watch out for danger in case they needed to save more lives.
A cousin's eldest son now works as a lifeguard and so it appears to be something of a family tradition and there was something said in the book that there is "genetic propensity" among the Londi family to save people.
I can't find anything about Roberto online but now I've posted what little information I know here maybe distant relatives also keen to hear about these shared legendary family members will find it if they ever come looking.
All I know is that I come for damn good stock.
Monday, 18 March 2013
As a journalist with 20 years experience of working on local newspapers and writing for national ones, I obviously have a very strong view on politicians and powerful upper middle class organisations like Hacked Off trying to bring in measures that would control the press.
My own prolem with legislation is that it is always a step by step approach. First a little thing and as the years go on, law gets built up and then within a decade or two there are so many laws that no one dares to write a thing unless it has the approval of law makers - ie parliament - first. It's just a very dangerous road to go down and I'm not sure that those who want to go down that path do so for justice or revenge.
What I do know is that the majority of newspapers and journalists play very much by the rules even if some of the elite don't like those rules. They don't seem to care that if those accused of the hacking scandal are guilty, then they are a minority that played fast and loose with rules and they broke the law. As law is there to stop this kind of behaviour then why have another law when one exists?
And what constitutes truth? I know I read a lot of garbage in the Guardian, for example, usually some public health nonsense which isn't true but uses the Guardian to as a mouthpiece to fool the public but as it is doing Government's work for it then I doubt that it would ever be held to account. Certainly not by the many who choose a certain lifestyle who are defamed by the paper on a regular basis and then denied the legal right of reply because of the paper's own prejudicial bias.
I could write a post of several thousand words on this issue but the Fleet Street Fox pretty much says what I would have said only a bit better. So if press freedom and restrictions are something that interest you then do pop along over there and read how Governent in its desire to control free speech are about the make a dog's dinner of something they would be wise not to meddle with at all but if they do then Foxy is spot on when she says :
We need a Press regulator where editors aren’t welcome. Its members should be made up of ordinary members of the public, because I trust them more than I do anyone in Westminster. Alongside them, for expertise, should be a smaller number of ordinary journalists – hacks, snappers, subs, local and national – who know the ground and have the experience and wit to know what’s fair and what’s beyond the pale. No Establishment figures, no appointees, no editors.
Amen to that.
Nick Cohen, ironically writing in The Guardian, is also spot on and his views are also well worth a good read.
I'm really excited about a forthcoming visit to my favourite place in London Boisdale of Canary Wharf next week to see renowned jazz clarinet player Mark Crooks.
I've never heard of him before but I have been to this classy venue a few times although visits have usually been linked to events organised by free choice group Forest which I avidly and actively support.
I also follow Boisdale music on Facebook and entered a simple competition to win a free night out for two. I suppose I was a bit hasty because the event I won access to was during the same week and there was no way I could make it.
However, they are such a great bunch over there they happily changed the date of my visit to a time that suits me. My rail tickets and hotel room are booked for the night and as the event on March 25th gets closer, I'm looking forward to it so much I think I might just burst before I get there.
Musician Jools Holland is patron of music there. It really doesn't matter which night you go along because there is always something special happening. In addition to great sounds and a stylish atmoshere, the food is brilliant, the wine excellent, the terrace looking out over Canary Wharf sublime.
My other half is not one for London so he doesn't want to come with me but my best friend does which means it will be a girlie night out for two and we both can't wait.
I will do a full report on it after the event but if jazz music, class and nostalgia are your thing then there really is no other place that does it quite as good as Boisdale. I'm literally jumping for joy.
UPDATE : 19/03/13
Sadly my friend can't make the visit with me due to an important commitment that has come up on the same date which she can't avoid so my son is coming instead and we just watched this video together which says more about Boisdale than I could write here.
Blogging here has been light lately because I have been a bit snowed under with work and we had a loss in our family.
My father in law died in February. It was very sad. He was a likeable chap who was always smiling and a man who worked hard all of his life. He couldn't face retirement and worked until he was 70 and it was soon after he quit work that he began to have problems with his health. The last year saw him go downhill rapidly and since Christmas he was bedridden. My mother in law was determined not to let him go into hosiptal and so she nursed and cared for him to the point of exhaustion and one can only thank the Marie Curie, MacMillan and St Banabas Hospice nurses who helped out at times when she needed rest.
Father in law was a country man who worked on farms most of his earlier life and then for decades on the roads. His was the last generation to do National Service and he served in Malaya in the 1950s. He never lost his love for the countryside and kept an allotment for years. Those sacks of potatoes he often brought round were always welcome. Sadly, the vast rural haven in the middle of a small urban estate has since been reduced to a small spot as urban housing has taken over much of where the old working classes dug for victory, for joy, or to supplement the family food budget.
He never lost his love for tractors and would often drive mother in law nuts with his collection that would sit on the drive if there was no room for them at his allotment. It was no surprise, therefore, that one of his wreaths was in the shape of his favourite mode of transport.
I was honoured to be asked to read the poem Memories of Dad and it was hard because the tears threatened to make my voice croak but I managed to get through it. The sadness everyone felt hung in the air. The funeral parlour was packed with standing room only and that was squeezed full such was the respect people had for him among his friends, neighbours and workmates.
Three songs were played - I believe by the Batchelors, Only You by the Platters, and then as we all stood, tears freely flowing, and began to file out after the committal to lay flowers, the song below was played and I think my father in law would have appreciated that. He gave us plenty of smiles in life and the last smile was on him as the mourning atmosphere suddenly lifted as we heard his favourite song that so uniquely caught his character.
If there are tractors in heaven, my father in law is today a very happy man but after 60 years of marriage, I fear my mother in law has many more tears yet to shed for the man she will struggle to live without.
Thursday, 7 March 2013
I hate it when two great TV series are on at the same time on different channels but these days the dilemma of which one to watch is painless thanks to the internet.
On Channel 5 the last episode of the Chandleresque with an Irish twist Jack Taylor series is on and I can't miss it. I'm charmed by the rough and ready character, loving his non-politically correct stance on life and intrigued by the apparent Irish Garda police way of doing things.
Flawed heroes are always best. Being less than perfect makes them human to the core and easier to identify with. Coming out good at the end is their redemption and that is something that Jack Taylor needs plenty of with his hard living lifestyle, vicous tongue and eager fists. He pays for his sins by getting beaten half to death every week. He loses a few days of his life on every case when he sinks into a drunken black hole of lost time because he can't handle loss. First the father figure barman and then the woman he's fallen in love with.
His side kick female Garda officer gives balance to Taylor's wild side and he can still count on a few friends in the force to watch his back while others would relish in his downfall.
On at 9pm, it clashes with a spooky drama on BBC 1 that I'm hooked on - Mayday. I have to know how it will end. More questions than answers have developed as I've watched it and so there is a lot to resolve. The residents are so creepy any one of them could be the one whodunnit.
A young girl has gone missing and that has focussed suspicion on everyone and turned a small community in on itself. Families and neighbours begin to question what they really know about the people closest to them. Vigilantism is an ever-present threat. No one can be trusted and no one can really be believed.
Given that Channel 5 on the internet is pretty crap because it often freezes, moves slowly and out of sync, then I reckon I'll watch Jack Taylor on the box first before settling down to watch Mayday on BBC iPlayer later which offers much better quality and no annoying repetitive adverts.
I was lucky enough to be selected as one of eight tutors to attend a meeting with WEA Trustees and it's education committee heads in London yesterday.
We shared ideas and good practice, success stories and visions of the future, how to recruit and how to make the WEA well known as a brand.
It's true that despite it's long history the WEA isn't instantly recognisable when mentioned and always leads to the response "what is it?"
In a nutshell, it is an educational charity that provides and encourages lifelong learning in communities for people who may not want to study formal education at college or university, or may not be able to afford the fees, or maybe just want to learn a new hobby or a more academic subject as a means of bettering their intellect, employment opportunities, or feeding their interests.
At its heart is teaching, learning and assessment and as an institution it is probably one of the biggest in the UK. After all, who else can claim to have a "school" in every town, village and hamlet in Britain?
Courses are varied and diverse and can include anything from learning basic IT skills to reading and studying literature, to learning the skills of photography, investigating cultural studies, or drama, music, and craft, and lifelong skills for those with learning difficulties.
One tutor at the meeting holds classes on Asian fabrics and sewing. She said she used to have two groups - one Asian women and one white women - and then both groups began to talk to each other and now instead of two they are one big group sharing and helping each other on the course. Many lifelong friends as well as lifelong skills are made at WEA classes.
One of the main items on the agenda was the need to move paperwork online into the 21st century and to create a cyber space for tutors to access resources, share ideas, good practice, and teaching methods.
As I travelled back on the train after my day out I realised just how much things have changed. Apart from a handful of people reading books or newspapers, as I walked through the carriage to the buffet car, most were on laptops, reading, watching TV, or working, or scrolling through mobile phones doing much the same thing.
The WEA must stay true to its roots in giving less privileged people the chance to learn but to survive in the new age, where most modern workers either get standard education for free or are able to pay for further education themselves, it must be able to reach those adults who dropped out after school into unemployment or dead end jobs that fail to stimulate those with intellect but no money to improve and feed it.
As humans we need to learn all of our lives and no one else offers quite the same opportunities as the WEA but it must be able to communicate and organise more effectively. Technology is one imperative way of doing that and as a part time tutor, I look forward to getting actively involved when it's new tutor portal and intranet project, currently in development, come online.