30 April, 2008


I called up First Direct to complain about an overdraft arrangement fee that they'd hit me with. It turned out that they were perfectly entitled to hit me with it, but the nice Scottish girl I talked to waived the charge for me anyway.

People are always complaining about how their banks stiff them with horrendous charges for accidentally going overdrawn, so I thought that I would post this to demonstrate, once again, that First Direct really is the most fabulous bank - and I mean that most sincerely.

27 April, 2008

Ai Carambao!

Back from Sao Paulo, which was great - air of palpable confidence and very buzzy. I can understand why Naomi Campbell goes there to get her cosmetic surgery - I mean, completely necessary medical interventions - done. Got taken out to lunch at a funky place where the decor was all very multi-patterned draped fabrics, there was no menu and everything was for sale. Had chicken, beans, rice and "farofa", which no-one there knew the English language equivalent of. Having eaten it, I still cannot say what it was. Taken to dinner at a place called Figueira, which was a glass-roofed restaurant built around a 100-year old fig tree - quite a Malaysian experience, except that in Malaysia they wouldn't bother with the glass roof, and the floor would just be the tarmac of the carpark in which the restaurant was located. I now know how to fake Portuguese - it's just Spanish, with an extra u or o added to the end of every other word.

In and out on BA. The movies were terrible - I tried to watch I Am Legend, American Gangster and The Savages in turn, and didn't make it through 5 minutes of each one. It was one of those experiences which makes you think, My God, have I stopped liking movies? So I watched Leon and Lord of the Rings instead. Watching Leon a decade later, it is all the more obvious what an incredible movie star Natalie Portman is. Even at 12 years old, she just springs off the screen, you can't take your eyes off her. The movie itself has its good points and its bad points - Gary Oldman, as usual, should be taken out and shot. It is also very French, particularly in its attitude to unsavoury thoughts about 12 year old girls.

Got home at 7.30 on Sat morning. Went to Richmond in the afternoon - sausage and sauerkraut lunch at Stein's by the river, cricket with the kids in Petersham Meadow. Richmond is great - it's like going back in time to an 18th century town just outside London, slow green river, lush green banks, Marble Hill House, glowing like a great smug white beacon of civilisation on the opposite bank from Ham House.

Went home and slept for fifteen hours. Hopefully that has de-jetlagged me.

Shoe shopping for the girls on Northcote Road today. Larry now has black Mary Janes for school and also cool black plimsolls. Curly has ox-blood red Mary Janes and olive-green T-bar plimsolls - or plimples, as she insists on calling them. Curly is very much a red shoe kind of girl.

Lunch at Tony's Cafe - the only place on Northcote Road where you can feed a family of five for less than GBP15. Had lunch before buying aforesaid shoes - it is a mistake to shop when you are hungry. We would have been seriously in danger of buying a couple of steaks and tying them to Larry's feet with stringbeans. Lunch was all variations on egg, chips, beans, bacon, sausage, black pudding. Conversation revolves around which sitcoms we secretly enjoy watching. LSS admits to Scrubs. I admit to Two and a Half Men. I don't know which is more shameful really. I've never made it through more than 5 minutes of The Office, which everybody says is a cutting edge very funny sitcom. And yet I have knowingly watched many episodes of Two and a Half Men, which stars Charlie Sheen, for god's sake. On the other hand, Scrubs is embarrassing because it thinks it's so original and cutting edge, when it is about as cutting edge as the cutlery I bought at Woolworth's in 1987 to furnish my first flat.

LSS asks what I would serve up if I were throwing a dinner party: answer - smoked salmon and homemade brown bread; steak and kidney pie, buttery new potatoes and green beans; treacle tart and custard. It's not fancy, but I guarantee that any guest who isn't a vegetarian will enjoy it - certainly if they went to public school.

20 April, 2008

The Theatre of War

Back from Henry VI. I'm enjoying this history cycle more and more. It's got everything: laughs, tears, pathos, pride, passion, patriotism... and best of all, it's all about war, so it's got lots and lots of lovely men, storming around in those gorgeous Elizabethan leather jerkins, with big coats and thigh-hugging breeches, wielding their big swords and darling little poignards. What's not to like?

17 April, 2008

High Finance

The Economist is obsessed with growth. Oooh no, it laments, the rate of growth is forecast to slow this year.

Why do we have to grow? Why can't we just stay the same? We live in a finite world. We can't keep growing for ever. Eventually we're going to run out of stuff to grow with. It's like the whole world is a gigantic pyramid scheme and one day we're going to run out of suckers and the whole thing is going to collapse.

Sound economic analysis, I think you'll agree, and at just the level that SMW has come to expect, ever since I asked her what the difference was between fiscal and monetary.

Two colleagues were having a high-level strategic discussion at work today:

- What shall we do with this bit of paper?
- We'd better file it.
- Shall we start a new lever arch file?
- Should we? Yes, I think we should.
- Yeah, let's go for it!
- OK, but don't tell the stationery officer.

And the sad thing is, it isn't even a new lever arch file. It's an old one that's been recycled since its previous contents were sent to archiving.

It is this old-fashioned approach to cost control which explains why WE are not axing 1000 jobs in the City, unlike some Swiss banks I could mention.

Had to go to Piccadilly today to pick up my Brazilian visa. It was such a gorgeous afternoon and there was no queue at the consulate (unlike when I went to put in my application, when the office was a heaving Third World hell, with disparate queues snaking everywhere and me in the middle vainly trying to impose some semblance of order: "No! THIS is the visa queue. THAT is the passports queue. THAT is the military service queue [,you Portuguese-babbling standing-too-close-to-me clown]!") so I got my business done early and treated myself to a latte and a bluberry muffin at the Caffe Nero in the courtyard of St James Piccadilly. Lovely.

Watching Life in Cold Blood on the telly last night. Some hapless frog spawn was being picked off a leaf, tadpole by tadpole, by a greedy wasp. Murmurs of sympathy from the assembled girls. Mo watches in silence, then remarks pensively: "Yes, it's a bug eat frog world out there."

11 April, 2008

Curly's Prison Blues

Curly comes into the kitchen humming a little ditty:

I'm back in my prison cell,
With my mummy I know so well...


Back from SMW's mountain fastness which was absolutely stunning. Peter Jackson was obviously only doing his little bit for his native land's tourism industry, because he didn't need to go all the way to NZ to film Lord of the Rings, he could just have gone to the Slovenian Alps. They have the most beautiful little river with a white limestone bottom and water so clear that you can see the huge trout flickering about in it. Lots of walking and I was tricked into climbing halfway up their mountain to see some WW1 fortifications. The trek was virtually vertical and the only thing that kept me going was the thought that Curly had done the same walk the day before. Although, as Larry kindly pointed out, it was not as tiring for her because she did not expend all her energy in complaining all the way up the mountain and all the way back down again. But you've got to complain. Where is the fun without the complaining? Had plentiful hearty mountain fare, of the sauerkraut soup, potatoes and cheese (which consists of halved potatoes in their skins, hunched around a scoop of cream cheese on a lettuce leaf) and black pudding sausage variety, all for about half of what you would pay in London. Even the airport is adorable, so quiet and green and surrounded by hills.

On the other hand, as I was thinking on the way back from Stansted last night, at least when I look over the land at the twinkling lights of the distant towns I can have some inkling of what the people in the houses are thinking or talking about or eating or watching on telly or doing, instead of their being engaged in the unutterably strange and alien occupations of the mystifying Slovenians with their vowel deprived spit-in-your-eye language. It's always nice to come home after a holiday.

We went to Slovenia with no Slovenian at all. I now know how to say beer, thank you, and you're welcome.

I was all stressed out coming through immigration because I'd forgotten to bring my old passport with me which has my UK visa in it, but as luck would have it, we had a Slovenian choir on our plane on the way to an eistedfodd in Wales who burst into a chorus of Queen's Fat-Bottomed Girls while waiting in the immigration queue. The immigration officer and I communed, linked by our decent horror of folk who make an exhibition of themselves in public places, and he let me through without a waver.

Must remember to make note here of the beautiful girl LSS and I saw on the tube the other day. She looked like a sort of angelic infant class teacher, with blonde shoulder length hair and sort of golden skin with a little rosy flush beneath it, and with the sweetest features imaginable. She was sitting with two pie-faced lunkheads who spent the whole journey talking to each other about their morning routines ("well, I get up at seven and then I take the tube at eight and I get to the office at nine") while she sat beside them smiling seraphically, before standing up looking very neat and straight-backed, bestowing a kiss on each of their undeserving visages and getting off at Clapham Common (hopefully to go and find someone more deserving of her).

Reading Democracy in America.

02 April, 2008

History Cycle

Went to see Richard II at the Round House last night, as our marathon History Cycle viewing begins. Do you know, I don't think I've ever been to Chalk Farm before. Seemed very nice, very middle-class. I like RSC audiences, they're scruffier than the ROH crowd. The production itself was crammed with the most luscious Elizabethan costumes - I wish people still dressed like that nowadays, the men looked so lovely. Unfortunately Richard himself was played as a screaming queen - think Richard Dreyfuss' Richard III in The Goodbye Girl. I think this was a mistake - the man can be ineffectual, but he still has to have an air of nobility about him, otherwise where's the tragedy. All that lovely poetry is wasted. You shouldn't be thinking that if it wasn't Bolingbroke, it was bound to be some other fellow because the rightful king is such a whiny petulant loser, or be positively pleased when Bolingbroke deposes him.

Had nothing to eat beforehand and survived by eating a pack of giant crisps in the bar before the show and most of some extremely sickly coconut ice during, that I found in the bottom of my bag.

Kids were babysat by a girl called Lenka: "I come from a very small village of a 100 souls in Slovakia." Tried to engage her in conversation about our imminent trip to Slovenia, but apparently Slovakia and Slovenia are not the same country, even though right-thinking folk might consider that they might as well combine and save us all the confusion.