Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Restaurant: Teach uí Bhriain

We decided to go to Teach uí Bhriain tonight, for a change. I wondered what kind of service we'd get on New Year's Eve - well, I found out..

We arrived early enough to find easy parking. Unfortunately, the waiting staff of two were asleep on their feet. We never had a menu brought to us, and picked up a menu from a side table - which turned out to be the lunch menu. Well, close enough. They do good garlic mushrooms here as a starter, so we ordered those, followed by southern fried chicken strips for me and salmon for my mother, as usual.

We were brought a basket of bread. I don't think much to their brown bread, but did have a couple of pieces of white. Buttering it was a bit trying, mind, given that we hadn't been brought any side plates. She did finally realise this, when she plonked down my starter on top of my knife and fork, displacing both them and the empty butter wrapper. "Oh, do you want an extra plate?" "Yes, please." And she brought a side plate, from just around the corner.

Now, we were to share the starter, but my mother still didn't have a plate, and asked for one, next time the server was passing. After several minutes, she brought a full-size plate - my mother explained that she'd wanted a small plate. It was so long in coming that I took myself around the corner to where the cutlery and side plates are stored, beside the bar, and got her a side plate. After several more minutes, the other server returned with the same full-size plate, saying that there were no more small plates left in the kitchen. O good grief. As I explained to her, it's all right - I got one from just around the corner.

Fortunately, the owner arrived not long after, and the speed and quality of service mysteriously improved. The fire was also lit - maybe he hogs all the firelighters, I dunno. The meal was ok, although the chicken strips, while well cooked and plentiful, and coated in breadcrumbs, were not southern fried, as promised. Neither do I like their mash - after a mouthful to confirm it was tasteless, I left it.

Naturally, we weren't given a dessert menu, but after we got one from the side table, they were quick to take our order, and quick to deliver it. And both were good. I've had better service here before - avoid on occasions like New Year's Eve, I think.

And so we edge ever closer to my return to London on Sunday, and my trip to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse on Monday to see Winter's Tales, a candlelit reading of the short stories of Daphne du Maurier, including The Birds, on which the Hitchcock film was based. Can't wait!

Monday, 29 December 2014

Restaurants: The Spaniard & The Abbey Tavern

Each Christmas, I make a pilgrimage to my friend's house in Garretstown. I say "pilgrimage" simply because it's such a long drive - it is great to see her. Anyway, the last few times I've been, we've gotten into the habit of eating out, the night I arrive. She has the good fortune to be within 15 minutes' drive of Kinsale, arguably the culinary capital of Ireland. And each time we go, we try somewhere new - so it was that we ended up, this time, in an establishment called "The Spaniard".

She navigated - Kinsale is a place that needs careful navigation. The turnoff for The Spaniard turns out to be the slip road between the sea and the road to Cork, and is signposted for The Spaniard. I took this road once before, by mistake, when I was looking for the aforementioned Cork Road. I spent a very long time weaving back and forth before I wearily retraced much of my journey and found the right road at last. At least tonight I was on the right track from the start!

The road snakes around the harbour, and zigzags up the hill, with The Spaniard nestled into one of the bends. There's no dedicated parking, but you should be able to get parking on the road. The building is a long one, and houses both a bar and a restaurant. As we made our way in, we noted the outdoor seating, and the toilets, with outdoor access. We did wonder whether there's an interior door too, but we still don't know, not having needed to access them ourselves.

They've done well with their Christmas decorations. The doors were adorned with Christmassy wreaths, and the inside was delightfully cosy:

We were almost the only customers, and as usual found ourselves the last to leave. The menu is brief, and includes both the wine list, and, on the back page, a brief history of the Battle of Kinsale in 1601/2, when Spanish forces landed there to fight with the Irish chieftains against the English. Catholic Spain was the enemy of Protestant England at the time, and the Irish saw them as a potential ally in their fight for freedom from English rule. Didn't work though, and the English hung around for another few hundred years thereafter. But that's the significance of the name of this establishment. 

I had brie to start, followed by rib of beef. My friend had chowder, followed by steak. (I guess we'd both had enough of the sight of turkey!) The food was generally very good, although I do have to say that my mashed potato was completely tasteless - instead, I concentrated on the very tasty beef. For dessert, we both had chocolate fudge cake - which was good, but didn't actually taste of fudge. Overall, a good meal, although the enormous portions meant we finished neither mains nor dessert - really, you should have seen the slabs of cake we were served! Make sure you have an appetite, coming here..

I was starving today, after the long drive back, and went with my mother to the Abbey Tavern for a bite to eat. We just beat the evening rush, got a parking space right beside the door, and were very well catered for, with great food and friendly service. Oh, and I was delighted to be able to inform them that their delicious mash was much better than what I'd had in Kinsale the day before! (So was the chocolate fudge cake..)

Next scheduled outing - Monday 5th January. Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which I'm very excited about - it's a place I've been outside of, but never yet inside. Frankly, that'd be enough to get me in the door - but it's also the last night of Winter's Tales, a series of candlelit readings of the short stories of famous authors, by famous actors. That night, I haven't heard of the actor, who gained fame in the theatre rather than onscreen - but the featured author is Daphne du Maurier, and The Birds is to be read, which is the story on which the Hitchcock film was apparently based. Yes, that'll do..

Friday, 26 December 2014

Christmas was 'ere!

Many people get stressed around Christmas. I don't, generally. Not so much anyway.

This year, however, was chaotic, you might say. Aside from anything else that might be causing this, let me concentrate on The Dinner. We hate to cook. We always book our Christmas dinner way back in September, in a local hotel. Problem is, the range of hotels that do a Christmas lunch without accommodation is limited, and changes each year. We generally end up with a choice of three. Thus it was that we chose to go to the Oakwood Arms this year - they were by far the cheapest of the three, besides being a little closer, in Shannon, than the others, which were in Limerick. With a choice of buffet or sit-down, we chose the sit-down meal, and that was sorted.

Kind of. The first problem was when they rang me last Monday, wanting the balance of payment, which, technically, should have been paid by the 20th. I'd been too busy to keep track. Well, no problem - I told them to take the balance from the same credit card - mine - that I'd used for the deposit. Ok great, and they hung up. Only to ring back a few minutes later, to say the card had been declined. Which was how I found out my card had been maxed, as I discovered when I then checked my online account. Ah, the U2 tickets and associated travel expenses. I knew it would take time to clear, and asked them whether they had a deadline. The guy on the other end hummed and hahed and said, well yes, technically - but.. Very obliging of him.

So I immediately transferred enough from my Irish current account into my (Irish) credit card account to cover the bill. Considering that I didn't have enough in my Irish account to cover the full bill, I also transferred funds from my UK account (when I finally got their extremely slow-loading login page to work). I didn't have the IBAN for my credit card account, so transferred it into my deposit account, for which I did have the number. I knew nothing would be done on Monday though, as we were already past business hours.

On Tuesday, I was pleased to see that my funds had already transferred from London. However, although the payments from my Irish current account were recorded, nothing had yet been credited to my credit card. (Fume.) Nothing on Wednesday either. Since the lunch was the next day, I decided I'd have to pay in cash, and rang to ask whether it'd be ok to pay on the day. They were, again, very obliging, and agreed. (The funds have now, finally, gone into my credit card, BTW. Gee, thanks, Bank of Ireland!)

With that finally sorted, I could concentrate on getting there. I have been to the Oakwood Arms before, but only once, with someone else giving directions. So I consulted Google Maps as usual, found the swiftest way - via the motorway. On the day itself, after a five-minute battle with the zip of something I haven't worn since last Christmas Day (no, not weight gain, it's an awkward zip!), I was ready to go. Nearly. First, I had to walk the dog, then we had to drop some dinner down to my uncle, who lives alone a mile or so from my mother's, and can't really fend for himself.

When we got there, my mother wondered aloud where the battery-operated candle was. See, my uncle likes to light candles at Christmas - prefers the red ones. But we worry about him with naked flames - so I bought a pair of battery-operated candles (red). We kept one and took one down to him on Christmas Eve. Showed him how to work it, had him try it for himself. Emphasised that he should NOT take a match to it.

My mother spotted it first..

Actually, this is what it looked like AFTER I extracted it from the candlestick. So, the object on the left is the base of the candle, containing one of the two batteries that I put in there before we dropped it down to him. The object on the right is the other battery.

Considering that the candle we have has been lit happily and safely every night since we got it, and is still working perfectly, I suspect this is not a technical fault. So, I guess now we know what happens if you set fire to a battery-operated candle. Curiosity satisfied. I'm pleasantly surprised that the batteries didn't explode! We're leaving him with ordinary candles from now on.

Right - off to dinner then! We made it just in time. Parking was a problem - despite the fact that we'd arrived for the last sitting of the day, people didn't seem to be in any hurry to leave. I dropped my mother off at the entrance and set off to find a space - ended up parking right around the back. Then we went in, and made our way to the main reception.

The place was heaving. At main reception, we found the mulled wine we'd been promised - but we don't really like mulled wine. And we were told to head back where we'd come from - to "the other lobby", where a staff member would help us. Off we went again - no mulled wine back here. Not much seating either, but I moved some stuff off an ornamental chair so my mother could sit. Which she needed to, because our table wasn't ready. From now on, we felt like we were on the set of Fawlty Towers.

We found ourselves at the door of a surprisingly small room - well, of course, they did have the buffet too, back where the mulled wine was (I guess). I grabbed a passing waiter, who said she'd have a table for us "in two minutes". She had a frantic look about her. Finally, we spotted a guy in a pink shirt, with an even more frantic look about him - and a seating plan. With lots of scribbles on it. We cornered him, and to his credit, it wasn't very long before he said he said he had a table for us.

Except he didn't, and now my mother had stood up and an elderly gent had taken her seat (and looked like he needed it more). She begged the guy in the pink shirt to please let her sit down somewhere, at least! We didn't care whether the table was ready, as long as it had chairs.. He relented, and led us through a packed dining room to a table that was being cleared. Where an argument ensued between him and the waiter we'd originally spoken to, because that was a table that could seat four, although it was only set for two - and there was another table beside it, for two. Fine! We took the table for two. It still needed clearing, and the tablecloth was very grubby, but what the hey.

They never did replace the tablecloth. But that was the least of our worries. The theme music from Fawlty Towers played loudly in my head as the fun continued. The tables were so close together that we were literally side-by-side with other diners facing the other way. Someone came to take our order, but we didn't have menus. Or cutlery. She brought menus, and sent someone with cutlery. A nice woman we got talking to, and who was staying there, had mentioned that they had brought in new staff for the day, who didn't know what they were doing. This occurred to me as the cutlery guy pondered which of the knives and forks on his tray to give us.

We chose what to have, and the lady with the order pad came back. She did seem to have some head for what she was doing, which was reassuring. She sent the wine waiter separately to take our drinks order - we ordered a half-bottle. And to be fair, our food arrived promptly. Technically a six-course meal, but we didn't have the mince pies that always constitute the final course. I started with salmon, my mother with a chicken-and-mushroom vol-au-vent. Both acceptable. Next, we both had lemon sorbets (she had to make a special run to the kitchen to get us teaspoons to eat them). These were the highlight of the meal - lovely. For main, we sort of swapped from our starters - my mother had salmon, I had chicken. She found her salmon tasteless, without the sauce that they tend to drench it in - she always has it without sauce. My chicken was tasty, but frankly.. it was packed into a kind of sausage, studded with mushrooms, and wrapped in ham. It was an extremely heavy meal, and I couldn't finish it. We both found the mashed potato that accompanied the meal lumpy. For dessert, I had profiteroles, which were nice - my mother had trifle, which, again, was lumpy.

We fled the dining room. By the end, the final tables had been filled, the whole atmosphere was manic, and it was a relief to get out into the relative peace of the lobby, which had emptied out somewhat by now. We agreed that they'd taken on too much - my mother found out that the manager was on holiday, and whoever was responsible for taking bookings had simply booked too many people in, and not considered that they wouldn't want to eat and run, on Christmas Day of all days. So the bookings were overlapping, and the poor waiting staff were tearing their hair out. To their credit, they were moving like greased lightning, and apart from the cramped conditions and the delay in getting seated, the service was quite professional.

I had to go back to the main lobby to pay, and she took forever to find me change - but, to her credit, didn't bother to charge me for the wine, which should have been extra. Still, I think we'll avoid this place for Christmas in future, if at all possible.

Taking the motorway back meant good signposting, and it wasn't hard to find the route. Not being in any hurry, before we went home we took a detour and stopped outside a house - "The Willows", just outside Broadford - that's known for its extravagant Christmas lights, decorating the long garden at the front:

And my wish for the rest of Christmas? As much peace and quiet as possible!

Thinking ahead to when I'm back in London, I'm delighted with what I came across for Monday, 5th January - it's the very last night of Winter's Tales, a series of readings, by famous actors, of short stories by famous authors. Candlelit, with live musical accompaniment. That night is a reading by Harriet Walter, of short stories by Daphne du Maurier. But what I'm especially excited about is it's in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse - which is on the same site as the Globe, but although I've been to the Globe many times, I've never yet been inside the Playhouse. Good start to the New Year!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

'Twas the Week Before Christmas..

..and much preparation and celebration was underway.

So, the long-awaited company Christmas party rolled around again last Thursday - same venue as last year, but thankfully a different bus company (see the post from about a year ago). The theme this year was 1989, since that was the year the company was founded, which makes this its 25th anniversary and worth celebrating. As usual, this theme was interpreted in various ways - some photos here.

Undisputed winners of the team award were the A-Team of our office, with Milan as Hannibal: Martin as Mad Dog Murdock - no comment ;-): Aaron as Face: and a highly committed Jack as BA, complete with Mohican, specially for the occasion. Aside from the attention to detail of the costumes, complete with pop-machine guns, what really did it for them was the inclusion of the A-Team van (visible in a couple of the photos as they extract themselves from it). I did wonder what was keeping them, as the rest of us had come in from the bus long before. Eventually, all was revealed, as they made a grand entrance, lights blazing, horn tooting.

Now, the interesting thing at these shindigs is always that they aren't officially fancy dress - we just interpret it that way. So as they made their careful way in, attempting to not run anyone over, the people moving aside for them were rather stunned-looking people in evening dress. As the night wore on, they switched from unease to curiosity, and some brave souls ventured over to ask us what the **** we were doing. Ah, they were jealous really..

As for the other costumes - we had several Simpsons characters, Indiana Jones, Batman and the Joker, several videogame characters, and some representation of the French Revolution (1989 being the 200th anniversary). For myself, my most striking accessory was a flashing fedora, which was the devil to (a) get and (b) get working. What with customs trouble (importing from the States), a dreadful experience with the courier company (ParcelForce, whom I'll never use again), and a faulty battery pack, I began to believe the thing was cursed. But it got plenty of compliments, so never mind.

So, we did get there safely this year, as I mentioned - although the full-size coach was sadly underfilled, with only 15 coming from the London office. Same venue as before - the Conservatory at Painshill. So we knew our way in, and this year they had a special parking place for coaches, it seemed, just at the end of the driveway leading into the venue. The venue itself - a marquee - was decked out as a ski lodge this year. So that meant ski-lodge type decorations in the reception area, and I think they had the same decor as last year for the dining area - last year was the "Snow Ball", so they could keep it quite similar.

The bar was completely free this time, which was nice - but although there was a champagne reception, there seemed to be less of it later in the evening than there was last year. Thankfully, I preferred the wine this year, so that wasn't such a hardship for me. Why I preferred the wine this year I'm not sure, since I'm sure it was the same brand. Hey-ho, maybe last year I just got a bad bottle. The dinner menu, BTW, was exactly the same as last year, and fine for me - although the person beside me, who had to have the gluten-free option, wasn't so impressed. Afterwards, there was dancing - some nifty movers from our company again - and they had hot chocolate this year, which made a welcome change from alcohol for a while. Other entertainments included snow cones, a photo booth, and casino-style gambling - although I didn't fancy that, after having someone pilfer my chips last year. Hmph.

A good night was had by all, and by the time we left, the strong wind that had been billowing the roof all night had died down. And the bus dropped me within walking distance of home - fortunately, it was a mild night.

So, I groggily flew back to Ireland on Friday, to be greeted by a huge crowd at arrivals, who weren't waiting for me, but rather for all those people on the flight, most with English accents, who were coming for Christmas with their Irish relatives. Home-made banners abounded, and there was a real queue of traffic trying to get out of the car park.

Yesterday, thinking of dinner, we heard they'd been asking after us in Teach uí Bhriain, where we hadn't been for a while - so we decided to try there again. Although the owners, who'd been asking for us, weren't there, we were ably served and found our surroundings much unchanged. The menu hasn't changed either, but the food definitely has, and is now of much better quality. Still, I did like the old version of mushroom sauce, and found the present recipe quite bland. Otherwise, we were well fed.

Tonight though, we reverted to the Abbey Tavern, which we found buzzing and crammed - everyone was out, the last weekend before Christmas, I guess! There was more of an atmosphere here, with the restaurant full of families and the bar full of people watching some match or other, which provoked great excitement on occasion. We managed to get a table straight away, and promptly had our order taken. And then one of the servers murmered to us that it was on the house! As a Christmas present, and with us being regulars. An excellent meal it was, and we had a rather good cheesecake for dessert. The boss's little girl was dashing about trying to help, and had the goodness to ask us whether our meal was ok. Lovely to see them doing so well there, they deserve it.

Next planned meal out is Christmas lunch in the Oakwood Arms. Not sure whether we'll be out much in the meantime - apart from shopping!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

London Architecture Walks: London at Christmas

London Architecture Walks run London at Christmas walks, which are apparently very popular. I tried to get on one last Saturday, but it was sold out - you have to email them to find out. I did manage to book on one for tonight, however, leaving from the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square. Even located a bear there, that I could capture! And the rain promised to hold off.

And.. then I got a text from them this afternoon (they do like you to leave them a mobile number) saying that the walk is cancelled due to reasons beyond their control. Nuts. Ah well.. I need a night in anyway to get organised. We have the company Christmas party tomorrow night in the Conservatory in Painshill, and I need to fix my outfit. And the day after, I'm flying back to Ireland for Christmas. Christmas dinner in the Oakwood Arms.

See? I'm slightly organised!

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Concert: An English Christmas

The combination of Polyphony and Temple Church was irresistible to me. I'm hugely into history, and love Polyphony's work - and I'd never been to Temple Church. Seeing that the cheap seats were going fast, I booked.

I had great fun today trying to figure out exactly how to get there, though. Tube to Temple Station - well, that was pretty obvious. But while I've been around the area before, the inner workings of Temple were a complete mystery to me. Taking its name from the Knights Templar, to whom the land was given, it later became a centre for legal business, and today houses barristers' chambers, solicitors' offices, and some legal institutions. And it's hidden away in inner courtyards and streets, just off the main thoroughfares.

Temple Church has a handy map on its website. With our printer broken, however, I was reduced to a scribbled version on a piece of paper! Although it wasn't a bad representation, I was happy to scrap it when the printer came back to life. I got some idea of the area from that, and Google Maps Streetview said to continue along the Strand and onto Fleet Street, past the Royal Courts of Justice and the Temple Bar marker that denotes the boundary of the City, until I came to a Tudor-type building on my right with a large, old-fashioned door. My way in was through there. Mind you, I was sceptical - it looked like just the kind of door that would be closed by evening. Still, I had the map if my way were barred.

I exited Temple Station, intending to head straight up to the Strand, but was confronted by signs telling me that the footpath was closed. I'd forgotten that - it's been like that for ages! Well, there was another sign directing pedestrians to the right for Fleet Street - so off I went. Into an area that didn't look very much like a public right of way! But lo, it was, and this was the first of the evening's excursions into the inner sanctum of Temple. Winding passageways between Georgian buildings finally led me to a flight of steps that climbed onto the Strand.

When I came to the large, old-style door, of course it was closed. But a passageway to the left was open, and I followed someone through, and onto a cobbled laneway. I was early enough that I wasn't in too much of a hurry - which was just as well, because I was utterly lost. Shortly though, a sign pointed left through an archway, to Temple Church, and I passed through to a courtyard, and what was obviously the church. I followed the crowd and collected my ticket; each prebooked ticket was enclosed in an envelope with the buyer's name, and once I ripped it open and extracted the ticket, I could see it was green. Which was significant, as the seating was colour-coded - just sit in an area corresponding to your colour. So I did. I must say, Protestant churches have more comfortable pews - these even had armrests, dividing them into individual seats! each with its own cushion. Not to mention the shelving - and coathooks!

I'd checked, earlier in the day, and noted that all the cheap seats were now gone. This made the empty seats in those pews all the more curious. But anyhow. A pillar rather obscured my view of the choir, but I was here to listen to them anyway. I did have a good view of the organ. But what interested me was the church itself - it's a 12th Century Templar church, and I was gagging to get a look at it. That had to wait for the interval, mind, when I perused the programme that I'd wisely bought, and on foot of what it said, raced up to the "round" to snap some photos.

The evening was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, and we were told in advance that each half would be treated as a single performance for that reason, and we weren't to clap until the end. As for the concert, I could take or leave most of the material itself. It did sound lovely in this setting though, (although I didn't much care for the organ solos) and I found the second half, with more recent pieces, more to my liking - in particular, the pieces by Kenneth Leighton. In the whole evening's programme, there was only one piece I knew from before - Lully Lulla, arrangement by Leighton. Mind you, I knew it from the Mediaeval Baebes, and I preferred their version..

Anyhow, it was a lovely evening. Coming out, I remembered the church website saying that, after 8.30PM, pedestrian access was on the other side, so I went that way, peeking into several office windows as I passed. They don't really seem to be into curtains or blinds here.. It was noticeably colder again, and when I got home it had started to rain quite heavily. It still is, several hours later.

That doesn't augur well for tomorrow's Christmas lights walk. Well, it says it goes ahead in all weathers, so I'll just have to wrap up well. Oh, and I must charge my camera, which is having a very busy week! It'll be in operation again on Thursday, when we have our company Christmas party, in the Conservatory in Painshill. Friday is back to Ireland for Christmas, with Christmas dinner booked for the Oakwood Arms..

Monday, 15 December 2014

Concert: Erasure

Honestly, I don't know that much of Erasure's material. But who was listening to music in the 80s and doesn't remember them? I saw them live once before, in the Marquee in Cork, and thought they were fantastic. So I was delighted to see they were playing London, and happy to book.

I hadn't been to the Forum before, so research was required once again on how to get there. Overground, Google Maps said. Fair enough - get off at Gospel Oak and walk for about 10 minutes. This walk looked easy enough, and I made a note of landmarks on Streetview. Only thing with the Overground is, if you're going to the other side of the city, you need to watch your trains back - they finish a lot earlier than the Tube. The Overground did seem to be faster though - and was cheaper. The venue website said there was an 11pm curfew. Now, the same was true of Kasabian when I saw them, and they finished a good bit before 11. The Overground timetable indicated that I needed to be catching a train at 11.10 to make the last connecting train home - I figured that was doable, but looked up my best route by Tube as a Plan B. (TFL has a dinky new timetable feature, BTW - check it out!)

The Overground is horrendously crowded at rush hour - so I checked the venue website and saw that Erasure weren't due on until 8.30. I had never heard of the support, so wasn't pushed about seeing them, and had a leisurely dinner at home before catching the Overground at 7.23. (I also had a reserved seat at the concert, so didn't need to queue for a good place.) It was still busy, and I didn't get a seat until halfway through the journey, but it was a lot more comfortable than it would have been earlier.

The train deposited me at Gospel Oak just after 8, as promised, and the walk took just over 10 minutes, as promised. Left from the station, right at the crossroads, and it's on your right. At that time, the queue to get in was moving pretty quickly, and after a cursory bag search, I was in.

Unusually, I didn't notice any merchandising. I didn't fancy anything to drink from the bar, and just made for my seat. Upstairs, fourth row from the front - at the side, as I expected from the reserved seats.

Some people were in the wrong place when I arrived, but after some confusion we were all in our correct seats. The place is a bit smaller than the Brixton Academy. Seating is on cushioned benches - no back though, and my back was killing me! And as the hall filled, those benches became pretty snug. It didn't help that the guy to my right must have been well over 6 foot - I didn't come up to his shoulder! With the best of intentions, he could've given me a nasty blow to the jaw with his elbow as the night progressed - fortunately, he kept himself pretty sedate. The place was pretty much sold out - the only seats I could see were a few two rows in front of us, which were finally occupied by a group that didn't make it in until 9.30!

Well, it wasn't long before the main attraction. This show was almost completely filled with lighting effects that confused my phone camera, but I did manage a few shots:

It's not very obvious, but in the first shot, singer Andy Bell is wearing a spangly, oversized top hat and purple leggings - both of which are later discarded, revealing spangly underpants. No shrinking violet, this lad! Vince Clarke, on the other hand, positively hides himself behind his synthesiser, wearing a suit and a flat cap and only emerging once to take a bow, led by Andy. The rest of the act consists of a couple of dark-skinned backing singers, sporting enormous afros (spoiler: they're wigs!), black vests and spangly trousers.

The light show is amazing. The sound is pulsating. I wasn't familiar with any of the material from the first part of the show - but then I wouldn't be. Mind you, the fact that hardly anyone around me was on their feet indicated that they mightn't know it either, and this was probably new stuff. Later on, of course, they hit the classics, and I defy anyone not to sing along to Always, A Little Respect, Love to Hate You, or the finale, Sometimes. Indeed, the balcony was bouncing away merrily, even more than for Kasabian. I don't think, however, that many people can have been expecting the rendition of Gaudete, by Andy and the backing singers.

Delicious 80s kitsch. And kudos to the audience member who exited just in front of me, wearing gold-painted trainers with wings attached.. Two sold-out nights of Erasure make a good start to Christmas, methinks! Mind you, the show was short enough - we were out just after 10, and I made my train back with no difficulty.

So - time for one drink tomorrow evening, and it's off to hear Polyphony perform 20th century English carols in Temple Church, as part of the Temple Winter Festival. This'll be another new venue for me. And more that's new, hopefully, on Wednesday, when I go on a London Architecture Walk to see the Christmas lights. Thursday is the company Christmas party at Painshill Conservatory - the bag I ordered for it arrived today, but I'm having trouble with the lights on the hat. Wouldn't be Christmas without trouble with lights! Flying to Ireland for Christmas on Friday. And then not very much until Christmas dinner in the Oakwood Arms..

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Book Tour: So, Anyway... (John Cleese)

I love John Cleese's work. So the idea of an evening listening to him really appealed, and when I saw how heavily it was booking, I booked a ticket myself. The stalls were sold out, so I ended up in the gallery.

After the trek I had last night, it was lovely to be going somewhere so close to home. When the Tube got to Earl's Court, we had our usual wait. A train pulled up at the adjacent platform, headed the same way. Now, sometimes when that happens, the driver will point out that that train is due to leave first, for anyone who'd like to take it. No announcement was made this time, but I happened to be sat where I could see the indicator board: and the minute I saw the indicator switch to say that the other train was leaving first, I legged it across the platform. V satisfying. And so to Sloane Square, and its escalator to the exit - unusual in a station this size. Upon exiting, turn right, and Cadogan Hall is the floodlit building straight ahead, up a side street. I see the square's gone all Christmassy - it's a few weeks since I've been here:

I knew the event was mostly sold out, so wasn't surprised to encounter a crowd when I went in. I saw a stand with So, Anyway... (the autobiography John Cleese is touring to promote). However, I decided to listen to him speak before I made up my mind to get it.

This building has a lot of steps, although there's a lift if you're not up to them. When I eventually got up to the gallery, I wasn't the only one to be confused by the seat numbering system; I was in Block K, Row E - but kept looking for the row indicators on the side of the rows, when actually they were block indicators. Anyhoo, I made it eventually. Gallery seating is on cushioned benches, but quite comfortable, with plenty of room. And I had a decent view of the stage, slightly obscured by the railing:

If I'd had a book, there was a convenient book rack on the back of every row of seats. I guess the seating hearkens back to the building's previous incarnation as a church.

I hadn't realised, but the interviewer for the evening was David Walliams! Two comedians for the price of one. They spent the first half going over anecdotes from the book, and anything else that might crop up - and the second half was open to questions from the floor. I found that second, unscripted, half more entertaining, as the hall was full of questions - some quite off the wall. Pity they hadn't thought to have a roving mic upstairs as they had downstairs, but it goes to show how good the acoustics are that everyone could be heard. And John Cleese entertained us through it all, with some really funny stories.

When I eventually made my slow way downstairs afterwards in the crowds, I'd decided to get the book - but it was probably cheaper online. I decided to check how much they were selling it for here. Checked the sign: free with your ticket! Ooh, now that's good value. Well, but I hadn't got an actual ticket, had I? O yes, I got one from the box office. Where did I put it, though..? Ah. I presented her with the ticket, she scribbled on it and handed me a book. Lovely! "Don't forget your ticket!" she cried as I made for the exit. Eh - ok..

It was raining when I got out, but at least it's not as cold. Tomorrow night should be lively - I'm going to Erasure, in the Forum. Things quiet down for the next two nights, with a concert by Polyphony in Temple Church on Tuesday, as part of the Temple Winter Festival (after stopping in for a drink at a leaving do). On Wednesday, I'm heading off to see the lights properly, on an organised walk. And on Thursday, we have the company Christmas party, at the Conservatory at Painshill. Following which, I'll be dragging myself and an indeterminate amount of luggage to the airport on Friday, to fly back to Ireland for Christmas. Christmas dinner this year in the Oakwood Arms..

Saturday, 13 December 2014

A Christmas Tail: Weirdos Alternative Panto

'Tis the season of merriment, and of panto, and what the hey - it makes a change. So I thought about going to A Christmas Tail: Weirdos Alternative Panto last Tuesday. To cut a long story short - then I didn't. Next, I thought about going to it this evening, and checked the website last night to see how it was booking. Behold, I got the very last ticket to the very last show..!

Well, at least it wasn't on until evening, which gave me time to print the ticket & barcode, and find out where it was. O yes, it was fun getting directions. Tube to Monument - fair enough. Then you have to walk through the City. I actually love that - it's the oldest part of London, and the back streets are narrow and winding. The architecture can be spectacular, and there's a sense of power and authority about the place. And it'd be easy enough to make your way, if you were familiar with it!

Unfortunately, I don't get out that way very often, so I was dependant on Google Maps. I saved a snapshot of their walking directions to the address..

O Lordy. Mind you, it was encouraging that all of this was only supposed to take seven minutes, so having studied directions and map carefully, off I went - bravely. My first snag was that there was a match in Stamford Bridge this evening, so the Tube was crammed with fans returning home. Never mind - I managed to squeeze on, the pressure eased at the next stop - Earls Court - with many people taking the Piccadilly Line, and I got a seat two stops after that. Which is good, because the Tube trip took about 35-40 minutes (so much for Google Maps' estimate that the whole trip (including walk) would take me 36!).
Off I hopped at Monument, and headed for the exits. There are several, but so much for taking Exit 5 - they're not numbered! I do think they might be thinking of Bank Station, which has numbered exits and is connected to Monument by subterranean passageway. Never mind - I had carefully studied where exactly I had to go, and figured out that, far from just exiting the station and finding Nicholas Lane, I had to go a ways up King William Street. Well now, it also transpires that that's the surface route to Bank Station - so the best thing to do is follow the signs for "Bank" as you leave Monument Station.
So I did, and in short order came upon Nicholas Lane, leading away to my right. And off I went. As for all those rights and lefts - well, it transpires, as I saw from the actual map on Google Maps, that all those streets basically lead the same way - they just don't quite match up to become a single street, unfortunately. But hey, that's what makes it interesting! The only real zigzag you do is on Threadneedle Street, where there is no straight-ahead option, so you head left, then sharp right around the corner onto Old Broad Street. Throgmorton Street is the next left. In the end, I was very chuffed with how easily I found it!
Next problem was finding the venue, which was listed as 27c Throgmorton Street. I found No 27, which has several floors, each with its own bell. In the dark, I couldn't seem to see any name like what I'd come looking for. Now, I had - bravely or foolishly - not eaten yet, so I meandered off down the road towards a lighted building. Ehh - this had the poster on it for what I was to see. I couldn't see the building number, but then I noticed that the building next door had the address "27d". Strange numbering system..
Anyhoo, doors weren't to open until 7.45, and it was fully two hours before that now! On my way there, I had passed few eateries, and such as I had seen were closed - the City is pretty dead at weekends. So I meandered on. I was pretty unhopeful of getting somewhere to eat, but I did come across some interesting sights..
 Mansion House

Royal Exchange
And was I ever delighted to come across yet another bear!
I see they also have a bus trail..
Well, this was all well and good, but I was beginning to feel faint from hunger. Also, it was bitterly cold, and I still had a long wait. Vainly, I started up Moorgate, my hopes raised by a lit Starbucks sign. Anywhere that would serve me hot food, or a hot drink, and let me in from the cold was fine by me now. Of course, it was closed. I continued in that direction though, and shortly came across a Mexican restaurant on the other side of the road. Which was open!!
Unfortunately, I don't much like Mexican. Anyway, beggars not being choosers and such, I was perusing the menu when the manager spotted me and invited me in. I hesitated a second, then figured this was likely the only eatery open for who knew how far in any direction. Oh, except one place I'd passed on my travels, which looked the sort of place I wouldn't care to eat in. Even if they let me in.
She led me to a table in the bar - downstairs, away from the cold door. Sensible. I was the only customer, although a number had left just as I arrived. The barman was to serve me. I chose beef mini quesadillas, and a steak - which seemed the most innocuous option. He asked me whether I wanted the quesadillas spicy, and when I said no, he made sure that the dipping sauce I got with my nachos was similarly bland. Actually, it was more watery than anything else (and I hate nachos!). The quesadillas were fine, the steak was pretty poor - but at least the fries I got with it were very good. And I was in from the cold! Still though, nothing here to change my opinion of Mexican.
I was debating whether to have a dessert - honestly, I didn't feel like it, but would have, to pass the time. So I didn't appreciate it when, seeing that I wanted his attention, he automatically brought the bill. Well, that was my mind made up then, and off I went. It was only 7.35 when I got back to the venue, but I was delighted to see they were already letting people in.
The ground floor was bedlam. The building, as I'd read, used to be a posh restaurant, but went bust and was abandoned. Well, right now the ground floor is a bar, and an 80s party was in full swing. Y'know, our company Christmas party next Thursday has the same theme, and Helen was talking about getting an inflatable mobile phone - a gigantic, brick-type one. At this party, they had the downmarket version: cardboard. Meantime, I was running the gauntlet of a pair of comedians - literally - on the front desk, who were trying out various routines on me as we shouted to hear each other above the din. They asked whether I was there for the "meeting". They found my name on the list, and I got yet another mark on my hand - scribbled in marker this time, and damned if I can read it..
So I was in. I'd have had no idea where to go next if not for a pair in front of me, headed in the same direction. So I followed them, through the door to the right and down the spiral stairs. Quite grand in its heyday, I imagine - gold mosaic on the walls and an old, ornate lift down the middle. Toilets and "backstage" were located on the first level down. "Backstage" was no entry, so I was unsure what to do next, and dithered until some other people happened along - the auditorium, such as it is, is on the basement level, next floor down again. The very bottom.
The ceiling plaster is peeling and the pipes exposed. Seating was on folding chairs, and there was a makeshift bar at the back, where I got a (plastic) glass of wine before choosing an aisle seat, near the front. I'd worried how cold it might be, but it was warm enough that I took off my coat - mind you, I started to feel the chill near the end. A screen at the side showed 80s Christmas ads - I remembered a couple!
After a delay of just over 10 minutes, the panto proper started. With mermaids, as you do. The plot - for there is one - scapegoats poor old John Lewis for making an ad, which they show on screen, advertising fridge freezers by showing them as attractive to a mermaid, who's trying to replicate the scene she sees in a snow globe. The mermaid king of Atlantis is disturbed by the problem of humans stealing from the sea people, and his feminist daughter goes to the human world to persuade them to stop it. Her shallow sister, Sharon, who speaks throughout in an almost unintelligible posh accent, tags along to prove she's not that shallow. And the goodie is an Australian lobster, who apologises because his accent is more "Kiwi".
There's quite a parade of aquatic creatures, with costumes made from cardboard. The only shop-bought costume, as they pointed out, was the Santa suit. I got a hug from Santa. :-) And the whole thing was as anarchic a load of, well, silliness as you'd expect. Loadsa fun. Karaoke at the interval, and more silliness after. Highlight for me was the "Dorito fish", with a cardboard headpiece to which were attached four packets of Doritos. He was the epitome of ridiculousness, as the court jester at Atlantis. Very Far Side, in fact. I roared laughing at that one. And there was a Return of the Jedi reference. All good fun, and all in aid of Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital. Although, with the ticket price already going to the charity, it always annoys me when they have collectors at the event as well.
It ran over, predictably, and when I got outside I actually found it difficult to breathe, it was so cold. I hurried home. Tomorrow night's event, thankfully, is a lot closer - I'm going to see John Cleese promote his new book in Cadogan Hall. Monday is Erasure, in the Forum. Still no takers for the ShowFilmFirst tickets I won to The Woman in Black: Angel of Death, for the same night. I swear, you can't give things away! Tuesday, I'm back in the City, at Temple Church, for a performance by Polyphony as part of the Temple Winter Festival. Beforehand, I hope to snatch one drink at another colleague's leaving do! On Wednesday, I'm off on a walk to see the Christmas lights - must wrap up well! And on Thursday, it's the aforementioned party, at the Conservatory at Painshill. So, lots to cram in before I fly back to Ireland for Christmas on Friday. Only definite thing over the break is Christmas dinner at the Oakwood Arms..

Friday, 12 December 2014

Chocolate Festival

Helen and I took a half day today and went to the Chocolate Festival, which we've had booked for a while now. First, though, we went to Fulham, because I wanted to pick something up at the post office. We then decided to grab lunch at Nandos, where we were satisfactorily stuffed, and therefore less liable to eat everything we saw at the festival.

The festival, awkwardly, was on at the other end of town - in the Business Design Centre, in Islington. I've never been to this particular place before, so I left it to Helen to organise. We took the Tube to Angel, checked a map, and headed right on the main road. Our venue was to be on the other side of the road, so we crossed - and passed some of the best buskers I've heard in a while. Obviously the place to go for good free music! From the map, we'd seen that the venue is beside a Hilton and a car park, so we kept an eye out for those - and indeed, as soon as we saw a Parking sign, that was the approach to the venue. No problem at all.

On entering, we were directed to the rear of the lobby, where we handed in our tickets and got our hands date-stamped. We then headed upstairs to the exhibition area. It's an attractive building, not that big. Neither is the exhibition - but by the end, we concluded that there is a terrific amount of variety, certainly enough to maintain our interest, but the exhibition is not so large that we were drained and incapable of seeing everything there. We had an organised plan to do a reconnaissance trail around the stands first, then return when we'd decided what we wanted.

Most of the stands obligingly had free samples. :-) We saw several varieties of fudge, we saw marshmallow bars, we saw drinking chocolate. We saw chocolate truffle Christmas trees and chocolate Christmas tree baubles. There was artistic chocolate:


We saw innumerable chocolate bars - some flavours familiar, many much less so! There were unusual teas. There was a stand for Bailey's Chocolat Luxe. There was toffee-flavoured vodka, which I found a bit sickly. There was a stand selling wine to accompany chocolate - and a stand selling knives. (?) The Cats' Protection League showed up again - prolific, these people! The New York Times had a stand advertising subscriptions. There was an exhibition area to the side, where shows seemed to run continually - which we ignored. Just as well - reading the programme just now, I discovered that they charged for them! There were jewellery stands. There was also a Lush spa, as well as a place you could get your nails done - and twice, we were solicited by people on one stand who wanted to straighten our hair!

After all that, and the numerous well meaning souls who were determined to teach us the origins and ethics of chocolate, we were in a bit of a chocolate daze, and decided to take a break and have a cold drink - there was a fridge to the side. They sold Champagne too, but we weren't in the mood. A couple of cold soft drinks and a sit-down restored us mightily, and we forayed out to purchase the best of what we'd seen.

So we came home with honey-flavoured and dark chocolate bars, with drinking chocolate with real chocolate flakes, with chocolate-covered marshmallow bars. We got several varieties of fudge, some truffle Christmas trees, apple and cinnamon-flavoured chocolates, fruity chocolate, and boxes of miniature chocolate bars. Our bags were stuffed - even though I forgot to get Turkish Delight for my mother. Never mind, I'm sure I'll source some! The festival also runs tomorrow, Saturday.

We made the long trek back to mine, and went out for a meal to my local Chinese. Helen had heard me say such nice things about it that she decided she had to try it. I'm delighted to say she wasn't disappointed!

I was thinking about the aforementioned A Christmas Tail - Weirdos Alternative Panto for tomorrow night - I'd have gone on Tuesday, but then I didn't. Well, as is my wont, I checked the website a short while ago to see how it was selling - and am I glad I did! I got literally the last ticket.

After that, I'm booked up right until I go back to Ireland for Christmas. On Sunday, I'm going to something quite close - John Cleese is touring to promote his new book, and appears in Cadogan Hall. On Monday, I'm going to Erasure in The Forum in Kentish Town. Pity - ShowFilmFirst just told me I won a pair of tickets to The Woman in Black: Angel of Death the same night, and I would've liked to go to that! And I can't even seem to get a taker for the tickets. Well, I saw Erasure once before, and they were great - so not so bad!

On Tuesday, I'm also double-booked, but I think I can make both. I've booked for a concert by Polyphony, whose work I love, in Temple Church as part of the Temple Winter Festival. And then I discovered that one of our colleagues is having leaving drinks that night! Again, I guess I can stay for one. On Wednesday, I managed to get a place on a Christmas Lights walk - I'd love to find some I hadn't known about! I was trying to get a place on one of the walks for tomorrow, but they were sold out.

On Thursday, we have our company Christmas party - same venue as last year, Painshill Conservatory. The theme this year is 1989, as that's the year the company was founded, and it's the 25th anniversary. Should be fun! I just hope that (a) we don't have the coach disaster we had last year - we have changed bus companies: and (b) they've improved the wine, which was like dishwater last year. And I'm no wine snob!

On Friday, I fly back to Ireland for Christmas, hoping that I've remembered all the presents, cards, and wrapping paper. Then it's into the Christmas flurry, added to by the fact that I'm supposed to be meeting all those old friends again over Christmas that I met in October. For Christmas dinner this year, we're headed to the Oakwood Arms.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Film: Testament of Youth

Tales of the Unexpected, eh?

You see, I got a surprise email offer - well, they're all surprises - from ShowFilmFirst this afternoon. A free ticket to a preview of Testament of Youth this evening. The name rang a bell - I've seen the trailer, and thought it was good. IMDB also rates it highly. We had leaving drinks for a colleague, but I figured I could go for one and then head to the cinema.

And that's what I did. The showing was in the Empire, Leicester Square. Ages since I've been there - but then, it seems ages since I've been to any film! I took the Tube to Leicester Square - I notice that a lot of the stations have no advertising at the moment: possibly because it's the end of the year. I completely forgot that Exit #2 is handier than Exit #1 for Leicester Square itself, because you don't have to cross the road. Never mind, I was soon there - the cinema is on your right as you head from the station towards the square. I see there's a funfair these days..

I headed in to the cinema and climbed the steps to the main lobby. I saw a table to my left, with people sitting at it, and lists of names. I correctly deduced that this was where I should go. The lady that took my printed ticket - ShowFilmFirst do prefer that you print - directed me to the left (Screen 2). Well, I felt as though I'd never stop going down.. flight after flight of stairs. I've never seen the like. The cinema itself was big enough - mostly full by the time I got there, and I'm sure they started late. I chose a seat, then moved to the end of the row to avoid the large head in my way.

The film is based on a memoir by one Vera Brittain, of whom I'd never heard. Turns out she was a pacifist, and this film - based on her best-selling book of the same name - details her experiences during the First World War. By 'eck, she had an interesting time, you'd have to admit! Alicia Vikander plays the lead role. Emily Watson plays her mother, Dominic West her father, Miranda Richardson her tutor. Much of it is filmed in Oxford, which was interesting for me, as I picked out places I recognised, having visited there recently.

It starts in the period leading up to the war. And the first part of the film, I must say, feels very stilted. She looks more haunted than she should be, her beau is implausibly perfect, and it's all quite stiff. I don't blame the person who left at that point.

Stick with it, though - war is on the horizon, and the drama is about to be ramped up. Her hauntedness now looks very appropriate, her beau turns out not to be perfect, and everything comes with much higher stakes. It's very moving, and the twists and turns of her life are very interesting. I do recommend this! Pity its official release isn't until next month - it would've been good to get it out this year, with all the WWI memorials.

I didn't stay for the Q&A. Tomorrow is the long-anticipated Chocolate Festival, in the amiable company of Helen!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Carol Concert (Smile)

I stayed in last night, exhausted - and broke - from the angst of trying to buy U2 tickets, and not keen on what was on offer. I'm booked up for the near future anyway.

I was a bit dubious about going to two carol services in successive weeks. What the hey, I decided to take the risk and book for Smile's Christmas Carol Concert. It was on in Grosvenor Chapel - somewhere I've never been - in Mayfair, a part of town I'm not overly familiar with.

Naturally, I consulted Google Maps, who told me to get the Tube to Hyde Park Corner - fair enough - and walk. The walking directions were complicated enough that I printed them out, with some Streetview scenes. And so I intrepidly set out and took the Tube to Hyde Park Corner. The District Line was very packed - someone remarked that it was because there was a match on at Stamford Bridge. Every door was stuffed with people, but I saw people disembarking from the second door - thus making space - and I got on there. In other news, I see they're stopping at Gloucester Road again these days.. the Piccadilly Line platforms there were closed for ages for maintenance.

Well, I disembarked at Hyde Park Corner, and the trouble began - as it always does here. There are five exits - four of which are marked - and while there are some direction signs, they're not always as comprehensive as you'd like. So, for instance, you are told that two of the exits are this way, and what you can find there - i.e. if you're heading to any of these places, this is the direction you should go in. Great - except they don't specify which exit for which attraction, and when you get to the end of the corridor, there are two exits in opposite directions and no way to tell which is which. There's also a mural about Waterloo, which I'd have liked to have read, but I didn't have time, fearing that I would spend the entire evening finding my way out of the station.

Knowing I had to make my way along Park Lane, I followed the signs for Park Lane. So I found myself above ground at last. Looking around, I determined that the best way to get where I estimated I needed to be.. was to take an underpass right ahead of me. So that's what I did.

Google Maps' directions at this point are somewhat bonkers, especially considering that it's almost impossible, at this junction, to tell which of several intersecting roads you're on. And I quote: "Head East on Knightsbridge." (Apart from not knowing which is Knightsbridge, how are you supposed to know which is East?) "Go 43 ft. Turn left towards S Carriage Drive." (I should point out here that the area is sorely lacking in street signs - you know, the ones that tell you what street you're on.) "Turn right onto S Carriage Drive." (?) "Turn left onto Park Lane."

Here's my suggestion. Stay underground and follow the signs for Park Lane (as best you can). Actually, this brings you out on the opposite side of the road to where you are with Google Maps, but that's where you want to be anyway.

Google Maps continues: "Slight right onto Stanhope Gate." (What's a "slight right"?) "Stanhope Gate turns slightly left and becomes Deanery Street." From this, and the accompanying maps, I gleaned - correctly, as it happened - that I should be looking for a Deanery Street, branching off to my right. I trekked up this road with the large buildings, convinced that I was headed in completely the wrong direction. Boy, was I glad when I came across a rental bike stand with accompanying map. I was absolutely astonished to discover that I was headed in exactly the right direction!

So I managed to identify Deanery Street, up along the side of the Dorchester - where the service entrances are. Despite the street sign not being visible from the road. And once I managed to dodge all the taxis that had business there, I was on track for my destination. Google Maps tells you to "Turn left onto S Audley Street. Turn right to stay on S Audley Street. Destination will be on the right." Ehh - well yes, turn left onto S Audley Street. I was then looking for a right turn somewhere, with the church on it - whereas all I had to do was follow the road and I suddenly saw it ahead. As I say, slightly bonkers directions.

This church, apparently, was used in Love, Actually. It's ages since I saw it and I can't remember that. But anyhoo. My ticket arrived in the post just two days ago, and I breathlessly handed it in as I entered. I was only just in time, and downstairs was pretty full; seeing people upstairs, I headed up that way myself. Pictures here.

Well, if there were a league table of carol services, this would come near the top. Firstly, it was candlelit - properly - so we all got our own individual candles, and the lights were dimmed. Secondly, the musical director rocks! He had a few different choirs, but they were all really talented, and the musical arrangements inventive. How about a hip-hop version of Ding Dong Merrily on High, for instance? There was a strong emphasis on audience participation, and a good mix of that and readings, and he really got us going for the Twelve Days of Christmas. I was more familiar with O Little Town of Bethlehem this time, and the readings were quite touching. Ahh - one of the readings was The Night Before Christmas. Brought a tear to the eye.

They showed a video of children they've helped - children with facial deformities. And at the end, they were quite canny in sending the smallies around with the collection buckets. How are you supposed to refuse them? All in all, this was terrifically organised. They have another, next Tuesday, at the church of St. Botolph Without Bishopsgate. Highly recommended - you couldn't find a better way to start Christmas!

Mince pies and mulled wine were on offer afterwards, but I don't like either, and made my way home. In the freezing cold. Coming back, the easiest thing to do was head back to the Dorchester and cross the main road there, skirting the park until I got to the entrance to Winter Wonderland, where I was on familiar ground. Had I come this way though on the outward journey, I'd have had to know to turn to the right of the Dorchester, which I didn't - so that wasn't an option.

Well, we have leaving drinks tomorrow, and Friday sees me hitting the Chocolate Festival with Helen. And so we roll into the weekend.. my last in London before Christmas!