December 13, 2008

Shoreditch Tart

There is no such thing as a Shoreditch Tart. I’m not talking about girls who trot around the East End dressed inappropriately. No, I’m referring to the wholly ridiculous, undersized and overpriced pastries served in the Horse and Groom in Shoreditch, London.

Shoreditch is full of wankers. Sporting overly groomed moustaches and rank lego-man haircuts – including mullets and worse – in a deliberate gesture to tease the boundaries of aesthetics. Wearing thick-framed glasses with no lenses. Hyper-skinny jeans which make them look undernourished and of ambiguous sexuality. Second-hand trashy shirts which smell damp and of old people. It’s all a rather desperate and bruisingly pathetic attempt to individualise and carve out a niche for the self, harking back to the 80s as a decade of style and progress with a nod of universal irony. But as the hordes of slovenly fashionistas saunter uselessly around the yuppylicious gentrified streets of this corner of the city, each with their own wacko haircut, ugly clothes or GameBoy hanging around their neck, they all ultimately, of course, look exactly the same and are equally contemptible. But it’s ok, because these Shoreditchians like to stay in their own part of town: they have created a fantasy world of ‘just for locals’ übertrendy pubs and ‘just for locals’ organic supermarkets. The rest of London can breathe a collective sigh of relief and relegate Shoreditch to the fringes of its consciousness.

I can deal with people wearing stupid clothes and wasting their time drifting from Crap Art Gallery A to Pointlessly Expensive Boutique B via Retro-Urban Coffee Shop C. I suppose that’s part of the tapestry of living in a city such as London.

But it went a step too far last night in the Horse and Groom – a pub which I only visited with a degree of resentment in the first place. It had the usual antipodean gap year students, French/Spanish farnientes in string vests and grandad cardigans and British wannabe ‘artists’ that live off daddy’s income in a grimey flat in Hoxton. And yes it has a few ales – to satisfy those punters who like to think that normal beer is below their station.

But they were also selling ‘luxury shoreditch tarts’. This is heritage-poverty-tourism at its very worst, as it does not take a genius to remark that there is no such thing as a shoreditch tart. Bakewell tart, yes. Eccles Cake, also yes. But Shoreditch tart, NO. And if it does exist, I’m sure it is not what they serve in the Horse and Groom: 9 square inches of frilly pastry, organic plum tomatoes and a leaf of locally sourced free range basil.

Worse still, I commented to the patron that there is no such tart as Shoreditch tart, and he claimed to the contrary that there is, indeed that they are a staple in nearby Bethnal Green. Au contraire, I replied, they are quite definitely not. Shoreditch Tarts are the stuff of urban legend.

As I chew on my disgruntlement, I’ll leave you with a clip of my Christmas song of choice – with some charming stylistic variation.


September 08, 2008

BACK TO BLOG

Time has passed and lives move on – from Leamington Spa to London town.

I’m tempted to start blogging again…


January 16, 2007

My Christmas

For all my friends at the Ruppin Grundschule, Berlin

Dear everyone,

Thank-you so much for your lovely letters. They were very nice and very funny. I was very proud to show your letters to my friends and family. Everybody thinks your English is really good, and they are right!

I hope you all had nice Christmas holidays. I enjoyed my visit to Berlin and I was happy that it was not as cold as last year! The highlight of my visit was definitely coming to your school for the day. It was fantastic to see your smiling faces again.

My Christmas was not very traditional this year. We did not eat Turkey on Christmas Day. Nobody in my family wanted to cook, so we ate in a Nepalese restaurant. There are lots of good Indian and Nepalese restaurants in England. The restaurant’s name is “Kantipur” and we ate special Nepalese prawns, chicken, lamb and spicey vegetables with rice and Indian naan bread.

We opened our presents in the morning. I got a new radio, some CDs, some clothes and a new bag. Here is a photo of me looking at my new scarf:
scarf

This is a picture of my brother and our Christmas tree. What colour is our tree? What else can you see in the photo?
nick

This is a photo of my brother, Nick (27 years old) and my mum, Penny. Do you think my brother looks like me?
nick mum

On Boxing Day we had a more traditional day. My Uncle, Aunt and Grandmother came to our house, and my brother invited a friend, Mohammed, for lunch. Mohammed is from Ghana but now he lives in England and he is in the Army. Do you know where Ghana is? What language do they speak in Ghana?

On Boxing Day we ate ham, sausages and vegetables. Can you see the crackers in the photo?
boxing day

On the left is my Uncle Mike and my brother’s friend Mohammed. Then in the middle you can see my brother. On the right is my grandma, Joan and my Aunt Norma.

I brought some gherkins from Germany (from the Spreewald!) for my family to try. My Aunt liked them and thought they were very tasty but my Uncle did not like them. In this photo we are wearing the hats from inside the crackers:
dinner

New Year’s Eve

On New Year’s Eve I went to a fancy-dress party. A fancy-dress party is a party where you must dress up and wear a costume. I went as Wallace from Wallace and Gromit (maybe you can look on google for Wallace and Gromit) and this is my friend Frances, she went as the superhero Bat-Woman:
fancy dress

I hope you like my photos. To finish, here are pictures, of me and my mum and one of my cat, Gaudi.

gaudi

me and mum

Bye-bye and see you soon!!!

Love from Oliver


December 30, 2006

Allow me a small rant

Unpopular company of the day is without a doubt Excel Parking. Please take a moment to peruse their website at www.excelparking.co.uk

On their welcome page, you will find their rather impressive claim:
Continuing to grow and expand as we pass through our twelfth anniversary year, Excel Parking Services Limited continues to offer the premium car park management and parking enforcement services.

Excel Parking manages many of the car parks in Stockport (see below) town centre. Admittedly not an easy task, as the risk that cars will be set alight and their tyres slit is probably quite high.

Some necessary background info: Public transport in Stockport is crap. The trains run less frequently then they did 5 years ago (and there are fewer than a dozen stations in the borough), so residents of this Mancunian backwater must resort to buses if they wish to leave their cars at home. God help them. The borough is highly residential, incohesive and sprawling, and the buses simply do not run often enough. Oh, and they’re staggeringly expensive. 2 pounds (can’t work the pounds key on my keyboard) for a round trip of about 3 miles – something has to be amiss here, surely. Stockport has been thoroughly abused by urban planners over the centuries, so building an effective roadand thus bus network is a near impossibility. Oh, and even if you do bother to catch a bus, the chances are that you will get spat at, verbally abused to knifed. Maybe I exaggerate a little. Forgive me this one indulgence.

Essentially, the car is the only viable means of transport in this suburban mess. The MB Council fails to provide us with affordable, user-friendly buses, OK, we understand the difficulties due to the geography and demography of the region. But at the same time, they make parking massively expensive.

Parking has been outsourced to Excel. Now we live in an age where men fly to the moon, surgery is performed by lasers, and cakes can be baked in the microwave. But we do not seem to be able to invent car park ticket machines which give change. So not only does Excel charge a minimum of 40p (a modest fee, admittedly, but the fee is levied even on Sundays and bank holidays) to park in its decaying carparks, but you are likely to have to pay even more for the privilege because you haven’t got the right coins on you.

But does the machine give you a proportionate amount of extra parking time if you pay 50p? Oh no. Of course not. They just fleece you out of as much money as they possibly can. The University of Warwick is equally guilty of this, may I add.

This does NOT sound like ‘premium car park management’ to me.

So Stockport MBC – and Coventy City Council – and every other local government in the UK – give us decent car parks, fair ticketing and – best of all – some public transport would be nice.

Sigh.


December 17, 2006

Berliner Humor

I realised last week that I am guilty of having quite a selective memory of my year abroad. I had forgotten the small frustrations of life in Berlin and as I have looked back over my year abroad with the dubious benefit of hindsight I have cheekily glossed over the at times irritating quirkiness of this complicated city. However, while the reality of the hostility of the city (which is, admittedly, becoming and endearing in its own special way), I would like to share with you two moments from stay last weekend which I feel capture the city’s communal sense of humour very well. Because the reality check not only brought back the grittiness of this angry city, but also the Berliners’ quite unique wit.

The Kassiererin at Edeka

As the dutiful son that I am, I bought Stollen, Lebkuchen and Spekulatius for family consumption over the festive period. Being hungover and a little bit disorganised, however, I didn’t manage to get these from a quaint Christmas market or sophisticated German delicatessen, so had to settle for Edeka supermarket at Bhf-Friedrichstraße. Having queued for many minutes (queuing is a hallmark of the supermarket experience in Germany, I think East Germans secretly like to be reminded of the Soviet-style queuing-and-waiting-economy) at the checkout, I was patiently waiting for the gentleman before me to pay for his items. He presented the cashier with his credit card, which she then inserted into the chip and pin machine as is customary.

To their common horror, however, the card was not accepted, prompting the cashier to blurt out venomously, “Wat is det denn?”. The customer, visibly not amused by her very direct manner, retorted with dismissive arrogance ””na, is’ doch ne Kreditkarte”; at this, the cashier hissed back with not a second to spare, “naja, ik wees dat et keen Fußball ist, Mensch”. The customer snorted and thrusted a 10-euro note into her face, which she snatched off him with a hearty grunt. She had the last laugh though – she slammed the till shut with immense satisfaction, smiled at him insolently, thanked him for shopping at Edeka and wished him a “schönen Tag noch”.

M48 Scheiß-Bus

Waiting for bus for a good quarter of an hour on a windswept, barren, exposed corner of Alexanderplatz with a view of buildings and concrete in all possible shades of grey and beige while being lashed with ice-cold lateral rain is an essential Berlin experience, which any eager tourist keen to discover the “real Berlin” should be careful not to miss. It was, however, by necessity rather than determined adventurousness that I found myself waiting for a bus to take me from Alex towards S-Unter den Linden last Sunday night.

I stood back from the road, cowering into my coat collar away from the funnelling winter winds and keeping my distance from the cars rushing past as fast as possible through the cold, oily puddles by the curb. I was aware that a large group of people had gathered at the bus stop, whose shelter is woefully inadequate to protect the unfailingly numerous passengers that board at this stop from the merciless Berlin winter. However I was concentrating far too hard on keeping still and out of the wind and rain to pay much attention to who was standing behind me.

As the bus eventually arrived, I became aware of the presence of a larger, more senior fellow queuing up behind me. I could just about make out the alcohol in his breath and the sound of beer bottles in his pockets. He quickly grew impatient, and proclaimed to the rest of the passengers waiting for the bus, at the top of his voice, that the “M48 ist ne Scheiss-Linie, so n Scheiß-Bus, warte schon ne Stunde hier, eh Mann, so Scheiße, wat is det denn für nen Scheiß-Bus, ach M48, Scheiße…”. His chorus of abuse continued until he was well into the bus, although the other passengers seemed remarkably unalarmed by him. The driver, though, found space in his heard to respond to this poor man’s anguish, and declared, “Ach Mensch, icke bin doch keen Flugzeug”, as if to clear up any uncertanties we may be having concerning whether we had just boarded a double-decker bus or indeed an aircraft.

I was only travelling two stops so waited by the exit doors and avoided eye contact with Mr Scheiße. This was in vain, however, as he seated himself directly in front of me, and invited me to share his disgruntlement: “Stimmt doch, wa? So n Scheiß”.

I smiled gingerly.


August 28, 2006

You know it has been a good night out when…

…you try and pay for your cheesburger and fries at McDonalds with your Oyster Card

…you have one more empty guitar case than you did at the start of the night

…there is spaghetti in your shower


August 19, 2006

Why I (don't) love Stockport

I have never written a blog about Stockport, but I think the moment has presented itself to do so. Stockport’s features include its railway viaduct, which claims to be one of Europe’s largest brick structures :

viaduct

merseywayStockport’s town centre is not only situated in the shadow of decaying mills and a grubby railway bridge, but it also boasts an enviable location within earshot of the M60 Manchester Orbital Motorway. What’s more, cunning town planners in the 1960s decided that it would be a fantastic idea to reconstruct the town centre on top of the River Mersey in sexy grey concrete.

Stockport’s reputation received a boost a few years ago when it was awarded the prestigious 12th place in the internet-based 2004 guide “Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places To Live In The UK. Residents were apparently surprised that Stockport was not in the top 5.

Wikipedia comments on Stockport’s “widespread poverty and post-industrial decay” along with its “perceived grittiness and loutish youth culture”. We have to be fair to Stockport, though. Its advantages are perhaps the following :
- proximity to Manchester, only 10 minutes on the train
- proximity to Manchester Airport
- location on motorway
- train station with half-hourly services to London.
Considering, however, that all of Stockport’s plus points involve escaping the town and going elsewhere, we can safely conclude that it is not one of England’s green and pleasant land’s more desirable places to live. The words “dark satanic mills” from the same hymn are perhaps more fitting.

Stockport + Germany = ? An anecdote of civilisation and tolerance

I would like to pick up on the “loutish [...] culture” described by Wikipedia. Last night my friend Fran challenged me to meet her at the train station and wear an exciting piece of clothing to surprise her. Now, I am no man to shy away from a challenge, so I happily turned up at the station wearing my new hat (see blow), a kimono-style dressing gown (courtesy of mum) and a German flag. Along with jeans, shoes, jumper etc – I was wearing more than just my mum’s dressing gown, fear not.

flagMy costume was not appreciated, however, by a passing local lad. Our exchange was as follows:

Stockport lad : (angrily) Yer fuckin German tosser what ‘av yer got that for yer dick ‘ed
Me : (puzzled) Er, um, I’m not German
Stockport lad : (grabs flag, snaps it, whips Fran across the leg with it) Fuckin’ knob I’ll stab yer in the fuckin eye with it, German dick ‘ed

So I now no longer have the German flag which was given to me as a gift so lovingly by Mssrs Robert Radu and Alexander Rahn upon my departure from Berlin.

Why was this man so angry and germanophobe as to want to snap and steal my flag, and thereupon threaten to stab me in the eye with it? I would normally have said that the Brits are quite tolerant, relaxed people, but this experience proved my complacency. What does he have against Germany? Why? Why is he such an angry person? How are we supposed to integrate populations and communities from all corners of the globe if we cannot even tolerate a British person, clearly in costume, carrying a German flag?


July 26, 2006

Me voilà

Hallo vriends, chères copines, chers copins,

Many of you have been complaining that I haven't blogged, even more of you have been clamouring to see photos from my stay in the sleepy–smelly town of Béziers. So, In case you've forgotten who I am, here's a wee thumb to remind you.béziers foyer

Béziers is a medium-sized town in France's Languedoc-Roussillion region. Not exactly a buzzing metropolis, it is famous for its mediocre wines, plentiful dog shit in the streets, its rugby team (?) and most of all it is known for being twinned with Stockport

In August each year, however, this langorous town awakes from its eternal siesta and explodes with activity for four days in the sweaty, alcoholic bacchic orgy that is the 'Feria de Béziers' : a weekend of drinking pissy sangria, pissing in the sangria–y streets, imported flamenco and of course bull-fighting.

feria de béziers arènes It is in this unsuspecting arena that the citizens of Béziers gather, annualy in August, to witness the dubiously glorious spectacle of the corrida : two looneys wave a red rug at a charging bull, weaken it and ultimatemy kill it before the cheering and bloodthirsty crowd. Particular respect is awarded to those bullfighters who manage to slice off the bull's ear before they end its life more permanently. Opinions?

Happily, Béziers does have more to offer than public animal massacres and second–rate vins de table. It is merely w few kilometers from the the seemingly endless sandy beaches of the French Mediterranean, with ample less–than–classy resorts, countless campsites (all sporting rival karaoke nights) and numerous nudist colonies.
languedoc plages 1languedoc plages 2

If you would like to learn more about Béziers, check out the Mayor's blog and feel free to leave him a message.

jumelage béziersI could be spending my time relaxing on the beach, reading trashy magazines and tending to my tan. But no, I have a "work" "experience" placement in the Town Hall here. So I sit and do nothing, relax and read trashy magazines in this office instead. And bonus, I get to witness the mindboggling inefficiences of French public administration for a whole six weeks. The French may love onions, baguettes and stripey jumpers, but they love pushing paper, opening dossiers and sticking post–its and paperclips to them even more.

Luckily, I do manage to get out of town every now and then with the help of the peuge. Thus I was able to join Aude for a weekend's sailing on the Costa Brava in Spain, trop de la balle. Aude managed to burn her face – but it's ok, because she was able to use this as an excuse to dress up as Lawrence (Lorenza) of Arabia.
aude et son père
NB Aude is in the background, NOT the foreground, that is her father and master of the ship, Bernard.

Her style quickly caught on, and soon, I too embraced the bandana–bandit look, as illustrated in these clever 'before' and 'after' shots (note the girl hanging off my head in the first picture, and check out the vintage sunglasses in the second) :
sans bandanaavec bandana

To finish with, I'll just leave you with a wee gallery of pictures from our sea odyssey. Note my new hat, and if anyone would like to buy me a small boat like the one below, feel free.

Le bateau
serge sur le bateau

Puerto de la Selva
Puerto de la Selva

I want this boat
Mon rêve - I want this boat

HAT HAT HAT HAT HAT
my hat, yes

Aude and myself... we were tired, hot and hungry. Then I ate _raw _cod salad :-( (bloody spanish... joder)
Aude et moi

Bisous de Béziers x x x


Well the World Cup really did rock Berlin;;;

Check out Alexanderplatz during a quarter final match, see how it is heaving with people from all over the world sharing their passion for football…

Oh hold on – maybe it isn't. Well, there's a portaloo and an empty Biergarten, what more do you want?
alex waehrend der wm


June 08, 2006

The World Cup Rocks Berlin

Last night I was lucky enough to be able to attend the World Cup opening ceremony at the Brandenburg Gate. There, spectators were treated to an evening of delightful performances including the beautiful Nelly Furtado, everyone's childhood hero Ronan Keating and, best of all, a Dutchman singing "This is the way to Amarillo". Priceless, really.

What was nice to see is that football transcends boundaries of generation, sex, culture, religion, sanity…. No, this wasn't just a festival for British hooligans, Brazillian tourists and hoardes of sausage–munching, beer–swigging German men : people from all walks of society came out to show their support for their sport, their city and their country. And they had the clothes to match.

WM Fieber

I recently went to Germany's Baltic Coast, to Prerow in Mecklenburg–West Pomerania. At first glance, this does not appear to be the most exciting of Germany's regions, being, as it as, rather…flat:

Mecklenburg

However, one should be careful not to be deceived by first impressions. Prerow is actually like a fake town, with fake houses, fake people, fake healthy lifestyles, fake forests, fake authentic italian ice–cream (on the Baltic coast??), fake prosperity, dare I say. And never before have I seen so many older, slightly overweight people cycle from their house to the supermarket, at 5km/h, with the full lycra cycling gear.

Having said that, the coast is beautiful, and we saw some truly magnificent sunsets….

ostsee 1

ostsee 2

ostsee 3


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