Food for thought

I have just read an article in a newspaper describing how a chef whose restaurant had been awarded Michelin stars had quit as she felt she could no longer satisfy the palate of those who used the guide to find somewhere to eat. She seemed, to me anyway, more concerned with buying fresh and good local produce than impressing restaurant go-ers with fancy linen and attentive service. I enjoy a nice meal out, in fact i would rather go out than cook, however I do struggle a bit with what constitutes a good meal out. Pub grub to me is just that. A pie and a pint at the end of the day both feeds and lubricates me for a snooze on the sofa whilst ignoring the telly in the corner. On an anniversary or a birthday I am quite happy to put on a shirt and tie and forgo the pint for a glass of wine, ( not the cheapest, you look mean, not the most expensive, you look flash). The bill at a restaurant is presented with a flourish and my wallet is forced open by a crowbar and I grimace as I fork over my wifes hard-earned cash.
I do, however, find it difficult to pay some of the prices that a top-notch gaff charges. I watched in disbelief as a chef in one of those ” I am a chef get me celebrity big brother on ice out” programs not only podded the peas but proceeded to shell them as well! I have eaten peas for many a year and not once have sent them back on the grounds that they had an outer skin on them!

I can appreciate the difference between a five quid meal and a twenty quid meal, but much above that it gets a bit silly. Sometimes the best bit of grub is the simplest form of nutrition. As I pulled up in a lay by to have a break and a sandwich, the smell of a bacon butty from the little caravan at the end worked like the pied pipers flute. My meat paste sarnies are ignored as I wandered down to the source of the smell. Once there the service was not so much cordon bleu as simply blue. The menu featured bacon or eggs in any combination and would be served in a paper bag. Six thousand miles away and I can still here the voice of the chef as he said “Do you want red f******g sauce or brown f******g sauce?”
I defy any person, even vegetarians, to not salivate at the thought of a bacon butty*. Not a shelled pea in sight or even a “jus” of something, just a plain bit of non-healthy grub served over a stainless steel counter. Perhaps that is what the Michelin guide miss most, good straight forward snap!**

* Sandwich!
** Midlands for lunch!


hill or mountain?

The weather outside the flat looked promising. The temperature was forecast to be mild and rain was a distant threat. I pulled on my trusty walking boots and pulled on a jumper. Pausing only to grab my ipod and a map I headed off to the wild outdoors. Of course, this being Hong Kong the outdoors has been tamed by well-marked trails and signposts. I set off from Tung Chung on a path alongside the MTR railway tracks. The views on my left should have been the mainland but due to haze all I could see was a few fishing boats and the Airport Express thundering past every few minutes. As I arrived at the start of the Hong Kong olympic trail I paused in a handy shelter to convert my trousers to shorts and pack my jumper into my rucksack. The Olympic Trail is a concrete path that leads to Mui Wo, however, despite the appeal of the Bahce and a pint of real ale from the Typhoon brewery, my destination today was Discovery Bay. Discovery Bay is home to many ex-pats who find the schools and the frequent ferry service to Hong Kong island an attraction. The main thing that attracted me there was the thought of a pint at McSorleys! I left the Olympic trail at the high point and turned a sharp left by the side of the “you are here” board and headed along a well-marked but rougher trail. The path wound along with a few ups and downs, more ups than downs but all seemed to be fairly steady walking.
I spotted the “keen” bloke a bit before he spotted me. He was hopping,skipping and generally progressing a lot quicker than my steady plod. He passed me with a quick glance and a cheery ” hello!”. If I could have caught him I would have given him a knuckle sandwich for his impudence! I mean, he was hardly drawing breath and I was wheezing like a blacksmith`s bellows.
Then it started to get steep. My heart rate rose like prices at christmas and my legs started to burn like the cheeks of a nun at a hen party. The sweat dripped in my eyes and every time I managed to raise my head I could see more and more “up” to go. I struggled manfully on, each step proof that I am getting old and losing the fitness I used to have when I was a callow youth.
Eventually I reached the summit and took the opportunity to breath without vomiting blood and take some pictures. The views were stupendous, according to the signboards there. Fortunately they showed me the names of the nearby hills and points of interest as they were all obscured by a mist and haze and I could see nothing apart from the trail downhill.
Off I set, relief that like life, it was all downhill from here. Would that it were! The pressure on my toes as my feet attempted to escape through the front of my boots was immense. Each step down was a mixture of a balance and a slither. My progress seemed harder than going up, if that were possible. However it soon became less steep although it was still tough on my delicate little tootsies. As I approached the outskirts of Discovery Bay the path once more became concrete and very easy to follow and it felt like civilisation was not far away. Once I got towards roads and pavements I felt slightly out of place with my walking boots and rucksack as everybody else was in flip-flops and coats. Finally I arrived at my destination! McSorleys Ale House. Closed. I muttered dark things under my breath and walked around the corner to a mexican restaurant. I cooled my brow with lager and filled my belly with a mexican paella.
After a time my breath became less laboured and my heart rate moved from a death-speed metal tempo to a smooth jazz beat. I looked at the surrounding mountains and consulted a map to see which route I would take back home. There was several routes back but I eventually decided on route DB01R, the bus!

I continually refer to mountains near me. There is no distinct and easy definition which will differentiate between a hill and a mountain.My definition is that I will sweat bullets getting to the top of a hill and I will nearly collapse before I get to the top of a mountain.

I also refer to Hong Kong. As any fule kno, Hong Kong is the island, the area of Hong Kong which includes Kowloon, the new territories and Lantau is refered to as Hong Kong SAR. I merely refer to Hong Kong as the whole lot to save keep writing SAR after every mention.

Benefits that benefit no-one.

I have read with interest the debates on several forums on the internet of late regarding the proposed benefit cap. The idea of the cap is that a household should receive a maximum benefit of 26,000 pounds, which is net so equivalent of around about 35,000 pounds salary. As ever on the internet the argument is polarised between those who regard anyone taking money from the government as “benefit scroungers” and the other side of the political spectrum labelling the present government as ” against the poor.”

The problem I feel is that the governments of both colour are to blame. They have both embraced a free market economy as the way forward and then promptly fiddled about with “the market” and tried to help people. The trouble with helping people is that the road to hell is paved with good intentions and housing benefits.

It was decided many years ago that everybody should have a nice place to call “home”. My wife and I worked in jobs that paid minimum wage yet could afford to buy a house despite high interest rates and no government interference. My friends all worked in low paid jobs yet we all could afford to buy our own houses. The main difference was that the social services did not subsidise housing, so houses were priced at what people could afford. As house prices started to rocket in the late nineties, the government looked at house prices rises as a good thing, and when there was a natural complaint that the youngsters could not afford to buy houses the government reduced interest rates and provided as many varied and complicated methods as possible of allowing those who could not buy or rent houses the means to do so. For those of us with more than two brain cells to rub together this was akin to a firefighter putting out a fire with a petrol! Prices rose like a bar bill at a wedding! The more the government helped, the higher the prices! suddenly there was a massive problem! The governments inflated housing costs to such a degree that for a lot of people houses were no longer affordable.

The solution is a draconian and awful cap. Suddenly people whose income seems large ,but once the housing costs are removed, are relatively small become the victims of a system that forces them to move to cheaper accommodation. Property prices are too high compared to wages and have gradually forced so many people into a dreadful trap whereby going to work is no longer an option.

I speak as one of those very lucky individuals who was able to buy their own modest house. I would not like to try to buy a house in the UK today.

a guide for air travel

I have flown a fair bit over the years, a mix of short-haul and recently long haul flight. Air travel is no longer the privilege of the rich and famous. Anybody with a few pounds and a passport can now board a plane at one of many airports around the world and be deposited at a similar airport a few hours later. The problem with this is that some people who now fly should never be allowed within three hundred yards of an airport, never mind three feet behind me on a flight to Tenerife. I have therefore strung together a few possible rules and regulations to make flying once more a nice experience.

Rule 1. If you have less brain power than roadkill and struggle to comprehend and understand simple instructions, you are no longer permitted on aircraft. You must now take a bus.

Rule 2. Modern suitcases have wheels. If you have one of these modern contraptions,you do not actually need to hurtle off and get a trolley.Without a trolley you will no longer scrape the ankles of your fellow passengers or block the entrance to any of the shops with your suitcase transporter. This will free up space for the rest of us to waltz merrily through the airport. Lack of courtesy with a trolley will be punished by being banned from the duty free.

Rule 3. On long haul flights, most people will have luggage. This will contain your clothes and your toiletries. On the flight you will be probably fed and watered and also have a screen to watch films on. It follows that once on the aircraft you need very little personal possessions. A coat, perhaps, possibly a book or two and an Ipod. Since your vital documents will fit into your jacket pockets it realistically means that you do not need to take a suitcase cleverly disguised as “hand luggage” aboard the airplane. For the majority of people there is nothing quite as irritating as watching as a stupid oaf crushes your duty-free cigarettes with a bag weighing as much as a small car. If you are the oaf, please refer to rule 1.

Rule 4. The airplane will take off when all the passengers are aboard. If you decide to have an extra pint of lager before heading off to pour cheap booze down your throat for a week, make sure you are going to get to the gate in time. Sitting on the tarmac, squashed in a tiny seat while the crew announce that they cannot leave because a passenger has not arrived and they must now remove his luggage from the hold becomes slightly tiresome. Worse is the next announcement that the flight will be further delayed as “we have missed our slot.” The only slightly positive thing is that someone, somewhere on the flight has an empty seat beside them.

Rule 5. As most of us people already realise, the plane will leave when all the passengers are on. The airlines have presumably spent a lot of time and money to work out the quickest way to get the human cattle on board. When the announcement for passengers in zone c are called to board, anyone whose buttocks rise from their seat without a ticket for zone c will be promptly thrown off the flight. (I realise this might cause a problem in a similar vein as rule 4, but we need to stamp out this traffic jam as zone c passengers attempt to work out who is waiting to board and who is merely blocking the whole process up).

Rule 6. Flying is dull and boring. Children get bored very quickly. Put three hundred people in close proximity and small irritations become a call to arms.The relentless kick…kick…kick on the back of your seat becomes an assault on your good name and a crying child can turn a nun into a homicidal maniac. Any parent who fails to bring books,crayons and an electronic dummy for their child to stave of the wailing and whining will be ejected from the aircraft. Without a parachute.

Rule 7. With a nod in the direction of rule 3, as you get on the aircraft to take your seat, place all the things you need in the stowage area in front of you and put your small bag in the overhead locker.Then sit down. Anyone who does a yo-yo impression to the overhead lockers during the flight will have their in-flight entertainment switched off.

Rule 8. During the flight you may need to visit the toilet. This is to be monitored and anybody using the conveniences more than once every sixty minutes will be attended to by a flight attendant who will sort you out with a cork and his experience of knots……..

Rule 9. As the plane hits the runway and taxis to it`s stand, the announcement is made for passengers to “remain seated with your seat-belts fastened.” That means you sit still and keep your belt fastened. It does not mean “jump up and haul your huge bag out of the overhead locker.” If you hear the latter,not the former, then rule one for you!

Rule 10. When you get to your destination, you may need to go through passport control. As you get to the head of the swarming mass of humanity, get your travel documents in your sweaty mitts, do not wait until you are asked to provide your passport before rummaging through every pocket and every bag to find your paperwork. Failure to have documentation ready is punishable by a kick from every passenger behind you.

Rule 11. When you get to baggage reclaim any person who stands in a line with partners,children and a trolley, thereby blocking a large percentage of the belt, will have their luggage opened and sold on to the highest bidder.

Rule 12. As the weary passengers head out of the airport, any person stopping to look at sign boards and generally slowing down the flow will be taken to a brick wall, blindfolded and shot!

By the simple adoption of these rules I am sure that flying can once again become a tolerable experience!