Monthly Archives: October 2013

No sir, I’ve never been to Leeds.

There was a comedy show back in the day with a fellow called Harry Enfield. One of his sketches about a Yorkshire marketing guru – George Whitebread – who was a crashing sexist/homophobe amongst other foibles. Anyway, one line sticks in the mind as his response to a question about sophistication. Incredulous he barks “Sophistication? Don’t talk to me about sophistication luv, I’ve been to Leeds!”

I’m happy to report George and I differ. Sort of. (I mean I differ on all the ‘isms obviously.) As in I’ve just spent 2 days in Leeds but I still haven’t been there.

Let me explain.

Drafted in to run a customer event I was booked a couple of nights at the really rather central Park Plaza hotel. Thus on rain soaked October Monday afternoon as the gloom became night I made the short hop, slip and stumble from the railway station to check in. As colleagues arrived we used my room as a meeting venue because due to a (happy) hotel mix up I’d been allocated a suite. (There’s a first time for everything.)

When we finish on the briefing it’s approaching 8PM. A quick check outside and it’s incessantly precipitating (as they say oop north). So we opt to eat in and slip down to the ChinoLatino “pan Asian” restaurant on the first floor. Sounds hideous but actually turned out some (reet) tasty food.

Fat chewed as well as fine food we are pooped and I retire. News at 10 in the bath? Why not as we don’t have a tub-telly at home. (I know, we are sooo last century.) Then retire to bed for an 07.00 start. In the blink of an eye we’re breakfasted and off to the client offices the other side of the station. Next thing it’s 19.30 and we’re asking security to release us from the building.

8PM again and I’m meeting another colleague to brief them for the following day. We do so over dinner. As it’s raining, we have a diner allowance at our digs and I’m bushed we opt again for ChinoLatino and try the rest of the menu. Excellent again. Then it’s Newsnight in the bath followed by bed. (Some time after this point I dreamt the sound of a trampolining competition in the room next door followed by an OTT replication of the diner scene in When Harry Met Sally. That was a dream, right?) Is it 07.00 already? Time to get into the office. 12 hours later and I’m on a nearby platform waiting for another (delayed) train.

So despite having spent days in central Leeds this week, I’ve still not been there.

Train-hotel-office-hotel-office-train. No Leeds actually visited. Such is the life of the business traveller.

Although from my 20th floor corner suite, it looked nice: all slick and glittery in the autumn night.

Maybe next time I’m in Leeds I’ll visit it eh?

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2010 in Argentina…

Stumbled over the following (from March 2010) in an eMail search and felt the need to post…
27th February: Saturday Morning, Eziza Airport, Buenos Aires.

As we stood there sweating in the morning sun await Immigration clearance, one can’t help forming first impressions of the nation beyond the uniformed officials. Rusty, judging by the state of the airport fabric. Sluggish, judging by the speed of the luggage carousel. Chaotic, as many airport concourses are if you’re new to them. Similar, judging by the knuckle shuffling gesture the taxi driver gave to another motorist who change lanes all but on top of us on the 40 minute sprint into the city. Taxi drivers the world over – it would seem – are truly uniform in so many regards.

Saturday afternoon, Hotel Tower las Americas, Buenos Aires

Global telly is bemusing: have found England vs Ireland 6 Nations live rugby. In terms of coverage, it’s somewhat overshadowed by the coverage of the earthquake in Chile. No mention of this was made when we arrived in Eziza airport even though it turns out that Santiago airport was closed. No connecting flights to there then. A bit surprising that no one bothered to tell anyone on the inbound flight. Having now hooked up with the Welsh contingent here, they noticed nothing. Probably drunk, knowing them…..

But what would I know because after a lounge by the pool in the most wonderful heat, I retired to bed to give it forty winks in an effort to combat jetlag. It affects everyone in some way I s’pose, but specifically feeling somewhat dizzy, a throbbing headache the a touch of drunken swaying. When my alarm sounds some 75 minutes later I pretend to feel great and head out into the afternoon.

350D Photostream 1 Antarctica 037

Southampton Clock tower… in Argentina

So how to describe Buenos Aires (BA)? Where to start? From a couple of hours on foot, on a Saturday, you can make a few observations. But only after the perking effects of a weapons grade café con leche. Latino city, grand boulevards from the late 19th century (when it became capital of the nation), even grander ones from the 1930s, a grid layout, a working port, a gentrified warehouse/marina district. On the street there are traffic-light hawkers, pavement beggars, families, couples. Vehicles of all flavours (more of which later). Busy shopping streets with urchins in your face, quieter places with lots of locals quietly hanging out with their families enjoying the warmth. It’s got a great vibe. It’s a bit faded and jaded in parts, but hey, where isn’t? I know I am.

My preferred technique for getting to know a city? Get lost on foot. With a tourist map in my pocket for nudging and cab fee for actually getting lost it’s hardly a high risk strategy. Boundaries, arteries and distracting side roads mean less than linear progress but offer surprise, exercise and those priceless little insights to a city’s heart. Half views of courtyards, crossing huge highways, cobbled alleyways, designer malls, mingling with the crowds, pausing for a Coke at a roadside bar, Banksy aping graffiti, police stop-n-searches (not me), TV crews and a million other tiny things. All of human life is here. Will do a more formal thing with my compadres tomorrow.

Something else that you notice though. History from one’s own lifetime. This became evident when getting my bearings I looked up at the name of the tram stop I was at and winced slightly at the name. Belgrano. Then, some way up the road in a plaza (garden) outside the Ministry of Defence building a veterans encampment with large home made signs arguing for justice and such like in regard to the Islas Malvinas. I was in my early teens when Maggie Thatch sent our boys to the south Atlantic and its flavour is all very real here with new wrangling over oil drilling rights in the region. I have no quarrel with these folks and move on quietly.

Woof!

Woof!

They do like their rugby here, with shops selling liveried national and league kit. Having caught the second half of the English game – which Ireland won – I noted from results scrolling across the screen that Sale were thrashed by Gloucester 3-47 . Funny: were I in Wiltshire it’d be likely that score would remain unknown to me.

The weather here is just the tonic for my jaded self. Late 20s, a little breeze and a notch of humidity. The kind of weather that makes you want to mosey. Not suitable for rushing unless you are intentionally seeking sweat. Along the quayside in Puerto Madero the atmosphere is just wonderful. It’s like a wonderful mash up of London Docklands, Swansea marina and the 6th street district of Austin Texas. Am immediately missing Mrs B immensely as this is our kind of place to spend the afternoon over a nice bottle of something. As I lean upon a guard rail, my reverie is broken by some nice local teens who ask me some directions in Spanish. I smile broadly and point out that they’ve picked on someone who has been a local for all of 90 minutes. They giggle and – in perfect English – say it’s their country and they should know better!

Saturday 27th February 2010: Silly o’clock in the morning

It’s funny how the, er, more senior generation blame the young. Because from my, albeit statistically insignificant sample, it’s the old who are recklessly at fault. Under the effects of the universal truth serum (triple Baileys) the parental generation (PG) – Katheryn, Peter and Pat (aka Mum) – let slip that their planning for this jaunt was nothing more than a whim under the affluence of incohol. Right now, 04.30 UK time or 01.30AM local Mum is feeling less than ship-shape. All due to…. what exactly?

One more for the ditch my dear?

One more for the ditch my dear?

The bartender at the nice place next door to the hotel tells that a Caipirosca is 250ml vodka, 2 x crushed limes with sugar and… well, that’s it. Apparently, it was a good idea have several of these. Personally, I thought finishing off with a generous Mohito was a masterstroke, but the others would apparently disagree. We had $246Ag of cocktails after a dinner of – basically- meat with a bottle of wine following a beer or two. For the PG, that was preceded by hotel room cocktails. IE: Quadruple Whiskeys, Baileys. Lovely. Now Mum is sat up in bed with a pre-sleep hangover of Biblical proportions. Am a bit worried she’s going to hurl. Tsk, parents today.

Of course, after industrial quantities of booze am feeling slightly wobbly myself but am sobered somewhat by the responsibility of room sharing. Really rather surreal feeling responsible for ones parent (singular). After this performance should I dock her allowance tomorrow?

Whatever, we had a lot of beef for dinner. No really, lots. Lots of meat washed down with a lovely Malbec and a walk home. It was going to the bar that was our (their) undoing. Why, I’m sober enough to blog ossifer. [Hic.]

Top Tip Time: Never go to the bar next door to your hotel with your parents and their friends because it will get out of hand.

Nutters.

Caipirosca

250ml Vodka

Ice

2 X limes

White sugar

Method: Roughly chop limes and add to bowl. Heap 3 X sugars in (v generously). Bruise and crush with pestle and transfer to cocktail shaker. Add ice and a bucket of vodka. Shake vigorously yet stylishly. Pour into brandy-type vase/glass that has rim already encrusted with sugar. Splash extra vodka on top for good measure. Have stomach pump at local A&E on standby.

Sunday 28th February: Walking off the Hangover with Peter.
Street art

Graffiti on the road

It’s a big town this. So leaving the ladies to sleep we head off in the pleasant morning warmth for a couple of hours stride around the city. At the now gentrified port we see some bits of maritime furniture that give pause for thought. The capstans along the quayside were made at a foundry in Cardiff. It sets us thinking about the origins of things around the town and sure enough we see cues from Paris, Amsterdam and a host of Latin European styles. The port clock tower would look equally at home on the Solent. As it might with a name like Torro de los Ingleses. But as we turn from it heading up to Plaza San Martin an open memorial guarded by two machine gun toting young Argentines comes into view. As we approach it becomes quietly obvious that the several hundred names – Peter counts the stone tablets inscribed with 25 names on each – are those who were lost in the Malvinas conflict. 649 Argentine souls perished in the war I learn later. Britain lost 255. The eternal flame and giant Argentine flag overhead mean that us thoroughly British tourists beat a quite retreat. An eternal flame burns for them and – like the demonstration outside another Government ministry – the wound is still an open one.

Two and a half hours of pavement pounding later we arrive back at the hotel. The ladies are more chipper now so we head out in search of more beef based foodstuffs for lunch. In the afternoon the PG head out to find some culture whilst I stay in, snooze and then head out to a park to sit amongst the locals and read a novel. When I get in it’s clear that the sunburn-saving headgear I had diligently donned has left a comedy tide mark across my forehead. V amusing.

28th February Dinner @ Las Nazarenas

Went off to a parrilla – grill house – for dinner and ended up at Las Nazarenas.

Enormous steaks, grilled veggies and a bottle of Malbec. $453Ag. Less than £20/head for one of the best steaks I’ve had. Would cost more in meat alone from the local butcher home in Marlborough. Replete we walk home under a full moon in the warmth.

To follow a discussion about water going down the plughole a different way Pat tries an experiment in the bathroom. It is inconclusive. Is the whole water/plughole clockwise in the north, anti in the south an urban myth? Too tired tonight…

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Other Dublin moments

Spending weeks in a place you start to get under its skin. You get beyond the obvious. You develop habits. You take photos of stuff.

GOD SAVES!

GOD SAVES!

The Wicklow Mountains from Phoenix Park and a Dublin Bike

The Wicklow Mountains from Phoenix Park and a Dublin Bike

The Spire sticks out Mrs B's head.

The Spire sticks out Mrs B’s head.

Insert caption here.

Insert caption here.

More chins than a Chinese phone book

More chins than a Chinese phone book

Complete with cone for a self service ice cream machine...

Complete with cone for a self service ice cream machine…

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If you don’t appreciate it folks, go to McDonald’s

A cheeky weekend with Mrs B in Dublin. A lovely weekend. The weather, the city, the pubs and the lovely Mrs B.

We were savouring an exquisite dinner, prepared for us by top chefs at the top of their game. The delightful Camden Kitchen. Boxes are ticked for menu, ambiance, romance, vino. The whole nine yards.

And yet…

As the ‘Kitchen is an intimate venue the table next to us is, well, very next to us. Mind-your-elbows next to us.

The young lady was either being stood up or dining alone I surmised. Then her friend arrived. Lovely people I’m sure: neighbourly, well turned out, good table manners.

And yet…

Here’s the thing. IMHO if you come to a great restaurant, order exquisite food prepared by a top chef you should pay attention to your damn food. I am noticing as they pick through dinner they do not pause for breath let alone pause to notice, let alone mention the plates in front of them.

It breaks my heart.

Of course, it’s not my place to tell people what to do but my opinion is… if you don’t appreciate fine food, have a gossip whilst you eat in McDonald’s.

I suppose restaurateurs are happy to have paying covers. Although I’d suggest that decent chefs in their independent kitchens would prefer to be appreciated than merely paid. In the same way that automotive designers weep when their years of toil on fine design are merely driven to the shops and back.

Then there’s music, computers and pretty much anything designed with high performance in mind.

How many things in life are crafted with skill, delivered with care, consumed with ignorance.

Just because you’ve money, there should be some other criteria before you’re allowed to partake in good stuff. A passport to entry of some kind? Hmmm. On this basis, I wonder if I’d be allowed to play the saxophones I own? (As they are clearly better horns than I am a musician.) Would I be allowed to drink wine? What about my running shoes?

Hardly anyone would be granted an Apple user licence, Range Rover would go out of business.

It’s my inner engineering geek and asthete ranting here. My conscious pragmatist says you pays your money, you takes your choice. When we step outside Mrs B stops for a photo and the mural strikes me as word perfect…

Life is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Life is a once in a lifetime opportunity: so take time to notice the food in front of you!

For the record, Mrs B and I have a wonderful meal: pigeon, venison, goats cheese and ox cheek. I do enjoy and occasional McDonald’s breakfast: a sausage’n’egg McMuffin since you’re asking. With a tea. One sugar. (Shoot me now.)

In the words of the great Ferris Bueller:

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

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