Solving the World's problems with common sense and a flamethrower.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New Review - myHotel Chelsea

New Review posted on Dungeekin's Eatings - 'Review of myHotel Chelsea'. Find it here.

On the Strange Case of the Trousers in the Night

Attend to me, Watson, for we need to share our prodigious skills to solve this baffling conundrum.

So the facts as we know them are these:

The Darling G and my good self entertained some 40 souls at our domicile on the Saturday eve, in celebration of the good lady's {classified} birthday.

While never raucous or uncouth, said festivities did involve our distinguished guests imbibing a not-insignificant quantity of 'the demon drink' - overall some 12 bottles of finest Champagne, 2 bottles of Pimms, 40 bottles of ale, 10 bottles of Viogner and a truly astonishing 30 bottles of Shiraz.

I wish to assure you, my dear Watson, that at no time did the gathering descend into ribaldry or debauchery. And yet, upon rising on the Sunday morn, we discovered a strange and as-yet unexplained phenomenon in our drawing room.

To wit, one pair of Next mens' trousers, black in hue, in the size of 34" about the waist and with a short, 29" inside leg measurement.

This case, my dear Watson, is far from elementary.

I can recall no male guest departing the celebrations untrousered, yet I feel certain I would have remembered such a display of incivility had it occurred. No debaggings took place, and to this date neither The Darling G nor myself have been approached by an attendee complaining of an unwarranted breeze about the nether regions.

So given the curious nature of this case, I propose that there is but one solution. I shall be taking an advertisement in the Times of London, detailing the abandoned garment and inviting whichever of our welcome guests is suffering a wardrobe malfunction to collect said items post-haste.

Watson - they're not YOURS, are they?

Monday, April 28, 2008

RIP Humphrey Lyttleton 1921-2008

The Mornington Crescent world was rocked this weekend by the tragic announcement of the death of one of the game's finest authorities, Mr Humphrey Lyttleton.

Though not a brilliant strategic player of The Game in his own right, Humphrey 'Humph' Lyttleton was one of the definitive authorities on the Rules, and probably the only Umpire who could control such brilliant players as Cryer, Brooke-Taylor, Garden and, of course, the late, great Grand-Master Rushton. His treatise on the little-known Tudor Court Rules and, of course, his publication of 'The Little Book of Mornington Crescent' are both required reading for novices and experienced players alike.

His assistant, the lovely Samantha, who so frequently sat on his left hand, has been left desolate by the loss of Humph. I personally took her to the Gramophone Library to try and cheer her up, but sadly even when I pulled out a rare 12-inch it was insufficient to lift her from her gloom. She's even taken to drink - the last time I saw her she was in the BBC bar with two male acquaintances, where I understand she downed a couple of stiff ones.

I approached one of his biggest fans for comment, and to get a deeper understanding of what the loss of Humph will mean to his literally tens of fans.

Mrs Trellis, of North Wales, said; "It's a real tragedy and a great loss, I don't know what to do really. I always thought he was brilliant on 'Newsnight'."

In honour of this great man, and this tragic loss, I would like to offer a short poem. It is designed to be accompanied in the traditional manner - Kazoo and Swanee Whistle - and if all else fails, Colin Sell.

On "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue",
He gave panellists daft things to do,
Now we've Barry, and Graeme,
And Tim - but no Chairman,
Humph, it won't be the same without you.

Review: Petrus, 24 April 2008

(Also posted on Dungeekin's Eatings here.)

A trip to Petrus was part of my planned celebrations for The Darling G's xxth Birthday.

First thing to say is that it wasn't particularly easy to get a reservation - and even with over 4 weeks' notice, the only time they could fit us in was 2215 on the Thursday night, which was quite amazing really. That said, we did get called the day before and offered a 2115 seat, which was much more bearable!

As for a review - what can anyone say about this place that hasn't already been said?

We went for the 8-course 'Tasting Menu', which started with an astonishing Jerusalem Artichoke soup and then took us through Foie Gras, Turbot with Liquorice, Saddle of Venison and many more.

The food was just beautiful, however the most amazing thing about the restaurant wasn't the food - it was the service! It seemed that there were individual waiters not for each table, but for each activity - so one waiter would remove our plates, another our glasses, a third would bring the fresh wine glasses, the sommelier bring the next glass of wine, then a runner would appear with your dish on a tray, and he would wait for the Head Waiter, who would then place your plate in front of you with a theatrical flourish. It made for great entertainment.

One word of warning - normally when you have a tasting menu, there are 'matched wines' and you get a small amount of the Sommelier's recommended wine with each course. While this isn't something that is specifically offered at Petrus, they will happily match wines for you - however they give a full, large glass of each wine with each course, which meant that by dessert our tastebuds were more than a little blunted by the quantity of alcohol!

As we were Petrus virgins, we were thoughtfully given a copy of the Menu, signed by Marcus Wareing himself, which is a lovely touch and will no doubt bring back memories in the future.

All told, then, an absolutely stunning meal and experience - but equally stunning was the final bill, which came to a heart-stopping (if not sobering) £396 including service! My bank account will be feeling dinner at Petrus long after my stomach has forgotten it...

So - a beautiful place, wonderful food, fantastic service. But definitely, given the cost, a once-in-a-lifetime meal.

Petrus Restaurant
The Berkeley
Wilton Place
Tel: 020 7235 1200

Review: Kitsons Restaurant, 26 April 2008

(Also posted on 'Dungeekin's Eatings) here.

This isn't the first time we've eaten at the excellent Kitsons Restaurant in Abingdon - but it is certainly the biggest table we've ever booked!

As the major part of The Darling G's xxth Birthday celebrations, we took over the entire restaurant, seating some 40 guests and a jazz band for three courses.

Organisation & Planning
We did our best to make things easy for Chris, the owner of Kitsons, by ensuring that we had a solid guest list as early as possible, and making sure everyone had already made their menu choices. To avoid mixups, we even had name-cards printed for the table plan which included that person's menu selections.

Sam, the (new) Manager, was well prepared and even went to the trouble to call us on the morning to make sure absolutely everything was still just how we wanted it. They also gave access to one of The Darling G's friends, so that the whole place was beautifully decorated.

Food & Service
There were plenty of service staff working, meaning everything went pretty smoothly on the night. There was a slight hiccup at the very start of service, but nothing major and after that the waiting team were right on form, and everyone got their food pretty quickly.

And what food it was!

The quality and presentation of Kitsons food is beyond reproach. We'd organised a limited range of main courses, to keep life easy for the kitchen, and everything came out beautifully cooked and exquisitely presented.

Best choices were the Wild Mushroom Pie and Foie Gras Parfait in the starters, and in the mains the Rump of Lamb was wildly popular, served with fondant potatoes and courgettes. Also popular was the 'Kitsons Chicken' - a signature dish of pan-fried breast, confit leg and poached thigh. Vegetarians were well served with a Pea and Asparagus Risotto, which was well-received by the few herbivores at the party.

Dessert-wise, we had a range including Chocolate Torte, Orange Parfait and the absolutely sublime Vanilla Cheesecake.

There were no complaints, not a single plate went back into the kitchen, and the service team made sure everyone was looked after, glasses topped up and additional drinks and coffee quickly and efficiently available.

Given the sheer size of our party, with over 40 covers and an ongoing bar bill, I have to say that Kitsons gave us fantastic value as a whole.

The deal offered by Chris ensured everyone had three beautifully-prepared courses, coffee and service for £30 per head, and even the bar tab wasn't *too* astronomical - considering we went through 25 bottles of red and 10 of white!

Overall, taking into account the bar bill, liqueurs for those who could cope, and a hefty additional tip for the service team, the whole lot worked out at a fantastic £50 per head.

This is quite simply superb value for the quality and service we received on the night.

Kitsons has only been open in Abingdon a few months, and I sincerely hope it stays with us for a very long time to come.

The mix of service, quality and value at Kitsons is absolutely tremendous. The food, every time we have eaten there, has been simply superb and is worth every penny of the bill and more.

I can't recommend this restaurant strongly enough, and they deserve a solid following not just in Abingdon, but from the whole of Oxfordshire.

Kitsons Restaurant
First Floor
15 High Street
Oxon OX14 5BB

Tel: 01235 526966

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

On Standards of Education. . .

You may recall that I previously attacked the parlous state of British education in my Post entitled 'An Oath of Allegiance for our Modern Society'.

Nothing, however, brings it so starkly into perspective as this screenshot, taken from the NuLab website proudly launching their Local Election campaign:

They've since corrected their mistake - but huge props to Ben Locker for grabbing the screenshot, reproduced above. Well done that man!

Monday, April 21, 2008

This Is Not Just A Garage....

This is not just a sandwich...'s a delicious chicken & bacon Club, when you can get it because the sandwiches aren't delivered until after lunch.

This is not just a Cash Machine...'s a beautiful, full-colour fee-free ATM that works one day out of seven, and normally has a hand-lettered 'Out of Order' sign on it.

This is not just a cash till...

...this is a splendid counter of four tills, with only ONE actually manned over the lunchtime busy period. And with a superb, state-of-the-art PDQ card system with a 9600-baud dialup connection to the authentication server.

This is not just a queue...

...this is a queue of at least 2o people, standing waiting to be served at the unmanned tills, causing all the pumps to be backed up and all the parking spaces to be taken.

This is not just a bunch of ARSE garage...

This is the M&S Simply Food garage on the A4074 near Benson.

Marks & Spencer 'Simply Food' garages - exclusively screwing up everyone's lunchbreak.

Friday, April 18, 2008

To David Cameron - On The Use of Social Media

The letter below was sent to the office of David Cameron MP - I will update when (if) I receive a response.

Dear Mr Cameron

As a long-time Conservative voter (and an Oxfordshire resident), I was disappointed to note that your team are using Twitter ( incorrectly, and in a way that is not helping your cause.

I believe a great deal of the current 'voter apathy' is caused by what can only be described as 'soundbite politics' - the compression of important topics into a banal cliche timed perfectly for the news. This has led to misinterpretation and disillusionment in the electorate, and is something that desperately needs to change for confidence to grow again.

Twitter is a superb medium for communication. It allows you to spread the word about your policies, using that 'soundbite' as a stepping stone to link to deeper commentary on your issue. However, where your use of social networking currently falls down is in the MISuse of it as a one-way, broadcast medium.

Social Media sites such as Twitter and Jaiku are not the same as television. They are the online equivalent of a room full of intelligent people, all having a conversation. By engaging with, and responding to, the people who respond to your comments on Twitter you will differentiate yourself from the other political entities using Social Media. You will be able to gauge opinion and gain positive feedback. You will discover that the people on there can engage with you and, over time, become advocates for your policies.

I would ask you to please talk to the team handling your Social Media presence, and ask them to work on following, and interacting with, those that are interested in politics and what you have to say.

For what it's worth, you already have my support and confidence as Leader, and should you wish to discuss this with me, I would be more than happy to chat with you or your team. I can also put you in touch with Social Media experts (one of whom is a Conservative Councillor) who will also be happy to assist.

I look forward to receiving your response.

Yours sincerely

Neil Simmons

Reproducing Old Words

I've decided that I need to get some of my older work off dead trees, and onto the Web where it can actually be seen again.

To this end, I've set up a new Blog, and over the next few weeks will be reproducing some older articles, reviews and the like, which have been published or otherwise used by others.

As always, views and comments will be very welcome.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

In Today's Politics, We Need A Hanging

"I think we're screwed, mate. Whoever you vote for, the government always gets in."

I've been saying this for a long time, but that comment from a Twitter Friend really got me thinking, and I think it's high time for an explanation.

We Need A Hanging.

Danie's comment really summed up the apathy and distate that the majority of people have for the electoral process - and for Government - these days. It's something that deeply saddens me.

I believe we're hugely lucky to have a democratic system. Yes, it's flawed - deeply so - but it's still democracy and come 2010, we will be able to exercise our good fortune and elect a new Government. We won't suffer violence or intimidation, (much) vote-rigging or the sight of our incumbent Administration using dirty tricks to self-perpetuate.

Yet opinion of politics has sunk to a massive low, and many are struck by the same apathy implicit within the quote above.

I believe that the main reason for this is the tragic loss of conviction politics - and I believe a Hanging is the only way to bring it back.

Conviction v Soundbite

In an era of 24-hour news channels, constant access to information and even services like Twitter, we have allowed ourselves to fall into a state where image and soundbite is more important than truth and integrity.

Before, we had people like Tony Benn, Norman Tebbit, Dennis Skinner even Margaret Thatcher. These people believed passionately in this country, and were prepared to stand up for their principles and beliefs to explain, cajole, browbeat and (shock horror) speak their minds both in Parliament and public. Whatever your political standpoint, these were people you could respect for their principle and honesty.

Tony Benn stood up against his own party and drove through engineering feats like the Hovercraft and the BT Tower. Norman Tebbit stood up and told the unemployed to 'get on their bikes'. Dennis Skinner fought his own party whenever they went against what he believed was right. Margaret Thatcher faced down the Unions (at the time strangling efficiency in the UK) and won.

You can disagree with their end results, with their politics or with their approach. You can't fault their passion and integrity in striving to achieve what they thought was best.

Now, our political figures are analysed for the way they look, and their pronouncements and debates are reduced to a level of banality that would shame a primary schoolchild. Decisions are made and announced not on principle, but on opinion poll. Not on fact, but focus group. Policies are changed as a knee-jerk reaction to the latest approval figures.

Once the trend was started by New Labour - the 'Presidential' looking Prime Minister, who actually reduced his exposure to Parliamentary Questions and instead led by Press Release and Spin Doctorate - the other parties swiftly followed suit, and we now have a tragic situation with a PM who is, if not sociopathic, certainly 'not fit for purpose; an apparently glib Tory Leader who will ever be unfairly hampered by his 'old-Etonian' mantle; and someone called Nick Clegg, who seems frequently to be invisible.

Of the three: one suffers from chronic, devastating indecision (which is not a good trait in a Prime Minister); one is appearing utterly seduced by the 'Politics of the Soundbite' and thus creates insufficient gravitas nor confidence; and one is so quiet as to not be heard. We hear more from Vince Cable than Nick Clegg.

With our economy being led into oblivion by the US and Global markets, a housing market on the edge of a precipice, war in the Middle East, a burgeoning Chinese tiger and rising personal debt, it's clear that NONE of these 'leaders' - or the parties they represent - are adequately equipped to lead us over the next decade.

We Need A Hanging

So it was with some concern that I viewed the most recent Sunday Times/YouGov opinion poll, which said the following:

Con 44%, Lab 28%, LD 17%

Uniform swing - 386 Con, 206 Lab, 29LD

Put simply, this poll estimated that if the trend of the poll was uniformly repeated in a General Election today, the Conservative Party would romp home outright winners with a majority of 151 seats in the House of Commons.

This would be, in my opinion, A Bad Thing.

A large majority, as we saw in 1979 and then again since 1997, gives the sitting Government no incentive to do the right thing. they have the power to act in accordance with the wishes only of their own voters. Unpopular or even bad laws (as we saw with the Poll Tax, for example) can be forced through not on the merits of the legislation, but on the power of the majority and a three-line-whip.

There are likely to be unpleasant choices to be made in the coming years. I believe it's likely that interest rates will have to rise. The attendant inflation is going to cause increased unemployment. The political parties are now so stuffed with incompetents, cronies and oddballs for whom the job of MP was 'indoor work with no heavy lifting' and an easy seat on a gravy train, that there is now no single party which is capable of taking ideology and focus groups out of the equation and just making things work.

A Hung Parliament would force a change to this. By ensuring that no one party had an overall majority, the decisions Parliament make that affect us all can no longer be made by spin doctors and focus groups. No law could be made, no legislation passed without real debate and genuine cross-bench support. This means that what happens is no longer based on ideology or soundbite, but on what is right for the Country.

In a stroke, we would remove the 'soundbite politics' of the post-1990 Parliament, and maybe - just maybe - get the Government we actually want and deserve.

We Need A Hanging, and I sincerely hope that in 2010 we get one.

I commend the idea to the House.

Monday, April 14, 2008

QR Codes

So as an experiment, I've made up a QR Code of the same information that's on my MooCard.

It looks like this:

It seems to work for me - but if anyone has a QR-Code reader and can test to make sure it's making sense, please give it a go and drop me a line if you see anything hinky.

The Worst Words in the World

They are, quite frankly, the worst three words in the world. The ones I dread seeing more than any other.

Some. Assembly. Required.

What really *bugs* me about this phrase is the word 'some'. 'Some' implies that the object under construction is at least partially assembled, and that a few tweaks and some nifty quick work with a screwdriver will produce a gleaming, completed device, allowing you to bask in the glow of your awesome DIY skillz.

This, however, is a triumph of hope over experience.

What 'Some Assembly Required' actually means is this:
  • A bunch of disparate bits, all unlabeled.
  • An instruction manual with the same number of steps as would be required to construct the Space Shuttle.
  • Said manual drawn by a skilled artist who was, sadly, suffering either Parkinsons Disease or Delerium Tremens at the time he wrote it.
  • The obligatory bag of screws, nuts and bolts, including several that aren't on the parts list and don't feature *anywhere* in the instruction manual.
So it was that with some trepidation, I approached the box containing the 'Adelaide 4-burner Gas Barbeque'. The sun was shining high in the sky as I opened the box, noting the dreaded words 'Some Assembly Required'.

This thing had over 100 separate parts, and a 40-step construction guide. I was doing well all the way to step 6 - when I realised that I'd got the (unmarked) legs in the wrong places, so had to dismantle the whole lot completely and start again from scratch.

I have a Potty Mouth, so you can imagine the Anglo-Saxon vernacular at this point. It even scared the cat.

I even had to wire up the bloody ignition circuit.

And I had to stop three times. Twice for rain, and once because hailstones were bouncing off my head. Not pleasant.

In the end, though, after 5 hours of fiddling, swearing and skinned knuckles, I stood back and admired my new 'man-cooker'...

Testing it was bloody scary, I have to say. Much sniffing and wet-checks for leaks, then there was no option but to turn the gas on, and press the Big Red Button.

I'm typing this, and I still have my eyebrows, so I guess that's a positive.

I'm now basking in the glow of my awesome DIY skillz, and a full-on test is scheduled for tonight, weather permitting.

So - if my most-dreaded words are 'Some Assembly Required', what are yours?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Well Done, San Francisco!

After the superb performance by British protesters when the Tainted Flame reached London, and the sterling efforts of our French brethren forcing the Charade to be cut short - all eyes last night were on the West Coast as the Relay headed for San Francisco.

Our colonial cousins did not disappoint.

Well done, folks - the fear of public protest meant that the 'Torch Relay' was, in fact, a giant game of Hide and Seek.

If this hasn't killed this grotesque publicity exercise on behalf of a barbaric regime, then I don't know what will. Perhaps, when a Tibetan protester is actually KILLED by the 'Boys in Blue', we might see some action from the politicians.

Next stop, Buenos Aires....

Monday, April 07, 2008

Shame on our Sportsmen and Leaders

In 1980 several countries, led by the US, participated in a boycott of the Moscow Olympics in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. South Africa was barred from the Olympics (and other sporting events) until 1992.

And yet here we are, in 2008, watching the Olympics being glorified by a nation with a horrendous record of human rights abuses.

Not just brutal repression in Tibet.

Executions. The country executed more than four times as many convicts as the rest of the world combined in 2005.

Forced abortion and coercive birth control.

Repression of spiritual and religious groups.

Censorship and repression of free speech and access to impartial information - and repression of those who stand up for it.

And yet, despite all this, we are greeted with the obscene image of grinning sportsmen and 'celebrities', flanked by a phalanx of stone-faced Chinese security guards, carrying this tainted flame across our capital.

We see our own police being used by this brutal regime to repress our own protests at this sick parade.

We hear nothing from our leaders, who refuse to condemn, and still participate in this farcical ceremony. Their limp excuse is that they 'didn't touch the flame' - as if that makes standing, grinning inanely and wringing their hands a la Uriah Heap as they welcome this symbol of repression and greed somehow acceptable to their electorate.

And the reason why nobody will condemn? Why nobody in power (with the notable exception of Nicola Sarkozy) will even THREATEN a boycott? MONEY. We didn't do as much business with the USSR and South Africa. Banning Cape apples was somewhat different to risking the loss of all those cheap, imported knock-off goods we are so reliant upon.

And I say to all those who took part in this parade - be you sportsman, celebrity or politician - save your lame lies and justifications. This flame should never have entered this country, and YOU should hang your heads in shame at having participated in, and perpetuated, this disgusting political charade.

And you'll all go to Beijing, and you'll all smile and shake the hands of the leaders of this vile regime.

Does the medal count matter more than the people of Tibet, or those in China like Hu Jia, who dream of freedom?

Does it bother you that the billion-dollar circus of the 2008 Olympics will simply enrich the regime further, and provide more money with which to repress, torture and murder those who disagree with Mao Zedong's teachings?

Every person who wore a t-shirt. Every person who waved a flag, set off a fire extinguisher, booed and protested has more honour and decency than every single individual who carried that flame COMBINED.

You are all guilty of as big a case of appeasement as those who attended the 1936 Summer Games when the tradition of the Olympic Torch was reinstated - incidentally by another abhorrent, genocidal regime.

Shame on all of you.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Very Public Display of Affection....

I'm never normally given to public displays of affection. Normally, my personal limit extends merely to holding hands.

But tonight, as I sit here at an expectant keyboard, I'm wracked with the need to voice - publicly - just what it is I'm feeling.

There's a person who is currently some 3,950 miles away, doing her job. A job, I should add, that I'm immensely proud of her for doing.

This lady came into my life just over two years ago, at what was an extremely bad time for me emotionally. When all around me seemed black and I was doubting whether I would be the same man again. Just by her love for me (frequently unexpressed, but rarely, if ever, doubted) she brought out of that blackness a different, better man. One who still retained all his geeky tendencies, and yet had more of a taste for life, more confidence with people and a sense of joy and curiosity he thought he'd lost years before.

Thanks to this lady's support, I've restored friendships I thought lost forever. I discovered new friendships I never thought I could make. I career-changed to a job I love. All down to her influence.

It's currently Day Four of her absence from me, and she won't be back for another seven.

When she and I are apart - and with her work, that's frequent - the clock stops. I get up, I go to work, I come home - and like Neo, "night after night I sit at my computer". I put on the TV, trying to drown the silence that surrounds me with the lack of her presence on the sofa, in the bed, in my life. I count the minutes, ever aware of the time difference between where I am and wherever in the world she is, and the next brief window when she and I can speak.

She is "my north, my south, my east and west, my working week, my Sunday rest. My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song".

This is, as I said at the start, a rare (and very public) display of affection for a lady I adore. She doesn't know I've written this, and she won't be expecting this.

Darlin', you mean more to me than I could ever tell you. It's you and me against the world, and you and I are gonna win.

I can't wait till you come home.