Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Credit Crunch Paris




It's not my fault that I have to spend a lot of time in Paris, eating and drinking my way around the city. It's a tough job but..... it's not all joie de vivre.

Given the exchange rate fun we're having with the Euro, last week was more pain than joy, prices being calculated UP the way rather than DOWN, so much so that one night I decided to stay in, which I can't ever remember doing before. Admittedly I was in a suite with a large plasma screen TV, free peanuts and a very comfortable sofa.

So I went to the local traiteur, a grocer which makes Fortnum and Mason look like Aldi.
I was escorted from counter to counter by a small lady wearing an apron who cut, sliced, wrapped and generally prettified everything I bought. Some ham, celeriac remoulade, pate, egg and vegetable terrine, etc. Little bits of this and little bits of that. Parisian delicacies rather than a vast takeaway curry or somesuch. She managed to avoid the question "how much is that?" every time I asked.
At the final counter, where one is given a slip of paper which is then taken across the floor to the cash desk, I was smiled at by the manageress as she totted it all up.

"Fifty two euros monsieur" she said sweetly, still smiling.
"What??"
"Fifty two euros". Her smile was beatific.
There wasn't even any wine. It would have been cheaper going out. Possibly.
Admittedly there was a sliver of foie gras maison which was €25 itself (I later looked at the price tag - €250 per kg - gah!)
I left feeling slightly miserable, wondering how I was going to explain this back at the ranch. I then walked into their wine shop and asked if they had any sauternes.
"Certainly sir, " the man said with a flourish, "This half bottle is €140. Would sir be looking for a full bottle?"
No, sir, would be looking for the exit, rapido, pronto, it's hot in here and I'm looking for the nearest offie where - thankfully - we come back down to planet earth with a jolly little beaujolais costing €8.

I was then introduced to the current Parisian scam du jour, which involves the mug (me) looking down at the gutter while waiting to cross the road and seeing a large gold wedding ring, at which point the perp (small weasely person) picks it up looking both astonished and quizzical, and then asking if it belongs to moi (the mug). Conversation then ensues in which you offer to buy the stupid thing for €10 or something. First time I couldn't be arsed even talking and walked off. Second day I laughed and the third - when the variation was a large shiny watch, I said (in English) while pointing at my forehead - "does it say stupid on here?"

Caution is rarely the watchword in Paris, but it was for the rest of the week. Until after dinner on Friday when I was persuaded to go to our favourite nightspot, a scruffy little jazz cafe I've been going to for years because the music is excellent. I had a cognac and a coffee. Then another cognac before making my excuses and leaving, citing an early Eurostar.
I offered a €20 bill. But our patron advised that there was now a €10 'entrance fee' which I remarked he'd never charged me before. He just looked at me. I rummaged around my pockets and found a €10 bill - the only one I had - and graciously offered that, the man has a living to make after all..
"Non, monsieur," he explained, pointing, "It is €30.50"
I stared, disbelieving and said. "You are joking, aren't you. It's only 50 cents"
He looked straight at me.
"Non. Do you have a card?"
He took my card and processed the entire €30.50. The handset asked 'Gratuity?'
I stamped in 'Non' and left rather deflated.

The Eurostar back to London the following morning was unusually comfortable. Thankfully next time I'm going back to slightly scruffier parts, you know, the ones where they have the riots.
At least the food will be cheap.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Valentine!




OK, you want romance? Sing this to your loved one on Valentine's Night.

O my Luve's like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June:
O my Luve's like the melodie
That’s sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only Luve
And fare thee weel, awhile!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

The choice is yours, accompanied by a large man playing the bagpipes in the corner of the kitchen, some dry ice and Full Highland Dress, or possibly just slipped inside the card.

In the ensuing seconds of silence, as your stunned partner takes in the full might of what you have just done - it will surely resonate for years to come - you can fill the gap with the following fact.

"It's the song that inspired Bob Dylan"

That should do the trick.


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Mamma Mia! It's the BAFTAS already!



So, it's prediction day again. After last year's poor show (they only made six right decisions) let's see how well the BAFTA jury does this year in their deliberations. Are they going to get it right?
(results added Monday am)

BEST FILM
It's gotta be SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.
Correct

OUTSTANDING BRITISH FILM
It should be MAMMA MIA. All that Tom Hanks star-buying money has gotta have some effect!
Wrong.
Obv not going for the pop vote, but Man on Wire is a damn fine film.

CARL FOREMAN AWARD
STEVE McQUEEN (Hunger) please - although this is the only time JUDY CRAMER (Mamma Mia) stands a chance.
Correct

DIRECTOR
DANNY BOYLE did a brilliant job on Slumdog Millionaire.
Correct. Yay!

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
IN BRUGES should get it.
Correct

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Haven't seen Benjamin Button yet. So money's on SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
Correct

FILM NOT ENGLISH
GOMORRAH. Gotta be.
Wrong

ANIMATED FILM
WALL-E please. I'm the only person in the world that wasn't thrilled beyond belief by Persepolis.
Correct

LEADING ACTOR
SEAN PENN - no contest - although it has been pointed out that his nose is too big for his face. Nevertheless he is the Nationwide fave actor of his generation still. Man's a creative genius.
Wrong - Boo!
Mickey Rourke? When's it out on DVD?

LEADING ACTRESS
Looks like KATE WINSLETT
Correct

SUPPORTING ACTOR
HEATH LEDGER, posthumously, althoug Aaron Eckhart did a very impressive job in that film too. .
Correct

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
TILDA SWINTON was utterly superb but all five here are strong.
Wrong - ish..

MUSIC
Should ABBA get a BAFTA? The whole film is the music so why not? Give it to Benny and Bjorn!
Wrong

CINEMATOGRAPHY
ANTHONY DOD MANTLE (Slumdog) Fabulous.
Correct

EDITING
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE definitely, although I ain't seen this Benjamin Button
Correct

PRODUCTION DESIGN
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. I don't know how they did it - apart from the studio set courtesy of Celador.
Wrong

COSTUME DESIGN
THE DUCHESS
Correct

SOUND
No idea. Wall-e? James Bond?
Wrong

VISUAL EFFECTS
It would be midly ironic if Indiana Jones was to get (or anything frankly) after Spielberg's pre-publicity line - "it's all for real, no special effects". Oh yeah?
dunno

MAKE UP and HAIR
Probably Benjamin Button but the hair in MILK is something else.
Correct

SHORT ANIMATION
WALLACE AND GROMIT deserve a British Award!
Correct - yay!

SHORT FILM
No idea
dunno

RISING STAR
No idea.
dunno

From 20 predictions, 13 were correct. Not bad going BAFTA jury but you must try harder next year.
Oh, and the Americans are going to hate us.













Monday, February 02, 2009

Happytown

Hooray! Hooray! It's a public holiday!
Well it may as well be in cold, wintry Brighton where the city's tens of thousands of London commuters are stuck at home, building snowmen on the beach and filling the pubs. "It's like the War!" said a blackboard outside one, with a tiny note below "but without the war bit".


Snow doesn't normally reach Brighton, a city more used to the bracing sea air of La Manche, but if it does it just means travel to London is a little more cold and difficult. Except this morning, worst snow for 18 years, there were no trains, buses, or even routes of escape by car. Hordes of office workers suddenly marooned in Snowtown-on-sea.

"You can't have sausages" said the barman, "We only had two to start" perfectly illustrating that morning's expectation of a man and his dog coming in for a half pint of stout at lunchtime, instead of which he's got card schools, men in suits, babies crying and general pandemonium.
"Why don't you go over the road to the shop then?" he was asked.
"Well even if I could go over I haven't got anyone to cook it" he said, pouring a pint of Harveys with one hand a Guinness with the other.


Meanwhile, this being Brighton, beach snowmen with seaweed hair, were being supplemented with anatomically correct snow women,



















snow rabbits,


















and snow bicycles.
















Back in the pub, a man is on his mobile asking bus inquiries if there is likely to be a London service tomorrow. "No?" he asked, slightly worried, unaware that the whole pub was listening to him until they broke into spontaneous loud cheering. "Call the railways too! You're good luck!"

Today, the recession seems very, very far away.
























A wee bitta snow

We are snowed in. Hurrah!
And we are not in the Highlands of Scotland or the Alps or the Rockies. We are in the sunny seaside English coastal resort of Brighton, where families and gay couples come to frolick in the sun.

Not today they don't.



In the "worst weather since... etc etc" we've had some lovely snow overnight, with more to come, and outside, while there may be no trains, buses, roads open, or anything normal, Brighton Beach is suddenly white.
Voila!





In Scotland this morning, the BBC teletext tells me with some glee "flights are cancelled" because English airports are closed - I can hear the sound of raucous laughter all the way down here ("a wee bitta snow??") - but for a few moments it's going to lie and cause some trouble.




Schools are closed, obviously, and if I were a kid I'd be out NOW with a tin tray sliding down the nearest hill which, rather ironically, is likely to be one of the shingle slopes on the beach.