Sunday, April 28, 2013

I'm getting hints of Plum - APs meet for a wine-tasting

10 people gathered just north of Plumstead High Street for a full-on wine tasting. Why? Because its not the kind of thing that happens in Plumstead (outside of few school fund-raising events, possibly, maybe) and Art Plumstead is all about plugging gaps in our local life.

The event was designed around a bit of internet research as well as a few personal experiences of attending commercial tastings, a lot of shopping and a some furniture rearranging.

Guests had to guess the most expensive wine in each round with a prize for the winner. Each participant also scored each glass (they tried 15 in total) and the winner was, surprisingly, the lone rosé wine of the evening.

Winner of the Grand Prix de L' Art Plumstead 2013

Foncaussade Parcelles Bergerac Rose 2011 available from Waitrose at reduced price of £6.39 (offer ends 30th April)

The surprise budget wine was the Aldi classic Baron St Jean at a mere £2.99. The most expensive wine of the evening was also unexpected result - it came rock bottom ( a placing I find unfair but, hey, the people have spoken). It was the Jean Luc Colombo Crozes-Hermitage also available from Waitrose.

There was some educational purpose to the event too. I think some people learned something about interpreting labels and the pitfalls of relying on only one indicator such as vintage or price when selecting wine.

One of the early fizzy wines on closer inspection wasn't even a wine - it was an aromatised wine product. 

Wine is a complex but also very enjoyable subject of study.

 The order of wines from best to worst along with other results from the night can be found here.

And thanks to Ali for the loan of the wine glasses!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

"Sea and I" concert at the Academy Performing Arts Woolwich

Went to the Academy in Woolwich last night with some Art Plumstead members to see "The Sea and I" featuring Irwin Sparkes formerly of the Hoosiers. Given it was this venue's first ever gig I would have to rate it a total success. The building, if you don't already know it is the very stately pile set back over a small parade ground fronted by a tank near the Dial Arch pub. Here in other words.

There were a few anxieties related to the weather but despite the end of the world weather reports it was very mild and the bus down to Woolwich took no time. But would the musicians be able to make it? Would the turn-out be embarrassingly low? And could the old building deliver the necessary thermal comfort to those that actually did turn up?

Our group primed themselves with a glass or two of beer at the Dial Arch - this over priced Youngs venue with normally rubbish customer service , variable beer quality and under-heated food was in one of its better moods. It was almost a wrench to set off round the corner.

I had been to see another live performance at the Academy - a proper piece of musical theatre called "The Last Five Years". The principal focus of the Academy is educational, running a number of music and dance classes, so it requires a hefty amount of work to convert the main room into an auditorium. Among the problems is the need to protect the new sprung floor.

We found the atmosphere in the room was spot on with thick church candles blazing away in the giant fireplace and the electrical lighting subdued. It felt warm. And best of all it looked full. Yes full of real people. There was also a bar which was well stocked apart from the fact that the thirsty masses had wiped out the bottled beers by the end of the interval. I had to make do with spirits. Life is hard sometimes.

The support act Jon Mills was sweet, humble and funny as he went through a set of guitar-ed, harmonica-ed and lyrically astute ballads with heavy flavours of Dylan, mostly accompanied on vocals by his beautifully serene-looking chum Dearbhla. Jon was also the moving spirit behind getting the main act to make the trip out to the wilds of SE18.

"The Sea and I" is a self confessed work in progress but their progress report so far scores as "highly impressive". Just seeing the six of them take up their places on stage created a stir of anticipation. Sitting in a high vaulted venue (I'm told it was once the office of the Duke of Wellington) in Woolwich listening to a band with violin and cello is not an every day experience. This was real chamber music and as they surged their way through the, disappointingly short, set of slow burn vocally complex numbers you could begin to dream that the Academy has a real future. Just bung on a small group of local classical music students every month, trios/quartets/whatever, and I'm sure it'll find a regular audience in no time. Add in some contemporary musicians seeking a better class of venue and Woolwich will take another step forward in its fitful struggle for self improvement.

Well done to the performers and to the Academy's management.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Room at the Inn

A very successful trip to Gillingham yesterday for AFC Wimbledon. Dons have been struggling for a while but after clawing their way back from 3-1 down won 3-4
Before the game we visited a very pleasant pub. Nice real ale and an intriguing take on smoking outside - in short isn't really outside. You walk through the glass french windows into a very comfy conservatory. OK the outside wall wasn't 100% solid but this was effectively a smoking room.
On a visit to Devon the rumour in my sisters village is that the dodgy new landlord let's people smoke in the main bar.
Our regular watering hole has a small yard which now has a effective canopy of umbrellas.
So are things slowly working back to smoking and non-smoking rooms in pubs?

Room at the Inn

A very successful trip to Gillingham yesterday for AFC Wimbledon. Dons have been struggling for a while but after clawing their way back from 3-1 down won 3-4

Before the game we visited a very pleasant pub. Nice real ale and an intriguing take on smoking outside - in short isn't really outside. You walk through the glass french windows into a comfy conservatory. OK the outside wall wasn't 100% solid but this was effectively a smoking room.

On a visit to Devon the rumour in my sisters village is that the dodgy new landlord let's people smoke "inside"-details aren't clear but could this be something similar seeing as direct defiance could prove costly?

Our regular watering hole has a small yard which now has a effective canopy of umbrellas. They have put in large windows so that smokers aren't completely disconnected from main bar.

So are things slowly working back to smoking and non-smoking rooms in pubs?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cafes, curries and closure (of Greggs!)

View Larger Map

Two little highlights of Plumstead High Street are worth a mention (or another mention as I am sure I have mentioned one or both before)

-The Cafe Royale a few doors along from Namaste

-The Punjabi Dhaba near the big Barclays Bank

The Cafe Royale is a small coffee shop with coffee that actually tastes of something. Its shown on the above map just west of Plumstead station. Capuccino’s are diligently salted with chocolate. There is a tribal Yemeni sword on the wall. There are comfy chairs to sit down and read your papers (there’s usually a few tabloids and local papers available). They try and aim for it being a western type coffee shop - I think they miss a trick there. I once came in and saw some lovely looking syrupy cake on the counter. They hadn’t intended it for general sale - it was a traditional ramadan breakfast dish. The immense politeness of the lady there meant she sold me a piece and it was delicious. I have had some of their normal patisseries and they are ok too - the pain au chocolat and danish seem to be provided fresh. There are some cellophane wrapped muffins. There are some peculiar looking takes on full dinners and breakfasts laid out in the glass cabinets - an entire cooked breakfast with unusal looking sausages and a ready-fried egg would be an example. I assume they get micro-waved prior to being served but I’m not entirely sure. Going back to the politeness - both the East Europeans who sometimes serve there and the Yemenis are really polite and friendly and not in the artificial Pret manner. Most traders in the High Street are matter-of-fact at the best and generally down in the mouth so some friendliness makes a pleasant change.

A wonderfully down in the mouth man with a droopy moustache usually serves me when I visit the Punjabi Dhaba formerly known as the The Village Restaurant. A Dhaba is a roadside cafe in Indian and this certainly has the food shack feel about it. You find it in Whit Hart Road opposite Lakedale Road. There is transport cafe style seating that often has a group of people being served with sizzling griddle-pans loaded with shikh kebabs and chicken wings. People might be anxious about the hygiene of the place when looking in but the food here is fine. They use various bases such as the mutton curry which they adapt according to the order. I frequently order Mutton Achar and so the standard curry is solemnly scooped up to disappear behind the partition. Much clattering follows and the modified curry arrives with its pieces of lime pickle and other additional flavourings five minutes later. Its nice watching your nan being cooked in front of you (I mean naan, sorry nan). And its really tasty. They also do traditional Indian breakfast there but I haven’t worked myself up to trying it yet. A current favorite order is a mutton biriani,a chana massala (spicy chickpeas) and a nan bread. This is enough for two and comes in at slightly over 7 quid with mint sauce and a bag of salad thrown in gratis. It’s not the same stuff you get in a normal British High Street the main difference being depth of flavor and (on the negative side) quite a bit of salt.

Another place in the High Street that has friendly outgoing staff is the Greggs in the High Street. The bad news here is people simply aren’t buying stuff there any more and the visiting manager said it was being lined up for closure. This would be depressing if it happens - the bread selection in Tesco’s is poor and over-priced and keeping a bit choice going would be good thing. So get in there and buy some chocolate eclairs for the sake of Plumstead.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

1834 days

That is not the time since my last post. It is the time since my Give-Up-Smoking-D-Day on 9th April 2006.

So my thoughts-

1. That seems a respectable amount of time
2. I hardly think about smoking
3. Ugh...I am fat

What else has happened in that time?

1. David died.
2. Eve died
3. Bought a house with R
4. Killed a lot of mice some with my bare hands
5. Followed the Dons from the Ryman Premier to the play-offs of the Conference
6. Gone to Cornwall a lot
7. Met lots of lovely lovely people including wee babies and new children
8. Discovered that staying in is usually the best option
9. Passed an A-level in "Plot of Desperate Housewives Studies"
10.I have become nerdier

I have even done a tiny bit of acting with resonancefm radio and The Southwark Mysteries and the associated to campaign to develop the Crossbones site. Please sign the petition for the latter and chuck cash mindlessly at both.

The rodents have retreated this year so I might have a bit more time to blog. Now where's the chocolate?

Picture by chashama at flickr '"Crone" April 9 2006'

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Supplying Cigarettes to Miners

The guys trapped in the mine in Chile are to be supplied with cigarettes according to this story on the BBC website

"The 33 miners will be sent two packets of cigarettes a day through a supply tube to share between them...until now they have had to make do with nicotine patches and gum, sent to them through a supply tube"

Cigarettes for Miners

If this happened in Britain I wonder if this would be a legal possibility. Will the shaft still be a "workplace" or would it be treated as a "residence" where they would be allowed to smoke in the same way as you can in prison cells?

If it was temporarily designated as part of the British Houses of Parliament perhaps they could enjoy a puff assuming the Houses of Parliament's notorious exemption still applies.

Thanks to cramiuya for the photo "Holy Smoke"

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Barclays Cycle Scheme needs a bit of puff - Some Hints and Tips

R and I went to try out the Barclays Cycle Scheme that started yesterday in London. As you can see in this lop-sided Anti-bullying video my victim-come-able assistant had trouble getting started. The brakes had been over-tightened (we were told) making them incredibly stiff. Not all were as stiff and there is a simple way to check them that you'll find in the tips below. We soon got going.

The bikes - they look very clunky and heavy. I found them a very comfortable ride after a brief spell of adjustment. Shortly after starting I turned into the packed thoroughfare of Borough Market and was able to crawl along very slowly without having to use my feet at all for balance. They are incredibly stable. You feel enthroned on them. The gears are smooth and on the flat you can get a bit of speed on.

Docking stations - it would have helped me as a rider (but not as a resident) if they were bright orange and had thirty foot totem poles beside them and blared out air raid signals all day. It would make them easier to find. The map I had been sent showed a docking station on the North East side of Tower Bridge which is simply not there. I was close up to my thirty minutes and went hunting without a happy ending. I found one in Vaughan Way but arrived there just over the 30 minutes you get "for free".

Docking station assistants - they are just there for an introductory period. When R had trouble with the first bike a friendly and well informed assistant 'fessed up that he had never actually "been on one". This seemed to be the general rule with the assistants and that has got to be a bit daft in anyone's book. After the missing dock fiasco I caught up with R at another dock and explained the issue to the two assistants there. One of the assistants looked like I had accused her of being Raoul Moat's spirit guide. Way too defensive - the sort of defensiveness you get when you haven't been properly trained. The other assistant was pleasantly surprised when I gave positive feedback about the ride-ability of the bike so I guess other riders had been negative. Those stiff wheels one can assume.

Connecting and disconnecting-A lot of people have had trouble taking them out. Lift the saddle so the rear wheel is clearly off the ground before pulling the bike away from the dock. You'll want to do this for the stiff wheel check anyway (see below).

We didn't encounter the "full docking station" scenario. This is where you arrive at your destination and find you have nowhere to dock. As well as the non-existent dock mentioned above we did find a totally out of order dock (Panton Street) when we were going to collect a bike for a new journey. This didn't allow anything to happen and wasn't able to tell you where the next nearest docking station was - you wouldn't have been able to credit yourself the extra fifteen minutes either so a bum deal if you were running close to your thirty minutes.

Check the lights on the dock - I encountered two non-functioning docks (within an otherwise functioning docking station). You have to see green. R got pounced on by curious onlookers (see "Meet the People" below) just at the critical moment so was unsure if she had docked - so concentrate for a few seconds just to make sure. It can take a few seconds for the bike to be recognised and docked. We went to double-check that it had docked correctly online when we got home but the system was down (and continues to be down at the time of writing).

Meet the people - if you crave attention get on one of these before the novelty wears off. This is why people spend loads on clothes and speedy cars, I guess, except that instead of shying away in envy people were really open and communicative. A bit too communicative. Entering into a FAQ session whilst you're waiting for the lights to change on the Tottenham Court Road is a bit distracting. People in vehicles asked questions as we cycled along. It got a bit too much at times. I had a lengthy encounter with some woman who kept pulling incredibly long faces whenever any kind of charge was mentioned. "If you use it a lot it costs less than one pound a week" cue LONG FACE "if you are a professional thief and nick them you get £300 deducted from your credit card" Cue INCREDIBLY LONG FACE OF GOBSMACKED DISBELIEF. After each long face there was an immediate re-birth of enthusiasm which would go fine until any money was mentioned. And she didn't look poor. Meanwhile to my right a very gentle (probably medicated) young man in an anorak slipped in supplementary questions during the woman's dramatic pauses. Then some Angry of Woking type in a suite strode over and demanded "some maps please". I told him I didn't work for the scheme and that I was just a cyclist but he obviously didn't believe me and he walked off muttering about jobsworths.

Earlier in the day a nice, better-informed guy tried me to help me find a docking station as he could see I was lost. "My girlfiend says there's definitely one down there by a small park" - I thanked him and cycled off and soon realised the kindness was greater than the utility of his advice. He might as well have said "there are docking stations in London somewhere".

The weirdest one was the woman sternly shouting at me as I whizzed past "Where is the Swedish Embassy!" - quite who or what she thought I was I will never know - some sort of free-ranging tourist guide on wheels? Maybe they have them in Stockholm.

Hints and Tips

1. Check that the bike's rear wheel spins smoothy. raise the bike by lifting the seat and spin the back wheel. If it looks sticky try the next one until you get one that runs smoothly.
2. Carry a stop watch. You'll need to check how much time you've used yourself there is nothing on the bike that tells you. Adjust your seat height (very easy to do) and load your bags into the basket before you undock to stop wasting any of your thirty minutes.
3. Get a members key even if you're going to be an infrequent user - for the extra three quid you get a lot of convenience . Doing Tip #1 (above) may not be possible without a key (I'll need to check this). I am still not sure if the £3 fee is per key or per order. You can order up to four keys per account (for your non credit card carrying teenage family and friends). I found registration very easy but you do need a credit or debit card.
4. On your first journey put in some planning - though I am an ok cyclist and know Central London quite well combining the two was harder than I thought. I got completely befuddled at Berwick Street when on my way to Wardour Street. My theory is that when you are walking you have more mental route planning time. On a bike you're always ahead of yourself - and its not just routes to "where-you-are-going" but routes to "the-nearest-docking-stations-to-where-you are-going" that you need to calculate. Look at a variety of route planners if you can. The route I had down Cleveland Street from a Tfl cycling map had changed due to one way systems.
5. If you have the opportunity to take some spare maps or literature do so - it will save you chat-time with interested strangers. Explaining the pricing scheme is complicated I can assure you.
6. Look at the Highway code section for cyclists if you're not a motorist already to better understand the road signage - the maze of streets in the centre of town are quite confusing with their various restrictions. As you are riding on public property you're expected to obey the rules of the road.
7. Don't think "Bike Hire" think "Public Transport Journey". This came home to me when R was speculating about the ability to take Scheme Bikes on the Thames Clipper service. There's no point - she was thinking in terms of hiring a bike for a period of time. Her sequence was "Collect bike -cycle to pier- embark with bike on Clipper-travel to desired pier-disembark with bike continue and cycle on to final destination where bike is returned". The proper sequence is "collect bike - dock bike near pier- FORGET ABOUT BIKES ENTIRELY AND GET ON WITH NORMAL LIFE-get off boat and start another completely different journey on a new bike." It is not a bicycle hire scheme. Its "a flexible self-propelled element of the public transport system based on a bicycling model".
8. FIVE MINUTES - that's the time you have to wait between docking your bike and setting off on a new journey. The longer the bike remains unreturned the steeper the hourly rate but there's nothing to stop you breaking your journeys into smaller bits apart from this five minute wait time. The scheme organisers emphasis time and again that this is all about short journeys.

Although I loved riding the things after four and a half journeys and glass of Rosé in Davey's Wine Vaults in Greenwich and a further (own) bike ride home I was totally knackered. R and I found the whole thing totally addictive. I just hope it can keep ahead of the low-level crims and ahead of demand from the many people who are going to use and hopefully love and respect this new transport system.