Thursday, December 28, 2006

Top 5 Kids' Christmas Presents

Over Christmas I've seen loads of kids' presents being unwrapped and played with. I reckon these are the most popular presents this year.

1. Nintendo DS

Apparently these becoming as popular with the over 60s as they are with young kids, particularly the games that require mental challenges. The modern day version of the crossword. I know the Nintendo Wii is in short supply, but I reckon its adults and not kids who want them, whereas every kid wants a DS

2. iPod Nano

I still can't see an MP3 player to seriously challenge the iPod. I know that phones can play music, but nothing is quite as cool, dinky and easy as the iPod - especially if you've already got an iTunes library already set up.
3. High School Musical DVD

Have seen it at least 3 times so far. Young girls love it. Reminds me a lot of 'Fame'. Has been a big hit for Disney.

4. Doctor Who Stuff

Remote control daleks have been difficult to find in the shops over Christmas. Same voice, same catchphrase, same problem with climbing stairs.

5. Blue Peter Annual

Still as popular as ever and the formula remains pretty much the same. My daughter Mae got a Blue Peter badge for sending in a poem. She's very proud of it and secretly I'm a bit jealous.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

2006 Favourites

Album: Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
Single: Lily Allen, Smile
Film: Casino Royale
Paperback: A Short History of Tractors in the Ukraine

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Did You Know?

Our perception of what Santa Claus looks like can be traced to the Coca Cola adverts in 1930s America when he first appeared as a jolly old man with a white beard and a red coat.

Its a common misperception that Coke 'invented' Santa's red colour. This isn't true as he appeared in red before the Coke ads. However Coca Cola did ensure he became most strongly associated with the company's corporate colours.

Who says advertising doesn't work.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Association of China Dads Committee (ACDC) Inaugural Meeting

Venue: Oxo Tower Brasserie, 18th December 2006, 12.30pm
Present: Mr Tache, Mr Whippy, Mr All Black, Mr Hendrix, Mr Webb
Absent: (with apologies) Mr Mole

1. Decision taken to hold Dad and Older Daughter Bonding Event in Summer
2. Mr All Black to investigate venue options
3. Mr Tache to put forward programme initiatives
4. Follow up meeting to take place at St.John restaurant to discuss logistics of agreed Event
5. Mr Webb proposed that John Lennon was in fact uncool due to comb-over hair style. To be discussed at follow up meeting

Further issues were discussed at Tate Modern bar at 4pm. Meeting closed after committee members decided have a go on the slides

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The River Cafe

The River Cafe has had a massive influence on British food culture. it helped re-invent Italian food, the cook books were incredibly popular, there were the tv programmes and of course it 'discovered' Jamie Oliver. We had dinner there for the first time in over 10 years and it was a real treat.

We started with the house cocktail: prosecco, campari and pomegranite. The menu was very fishy and we had turbot, scallops and dover sole. The desserts were laid out on the long bar and looked just like the photographs you see in the cookbooks. Everything was perfect.

It was exactly the same as I remembered. The layout and decor, with the long bar and the big clock projected on the wall was unchanged. The staff were young and friendly. It had the same hand written menu and they still had the all-Italian wine list.
It was great to see that it was still so successful and that they hadn't in any way changed their winning formula and their standards. And of course it was packed. It wasn't cheap, but it was worth it.

Roast and the River Cafe in one week. Aren't I the lucky one. And I'm off to the Oxo Tower on Monday! Can't wait.

Friday, December 15, 2006

For Derby Fans Only

Francis Lee dives to win a penalty for Derby. Probably explains why the fight took place.

Francis Lee v Norman Hunter pt.1

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Helsinki Again

Am staying in the Radisson hotel by the seaside in Helsinki in Room 711, yet another brand name disguised as a room number. I didn't realise that Helsinki had a seaside, but I can definitely see a huge ferry boat from my hotel window. Heading for Talin apparently.

There's no snow, so I'm a bit worried about how Santa's going to get out of Lapland on his sleigh, but apparently its snowy up there.

It may not be snowing in Helsinki but its very dark. By the time I entered the meeting room in the morning the sun hadn't risen. Then at one point I said 'let's lift the blinds to let in some light' and there wasn't any.

The hotel, of course, has a sauna. I should take advantage of the facilities I suppose, but not sure I'm up to exposing myself to strange Finns. They may be shy, but they don't mind getting their kit off in public.


Had a fabulous lunch at Roast on Monday, the restaurant above Borough market. I really like this restaurant because:

- it champions British cuisine and British ingredients
- it's down to earth, yet still feels special: the menu provides lots of interesting and useful information about the ingredients without being pretentious
- the room is light and lovely - with views of St Pauls cathedral and Borough market: you feel that you're in the heart of London
- and of course the food's great

Highly recommended

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Franny Lee

Yesterday, Derby County beat Leeds United 1 nil at Elland Road, the first time they've won there since 1975 - over 30 years ago - when the goalscorer was Francis Lee. It was the year Derby became League Champions.

Francis Lee was a brilliant goalscorer and perfected the art of diving in the box before the likes of Christiano Ronaldo or Drogba were born. One of my earliest footballing memories was Derby vs Leeds at the Baseball ground when Norman Hunter and Francis Lee were sent off for fighting, when both clubs were bitter rivals at the top of the division. See video below with vintage 'Motty' commentary.

Unlike most footballers of that era, he became a successful businessman running a toilet paper empire, FH Lee, which he then sold. My first full time job was working for the head office of the company that bought FH Lee. I was rubbish at it and didn't last long. One of my jobs was to compile regular sales data from the various operating companies who had to ring me every Friday with their figures.

One day FH Lee called to give their information. When I asked for a contact name, the voice on the line said 'Francis Lee'. Instead of telling him that I thought he was one of best players I'd ever seen, I simply said 'thanks very much' and hung up.

Francis Lee v Norman Hunter

Friday, December 08, 2006

Levi's 501

At my last hotel I stayed in Room 501, which immediately brought to mind the Levi's 501 advertisement 'Launderette' from 1985. It was probably the most famous ad of the era and was the first of a highly successful campaign that rejunvenated the Levi's brand.

It featured the very pretty Nick Kamen who tried - unsuccessfully - to launch a pop career. I wonder where he is now? I bet he'll turn up on some reality show soon, if he hasn't already.

What I find interesting about the campaign was that it also helped grow the boxer short market in the UK. Before this, the British male stuck rigidly to his Y-fronts. In the early 80s I played football for my university and there was an American lad in our team. I remember how shocked we were when he got changed and we saw him wearing these weird boxer shorts. We gave him a lot of stick at the time!

Lots of other brands are named after numbers: Chanel No 5 of course, Nescafe Blend 37, Porsche 911, Boeing 747 and er...that's all I can think of. Maybe there aren't that many after all.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Taxi Driver

Although I'm now back in South London, I tried to retain some of the spirit of New York by watching the dvd of Taxi Driver. It's been ages since I last it and I have to say that I think it's a truly great film. De Niro is incredible as Travis Bickle with an amazing support cast of Harvey Keitel, Cybil Shepherd and Jodie Foster. Pimps, hookers, violence, sleaze, menace, pathos, great lines. It has everything. Worth re-visiting.

Watched it via Lovefilm, my favourite on line service. It's good to know there's a always a decent film on hand to watch. I was always late when I took my video back to Blockbuster. And I could never park the car on Balham HIgh Road.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Next Stop New York

Managed to escape from Dallas just in time. Apparently its now snowing and it caused chaos. Flghts are being cancelled and apparently people in Dallas don't know how to drive when its icey, so there will lots of accidents.

Am staying in White Plains, an hour or so from New York. Feels very different. Pine trees and hills vs the flatlands of Texas and of course different American accents to contend with. I suppose I should go to New York, but still feeling jet lagged so don't think I'll bother.

Strange things happen to you when you've spent a few days in the States. I've found that I've modified the way I speak. In Dallas, I found myself describing things as 'kinda neat' and saying 'excellent!' and 'all right!' in a really loud voice when I liked something. I almost - but not quite - broke into a high 5. Someone tried it on me and I missed.

Then, over lunch someone told me that my English accent made me sound like 'a classy guy', which I of course found very flattering. I then became posher and posher and started saying things like ' in common parlance this is known as..' and 'that's jolly good' and began to revert to an English stereotype. 'Its 4 o clock everyone, so its time for tea'. I'm sure I ended up sounding like Hugh Grant by the end of the day. What an idiot.

In New York I'm sure this won't happen. I'll try and retain a Derby accent throughout. That'll confuse them. However, I'm sure that by the end of the day I'll sound like Tony Soprano. At one point today I found myself saying 'so who's the wise guy?'. I couldn't help myself.

Monday, November 27, 2006

I've just arrived in rainy Dallas for my last big trip of the year, staying at the Marriott in Las Colinas. The first road you see from the airport is the President George Bush Turnpike. I guess I'll need to careful what I say in my class tomorrow.

I'm convinced the Americans don't really want people to visit their country. Every official I've met has asked me when I'm going to leave, how I'm going to leave and what my return flight number is. I was let in eventually. The immigration officer looked at my documents and told me I was 'good to go'. I felt a bit like a fast food order.

I was hoping that they'd show Borat as the in-flight entertainment, but instead I watched some of Pirates of the Caribbean 2. A bit bored with Johnnie Depp's eyeliner and as usual Keira Knightley was rubbish.

Anyway I'm starving. I must order something to eat from the room service menu. As with everything in Texas, it's bound to be HUGE.

Why Germans are Cool
1. They always arrive on time. Which is very cool if you're running a workshop.
2. The manager of their national football, Jurgen Klinsman lived in California during the World Cup.
3. They were the most exciting team during the World Cup - until Italy knocked them out - hurrah!
4. They celebrate Christmas really well with their traditional Christmas markets.
5. Christmas always starts on time, ie this week. On Tooting High Steet the Christmas lights were switched on in October
6. They make the best kitchen appliances. Our new German oven has a 'dough proving' setting which is really cool. I can't wait to make pizza.
7. Our Bosch washing machine is much better than our crappy Italian Zanussi.
8. When you catch a taxi in Germany it is always a Mercedes. And you can pay with credit cards.
9. German taxis always arrive on time.
10. Forget Blue Nun. German white wines are fab.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

My Allotment

Last Sunday I visited my allotment for the first time in ages. It was a cold and sunny morning and I really enjoyed digging, clearing weeds and getting dirty.

Being a novice, my neighbours gave me lots of advice and handed out their surplus produce. The surrounding plots are immaculate and some people have had them for over 20 years. My plot is a bit shabby and I'm sure they're very unimpressed with my efforts. I must get down more often to keep on top of everything.

Having an allotment really makes you appreciate what good food should really taste like. Last year my tomatoes and broad beans were amazing. You also get to learn about growing seasons and how to look after plants.

This winter I'm not going to grow much. However, now is a good time for garlic. Simply take an ordinary bulb, break it into cloves and plant them 4 inches apart with the tips showing. They'll be ready next Summer. Easy peasy. However, watch out for the birds pulling out the green stems when they begin to grow.

In Wandsworth there's a 3 year waiting list for an allotment. I can understand why.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Have just been dropped off by my taxi in the German town of Ulm, famous for having the largest Gothic church spire in the world. I haven't got a clue where I am exactly. All I know is that its an hour or so from Stuttgart.

Sometimes I feel like a rock star - but without the sex, drugs and adulation. I arrive in places, do my stuff and leave as soon as possible.

The last time I was in Ulm, Italy were playing Germany in the World Cup semi final. There was big screen in the town square which was packed with excited Germans with their face paint and flags over their shoulders. Italy won near the end and the crowd were all so sad and crying. Of course I was supporting the Italians and was delighted. I almost felt sorry for Germany. Almost - but not quite.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

What I'm Reading

On the flight back to London last night I started to read Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang, another donation from my brother Nick. I have to say, it's a great book. I was keen to read it after having seen Sidney Nolan's amazing Ned Kelly Series when I visited the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra earlier this year.

I know Canberra gets a bad press, but I thought it was a really nice place with lots of things to do and see. Was weird to see so many kangaroos wandering around, but I guess the Aussies must be used to it.

Whilst I was there I also saw a film called Jinderbyne . I know it was critically acclaimed, but boy was it depressing. Give me Skippy any day.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

L'Oreal Male Models

In Finland (yes, I'm still here), Sammi Hyypia the Liverpool footballer is the face of L'Oreal. Now I know he's Finnish, but he's hardly gorgeous is he?

I can understand why they chose David Ginola as his hair was so shiny and lustrous, but I think they've taken the principle of global advertising and local execution a step too far.

If they had to a choose a footballer role model for the UK, I'd choose Sol Campbell. I met him a couple of times a year or so ago and I have to say he's a good looking boy.

If they wanted to look beyond a footballer, I'd suggest Richard Shelton the Emmerdale star. I know he's a murderer, but he's got lovely skin.

Monday, November 13, 2006

What I find interesting about Finnish people...

1. They're still very proud of the fact that they won this year's Eurovision Song Contest with Lordi

2. They're very introvert and hate small talk...but apparently they're very excitable when they're drunk

3. They like to got to lunch at 11.30am. I guess it gets dark very early

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Snow in Helsinki

My flight landed at 11.35 this evening and I saw my first snow of the winter. It looks beautiful and I feel that Christmas should begin this week. I don't think I've brought enough warm clothes but at least I've remembered my Derby County bobble hat. Thank goodness.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Back from Jakarta early Thursday morning and then off to Switzerland this evening. Briefly saw the kids to remind them that they've still got a dad.

Wasn't in Switerland for very long, but what I do remember is
a. the trains ran on time
b. the air was crisp and clean

I guess that sums up Switzerland really. Wasn't it Orson Welles in 'The Third Man' who said something like 'the only thing the Swiss invented was the cuckoo clock'. Of course, this isn't strictly true. Henri Nestle was a great chocolate pioneer.

It was also whilst working at Nestle that I met my lovely wife Karen.

I still buy Buitoni pasta whenever I can. Of all the brands I've worked on it's my favourite. Although as all Italians know, the best pasta brand in the world is da Cecco

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Jakarta News
In my workshop today I showed the recent Dove 'Natural Beauty' ad campaign, saying that it was a great example of how female stereotypes had been successfully challenged. However, everyone in the class thought the women were fat and ugly.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Staying in the huge and very swanky Ritz Carlton hotel running a 3 day workshop. (2nd time I've stayed in 1 of these - the first was in Dubai earlier this year.) Have been here a day now and not stepped out onto the streets of the city. So far have only seen the view from the airport to the hotel and the view from my 20th floor room. Feeling jetalagged from the 17 hour flight and the bed is so comfy, so not inspired to move..although all the spa facilities seem quite tempting. Even the locals tell me the city is dominated by pollution, traffic and shopping. I can get plenty of that in London.

What I didn't realise about Indonesia is that it is the biggest Muslim country in the world. Population of over 200 mill with over 90% muslim. Not sure George Bush will get much of a welcome when he arrives here.

Everyone says I should stay on and spend some time here eg go to Bali. Another time maybe.

Shame I missed bonfire night. However managed to stay up to see the live footie (Chelsea v Spurs) As usual am listening to Radio 4 re-runs on my laptop. Reminds me of home. The Archers is really hotting up. Will also try and finish my book. Murakami's 'A Wild Sheep Chase'. Very funny. Very surreal. Nick gave it to me.

Have got 19 items on my phone's To Do list. Guess I should try and knock off a couple if I can whilst I wait for my food to arrive. I quite fancied the Chinese breakfast: congee, dimsum, noodles and soy milk. I really do feel in a different time zone

Thursday, November 02, 2006

7 things to look forward to by christmas
1. bonfire night
2. derby in the play-off zone
3. time off in december
4. dinner at the river cafe
5. karen's party
6. the new kitchen
7. snow