Saturday, 9 May 2009

Paris: The city of fine food

As a capital city Paris has got to be amongst the best in the World. It’s small enough to walk from one side to another in a day; relatively safe; great museums; great culture and art; some of the best food and drink in the World; and shopping to die for.

I know it’s a cliché – but the French really know there food. Over the past 35 years I’ve been lucky to visit some amazing eateries in Paris. None of them expensive – I was a school kid when I first went, a student later and since then almost always on a budget – also I really believe in value for money, or more bang for my buck as my American girlfriend says.

Here are just a snapshot of my favourite places in Paris:

226 Rue de Rivoli, Paris, 75001 (+33 1 42 60 82 00)

Opposite The Louvre, not far from WH Smith and Place Vendomes. This is an amazing place for afternoon tea, with wonderful cakes and pastries. But the must have here is the hot chocolate – not your Cadbury’s powered stuff, but really melted chocolate with a jug of whipped cream plus a decanter of water because it is so rich! It is pure indulgence, but if you can not indulge yourself in Paris, where can you?

7, rue Faubourg-Montmartre, Paris (+33 1 47 70 86 29)

Found this place in 1981 and have visited everytime I’ve been to Paris since. Expect to have a bit of a wait to get in later in the evening, but if you go early you can get in almost immediately.

A wonderful turn of the century (20th) restaurant with communal dining tables. It’s real pot luck who you end up sitting next to, but it’s real fun and an icebreaker. The place is huge with high ceilings and crystal chandeliers. The menu is changed daily – and is printed on A3 sheets which can easily be smuggled out as a souvenir!

When you have finished your meal the waiter will due ‘L’addition’ on the table cloth in front of you!

Crémerie-Restaurant Polidor.
41 rue Monsieur-le-Prince 75006 (+33 1 43 26 95 34)

A restaurant similar to Chartier, but a lot smaller and based in the Luxembourg area on the Left Bank. Again communal dining, with one long table down the centre. The food is very traditional French country cuisine and the queue to get in can be very long – but well worth it.

The ‘facilities’ are sometime to experience also: Traditional hole in the ground type with a half stable door – suggest you go before or after your visit!

L'As du Fallafel
34 Rue des Rosiers, Marais

This is a must do stop when exploring the beautiful old Marais area of the city. The best Falafel in Western Europe to my mind and a great place to people watch on a Sunday afternoon. It is frequented by everyone; from the likes of me to Lenny Kravitz. If you sit inside the walls are festooned with memorabilia of it’s famous clientele.

Word of warning though: As this is in the heart of the Jewish area it is closed on Friday evenings/Saturdays. If visiting the area at this time the next place is a gem as we found out when stumbling upon it a couple of years ago:

Chez Marianne
2 rue des Hospitalières St-Gervais (+33) 1 42 72 18 86

An blindingly good Middle Eastern eatery just off the Marais. Eccentric, loud, lively but the food was to die for and cheap. This has rapidly become my favourite place to eat in Paris, which to be honest takes some doing. But it really hits the spot.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

To be consumed… but only when drunk!

What is it about having a few beers that leads to eating some gross fast food late at night? I’m sure that there is a conspiracy between the brewers and the fast food joints!

As I get older I am trying to eat healthily, drink less and exercise more. A regime started a couple of years ago after a bit a health scare.

Most evening meals consist of loads of fresh veggies, brown rice, baked potatoes, very little in the way of red meat with more tofu, TVP and lentils on the menu. This is washed down with sparkling water, or the occasional glass of red wine or a beer.

On top of this I have started walking the 2 miles to work every day – well apart from when it’s raining cats and dogs, like today.

Result: 30lb lose in weight over the past 18months, and 4 inches off my waistline. I’m not quite svelte like, but getting there!

But Saturday evenings everything seems to go pear shaped (or should that be kebab shaped!)

This is the evening when I let what little hair I have down. A day of doing the house chores means that I have ‘earned’ a night out with the gang – usually just the four of us partaking in some teatime refreshment at the café bar we are regulars at.

Generally we will meet at 6pm for a couple of hours, than wend our merry ways home before the throngs of youngsters descend on Worcester city centre like a pack of hyenas.

I say ‘generally’ because occasionally the plan goes slightly astray. On those evenings I decide that I will walk the mile or so home, rather than get a taxi. Bad move!!

Within 200 yards of leaving the pub you can guarantee that I bump into old friends I haven’t seen for a while and join them for a drink – which invariably leads to 3!

Making my excuses after about an hour, I start the remainder of the walk home, only to get half way before the weight of several pints starts to become worrying. Rather than find an alley – which I would have done as a teen – I think: Pub=Toilet! And another pint. And bumping into more old friends!

Finally I leave, but only when they pour me out of the door at past midnight. And with that the smell of the fast food emporia start to work their evil magic! Past Maccies; past BK; past Subway; even past the wonderful aromas emanating from the long line of Curry houses. I’m nearly home, dodging the dodgy food all the way.

But hold on! There is a really good kebab shop at the end of my street. Only 50 yards from home and the damage to my liver is compounded with the prospect of Salmonella Doner Kebab! There is no way in a million years that a sober person would eat such a monstrosity and admit to enjoying it. But after a skin full of beer we will eat anything!

Monday, 13 April 2009

Night Swimming…

Brian Adams may have thought the Summer of ’69 was good, but for me 1979 was by far and away the best ever.

18 years of age, single, singer in a band, good apprenticeship in printing with good wages, a bunch of really good friends and living in the small market town of Evesham on the banks of Shakespeare’s Avon.

It really was a summer of sex, ‘n’ drugs, ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll – although in my case the only drug has been alcohol. Weather was not as hot as ’76, but good none the same, with parties nearly every night at someone’s house or other – these were the pre-Barbeque days in the UK, you had to be really posh to have one of those!

The night in question revolves around someone’s 18th birthday party which was held at the Hampton Ferry Café – now a really nice restaurant, but then pretty seedy, and smelling of all things angling (maggots, fish, river water etc).

Disco thumping out great tunes, cheap beer – probably Whitbread Trophy – wonderful weather, but with a chance of a shower later. I spent quite a bit of the evening chatting to girl from Lloyds bank who I had fancied for years. Things were looking good and as the evening progressed we sat outside to watch the sun go down with a bunch of our friends.

Back in those days pubs closed at 10.30pm during the week and 11.00pm on Fridays and Saturdays. So ‘last orders’ time arrived and it is time to make our ways home. Feeling a bit courageous I asked if I could walk Bank Girl home to her prestigious part of town. To my amazement she agreed.

She popped back into the café to use the conveniences and collect her unneeded umbrella. While waiting I suddenly got a call of nature and trundled over to the river bank, and out of view to crowds there started to relieve my bladder – well it would have ended up in the river anyway!

Next thing I know I’m looking up through murky river water and feeling decidedly wet! In those days I was significantly slimmer than now. However the bank had given way, leaving me to plummet the 10 feet or so into the Avon.

Scrambling up the bank made me even more like the Monster from the Black Lagoon and I surfaced to cheers and laughter from my so-called friends.

Bank Girl had rejoined the party and was looking decided anxious about my appearance. Needless to say I was no longer invited to walk her home. The thought of me in my sodden, mud caked clothes too much for her to bear.

I squelched off home, to the opposite end of the town from Bank Girl’s abode, stopping off briefly to get a Chinese takeout, paid for with dripping wet money!

Needless to say I never did get to date Bank Girl!!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

No sex please, we’re British…

Seriously you couldn’t make this up.

About 10 years I was living in the first house I had ever bought in my own right and was living on my own. Prior to that it was either the marital abode or my parents house.

For those of you not familiar with housing in UK, lets just say that we tend to live in smaller places in very close proximity to our neighbours. In this case a lovely Victorian 2up, 2down terrace, which was more than adequate for my needs, and those of my 3 kids when they visited for weekends and holidays.

Either side of me I had some really nice neighbours. To my left a couple about the same age as me with kids who were roughly same age as mine. To my right a newly retired couple, say middle sixties, with a family that had flown the nest.

My love life at this time was pretty much no existent. I had been divorced for a couple of years. My ‘rebound’ girlfriend had scuttled off to Australia to be re-united with her Ex – I seem to have that effect on women. My first love ended up in Kuwait, my rebound ended up in Oz. You can see why I’m never going to date a NASA employee!

To the night in question. It was a cold winters Monday in January. I went to bed as normal to read my book at about 10pm – a really good Terry Pratchett novel. About 15 minutes into drifting into The Discworld I started to here strange sounds.

I didn’t take much notice at first, but then to my horror I realised that my pensioner neighbours were ‘at it’. And not quietly! Gross. Unbeknown to me, my headboard was right next to the wall that joined their bedroom. And for the first time since moving to the house I could here noise from their side.

This was real insult to injury time. Me as good as celibate and my OAP neighbours at it like rabbits.

As you can imagine I could not stand the humiliation, so I headed downstairs and made my self a nice mug of cocoa, returning to bed about half an hour later when I felt it would be safe.

I’ve got nothing about people of consenting age having some recreation fun, especially pensioners – well it gives us all hope! However with all the spare time they had, couldn’t they have pursued their interests during the day whilst I was at work?

Two things happened as a result of these nocturnal rumblings:

1. I moved my bed to the other side of the room where it was more peaceful.

2. I couldn’t talk to the couple again without having a wry smile on my face!

Friday, 10 April 2009

All Twittered out...

I’ve got to admit that I’ve become a bit of a Twitter addict!

I've even downloaded TweetDeck- sad or what?

Not sure that there is TA – as in Twitter’s Anonymous rather than the Territorial Army – but if there is, sign me up.

What started off by watching Richard Quest on CNN saying that he was watching his Tweets, and me then getting involved has escalated.

Jonathan Ross, Stephen Fry- who the whole world follows!, Suzi Perry, Chris Moyles, Fern Cotton, Jason Bradbury, Philip Schofield –all fun to follow etc.

But surely this is really like Cyber-stalking!

However if you are a Cyberstalker, I can be found at:

My Twitter address: @clivemessage

Have fun and don’t do anything silly.


I’ve got the music in me!

Got to imagine: Real English pub – Bank Holiday Friday – Evening – Everyone very merry because they have been there since lunchtime.

Scene set.

Me: Sober after working all day. Showered. Shaved. Teeth perfectly cleaned. Putty in hair. Aftershave on. (For what reasons I have no idea – just going to Swan in Barbourne, Worcester – not The Ivy!)

Into pub: Pint of cider – not my usual drink I confess, but thirsty. Not many in. No chat. So it’s got to be music!

So: Move past the Pool table, trying not to disturb a cue. Then to the Mecca of music. To be honest I haven’t touched a Jukebox since I requested Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins back in 1979.

Things have changed!

1.You no longer see the discs in a rack before selection.

2. You no longer see said discs being moved from their rack to playing position.

3. If you jump up and down by the devise, nothing skips!

However, everything now is ‘Touchscreen’! What’s that all about?

Before: just push two buttons, ie. A2. 52 choices – well 26 because the ‘B’ sides were pretty ropey. Now the machine has every track available in MP3 format since 1952!

Decisions. Decisions.

Right. After finally mastering the touchscreen, I was in for some seriously playing around. Being a bit of a music buff I set a challenge to my fellow drinking buddies: Who is this?

Classic jukebox confusion playlist:

Whole Of The Moon - Waterboys
Destiny – Zero7
Take Five- Dave Brubeck
This Old Heart Of Mine – Isley Brothers

Talk about a classic moment – they hadn’t got a clue! Much the same as me trying to used this new fangled technology!

Friday, 3 April 2009

It's just not Cricket!

Sorry but I just don’t get American sports!

Not saying the Yanks are not serious about sports- they are. Big style. But not like the rest of the world.

Take baseball. Great game. Basically rounders played by grown men and is the US national sport. I went to see the Mariners play the Tigers last summer with my future step son-in-law, Colin, and loved it. I saw Iciro in the field just in front of me and was amazed by his speed when in the outfield.

The game went into 13 innings! The attendants were bringing out blankets to try and keep us warm while the sun went down! Sadly the Tigers won, but it was a great experience none the less, mostly fuelled by the garlic fries that would have made my French friends gasp!

The best part of the game for me - to be honest - was a foul ball just missing me and hitting the old woman sat behind me in the nose. Hilarious: blood everywhere!

What really gets me about baseball though is the World Series. How can it be a ‘world’ tournament when only 2 countries have teams in it?

Compare that to cricket. To be honest a traditional English game that we exported to the Empire. At least the cricket World Cup is more global in nature. Obviously there is England and the ex-Empire counties, i.e India, Pakistan, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean (West Indies), Canada etc, but also nations such as USA and Holland – I think you get my point!

However the crunch for me is soccer, as you guys call it – football to every other country in the world! Correctly you use your feet to kick the ball rather than use your hands, which you call NFL (Gridiron), and we call rugby – but without the shoulder pads. Seriously Dallas finished on TV back in the 1980’s!!!

Back in July 2006 I arranged to meet my girlfriend in New York and then spent a few lovely days on Long Island.

OK, maybe I timed the trip wrong as the Soccer World Cup Final was to be played during our stay. But it was her birthday and I wasn’t going to miss that – unless I wanted to be her ex!

Fortunately the final was on a Sunday and the time difference meant that final was going to be played in the afternoon East Coast time. This meant I could watch the game if could arrange: A bar that the game on and arrange for girly to go to the wineries with her friend, Laura.

So, J&Rs Bar not far from our base in Islip. Lunch of burgers and beers. Soccer on the large screen . Connie and Laura drinking Long Island dry = Result!.

I Had a great time, apart from my ancestral home nation, France, losing to Italy. The staff were nearly all Europeon and ensured that the game was on the massive screen for their own enjoyment as much as anything. However the biggest losers apart from France were the guys in the bar at same time as me. There may have been an important baseball game on one of the smaller screens they should have been watching, but everyone was glued to ESPN. Guess what the sport was? HOTDOG EATING!!!!!

Come on, if Americans want to be taken seriously about sport, at least show real sports on TV, not stuff that should be on either Freak TV or the Food Network.