Archive for January, 2013

Advertising nonsense

The other day I was flipping through one of the many catalogues we get sent at work. They are full of new products on the market and cool discounted deals and all the usual advertising jargon you see in the world of products of this sort. Occasionally, though, I come across something which is utter crap.

The most offensive one I saw recently was this nonsense tag line for a coffee company…

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What can this possibly mean? Hand-roasted coffee? Hand picked, maybe. Even handmade. But hand roasted? How is that even possible? The workers at Union have limbs which can reach temperatures of over 100 degrees so they simply hold the coffee in their hands for a while? Or they have huge walk-in ovens so they each take a handful of coffee and walk in the oven to caress the coffee beans gently whilst they roast, in the process roasting themselves alive and getting third degree burns, but they don’t mind. They sacrifice their bodies for the sake of bringing us ‘hand-roasted’ coffee. How lovely.

What?! What can it mean? Hand-roasted? Any suggestions?

Next up, a tea company.

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Design led. Is that supposed to be a good thing? I’m not sure why that would seem good. Do I want a tea company which is taste led? So I know I’m getting a nice tasty cup of tea? Or even innovation led? So I know that maybe I’m getting something new and interesting. Perhaps a fantastic new tea experience which could change my life.

No! This tea company doesn’t give two hoots about the taste, the innovation, the potential for new experiences. It couldn’t give a cuppa for my morning being made or ruined on the strength of my tea-drinking experience. No. What they care about is the design.

The design. That’s right. They’ll throw any old PG Tips in the box without a care in the world. So long as the design is good, this company is happy. They are design led. Good to know.

The next nonsense is geography-specific.

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Stonewall Kitchen, advertising their product in a UK magazine, which is being sent out to small delis and shops around the country, are enticing me to buy their product and stock it in my shop by telling me that I will recognise their product from ‘artisan shops in the US.’

O, thanks for pointing that out. I couldn’t think where I recognised it from. I just knew I’d seen it somewhere!

Because I’m always hanging out in artisan shops in the US.

Always.

I’m never out of them.

I practically live in them.

Ridiculous.

Omygoodness, you HAVE to see this

Readers, prepare yourselves. Prepare yourselves for a post filled with horror and awfulness. For we are going to take journey into the world of….

1970S COOKBOOKS!

I came across this in a box of old cookbooks a friend was giving away and boy, was I glad I picked this one up! It is called Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook. And let me tell you this, it is all colour. It is proud and gregarious in it’s all-colour horror. It would have done better to leave the photographs off, for I shall show you the pictures of what the 1970s considered haute cuisine. Are you ready?!

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Mmm, I just love a mysterious lumpy white mass for my dinner.

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Wowzers. More lumpy white nonsense, this time surrounded by green leafy stuff. Can we have that for dinner today, Mum? Can we?!

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Ah, some white nonsense on top of salmon steaks, again the obligatory green leafy nonsense. This is actually a jellified mayonnaise layer, in case you were wondering.

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And again, jellified mayonnaise, this time on top of chicken. LOVING the decorative anchovies… Kind of.

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Talking of things being jellied, check out this turkey-slices-set-in-jelly type of thing.

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Next up, a small roasted chicken, sitting on a bed of jelly stuff squares. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH US? Why, Britain, why did we do this to ourselves? Mary Berry has a lot to answer for.

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More chicken related nonsense. A cake type thing, made of chicken. Vomit. And the asparagus on the top. That’s quite fresh and lovely, you think, at least that bit’s ok. Well, no, no it isn’t. Because it is FROM A CAN! In fact, I am instructed to use many things from cans.

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This ‘peach tart’ requires 1 can of creamed rice for the filling. Ridiculous. On another recipe I am actually told to get frozen chips! Honestly now, frozen chips. If I have frozen chips at home and I choose to eat them, that is different. But to actually include it as an ingredient for a meal in a cookbook?! Has the world gone crazy?! I think probably the worst sentence I have ever seen written down in a book anywhere is the line, ‘Fry the frozen chips in the lard.’ What. On. Earth.

Fry.

The frozen chips.

In the lard.

Honestly. I’m not making it up. Look.

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This book has a continental section though. We’re aware of the fine cuisine offered in other countries. Let’s get fancy in our kitchens. Ok, check out the next recipe. I’m sure it will be delicious. Mmm, continental food. Italian pasta… French fancies… There’s bound to be something good here.

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Frankfurter salad. I have no words.

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This one’s good. It’s cheesy buttered noodles. The ingredients? Cheese, butter and noodles. Brilliant.

Last up, some lovely desserts. Don’t let me down here. The British have contributed some well-loved cakes to the world of food. Come on. What will it be? A Christmas pudding? An eccles cake? An apple crumble? A rhubarb crumble? Something cakey and warm. A hearty cake to heat one up on a cold winter’s evening.

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That’s right. We’ve gone with a dish of pasta shells in chocolate sauce with lines of cream for ‘decoration.’

And now, the award for the most attractive sounding dish in the history of the world ever, goes to….

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Woop woop! Can I get a round of applause for the LARDY CAKE! Mm mm. Don’t you think? Yes, a peice of lardy cake for me please! Am I allowed seconds? Oo, hold me back, hold me back! I can’t get enough of good lardy cake, me.

Well, after that romp through the annals of British food history, I feel thoroughly disheartened and can only apologise in earnest to the world for our below-par cuisine ramblings. We have failed ourselves as a nation.

I understand if you would like to un-follow me, fellow bloggers.

Hobbies I will take up in my old age

Got a slight emergency this morning as Danda’s got a gammy elbow so we’re off to A&E to see what’s wrong with it. So I shall just give you a little post today about something I’ve been debating over the past few days – the hobbies I will take up in my old age.

Music
I’ve always played piano. It’s in the family. My mother and grandmother both played. I got lessons from my grandmother for a while. And then from the music teacher in school. I can still play everything I learned from memory. I don’t have a piano now and there’s no space even if I did want one. But when I am older and can give myself over to things of fun and jollity, I will forgo my dining table, my sofa and my television so that I can fit in a grand piano and I shall become the most talented 90 year old piano player the world has ever seen. Just you wait. Perhaps I’ll play piano at the assemblies in the local primary school and they’ll all call me Grandma Laura.

Gardening
Not really proper gardening actually, as that requires skill and dedication and I shall probably forget what to water and when. Something quite straight forward. Maybe a vegetable patch. Carrots and onions and broad beans and the like. I think tomatoes aren’t too hard but they take over a bit. Anyway, I mainly want things I can either eat, or sit and look at on long summer days.

A regular contributor to Chat magazine
This speaks for itself. I will dedicate myself wholeheartedly to falling in love with inanimate objects, contracting odd diseases and photographing myself doing nothing at all and sending it in.

Knitting
When I lived in Namibia, the sun would set at 5pm and we had no TV and we had read all the books in the apartment and had run out of evening activities. Lucy had learned to knit years ago so we got some wool and knitting needles and took up knitting. In quite a serious way. In fact, we had so many scarves by the time we left that we had to give them to people as presents because we couldn’t fit them in our bags to take home! I loved getting into The Zone and just knitting the hours away. When I am older and work less or not at all, I would like to take it up again as I will have more time to learn patterns as all I can make is a scarf. I might even make some fingerless gloves!

Wordsearching
I used to be a master wordsearcher when I was younger. I never went anywhere without a wordsearch book on me. I could take it up again in my old age and maybe attend the Wordsearching World Championships?! I’d definitely win if I did so maybe I shouldn’t go, you know, give the others a chance.

On the other hand, I might just jack it all in and run off to India, a la The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel….

Midday in Paris

So yesterday, if you remember, I was swanning off to Paris for lunch. There wasn’t any real reason for it. Everyone was just being really January-ish. You know, ‘what is there to look forward to now that Christmas is over,’ and ‘it’s so cold and miserable’ etc etc. Now I don’t get too bothered by January. I like cold weather as I feel quite uncomfortable and sweaty in heat. So snow suits me down to the ground. Plus it’s good fun. I also didn’t have ‘a terrible year that I’m trying to move on from’, or need to ‘make a new start’ etc etc. All in all, I feel ok in January. As though to prove this point, I determined to have a January filled with fun. I have seen friends I don’t see often, taken lots of long walks and become dedicated to my Michel Roux cookbook in my Masterchef dreams.

In light of all this (and a deal on the Eurostar), I decided to go to Paris for the day. My manager had highly recommended a restaurant for lunch so it was sorted. The train journey there was fairly nondescript, apart from coming out of the Eurotunnel on the French side and being greeted by a sea of white…

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It was beautiful. It was a crisp cold day and the snow sat on everything in sight. It was still there when we came past again going home, the cold weather preventing any snow from melting.

We hopped off the train at midday, our minds boggled by the fact that we were now in France. It seemed silly, so easy and effortless. Get on the train in London. Get off it in Paris.

We had bought tickets for the metro on the Eurostar train so we just found our way downstairs and got on the underground, no fuss. When we got off to switch trains, however, there was a policeman shouting something at everyone on the platform about the ‘sortie’ – exit. We asked him what was the problem and he said there was a ‘suspicious bag’ so everyone must leave the station.

Welcome to Paris. You’re about to get blown up.

Optimistically, we looked at our map of Paris and concluded that it would only be about 15 minutes to walk the five stops to the restaurant so we set off along the river.

Let me just say this – it did not only take 15 minutes and, despite the freezing weather, we arrived three minutes late, out of breath and quite warm!

The restaurant itself looks unassuming….

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…but inside has the lively fun atmosphere typical of a French restaurant. Four men discussed business loudly in the corner, a large family chattered happily, laughing when one of the teenagers looked suspiciously at the food they had been served, a group of Japanese tourists next to us photographed everything excitedly.

And us? We watched. We watched everything. We watched the kitchen.

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We watched the food going to the tables. We watched the animated waiters telling their little jokes as they rushed about. And we loved it. It was such a fabulous little place to tuck into a corner and watch Parisian life happening.

And we ate. Of course we ate. We chose the tasting menu and prepared to eat whatever the chef was cooking that day. We started with a cauliflower and fish soup, which was definitely a highlight of the whole meal.

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We then had a beef tartate, with oyster, shrimps and radish.

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We moved onto mackerel with white beans and a green salad foam.

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Next up was a rich slow-cooked beef dish with a carrot soup.

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We were then given a dish to share, which looked like short pieces of pasta dressed with chilli oil. We looked closer and realised that, actually, we were eating baby eels! They were way tasty.

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Then it was onto another hearty French dish, a small rack of lamb with pomme puree. This was the best of the mains we had.

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It was then time for dessert, which blew our minds. We were presented with a huge bowl of rice pudding and two smaller bowls, one with salted caramel and one with caramelised walnuts and almonds, to put as much as we wanted of each in our bowls.

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Midway through this delightful bowl, small glasses of lemon sorbet and mango were put next to us, so that we hardly know where to start.

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It was dessert heaven.

After this onslaught of foodie indulgence, we paid and emerged into the sunlight, three hours later and thirty stone heavier. As we wandered along, carefree and a little cold, I saw it….

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A TRUFFLE SHOP! A shop. Full of truffles. The most truffley things I’ve ever seen in one place. It blew my mind. Danda took a seat and left me to it in the end. They had truffle pesto, truffle pasta sauces, truffle aperitif, truffle flavoured chocolate drinks and (this one floored me), truffle popcorn!
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I purchased some truffle honey and a truffle pasta sauce and of course a bag, to carry things in and pretend it’s a bag of truffles.

By this time it was late afternoon and we had wanted to catch Notre Dame in the fading light so we walked back the way we had come and found our way to the cathedral.

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It’s so massive that it’s almost impossible to get the whole place into one picture. We wandered in and took a seat. Suddenly the excitement of the day gave way to a moment of tiredness and we had a sneaky little nap under the colourful mosaic windows and beautiful chandeliers.

After realising we must have looked like homeless people, we pottered off to make our way to the station for our train home. We still had two hours so we dawdled along the river and stopped off if we wanted to.

We came unexpectedly across the Pompadou Centre and went inside to look at the bookshop. There was a coffee shop so we sat for coffee and I bought some little cakes. They weren’t quite the beautiful petits fours and delicate macaroons I had been envisioning for the afternoon coffee stop but the centre itself was lovely so we sacrificed taste for ambience.

With an hour until our train, we kept going and reached the station twenty minutes early.

We then had a second dose of wierdness when we boarded the train in Paris, got off it in London and went back home to have a cup of tea on the sofa and watch an episode of Family Guy.

What’s that you say?

O, did you say something then? What’s that? You want to know where I’m going at this early hour in the morning?

Well, I shall tell you. I am going to lunch.

Lunch, you say? Lunch? At this time in the morning? Why are you leaving the house at this time to go to lunch?

Well, the lunch, say I, the lunch takes a little while to get to. I must take a train to get to the lunch.

A train? A train at five to eight in the morning? Is it far away, this lunch?

O, not too far. Just two and a half hours.

For lunch, you ask. It must be somewhere nice.

Yes, it comes highly recommended by a friend, I tell you. The head chef is marvelous, the food fantastic. I am very excited.

Is it a place I’d know, you ask. This fantastic restaurant, will I have heard of it? Is it in London?

O no, say I. It is not in London. The restaurant is called L’Amie Jean. Have you heard of it? It’s out of London. It is, in fact, in Paris. Yes, did I mention that? Yes. Yes, it’s in Paris. I’m going for lunch, yes. Yes I am.

Because that’s the kind of girl I am. That’s just what I do, isn’t it? I’m always popping to gay Paree for a spot of luncheon (I’ve never done it before).

Yes, Paris is basically my second home (I’ve been twice, each time for about a day).

I’m always looking up the latest restaurants to dine at, national boundaries don’t get in my way (my manager told me about the restaurant and booked it for me).

And so, my dear readers, I am off! No January blues for me. In the words of Buzz Lightyear; “To Paris…. And beyond!” (Not really, I’m just coming back to London.)

What’s UP?

It’s Wednesday and time for my regular guest Blogger to take over while I have a day off. Enjoy.

If someone says those two words to you how do you answer? I suppose it depends on what you think they mean? Do you interpret them as someone who is caring about your situation and wants to put an arm round you to comfort you? Or do you maybe see them as a kind of rebuke in which someone is trying to ask why you apparently can’t do something they thought you should be able to do? It’s all in the intonation of the voice as the words are spoken isn’t it?

Today I’m using these words a different way – to ask what is the word UP all about. In its basic sense it means “toward a higher place or state”. It’s the opposite of down. Let’s look at some of the many ways the word UP has come to be used and maybe ask yourself why when, in many cases, it could quite simply be left out:

1. Why do we wake UP?

2. At a meeting why does a subject come UP?

3. Why do we say to people, “Speak UP”?

4. Why are candidates UP for election and elected officials UP for re-election?

5. Why is it UP to someone to write UP a report on a meeting?

6. Why do we call UP (or ring UP) our friends?

7. Why do we say that we can brighten UP a room?

8. Why do we polish UP something (table, car, silver)?

9. Why do we warm UP leftover food and clean UP the kitchen?

10. Why do we lock UP the house?

11. Why do people fix UP an old car or machinery?

12. We say people stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite & think UP excuses

13. We say to be dressed is one thing but to be dressed UP is something special

14. Confusingly we say that a drain had to be opened UP because it had got blocked UP.

15. Why do we open UP a shop in the morning & close it UP at night?

16. Why do we move UP in a queue or sidle UP to someone when we are moving horizontally?

17. Why do we call a raid on a shop a hold UP or a stick UP?

18. Why do we fill UP the tank in our car with petrol/gas when we could just fill it?

19. When the sun comes out, after bad weather, we say it is clearing UP

20. Why do we often call a cooked breakfast a fry UP? And get told to eat UP our food?

21. Why do we brush UP on our knowledge of a subject?

22. Why can we sit UP when we’re actually sitting down?

23. Why can we look something UP in a book when we’re looking down at it?

24. Why do we drive UP the road or lane (or even the wall)?

25. Why do we dig UP plants/flowers in our garden when we’re obviously digging down?

In many, but not all, of those examples it is just as easy to miss the “UP” out and the meaning is still clear. We can just as easily “wake” as “wake up”, “warm” food as “warm up” food and so on.

I suppose you could say that we’re a bit mixed UP about UP. It takes UP a lot of space in a dictionary definition. If you’re UP to it you can try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will, though, take UP a lot of your time, but if you don’t give UP, you may wind UP with lots more than just the few I’ve given. Have a think of more examples as there must be many more than the 25 I’ve given.

I could go on and but I’ll wrap it UP now because my time is UP and it’s time to shut UP!

As I collected the different meanings I put them into a Word document so I could save them. And you know what I called the file don’t you? – “What’s UP.doc”. Now tell me what was that rabbit’s name again?

So then, what’s UP? – I’ll let you decide.

Acting on my bucket list

At the start of September, I posted a bucket list so I thought it was time for a little check in, to let you know about my progress.

1. Join a book club.
Ok, I still look hopefully at signs in Waterstones stores or online and intend to do it. To be honest, I forgot I’d kind of obliged myself to do it by writing it here so I forgot to make myself join one! I’ll do it, I promise.

2. Master front crawl.
I don’t swim as regularly at the moment for a few reasons. The main one is that they close the outdoor pool from October til April and the indoor pool isn’t as fun. Also, I pulled a muscle in my leg a few months ago so took ages to get back into it. Perfecting breast stroke is my main focus when I do get to the pool. Fail no. 2.

3. Go back to Namibia (or at least make solid plans about it).
Ok. This one is going well. A friend who I worked for as a travel consultant is over from Namibia at the end of this month. We are going for a drink to discuss a two week trip to Namibia next year.

4. Go on (or plan) an epic walking adventure.
Ummm…. Does Richmond Park count?

5. Try running (haha!)
This one I did…. Kind of. I ran for the bus this evening, which I jumped on in haste then five minutes later realised was not on its way to my house. It was the wrong bus. I ran. I ran for a bus. And it wasn’t even the right bus. But I did run. This is a fact.

6. Go to Secret Cinema at least once.
Ummm…. I went to the normal cinema last week… Does that count as being half way there?

7. Sign up for a college course (not sure what in, I just think would be fun. Maybe food).
I’m thinking of doing a course in history or ancient civilisation or something. Another thing I forgot I’d told the world I’d do so forgot to sign myself up for something.

8. Go to that restaurant in London where everything’s completely in the dark.
This one I have not done either but I have possibly done something better… I’m going to a lovely restaurant in Paris on Thursday which comes with a fabulous recommendation from my manager. I still have the restaurant-in-the-dark place in the back of my mind though.

So there you have it. Not progress as such. Not what you’d call ‘solid plans.’ It really just amounts to running for the bus and a planned drink with a friend from Namibia. But it is progress. Of a sort.

Things Danda loves

Marmite

Chelsea Football Club

Brian Cox (the astronomer)

Space and stars

Zombie flicks

Learning about ancient civilizations

His Crocs

Reading

2nd World War history

Eating the food I cook for him

Doing the dishes

Having a cup of tea while watching the news first thing in the morning

Homeland

Westerns and cowboy films, especially ones starring The Duke

Yoga

Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut

Going on holiday

Playing golf (he says he’s fantastic but I haven’t got any evidence to prove this statement)

Ice cream

A review of recent truffle products

My adventures in the land of truffles began just four months ago after an encounter with this amazing truffle butter

Truffle butter

It’s the type of thing that, at room temperature, you could eat in one go, with some breadsticks and/or some thin crackers. It’s a dangerous thing to have in the fridge, due to the desire to just eat it in one go. Now I’m not a health expert or anything but I think that eating sticks of butter isn’t really recommended. But once you peel back the pack and catch a whiff of its truffley goodness, you become helpless.

My next encounter was with truffle honey, which I was initially puzzled by. I liked it but had no idea what to do with it. Then someone told me to drizzle it over homemade pizzas and it was brilliant! When figs were in season and dirt cheap at Waitrose, I would bake entire trays of them on a really low heat for 4 hours, drizzled with truffle honey, orange zest and grated nutmeg. Mm mm.

I then discovered truffle pasta. I tried a few different brands but this one was my favourite as it was nice and thin and the taste strong enough to carry a meal without too much help.

Truffle pasta

It was like the most gourmet meal ever to cook the pasta and toss it with some sauteed oyster mushrooms then finish it with a tartufo formaggio cream by a company called Vallebona. So simple but so so tasty.

Next, someone bought me some truffle salt.

Truffle salt

I didn’t want to just throw it into anything, the way I would with normal salt. So I made a foccaccia bread in which I used a bit of the truffle butter in the dough. When oiling the pan I baked it in, I used truffle oil. When sprinkling the bread with chilli flakes I also added the truffle salt. When baked, I sprinkled a little more truffle salt on and let it cool. And it was phenomenal! It was easily the best bread I’ve ever eaten.

My next truffle product was truffle oil.

Truffle oil

The white is more delicate than the black so is good for finishing things with, like a homemade pizza or a risotto. The black truffle oil works well in a homemade pesto, with pecorino, pine nuts and tons of basil.

Next, a friend brought back some truffle breadsticks from Paris and I scoffed them in one go! They were great, especially with a little knob of truffle butter on the end.

Truffle breadsticks

The next encounter was extremely unexpected. Out for Christmas drinks with work, we decided to get a few platters to all pick at as no-one felt like an entire meal of their own. The vegetarian platter was near me so I grabbed a pita and dug into the houmous….. And I could taste truffle! I checked with the waitress and she confirmed that it was truffle houmous. Truffle houmous! It was phenomenal. I haven’t found it to buy anywhere. If you see any, you have to buy it. It’s amazing.

Truffle houmous

Lastly, yesterday, while in Nottingham with a friend, we wandered into a deli and found black truffle pecorino! I ate almost the whole block by itself on the train ride home!

Truffle cheese

Dancing in public (part 2)

Yesterday, I left London (“Urgh! Why?” I hear you all ask). I’ve come north to see the friend I did a lot of travelling with years ago. We haven’t seen each other for years so I decided it was time to make the trip. He met me at the station and there was lots of hugging and catching up. We found a lovely Italian restaurant and I had an amazing fish skewer thing which had swordfish, scallops, prawns and cherry tomatoes on them.

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Unfortunately, I only remembered to take a photo once I’d already tucked in.

I finished up with a ristretto, because my ‘coffee habit’ is going ok now.

We were a bus ride from my friend’s flat so we popped into a bar first and each got a cocktail, as they don’t taste too alcoholly (I don’t like the sharp taste of most alcohol, hence being a non drinker). We then went to a ‘cool’ cafe where lots of cool kids were jiving to the Super Mario theme tune…..

On our way to the taxi rank, we passed a bar we’d come to last time I was up and decided to go in. As we entered, our feet stuck to the alcohol-covered sticky grotty floor. Immediately, I knew it was that type of place. You know. That type of place.

We ordered drinks and lingered by the bar and watched the dancers. And it was brilliant. One woman, with badly dyed frizzy blonde hair, was giving it everything, hindered only by the fact that she was in her late forties and extremely out of place.

My friend and I, with our two cocktails on our systems to prevent the usual awkwardness on the dance floor, were ready to join in slightly. We bobbed rhythmically at the side, laughed and joked, reminisced about times abroad, sang along, pointed to the overly drunk people, dancing so vigorously that they almost fell over.

After a while, my friend stopped dancing, looked at me and said, “Laura, I can’t do this anymore.” And we left.

Even though we had had something to drink and danced a little, we didn’t actually want to go tearing up the dancefloor. I’d previously thought that it was the lack of alcohol blocking me from getting into the spirit of things. But I don’t actually think that anymore. I think it’s because it’s just not what I do. It’s not part of my social activities to get drunk and dance like a maniac anymore. And that’s ok.

I think I’ll stick to dancing in the front room to the music channel.