Sunday, 28 September 2008

190,000 Visitors!

I had my 190,000th blog visitor a short while ago. Impressive hey? Until you realise that the figure is the all-time aggregate for my Dubai and Madrid blogs, so that's the accumulated total over 4 years.

The 190,000th visitor came from Dubai and was searching for 'labour card expense in sharjah'. I have no clue, and have never written about that topic, so it is perhaps understandable that this person spent zero seconds perusing the blog.

Don't hold your breath, but it might be that we will pass the million in about 2020.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Wacky Food Meme

Jayne With A Why found this totally pointless but irresistible waste of time: 100 things you may or may not have eaten. It comes from Very Good Taste.

Copy this list, embolden the items you have tried, add sarcastic comments to taste. Then go to Very Good Taste and add to the millions of comments on that post.

1. Venison

2. Nettle tea (nope: I really only like tea that's made out of, like, tea)

3. Huevos rancheros (sounds Spanish - must o' done)

4. Steak tartare (only once though...)

5. Crocodile

6. Black pudding (fried and crunchy)

7. Cheese fondue (why?)

8. Carp (don't think so)

9. Borscht (beetroot, yeuch!)

10. Baba ghanoush

11. Calamari

12. Pho

13. PB&J (peanut butter & jelly) sandwich

14. Aloo gobi

15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses (???)

17. Black truffle 

18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes

19. Steamed pork buns (how bizarre)

20. Pistachio ice cream

21. Heirloom tomatoes (???)

22. Fresh wild berries

23. Foie gras 

24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn, or head cheese (yueck: used to sell it when I worked on the deli counter at Sainsbury's - it was only ever bought by Martians)

26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (hottest chilli on the planet, thank you but NO!)

27. Dulce de leche

28. Oysters (snot on a shell - not doing it again)

29. Baklava (not doing that again either)

30. Bagna cauda 

31. Wasabi peas

32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

33. Salted lassi (?? Lassi I think, yes)

34. Sauerkraut (yes, but, why)

35. Root beer float (root beer with a blob of ice cream? Yepp)

36. Cognac with a fat cigar (don't do cigars)

37. Clotted cream tea

38. Vodka jelly

39. Gumbo

40. Oxtail (one of my favourite Spanish dishes is rabo de torro)

41. Curried goat (half a point - roast goat, not curried)

42. Whole insects (no fucking way. Filleted is okay)

43. Phaal (not knowing)

44. Goat’s milk (made into cheese, yes)

45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more (wasted on me - I'd only put Coke in it)

46. Fugu (poisonous fish? feck off)

47. Chicken tikka masala (England's national dish - of course!)

48. Eel (not knowingly)

49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (bleuch)

50. Sea urchin (bleuch)

51. Prickly pear

52. Umeboshi 

53. Abalone

54. Paneer 

55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal 

56. Spaetzle

57. Dirty gin martini

58. Beer above 8% ABV 

59. Poutine (sounds good though - gotta lurve dem trans-fats)

60. Carob chips

61. S’mores 

62. Sweetbreads (I'd rather die)

63. Kaolin (strangely, yes (with morphine, right?))

64. Currywurst (made-up food)

65. Durian ('the smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust...')

66. Frogs’ legs (the waitress who served it was a vegetarian friend, and she explained exactly how they got the legs when she took the order: first and last time)

67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake 

68. Haggis 

69. Fried plantain

70. Chitterlings, or andouillette (despite liking haggis, I couldn't stoop to chitterlings)

71. Gazpacho 

72. Caviar and blini

73. Louche absinthe 

74. Gjetost, or brunost 

75. Roadkill 

76. Baijiu 

77. Hostess Fruit Pie (???)

78. Snail 

79. Lapsang souchong

80. Bellini 

81. Tom yum 

82. Eggs Benedict 

83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant

85. Kobe beef 

86. Hare 

87. Goulash 

88. Flowers (the beer, yes, the plant product, no)

89. Horse (not knowingly)

90. Criollo chocolate (???)

91. Spam 

92. Soft shell crab (too much effort)

93. Rose harissa 

94. Catfish 

95. Mole poblano 

96. Bagel and lox

97. Lobster Thermidor

98. Polenta 

99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee 

100. Snake

I don't know how they could have omitted the pinnacle of Scottish cuisine:

101. Deep-fried Mars Bar

Sad Git

We went to see Mamma Mia again last night - this time, not 'the movie', but 'la pelicula'. Yes folks, we saw it in Spanish, at a marvellous old-style cinema called Palafox. It has steeply-raked seating and ushers in tailcoats. Very smart.

And I did learn a new bit of Spanish. You know in English we sometimes type . . .
to indicate suspense or continuation. In Spanish these are called 'puntos suspensivos'. Impressive hey?

The movie is still cringeingly cheesy and is destined to become a cult classic.

Friday, 19 September 2008

W Bankers

I've been a good boy all week, working hard and making progress with my current JFH (Job From Hell). So I thought I'd give myself the afternoon off. This involved buying a copy of the Grauniad, and retiring to the James Joyce pub to read it, accompanied by several cups of tea (that's not how you spell 'Murphy's', Keefie, and those glass cups are damn big - ed).

I wish I hadn't. Today's Grauniad is replete with stories of global economic meltdown, largely prompted by the firesale of HBOS (Halifax/Bank Of Scotland) to LloydsTSB and the 'rescue' of Lehman Bros in the US.

I'm a simple geezer, financially. I tend to go along with the idea that if you don't have cash money to pay for something then that means you cannot afford it, and it's better to wait until you can. Everybugger else in the 'developed' world seems to think otherwise, and get themselves into all kinds of shit with credit cards, personal loans and whopping great mortgages. Hell, even I could spot the problem with giving people a 125% mortgage: instant, massive, negative equity.

So, not content with Dubya wasting 5 TRILLION DOLLARS on a pointless and unwinnable war in Iraq, we now face the complete and utter meltdown of the western financial scam system.

Woe is you.

On a lighter note, there's a brilliant story about a crap golfer.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008


I am a bit of a luney when it comes to taking pictures of the moon. I like trying to do it, but it's a bit tricky when your camera doesn't have Hubble Space Telescope mode. I'd just started eating my dinner on the terrace this evening when my eye was caught by an orange blob in the sky behind an illuminated church spire. I grabbed my camera and took a load of photos as the moon rose. Two of them were more or less in focus:

The church in the foreground is in Calle de Goya, and it has a quite unusual cast-iron spire.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Fun On The Finca

Mamaduck has been working as a volunteer on a little farm (finca, in Spanish) in Aranjuez for the last week, and will be doing the same for the coming week too. Today was her day off, so I got the train to Aranjuez this morning - it's only a 40-minute trip from Madrid. We mooched around the town for a bit - it has several palaces and places of interest, and we took the 50-minute Chiquitren tour of the town.

The Chiquitren is the kind of thing you see in lots of tourist places - the 'engine' is built to look like an old steam locomotive, but it's actually a deisel-driven truck pulling three 'carriages'. The carriages are open-sided and extremely cramped: if you were not well-acquainted with the person opposite you at the start of the trip, you certainly would be by the end after you'd had each other's knees in your groin for the duration. We could barely walk by the time we got off.

We had a long slow lunch, and then at 4 p.m. it was cool enough to set off walking to the finca. It took about an hour, and we were more than ready for a brief siesta. Then I had a tour of the place, which is actually on two sites. The volunteers - last week there were five of them, next week it's down to four - stay on the 'huerta', or vegetable garden. The owners of the finca stay on the other site, down the lane, with two slobbery dogs, two donkeys, a horse, two pigs and a bunch of chickens.

And at about about 7.30 we set off back to the railway station and I caught the train back to Madrid: totally chilled and completely exhausted by long walks and that special air you get in the country.

Tonight in Madrid is 'La Noche En Blanco' - The White Night. This is the third year they've been doing this, and basically there's loads of events going on all through the night, and lots of major galleries are open and free. Being a boring old knackered fart, I won't be partaking. Sorry. But at least I gave you a picture of a pig.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

The Hail In Spain...

It's one thirty a.m. Plaza de Chueca is deserted. It's awash with rain and chunks of ice. We've just had the most unbelievable storm. For at least twenty minutes there was thunder, lightning, and hailstones that could break a window and that have probably dented the bodywork of any cars on the street. This'll be that global warming thing, I expect.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Visit London

The building at the end of our square has been clothed in scaffolding for several months, under the guise of having its facade fixed and painted. There's not much actual sign of any work being done, but the owners of the building have taken the opportunity of blocking out their tenants' view by selling huge advertising posters to cover up the scaffolding. This first happened on 1st May - the whole plaza was tinged orange by an ad for Easyjet. The next month it was replaced by a dingy green thing, an ad for a men's perfume. After a month of that they had no buyers, so they took the poster down and re-erected it inside-out, so all we had to look at was white space.

At the start of September, I noticed a bit of activity:

What could it be?

Could be something Londonny...

Yes! A fantastic image of London, hugely Photoshopped - the trees are not that green, the river is not that blue, and it's unlikely you could actually take a photo like that in one go. So congratulations to whoever put that together. It certainly attracts a lot of interest down in the square - people stop and stare and point things out to each other. If you go to the website you'll see this image as the page background. Oddly, if you switch the site to English, you don't get the image. 

I do feel sorry for the poor sods who have to live behind this, though: somebody told me it was only allowed to happen for three months max...

Sunday, 7 September 2008

How To Make Fantastic Bread

My bread-making post is now on The Fat Expat.

Friday, 5 September 2008


I was alerted to a new website yesterday: It's run by publishers HarperCollins, and lets authors upload samples of their work and then suffer utter humiliation by being reviewed by other members of the site. Each month, the top five manuscripts are promised a perusal by HarperCollins editors. Cool idea, methinks.

I signed up yesterday and uploaded about 12,000 words of 'Travels in Xanadu-du' (10,000 is the minimum for you to have your work made public, but it's an achingly difficult process to upload the stuff - you have to make each chapter into a separate Word file, and the upload process frequently falls over for no apparent reason).

So get on over there and say nice things about my book.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008


Google accidentally unveiled their new Microsoft-killer yesterday. Today it's available, and I've just downloaded it. It's called Google Chrome, and it's a web browser. I've been using it for about ten minutes, and I'm in lurve. As a web designer, I have to have lots of browsers kicking around for testing, but I suspect that Chrome is going to become my default browser. It's simple-looking, but very clever, and the reason I love it more than any other is that it is not made by Microsoft: it is not part of the operating system, and it costs me nothing.

¡Mamma Mia!

The title says it all. Mamma Mia! Oh My God! ¡$^%^&*%^%%$#!

The title is an expression of disbelief, shock, horror, whatever. The movie certainly delivers that. I'll just remind you at this point that I am a Libran, and so I am physically and mentally incapable of deciding whether I hate something or whether I love it. In the case of Mamma Mia, it's a complete draw: I totally hate it, and I totally love it.

During my trolling around England, I was quite keen to go see it, but they don't make cinemas accessible by public transport anymore: all cinemas are located on greenfield sites on the edge of towns, and if you don't have a car and are too cheap to hire a taxi you can pretty much forget about visiting them. So I decided to keep my carbon footprint (my God, I never even knew I had one till I got to England!) the same size, and wait until I got back to Madrid. I knew it was on in V.O. (Version Original) because MamaDuck had already seen it and loved it and was prepared to go and see it again.

I have previously confessed online that I love the music of ABBA. Really, it is sublime, and stop giggling at the back. I also love Greece, where the movie is set (more specifically it was filmed on Skopelos, where Mr & Mrs Dubaibilly have bought a house and are planning to retire (and where we are supposed to visit in 2010)). The downside is, I more or less hate musicals as a genre; they can work well on stage, but musicals as movies don't normally do it for me.

So, we have a preposterous plot, carefully engineered to introduce the various songs. We have some excellent actors (Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and many others), none of whom have had outstanding careers as singers for reasons that soon become obvious. And here's this movie: cheesy, tear-jerking, trite, stupid, mad, unbelievable.

Go see it.

Monday, 1 September 2008

What I Did On My Holidays

The results are in, so here's the post. How To Make Fantastic Bread has been sold to The Fat Expat.

Most people's idea of a holiday is to go to one place, stay there for a week or two, and then come home. I suspect life is more complicated than that for expats: you'll have one or two families to visit, in two or more locations. My two-and-a-bit-week trip went like this:

EasyJet Madrid -> Liverpool
Train Liverpool -> Scunthorpe
Train Scunthorpe -> Doncaster
Train Doncaster -> London
Coach London -> Warwick
Coach Warwick -> Liverpool
EasyJet Liverpool -> Madrid

For once, I had planned all of this well in advance, and so avoided being charged rip-off prices. All of my trips in the UK, plus MamaDuck's trip from Liverpool to Scunthorpe and back, cost 117 squids. The cheapest segment was also the longest, from Doncaster to King's Cross, an incredible bargain at a tenner.

As I mentioned earlier, there was a surprise party to celebrate MamaDuck's Dad's 80th birthday. It was a stupendous feat of logistics to get the entire family in the same place at the same time - six brothers and sisters of MamaDuck and their assorted offspring (including ours) who are scattered all over the place - two families in France, one in Spain, one in Holland and the rest in England, as well as two of the Daddy-In-Law's brothers and his sister, and various of their offspring. I think it's safe to say that a grand time was had by all.

The next day MamaDuck had to head off back to Liverpool to catch a flight back to Madrid (she'd booked the whole of September off ages ago, and was not able to change it), I headed to Doncaster, and Offspring returned to London.

I had a few days in Doncaster with my Dad and younger sister. I seem to have committed myself to attending Sis's 50th birthday next February, and also the wedding of her eldest daughter in June. I drank lots of splendid beer, consumed a fair amount of traditional British food, and watched far more Jeremy Kyle than is good for me (more than a minute, really). I caught up with a few friends in the village, and then left for London.

Offspring has moved to a new flat since last summer, and so I found myself lurking around deepest Peckham. It's not the most salubrious of neighbourhoods, but down the road is East Dulwich and Lordship Lane. Offspring had to work the evening on the day I arrived, but he had the next day off. One of his flatmates is doing a temporary job at the Thames Barrier, and I got the idea that it would be an interesting place to visit, and maybe hit Greenwich on the way back. We got to Greenwich OK, but as far as London Transport is concerned, the Thames Barrier is more or less in France and it would take us hours to get there. So we scrapped that plan and explored Greenwich instead. We toured the Maritime Museum and then climbed the mountain to the Royal Greenwich Observatory. Very interesting it was.

I never knew that Greenwich had a mini-London Eye.

A bit of bureaucratic insanity on a side street in Greenwich: do you think the itinerant ice-cream sellers have any idea what this means?

On the weekend there was a picnic in the park, followed by a wine tasting/ summer staff party/Offspring's leaving do thrown by the wine shop/bar where he works (I should mention at this point that he is leaving mid-September to start a degree at Leeds Uni). Jolly splendid, it was, and of course we didn't get to bed until 6 a.m.

A few days later I caught a coach to Warwick, to visit some very good buddies who used to live in Dubai. I was astonished to be told that they left the Sandlands seven years ago! We had a pleasant couple of days, including trips in the pouring rain to Stratford-on-Avon and Leamington, followed by learning the news of the appalling plane crash at Barajas.

And finally, back to Liverpool. I love Liverpool: I worked there for three years, met MamaDuck there, got married there. And when we left in the late eighties, it looked very much as though the place was being allowed to die. But, you get knocked down, and you get up again. There is tons of new development going on, and it's a real pleasure to visit. This year, Liverpool is European Capital of Culture.

My real reason for going this time, though, was that the youngest son of my very good buddies there (who was three when I first met him) was to be wed that weekend. The venue was a castle in Cheshire, and when I woke on the Saturday morning, for the first time in a fortnight, the sun was shining! It was a sensational day.

The next day I mooched around central Liverpool: the Mathew Street Festival was on. Mathew Street is the location of The Cavern, made famous by those Beatle boys. None of the Festival happens there now, but there were five stages set up around the area. On one of which I saw Chas and Dave (definitely not Scousers). I didn't stay too long because the rain got too much.

And the next day was an uneventful flight back to Madrid.

So that was my holiday: three or four never-to-be-repeated events, re-unions with fambly and friends, mostly horrible weather, a lot of bemusement at what has happened to the country I was born and raised in, relief at not needing the stab vest that I hadn't bought, and a fair amount of boredom.

Back To Work

August finished yesterday, which means that all those Madrileños who ran away for the hottest month are now back at work. I must admit, I was struggling to get back into the swing of things last week.

It's also the first day of Ramadan - thanks to Buj Al Arab for the reminder. Buj asks what Ramadan is like here in Spain. To be honest, it's like nothing at all. I have not seen a mosque or heard a call to prayer since I've been here. There are Muslims, obviously, but I don't know where they live and they seem to maintain a very low profile.

Anyway: ¡Ramadan Kareem!