A man can lose himself in London

I have always loved London.  Although born and brought up in Nottinghamshire, from an early age I have always felt engaged with our capital.  As a boy my parents regularly took my brother and me on day trips to London, sometimes to site-see and other times to visit shops.  A treat for me was being dropped off at Hamley’s toy shop on Regent Street where I would happily spend hours exploring its seven floors of fun.  As I grew older my taste in toys would develop with me as Action Man was pushed aside in favour of Subbuteo Football and all its many accessories.  A highlight was in 1975 when my brother won a drawing competition and the prize was £60.00 worth of Hamley’s vouchers.  In 1975, £60.00 was a lot of money even split 50/50 between us.

In the late 1980s old school friends would move to London which gave my more grown- up self opportunities to savour the city’s pubs and clubs as well as attending the odd party.  I once went on a football coach run by Nott’s County FC to see them play Millwall and recall the excitement in me just from seeing that change in architecture so unique to London; the brown bricks and white window frames, buildings piled on top of buildings and that instantly recognisable character, the Londoner.

I support a London football team – Tottenham Hotspur and my favourite band, Saint Etienne, are from London too.  London never lets you down, it is loyal, it is faithful, it always has something to offer.  And so, on Wednesday June 13th, I set off on the train from Preston to arrive in London Euston at 12:33.

First stop, The London Review Cafe.

I have three favourite shops in the UK; Rough Trade in Nottingham, Oi Polloi in Manchester and The London Review Bookshop set in Bloomsbury in London.  I cannot  visit London without paying a visit to the LRB bookshop and its cafe which is the only place I know selling palatable vegan food.


The book shop is on the right, the cafe is on the left.  The menu is small and light, the food is reliably excellent, the selection of teas perfect.  There is an opening between the cafe and bookshop so you can easily walk between the two.  From the book shop I bought a couple  – Transit by Rachel Cusk and Yalo by Elias Khoury.

Next, a short walk to The British Museum for The Rodin and the art of Ancient Greece exhibition.  I have memories of visiting the Tutenkhamoun exhibition here in 1972 only to arrive with my family without booking a ticket and turning back on seeing the queue snake all around the forecourt, through the gate and around the iron railings surrounding the museum.  No such problems this time, just a short wait to have my ruck-sack scanned and I was on my way in.  Inside the museum I was surrounded by Japanese and Chinese tourists who seemed more interested in taking photos of themselves on stair cases and cafes rather than taking an interest in the exhibits  Which was fortunate because there was no great line to buy tickets for Rodin.  £17.00 lighter I made my way into the exhibition.

My knowledge of art and sculpture is scant but I had read some rave reviews about this exhibition beforehand and I was determined to see it and appreciate it.  I wasn’t disappointed.  I walked in and was confronted by The Kiss.


I was surprised at first to learn that this amazing feature is carved out of plaster but standing beside it I really fancied having a snog with someone (ahem).  Composing myself I moved on to something equally as familiar, the mighty Thinker.


To be close to a great sculpture is to recognise the delicacy of the work of the artist and how something so subtle and so sublime can emerge at his or hands, from what is, essentially a lump of rock.  As well as Rodin’s work, the exhibition had several items of sculpture from the works of Ancient Greeks including relics and fragments from The Parthenon.  It was all amazing to see and it was so tempting to reach out a hand to touch a work of art forged by hands over two and a half thousand years ago.  I didn’t but these works which convey such movement and such delicacy almost look as if they possess like itself.

I had a bit of time to kill after the museum so I had a walk down to Soho and a mooch round the shops there.  Aware that an Oi Polloi exists somewhere in the area I managed to locate it and buy a light knit jumper and bum bag.  The shop isn’t quite on the scale of it’s Mancunian big brother but it still sells a great array of clobber which I could easily have thrown too much money at.

Then it was off to my final port of call, The Institut Francais de Royaume Uni in South Kensington, practically opposite that other architecturally fine building, The Natural History Museum.

I had come to London today specifically to attend an event to promote the new book by Anglophile, Parisian author Agnès Poirier, Left Bank.  I first came across Agnès Porier on the BBC News Channel programme, Dateline London.  Thown together with a host of other British and foreign news correspondents, a panel of 4 debate and discuss the national and international news of the day.  I always found Mme Poirier interesting for her Gallic charm, wit and general wry take on the news of the week.  I often feel she is not as sharp or as on point as many of her more serious news colleagues but I find she excels in the written word such as her Guardian Newspaper article on the reaction to the #MeToo campaign in France and of course her new book, Left Bank .


I’m about two thirds of the way through Left Bank and it’s an excellent book.  It tells the story of Paris between 1940 and 1950, under German occupation followed by the rise of the existentialist movement through the formidable figures of Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and a host of other artists, intellectuals and writers who made the city such a fascinating place to live in during that time.  Mme Poirier was interviewed for the event by Professor A C Grayling who had recently come to my attention through his outspoken comments against Brexit.  The thirty minute interview was genteel and followed by a further half hour of questions from the audience.  Mme Poirier appeared a little nervous, not making eye contact with the audience but speaking passionately nonetheless about her subject which had occupied her over the past 10 years.  I had intended to sit on the edge of the second row but was muscled out of it by an elderly lady and ended up right in the middle of the front row.  I felt a little awkward and wondered if AP recognised me from our occasional exchanges on Twitter.  The very fine room we were in was full of books and even had a mezzanine floor which no library should be without and a high domed wall will of obscured glass panes to let in more light, no doubt.

After the talk we made our way down to the foyer where Mme Poirier signed copies of her book.  I had taken my own copy along with me and was quite delighted when Mme Poirier recognised me as ‘Fish’ from Twitter and signed my book accordingly.  She invited me, amongst others to the bar for a glass of wine and we convened round a table with comfortable chairs.  I ended up sitting next to Professor Grayling who appeared at first a little perturbed that I had plonked myself next to him; I felt it a little like that awkward first encounter between Mr D’Arcy and the clergyman William Collins in Pride and Prejudice.  No matter, the delightful hostess busied herself around us and the conversation began to flow.  I regaled people with my northern background and lamented the lack of events like this in my home town area near Blackpool but spoke positively about the Home arts complex in Manchester, even though we all agreed it has an atrocious name.  I threw in the question of ‘what exactly is existentialism’ which A C Grayling, Professor of Philosophy was only too happy to answer.  I then entered into a debate about existentialism with the good professor who appeared to warm to me after I mentioned the loss of my first wife.  We then had a discussion about sorrow and mourning and I showed him the very excellent article I read that very morning on the same subject written by Matthew Parris in this week’s Spectator magazine.

With one eye on my watch I had to leave earlier than I would have liked to catch the 21:10 train back to Preston.  So, just time for a photo with Mme Poirier…here it is, taken by Professor Grayling, no less.IMG_1158.JPG

And with one of those double kisses on the cheeks the French are famous for, I bid my adieus and left.  The train was 20 minutes late but no matter, it was a good day in London; a city I love.




I visited London yesterday; caught the 5.58am train from Preston and arrived at Euston for 8.16.

At Tapas Brindisa restaurant I was served Spanish food by Spanish people.  At Boggi Milano I bought Italian clothes from Italian people and at The French Comte I bought French cheese and pork from French people.

In the evening I returned to my small town in Lancashire where the people voted by the majority for Brexit.  It had been Lytham Club Day where local people displayed their civic pride by trundling through the streets on slow driven floats celebrating this boys’ club or that church group.  It was a million times remove from the cosmopolitan vibrancy of the capital city.  The locals in Lancashire may feel that their way of life is threatened by the EU and the freedom of movement of people, the people of London have embraced it and it is a greater city for it.

Brexit might mean I can no longer buy outstanding Italian clothes, taste exotic French cheeses and eat Jamon Iberico for breakfast in my own country but as long as the floats still trundle then we shall forever have our England.8D2D55BC-EDFC-406F-89B7-07F7612DCE8E

Food Of India

The phrase ‘celebrity chef’ is one that has become firmly established in describing that breed of national treasure renowned for being great at cooking, owning a string of restaurants (usually in the South of England) and having a personality suited to the multi-tasking requirements of being able to engage a TV audience in bon homie while creating a mouth-watering dish against a backdrop of rolling hills, lolling lagoons or a sweeping moutainscape. The current trend for well known chefs and restauranteurs to travel the globe while sampling the local cuisine and then conjuring up their own representations of the same food which might also appeal to the English palette began in the 1980s with the seminal series Floyd On France where the late Keith Floyd travelled seemingly haphazardly through the French landscape begging, stealing and borrowing, as he put it, kitchens and kitchen equipment and this style of ‘on the road’ cooking captured the imagination of the British Public who enjoyed the mix of food, travel and personality as millions tuned into the series and the accompanying book sold in bucketloads. Since then, other chefs have continued the trend as they seemingly attempt to outdo each other in visiting more and more out of the way and off the beaten track places to find the sort of food which would appeal to our travel and food lust; Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein being the most adventurous in traveling the world with seemingly nothing more than a collection of shirts, hats and TV crew.

The formula shows no sign of abating. About 6 weeks ago, Rick Stein’s new book, Rick Stein’s India appeared on our bookshelves without fanfare and caused some murmuring as to where was the accompanying TV series. Then, 3 weeks ago the first episode of the series of the same name began on BBC2 with Rick beginning his latest Odyssey in a region of the sub-continent seeing him visiting back streets and slums in search of the perfect curry. Apart from the great food we see being cooked in back street kitchens one of the main talking points is Ricks perspiration which sees him bedecked in long-sleeved Ralph Lauren linen shirts which at certain points of the episodes look as if he’s just been caught in a flash monsoon but the drying air has yet to reach his back and arm-pits. Nevertheless, the series is engaging and the food he discovers and cooks himself looks amazing. The enduring popularity of the travelling TV celebrity chef is evinced by the immediate disappearance following the first episode (and to this day) of Rick Stein’s accompanying book from our local book shop shelves. Luckily C managed to track down and buy a copy last weekend to add further filler to our already overflowing shelves of cokkery books and writing.

Here’s Rick, the genial restaurateur on the cover of his latest book who made his name with his famous seafood restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall and his subsequent TV series extolling his passion for fish and seafood.


It’s a great series too; part food programme, part travel programme and Rick definitely strays off the beaten path, usually finding a local English speaking guide and then tramping his way through the slums of India which, we learn are home to many of the city elite who choose to live relatively cheaply in a shack where they can be close to their job rather than pay exorbitant local city centre property prices. It all reminds me of Vikram Seth’s amazing novel A Suitable Boy which took me a year to read and describes life in post war India for all classes and castes.

So to the recipes…we chose as our initial effort a squid curry and ended up buying frozen squid tubes from a fish monger (it was all he had) whereas we could’ve bought the fresh stuff from a supermarket had we visited there first. Rick clearly likes his chillies so we made the paste with 2 red ones and the sauce with 3 green ones making it pretty hot. We bought fresh coconut and I used a hammer to get to the flesh which needed to be grated into the dish. I have packets and jars of whole spices which in some cases I’ve had for years but they still have their individual aromas so in went cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, coriander, mustard seed, funugreek, cumin and garam masala. It was hot, spicy and sweet but overall delicious. I would have preferred to use fresh squid but the result was still excellent, served with steamed basmati rice.



I’d never heard of Grillstock before I read an article in the June edition of Lonely Planet magazine advertising it as one of the ‘must attend’ events during the month. Having never knowingly attended a ‘must attend’ event I entered it onto our radar and C duly bought tickets for us to attend the Manchester event on Saturday June 8th. The weather had been set fair all week and this weekend was no exception so it was lightly garbed that we set off on a walk to St Annes-On-The-Sea station to catch the train to Manchester Oxford Road via Preston. The train was running about 20 minutes late but we arrived in a very sunny Manchester at around 1.45pm before walking in the direction of Albert Square for the BBQ event of the year. C looked great in her new Italian silk frock from T K Maxx, I was in a Ralph Lauren shirt, Armani 3/4 length shorts and Keen sandals (for those who care about such things!).

We could smell Grillstock before we could see it as the aroma of barbecued meat wafted breezily towards us to herald the pleasures which awaited us. C had bought E tickets for the event which worked fairly efficiently but within a minute of queuing we were in amongst what was clearly a well attended local event.

We both experienced an immediate sensation of information overload as our visual, hearing and smelling senses were bombarded by a smoregasbord of sound, smells and sights with people milling around, drinking booze, chomping on meat and the aroma of succulent meats tantalizing our senses. After a walk round we both queued up at a tent run by a group of friendly South Africans and we definitely chose the right line to join as they kept us tempted by feeding us pieces of just cooked rib and chicken as well as engaging us in friendly chat about what they were doing and how they were cooking. Just as we reached to head of the queue, I gave C my order for pulled pork and barbecued corn while I went off to a little wine outlet selling New Zealand winf from Marlborough and bought us a glass each (£4 per glass). We sat on the steps under the statue of one of Manchester’s founding fathers as I tucked into my pulled pork, corn and slaw. It was a reminder to me how superior overseas coleslaw is the tasteless creamed vegetable stuff we tolerate when you taste a slaw made up of subtle flavours and the tang of red wine vinegar. The pulled pork was amazing; tender and full of the flavours it had been marinated in and C’s ribs were tender and sweet. Great food, great wine and blazing sunshine with the soundtrack of sweet soul music playing live in the background; what could be better?



After the wine and food it was off to the beer tent for a pint of
Brooklyn lager and a glass of Chardonnay for C as we lay back against the plinth if the statue and drank in the atmosphere. After another drink we decided to go for a bit of a wander around Manchester City centre; the city was abuzz with people many in attendance for the Rod Stewart and Bon Jovi concerts also taking place in the city tonight and the ParkLife event at Heaton Park just outside the centre. We had a pee in House of Fraser and a mosey around Harvey Nics and Selfridges – C tried on some blue lipstick much to our amusement and another drink at The Mitre. We then had a walk down to Canal Street in Manchester’s Gay Village which always has a great vibe about it and we had a couple more drinks, sitting outside, manoeuvering ourselves to catch the last glimpses of the sun peering between the buildings.

We walked back to Albert Square, stopping on the way at a Tesco Express to purchase a bottle of Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc which I stuffed into my deepest pocket before flashing our ‘pass out’ stamps to the stewards and returning to Grillstock. We found a position under our statue again, the barbeques and stalls were still going strong and the music had changed to reggae. C found some plastic glasses and we slowly drank our bottle of sav blanc. There is nothing quite like being with the person you love, totally relaxed, drinking good wine with music, food and happy people all around. Perhaps it could only have been bettered had we been on a beach instead!? The next question was what food to try next as we wandered round the stalls some tempting us with their cooking smells, others with the site of their food. I chose a spicy sausage sandwich which I smothered in the spiciest chilli sauce I could which probably wasn’t a great idea and C had one herself. We had another drink each before fatigue and satiation got the better of us and with the last band still playing we made our way back to Piccadilly station. We still have time for another glass of Peroni before catching the train back to St Annes via Preston at the end of a quite fantastic day.






Blackpool is the town adjacent to where I live. It’s the largest town on Lancashire’s Fylde Coast with a population of approximately 142,000 but also one of the most deprived towns in Britain. Historically, Blackpool was the holiday destination of choice for much of the population of greater Lancashire including the North West region and Glasgow in Scotland. From further afield in the East Midlands my own parents used to speak in glowing terms of visits to Blackpool in the 1950s staying in boarding houses and B&Bs where the landlady was king and the Blackpool Tower was the enduring symbol of fun and freedom for the last pre-war generation and the working class baby boomers. That was then. Today I cannot help myself referring to Blackpool as a shit-hole. Old hotels and guest houses have become magnets to itinerant jobless where a once thriving holiday resort is now home to a community in which in large parts is both morally and socially bankrupt. A recent TV documentary series entitled 999 Emergency focused on the unending work of the emergency services in Blackpool and the repeat offenders and social misfits who cause such a drain on both emergency and social services. Most towns and cities in the UK have their particular problems but with one of the most dense populations in the country where many flock for the easy accommodation and life on benefits, Blackpool’s challenges are more prevalent than most. That is not to say everything is bad in the old town. Sure, a bulldozer to push it into the Irish Sea would be the start to a much needed programme of regeneration but the local council have spent £millions on sprucing up the tourist areas and although many of Blackpool’s visitors are the day trippers and overnight or weekend stag and hen parties at least the central sea front area is modern and attractive providing a handsome veneer to the grim realities of what lie just a few streets behind.

This week the sun came out in Blackpool and much better than usual it looked too. Blackpool is home to The Pleasure Beach Resort with one of the biggest rides in the world: The Big One. Here it is, I have still yet to take a ride upon it…it’s aptly named!


C and I walked further along the promenade and saw a helicopter taking off from the beach and giving people willing to pay a flight around the tower. It was proving a popular attraction!




And lastly, here is the beach with the tower in the distance.


I want to be optimistic about Blackpool’s future and gradually improvements are being made. But for every step it takes forward there seems to be some issue causing it to take a massive leap backwards. It looked nice on this bank holiday Monday and as we continued our walk and the crowds on the beaches expanded at least I felt that we were enjoying Blackpool, it’s doing its best and it still has plenty to offer. It has a long way to go and there are many good people here, I just hope it makes it one day and becomes a town that people on this coast can really be proud of.

Berlin: Day 1

C informed me some months ago she was planning on taking me abroad somewhere as part of my impending 50th birthday celebrations but the window of opportunity of when and where we could go was limited due to it having to coincide wither her son’s school trip to Normandy and my son being able to be packed off to my b rother’s and parents’ for a few days (both 13 years old). C mentioned she’s booked the flights a few weeks ago but wanted tit to. Be a surprise but being unable to contain myself I teased it out of her and discovered we were heading for the capital city of Germany; Berlin. At first I was only mildly disappointed that we weren’t heading for my favourite country; Italy but as my research of Berlin increased I became gradually more and more excited at the prospect of visiting what appeared from the guide books, Internet sites and word of mouth on Facebook quite a happening and vibrant city. And so, as I made my lists, packed all my clothes in a rolled up sausage, dropped my son off in Nottingham following a 284 mile round trip and 6.30am return to my home town we set off to Liverpool John Lennon Airport in my Fiat 500C for a 12.50pm flight in the knowledge that Berlin was being affected by a Siberian weather front and we may face snow and temperatures as low as -11 degrees C.

I had overcome my laziness for this trip by being more utterly prepared than I ever had been for a trip previously. I had bought 2 pocket guide books on Berlin, one by the ubiquitous Lonely Planet and another I picked up in Manchester Waterstones by Wallpaper*, published by Phaidon in a plain brown cover, simply called Berlin.


I highly recommend the Wallpaper* books; they had an array of them set out on a table in Waterstones and they looked quite a site with there psychedelic range of coloured covers like a block of tiles but they make recommendations of restaurants, sites and hotels slightly off the beaten tourist track but with a more artful theme and for the restaurant on out 1st night, did us proud. As well as that, C has a friend on Facebook called The Social Traveller who is currently in Berlin and describes how he fell in love with the city (C’s brother went on a charity tandem bike ride with him through Thailand dressed in sailor suits!).

I like looking at other peoples’s travel experiences to pick ideas from to hopefully enhance my own travelling experience and I certainly pinch some suggestions from the very brilliant web presence of Sara Rosso who has blogs here there and everywhere. It was her idea I nicked to have an espresso at the airport, post security with a snack so I chose a slice of carrot cake to go with my espresso from the Ritazza coffee stall. My previous experience of Ritazza coffee was a cappuccino from Preston train station which was pretty grim and this attempt was equally as poor. The espresso was Luke warm at best and the cake had seen better days…quite a few days from the first bite. Still, here’s a glimpse of the coffee and cake which I chased with a glass of tap water provided gratis free.


One great thing about about having hand luggage only is that you don’t have to check bags in and queue up for ages although we were hit with quite a queue for security having to remove shoes, coats, the lot; but after a coffee the timing was pretty good because we were called to the flight practically straight away and I was on board reading my copy of Q Magazine and we were off!

C treated us to an over-priced on flight Easyjet snack and a small can of beer/wine and as I perused my magazine and saw photos people had sent in of themselves in worldwide locations reading the Q Mag, I wondered against which Berlin landmark I should have my photo taken to submit and hopefully get published in the magazine!

The flight was largely comfortable and in eventful apart from some young German who clearly didn’t like taking instructions from the female cabin crew and made a bit of an arse of himself to the point where after we landed the Captain came out and gave him a severe bollocking and rightly so!

Passage through Schonefelde Airport was easy enough and pre-preparation and notes made in the back of my Wallpaper* Berlin guide cribbed from our hotel’s website made it easy to find the train station which was the 2nd leg of our journey into Berlin. We bought a couple of 48 hour travel passes (note UK transport operators, 48 hour, not 3 day) and made the short walk to the S Bhan station where the train was already standing. With no bags to wait for we were quickly on the RB14 (or was it the RE7?) heading for the Zoologischer Gardens. For the first and only time throughout our trip, our tickets were checked by a guard on the train which we had necessarily validated before we got on board and after making good progress through the outskirts of Berlin we then found ourselves winding our way through the centre as landmarks made familiar by the guide books suddenly stood alongside out passing train as a foretaste of what was to come. Having arrived at the Zoologischer Garden station, we alighted for the next leg of the trip which was a no. 100 bus to Lützoplatz. The bendy-bus arrived after a few minutes but during the wait we were already applying scarves, hats and gloves as we were hit for the first time by the cold Berlin air before we hopped on. I haven’t really been on a bus in the UK for quite a while but not wishing to stereotype German efficiency, as soon as the bus passed a stop, the next one was electronically displayed so we knew exactly when to stand up and ring the bell. Right as planned, we found ourselves in Lützoplatz knowing our hotel was only a few steps away at Lützowufer 15. At this point I made my first tourist faux-pas trying to read a map while standing in a cycle lane and I was nearly knocked over by a cyclist walking his dog alongside…a narrow escape! C spotted the hotel and we walked to The 5 star Grand Hotel Esplanade with its huge and equally grand lobby. We were attended by a friendly English Speaking receptionist but as I was feeling a little tired and travel weary, in spite of her charm I just wanted to get the key and get into our room to chill out for a while. We were given the key card for room 505 which on opening was quite fresh until I noticed a window was open and after closing it the room soon warmed up. The room was spacious with a huge bed and modern bathroom plus ample cupboard and drawer space. I had a bath and checked in on Facebook.

We didn’t have long to relax though because C had booked us in for a tour of the Reichstag at 7.30pm so after a quick change we were soon hopping into one of the several taxis parked in the drop-off point and on our way. By the time we arrived at Germany’s seat of power it was already dark and to enter the building we had to pass a security check point that thankfully wasn’t as excessive as Liverpool airport and we picked up our free Audi guides to begin the tour. The tour begins as you enter an area covered by the huge glass dome with a circular photo-montage of the history of the Reichstag in words (English as well as German) and pictures. Without wishing to ‘mention the war’ this was my first encounter with Berlin and its National Socialist past, something I have an interest in as a period of history I studied at school and continue to read books about. The words were honest and appropriately critical of the 12 grizzly years when Nazi-ism held way in Germany with a particularly ugly photo of a meeting of SA members in their ghastly moustaches and uniforms. The audio piece was already over my ear and to reach the summit of the dome you have to walk up a spiral concourse which runs along the edge of the structure at which point the audio magically begins to start…in English. The audio talks about many of the buildings in view of the Reichsatg as well as its own architecture but unfortunately, as it was dark we were unable to see many of the landmarks it referred to. However, it was great to appreciate the juxtaposition of both the old architecture of the Reichstag against the modern glass dome, designed as much else of the building, by an Englishman …which I thought was ironic. As you walk up the ramp much of the inside of Reichstag reveals itself to you, particularly the main chamber of government, the German equivalent of our House of Commons but with cinema style purple chairs in receding crescents.


At the summit you are literally in the dome as more of the functionality of the architecture is described through the audio including recycling the hot air and a huge sail which revolved with the sun to provide shade in the chamber. All good stuff but the chamber seemed to lack the authority of the House Of Commons and looked a bit dreary with its uniform seats and bland walls. Nevertheless, I was pleased to see the flag of the EU flying high alongside the German national flag as it is a reminder there are many good social aspects borne out of the EU.


And so we left the Reichstag with a view to finding something to eat. I’d found details of a restaurant called Lokal recommended in my Wallpaper* guide which had only received 5 reviews on Trip Advisor all scoring 5 out of 5. On arrival in Berlin I decided to pay a fee of £5 per day to receive unlimited 3G Internet access and the Trip Advisor app really came in useful here as you find the restaurant and it points you in the right direction and tells you how far you have left to travel. In spite of the cold we decided to walk to Lokal and I think it was something like a mile away on Linienststraße (love using the German ß for double ‘s’. I was wondering if there were reasons for this symbol such as an avoidance of using SS and its sinister connotations?). Our walk took us along the banks of the River Spree and across a bridge and was pleasant if rather cold but most of the snow appeared to have been very efficiently ploughed from the centre to the edges of the pavements so there was no difficulty in walking at all. There are a few other boutiques and bars in this area recommended in ‘Berlin’ and as we walked along Linienstraße there seemed some fine looking shops which had we had more time we would liked to have discovered during daylight opening hours. I even saw a shop selling Moleskine notebooks and reminded myself I wished to buy one (thanks again Msadventuresinitaly.com) and as we passed other attractive looking bars and restaurants we eventually arrived at Lokal.

In ‘Berlin’ Lokal is described as being at the forefront of Berlin’s farm-to-table movement serving local fare available at market which they publicise daily on their blog http://www.lokal-berlin.blogspot.com with updated menus. We found Lokal on the street corner and opened a white door into an ‘L’ shaped room full of mainly young people sitting in rows at tables tucking into their meals with the din of conversation adding to what appeared a vibrant and confident atmosphere. We were hailed by an English speaker behind the bar and asked for a table for two. He directed a waitress over to us who again spoke excellent English and was a little doubtful at first whether she could offer is a table but luckily another couple were 45 minutes late so we were offered the only available table which we duly accepted, it being exactly the one photographed in ‘Berlin’ with a rustic wooden table and chairs, the one C sat in covered in what appeared to be an animal pelt (sorry vegetarians). The restaurant is run by Berliner Maren Thimm and American chef and Marem’s partner Gary Hoopengardner who I assume we had the pleasure of meeting on mout arrival. The waitress provided us with German menus but translated for us the fare being seasonal meats and vegetables with game and offal to the fore. C chose steckrübensuppe karottengrünpesto which translates into turnip and carrot soup with green pesto while I had kalbsbries and leber bacon, spitzkohl aioli, topinamber karottengrünpesto which was sweetbreads with liver and sauces which was superbly cooked and tasted amazing. We also enjoyed a bottle of Reisling! I’m not going to continue to show off by using the German versions of our main course although you can read them on my Trip Advisor review here: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g187323-d2721174-r156089422-Lokal-Berlin.html

However, C chose white fish which we thinks was whiting, it was beautifully cooked and sweet white fish, I ordered Perlhuhn which is…guinea fowl. The presentation ofmthismwas quite amazing because the chef had taken the skin off, crisped it up and manipulated it into an egg shell shape with the top cut off and packed it with the guinea fowl meat with what I assumed was carrot purée in it to resemble a yoke against the white of the meat…superb. The dishes were served with seasonal veg and it appeared beet and fennel were to the fore. The meal was excellent as was the Lokal which if I could own my own restaurant would resemble it. A vibrant informal atmosphere serving Michael star quality local produce, no wonder the place was full of Germans enjoying local German food!

After Lokal we walked back in the direction of the city centre, took a few wrong turns and a u-bahn for a couple of stops and walked into a German bar called Alt-Berliner Kneipe – Treffpunkt Berlin (I’m getting the name from my Facebook timeline check-in). I liked this place because as soon as you walked in there was a line of German men sat at the bar with their beers in bulbous glasses with empty shot glasses adjacent to them, it felt like walking into an authentic German environment where these guys come for their social maybe once or twice a week or maybe every night to while their evenings away. The place was still servicing food and there were a few Brits and Canadians in too. We had a couple of blonde beers, very refreshing, and people watched for a while noting how some people look exactly like some of the people we see who regularly frequent pubs back home. After a couple of beers we walked back down a couple of streets before happening across a bus stop with a familiar number 100 on it and lo and behold a bus turned up within seconds and we were on it headed back to Lützoplatz and our hotel.

Exhausted, I had been awake since 5.30am, we hit the sack to discover the double bed had 2 single duvets (or continental quilts as my mum calls them) so assumed this was a German thing and went fast asleep.

Our first day in Berlin and what a day. Great food, great wine, architecture and history, a couple of beers in a German bar and a walk along the safe and snow lined streets. Ich bin ein Berliner?


Tomorrow C and I are off to Berlin for a 2 night City Break. Already booked a table for Thursday evening at the number 1 rated restaurant in Berlin on Trip Advisor, Restaurant Heising and have a tour of the Reichstag booked for tomorrow. I’ve got the day off today as well to sort things out and prepare and my lists are playing a blinder! The excitement is cranking up and tonight I’m driving to Nottingham to drop my son off while I’m away – he’s staying with my parents and also my brother’s family while C’s son is on a school trip to Normandy in France. Hope to post some great photos and travelogue. Watch this space!

List, at last!

The feeling! The freedom! The…the…the sheer joy! I’ve done it, I’ve made a list! OK, it may not be up there with Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ list but I bet he didn’t feel so blissfully empowered as I do having completed mine. You see, I am, after all, Lazy Bill. I don’t usually do things such as lists, I am, generally speaking, disorganised; I just do things when I have to with a minimum of preparation or pre-oganisation. But with my list in hand, I can say “I’m Prepared”, I have a plan and I’m going to make it work!

Right, I’ve calmed down a bit now, the euphoria is wearing off. So what is this list, I suspect you’re all wondering, that is causing such elation? Well, I’ll tell you. Next week, my wife is taking me to Berlin for a few days as part of the celebrations for my impending 50th birthday. We fly from Liverpool to Schonefeld Airport on Wednesday, spend a couple of nights at the Grand Hotel Esplanade and return on Friday. Now, normally when I go on a trip, I just get a large bag out the cupboard, scan my wardrobe, put a few clothing essentialls inthe bag, a shirt or two, t-shirts, toiletries and before I know it I’ve got enough clothing and accessories to last a month long cuise through the freezing Norwegian Fjords and crossing the Atlnatic for a sojourn across the Caribbean. But that’s not how it is this time…Oh no. this time I’m travelling light and I’m planning ahead!

Last Saturday we went to Manchester and I bought myself a 40 litre bag, just the right size to take into the cabin and this will carry my ‘stuff’ in its entirety.

My new North Face 'hand luggage' bag
My new North Face ‘hand luggage’ bag

The bag cost £120 and it has all the right dimensions get in an Easyjet cabin for free, so for a return journey that’s a saving of £50 so it’s already saved me about 40% of its value! And the list? Well, about 5 days ago during a quiet period at work I got a piece of paper out and made a list of all the clothing and toiletries I’m going to take. I’ve transferred it all onto useful little app called Wunderlist and I’m good to go! I’m even tempted to pack my bag now, a full 5 days before we set off just so I can feel doubly organised (and probably doubly smug).

It’s a little thing but in some ways means much to me that I’ve discovered, on the eve of my 50th birthday, that a little bit of forward planning and preparation has taken the stress out of a process I’ve always considered a dull and stressful chore which is one of those requirements that cause stress and anxiety which is at the root of my laziness and underachievement. Yes, it’s true, I avoid stress and anxiety like the plague so if its not worth doing I don’t do it and if it has to be done I do it at the last minute in a rush of stress fuelled adrenaline.

So, it’s goodbye stress and its goodbye anxiety. Lists are the future. If only I’d known 35 years ago.