Monday, 28 September 2009

How long is long enough?

I've developed a new habit - after a lifetime of arriving everywhere red-faced and panting with seconds to spare, I keep being early for appointments.  Terrific, you might think, but unfortunately, we're not talking 15 or 20 minutes ahead, the kind of 'early' where you enjoy a mooch around the shops, or sit on a bench if the weather is clement and watch the world go by, until the alloted hour.  No, I've started being really early...

In the last fortnight alone, I've rolled up 24 hours before I was needed to conduct a charity auction at a Mayfair art gallery, and two hours in advance of my annual sexual health check.  Today, however, I recorded a new personal best, arriving precisely one month early for an inquest!  What's more, I hadn't got to sleep until 7am after a presenting stint on BBC Radio London 94.9, and so dragged myself out of bed after three and a half hours' kip for absolutely no reason.

Why is this happening?  Is it symptomatic of turning 50?  Is sitting around dribbling and repeating myself in a care home just around the corner?

Last Friday night, however, I managed not to arrive ludicrously early to catch a train for a weekend break in The Cotswolds, then regretted it. 

Question: how long is it reasonable to expect to queue for a ticket at Paddington?  Hardened commuters may shake their heads and smile indulgently at my optimistism and naivety, but I assumed 15 minute would be ample.  My jaw dropped as queues of at least 20 weary, would-be travellers snaked away from every ticket machine.  17 minutes later, I got my ticket, just as my train gathered speed on its way out of the station.

Whilst the cliché about Brits enjoying a good queue might be pushing it, we certainly behave impeccably under this kind of provocation.  No-one tried to queue-jump, no-one became angry or violent.  There may have been the occasional tut or despairing sigh but, other than that, we merely shuffled docilely forward whilst phoning our loved-ones to tell them we'd be late (an hour late in my case, such is the infrequency of the service to Charlbury).

I have emailed First Great Western (or Last Great Western or Worst Great Western as they are variously known) to ask them:

a) how long it is reasonable to expect to queue for a ticket
b) why they haven't installed twice as many ticket machines at Paddington, and
c) whether I can have some, or all, of my money back

Although you would have thought from the vast swarms of darting, dashing commuters that the entire capital was being evacuated, I understand the Friday night exodus is ever thus, so FGW can't claim they were caught unawares.  Rest assured, I shall tell you what they say....

Other than that, my weekend in The Cotswolds was a delight.  I cooked, dined out, gardened, dog-walked..... and made my debut at Lidl!  I've never gone further downmarket than Asda before and was concerned I might be spotted (I'd foolishly forgotten to pack headscarf and dark glasses, so disguise was impossible) but seemed to get away with it. 

I was astonished, not only by the amazingly low prices and apparently perfectly good quality, but also by the mix of customers: I'd imagined wall-to-wall tracksuited, pot-bellied riffraff loudly berating little Kylie (spelt 'Kie-leigh' or 'Kighlee') in her pushchair.  They were there, sure enough, but mixed with an equal number of posh, country folk (we were in David Cameron's constituency, for goodness sake) saying: "We'll get the basics here, Cynthia, then pop to Waitrose for the fish and meat and some of their heavenly ciabatta."

Mercifully, the check-out queues were in no way reminiscent of those at Paddington the night before...

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Global domination of cupcakes

Monday night found me at the Primrose Bakery in Covent Garden, swilling champagne and Hoovering up exceptional sausage rolls and mini quiches to celebrate the launch of a new book by its owners, Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery.  Yup, that's right, it's a whole, glossy cookery book devoted to cupcakes. 

I can't help but marvel at how these delicate little confections have so quickly become the gateaux de nos jours.  Why is it that any self-respecting Chelsea Henrietta will eschew a jam tart or cream slice but is defenceless when faced by what are really just fairycakes with a very thick layer of soft icing? 

Do they somehow tap into early childhood nostalgia with their lurid rainbow of icing colours and pretty decoration?  After all, if a little girl were asked to draw a plate of cakes, she'd use every pink, yellow and orange felt-tip pen in the pack and come up with something very like cupcakes - she wouldn't draw an undecorated Dundee or a slab of plain, pale Madeira.  

Are they so insubstantial that it's easy to kid yourself they won't make you fat?  Is it that finally we have discovered a cake with the proportion of frosting to sponge that we've all long craved, i.e. one-to-one?

Whatever the reason, these days, cupcakes rule the capital's hospitality scene.  Sure enough, the Primrose Bakery provided a stunning selection at the book launch, the chocolate and coffee varieties proving particularly memorable. 

If I were being ultra picky and ungrateful (and I am), the only slight disappointment was that no sweet wines were offered with them.  It was commendable that the champagne never ran out, and very nice it was too with the savouries, but switching to a Spumante or similar would have not only partnered the cakes far better but also saved our hosts some money.

We still seem to struggle with the idea of medium or sweet wines, sparkling or still, in this country when they suit so many foods perfectly.  But that's a whacking great hobbyhorse of mine which we'll save for another day.....  

I am about to lose my blogging virginity

My good friend, Mike Cooper, who knows about these things, says a media whore like me should be blogging so, after years of resisting, here I am! Expect to hear about food, radio, TV and London life in general from the inside over the days, weeks, maybe even years to come. BBx