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Every ashcloud has a goldfish lining

In amongst the chaos, turmoil and general upset that the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano has caused, a miracle has made itself known to me. It concerns Santiago the goldfish, a regular feature of posts throughout this blog’s lifespan.

Read the above link and you will know how Santiago came into my life. Read on and you will learn of the excitement I felt when he returned, and take a glance at this short post to see how I tried to make his life in our pond a more pleasurable one.  Finished reading? Then I will continue the tale.

After  uniting Santiago and Fatima, and after  a few days of synchronised swimming (which I obviously took as a sure-fire sign of love and fairytale endings) she started to chase him. Viciously.  He became elusive (and reclusive) and his golden glean was noticeably fading. She was a menace – maybe she was a boy-fish, after all, I cannot claim to be an expert in these aqua-matters. Well, eventually both disappeared; eaten by cats/herons/each other, so I sadly accepted that two months of no sightings in a small pond could only mean one thing.  And I am afraid that I am not here to tell you otherwise.

However (crikey, I was always told never to start a new paragraph with ‘however’ but, hell, I’m a rebel)…however, on Sunday I received yet another fateful call from my pond-gazing Mother to announce that we had a fish in our pond! A little spring clearance of water weeds and other detritus revealed, not only a frog and a newt (the first of the year), but a small goldfish with similar (but not identical) markings to Fatima…..it can only be their baby!

Praise King Triton, this is indeed a miracle!

Burger me

Granted, I am a fair-weather blogger, but then why write about things if it’s not going to be interesting? Dining out with a friend who’s a food blogger and having a posh Mayfair steakhouse create a special burger especially for the occasion, is (interesting, that is).

So, Chris (fetching photo left) is intent on finding an authentic West Coast burger in the UK, specifically in London, so much so that his quest has become somewhat of a challenge to those with the burger know-how (or not, in many cases).  So, not knowing much about burgers myself – at least not as much as my dining companion – it was with great gusto that I happily grabbed, chomped and slopped my way (see below) through Goodman’s House Burger and the special In-N-Out tribute burger which they’d made especially, sourcing crappy cheese slices from cornershops.  Good news.

Part of this West Coast Burger ideal, which Chris holds so dear, is a portion of Animal Fries. No, dear unworldly friends, this is neither a portion of mammal-shaped bites (a la Cadbury’s Animals in potato format) or some sort of suspect Asian delicacy, this is simply a dish of French fries topped with mounds (and I mean mounds) of the afore-mentioned Kraft cheese, melted and mixed with thousand island sauce, pickles and other various artery-blocking, exceptionally tasty ingredients. I loved it. As the cheese went slightly cooler it formed a most unnatural gooey topping, which can only be 100% terrible for you. But then there are few things that can only be good if you have he cheapest, crappiest available (Frankfurters, for example, or, as I have recently found, Jaffa Cakes. I guess you could argue that Crab Sticks fall under this umbrella, but I will never endorse them. Ever.)

Anyway, I digress, but basically, it was really, really tasty. My burger was nice and Chris’ was Very nice (that’s one step up, but you’ve gotta love cheese). I won’t harp on about the actual review – that’s Chris’ job.

Yum.

Losers.com

This is a genuine message that my housemate has JUST recieved from match.com.  If this doesn’t make you laugh then I don’t know what would:

“hey, how are you? did you have a good christmas and new year? I think you did say you were not interested a while ago, but you have looked at me since, so thought i’d just drop an email 🙂:)
Hope all is well, and hopefully hear back from you!

‘Name withheld’ x”

Danyl Johnson drives me to drink*

So continues my pathetic effort to have at least one day without wine.  Until 8.45 pm I was well on course.  It has been a fairly indulgent weekend of wine, food and Christmas shopping in charming Norfolk villages so it didn’t seem like a hardship to forgo my usual Sunday night glass of wine.  Hell, there was even talk of me not drinking until I go out for dinner on Thursday night, but then something happened, and it happened in the most unusual way…

Now, unlike some people, I am not ashamed to admit that I have been following the X-Factor (though I guess I should be) and my housemate and neighbours are actually ‘fans’, so I have been roped in and forced to watch this godwaful tosh.  Who am I kidding?  I have grown to quite like critiquing Cheryl’s dresses, Danni’s eyebrows and everything about Louis, but tonight was different.  After the afore-mentioned long weekend, I came home an hour before X-Factor kick-off and just wanted a bath and bed.  It was then that I was informed by the fans of Chatham Place (as they will henceforth be known) that we were going to the Penta Hotel opposite to watch the results in the ‘Penta Lounge’ (see what they did there?)  I protested for a few seconds, then merrily hopped in the bath, summoning the energy to go out (with a well-meaning cherry-flavoured herbal tea) and vowing a night of abstinence.  Oh, I tell you, it was going so well.  There was even free coca cola – what more could a want-to-be teetotal require from a night out?!  Well, 45 mins into the show disaster struck.  Danyl Johnson was voted in.  Now, to some of you out there this might be disaster enough (it was to us), but there is more to come.  You see, Danny-boy is a Reading lad and, after an incredibly scary standing ovation (I’m not really sure why we were so surprised), the loving crowd (which mst have included many of his nearest and dearest) decided to show their support of the local chap by cracking open some free bubbly.  Now, I hope you’ll sympathise with me here, free fizz is surely too much for most people to pass on?  Well, I was going to do it, honsetly, but then I remembered my duties and realised that I has to accept a glass (of what turned out to be Prosecco) so I could pose for a photo for you to see.  Here it is, I hope you appreciate what I sacrificed for you:

*for Jedward’s sake please don’t sue me

Aussie rules

It is a day of mixed emotions, as I returned home tonight find that, finally, we have the internet.  Firstly, and primarily, I felt joy.  I could now finally do all those millions of things that I have been meaning to do ever since we moved in in August, but haven’t been able to do through a Blackberry or at work, like…um, check my LoveFilm list and, er, see who’s requested to follow me on Twitter…I even checked BBC weather, just because it doesn’t work so well on mobile devices.  This is when the secondary emotion started to kick in; I have just spent the last two hours in front of my mac doing absolutely bob-shag all.  Sure, I’ve checked ‘my wall’, looked for some new trainers (is red too much?) and had a read of my 28 emails (25 of which were junk newsletters), but despite being glued to the screen (and, as a result, missing a chunk of detail in tonight’s Masterchef final), I haven’t actually done anything worthwhile.  So, I am going to tell you a little story and then turn this damn machine off.  I’ve spent too many hours in front of a computer today already to be addicted to my Mac:

I have been wanting to try an authentic Chinese mooncake for a while now.  I have been warned by colleagues in Hong Kong that they are truly disgusting, but never the less, I wanted to taste one.  The full moon festival was approaching and I thought it would be  my perfect opportunity to finally taste one of these delicacies in a trip to London’s China Town.  Alas, I was away (in Berlin, it was nice – worth a trip, but very cold this time of year), so my chance passed me by.  However, yesterday a colleague at work gave me a pleasant surprise when she told me that, on a recent trip to Hong Kong, she had met with our marketing guy over there who, knowing of my gastronomic desire, had given her a mooncake to take back for me.  Now, this would have been perfect, except for one thing; they were going to Australia before returning to the UK.  The problem with this is that the customs lady took one look at the gift in question, wipped out her knife, cutting the cake apart, and then, seeing the pickled egg at in the centre, confiscated it.  So I was left with a (very pretty) tin and a note from the Aussie customs informing me of the contents’ fate.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  But I think the former is probably the best option, so here is my letter from the Aussies (yes, I know the format is a bit messed up, click on the right one and it will be big – I’ve got better things to do with my time than mess about with html at 10.40pm…like watch the BNP on Question Time!):

Ps. the whole thing reminds me of my favourite episode of The Simpsons, where Bart introduces the bullfrog to Australia…No?…”knifey spooney”. .?  Anyone?

HEL of a good time

What a week, and it’s only Dienstag! Not only have I pretty much decided that I will probably, almost certainly, unless otherwise persuaded, climb Mt Kilimanjaro next year, but I have also taken my first steps towards swing-dancing goddess-dom and soft porn starlet, amongst a whole host of other adventures.

I knew it was going to be a good ‘un when Monday brought with it the delights of “persepolis”, an animated film about a girl growing up in Iran during the 70s and 80s.  Serious as this sounds (and was.  I cried, but no surprise there), it was one of the best things I have watched on my LoveFilm subscription.  It was also accompanied by a hearty chat to a long-lost friend, so things were looking pretty promising (I’ll ignore my dream about murderous Nigerian refugee soldiers for now).

Then today, despite waking up at what seemed like 4.30am, I have had a pretty productive day.  My housemate and I went to our first Lindy Hop / Swing dance class.  I admit that I was skeptical.  A room of old nostalgic couples reminiscing about their heydays didn’t seem like the ideal Tuesday evening activity (particularly when offered a night at Great Expectations, with cheap home made food and pool), but the love of the brass music spurred me on.  And what a good job too; it was great.  Yes there were a few oddities dotted around the room…the ages/genders of one or two were hard to make out at times, but we had fun and will certainly be continuing with our quest to become the rock n roll queens of Reading.  On returning home I was invited to the John Lewis Reading Bingo Night this Friday and got irrationally over-excited about it (I’ve never played bingo and there are some pretty cool prizes up for grabs).

So, as much as these activities raised my excitement levels, I needed to act my age and plan some fun of a different kind.  At this point my housemates decided we ought to write The Highway To HEL (very clever pun devised by me – Hannah, Emily and Lizzie…see what I did there?).  This is a list of all the things we want to do with our time in Reading, and consists of various activities from the fairly mundane (eating at the veggie Indian down the road) through the exciting (holding a Come Dine With Me week), to the downright stupid (Lizzie’s Reverse-a-day, where we basically get drunk at breakfast and then spend a day backwards until we end up reading the papers with coffee at 9pm).  Part of this list is our ‘HEL Yeah’ calendar.  Scoff ye not, this is going to be a best-seller.  Plans are underway for the three of us to create our very own 12 month calendar, complete with ‘tasteful’ nude shots of me in just my cycle helmet and Lizzie in her landlord’s toolbelt.  Watch this space.

So, as I retire to my attic room bed, I will sleep safe in the knowledge that, not only will this week bring much ‘sensible’ excitment (did I mention that I am going to my first Grown Up Wedding?) but the coming months will be filled with camping weekends, ’90s nights and trips to the ultimately chavvy Riley’s Snooker Hall…bring on The Highway To HEL!

On Thursday it was my birthday.  26 is how old I am.  I am very happy about this.  It was also the first year that I can remember where I didn’t take the day off and I wasn’t sure how I’d take it.  However, I had a grand old day, due mainly to our trip to The Little Chef in Popham; the one Heston Blumenthal took over in that TV series (which I didn’t actually watch).

Little Duck Fat ChefIt was brilliant!  The car parking spaces had little chefs on them (left. This may not be a new thing; it’s been a while since I visited an actual Little Chef, but it made me do a little jig none-the-less), and the ceiling inside was painted like the sky with seagulls!  Brilliant.  The food was nice too.  I had braised Ox cheeks (is that bum or face?) and a glass of Shiraz Viognier (you can only imagine how excited I was to learn that they were licensed!) and although the wine was a bit old-tasting, I wasn’t about to complain, despite encouragement from my wine industry colleagues.  It was definitely a good value, fun meal.  I don’t think anything cost more that £10 and everyone seemed pretty happy with their fodder – the Olympic breakfast didn’t get the best reviews, but at little over £6 (or thereabouts), how good is a motorway fry-up going to be?

The staff were very nice, the toilets were interesting – different soundtracks in each cubicle and food facts on the walls – plus they give you free jelly beans at the end (and they gave my boss a free copy of OK’s Peter and Jordan issue).  I was satisfied.  My only silly little criticism is that you can’t move the stools towards the table because they are attached to the floors – something that might nark shorter people in particular, but I was pleased to see that they offered thick-cut chips and fries as separate options – good work, they are totally different dishes!

If you go expecting a cut-price Fat Duck experience, you’ll obviously be disappointed, but compared to any other rLong live Hestonoadside dining experience I have had in England, it comes out tops (not as good as the Road Kill cafe in NZ though, where we ate Possum burgers), but high five Heston (this Spanish girl obviously agreed – right).

PS.  I also just want to thank the lovely taxi driver who directed me on to the North Circular today.  He wound down his window to check I was OK when he saw me studying an out-of-date AA road map at a red light in Royal Oak earlier on this afternoon and let me follow him until I was almost there; a true tale of innercity compassion.  Must get a Tom Tom (or a new map).