Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Restaurants: Five, Fishguard

5 Main Street, Fishguard, Pembrokeshire SA65 9HG
01348 875050

One of the risks of staying anywhere between the M25 and Abroad is that there may be Nowhere To Eat. Or worse, that there will be but it will be well-meant and horribly average. That was the first place I ate in Fishguard, for lunch, and I will spare its blushes.

The next place, ten yards up the road from my hotel, was pretty much what you want a restaurant to be. The service, since it wasn't busy (Tuesday night is never busy anywhere) was admirably snappy.

I think that an eating-house should only be allowed to call itself a restaurant if it serves an amuse-bouche before the evening meal. This was black pudding and monkfish, exactly as tasty as it sounds.

I went for the goats cheese and poached pear on bruchetta. The goats cheese was very soft and came from a happy goat, since angry goats produce the more familiar chalky-textured cheese. I want to know how to do pears like that, or indeed, where to get pears like that. Their chef obviously does.

I chose the goats cheese because I wanted the fish pie as my main course. I am never going to cook a fish pie at home, so I like to order one when it's on offer. This had mackeral, salmon and prawns, very light on the potato and heavy on the fish, with some garden peas, peeled (!) broad beans and fresh asparagus on the side.

Telling my usual tale of being forbidden alcohol, the waitress found out for me that the summer fruits and pancetta were inseparable from a champagne sauce, so I opted for a brownie with vanilla ice cream: the brownie was basically a chocolate fondant and the peanut brittle was laced with sea-salt. And that's not a complaint.

I went back the next evening. Why experiment when you have found a Good Thing? They go to bed early in Fishguard, last serving is 21:00. Best to book, especially in the season and at weekends.

The Victim: Me
The Damage: Three courses £30 - £40 a head excluding drinks
The Verdict:  I liked it so much, I went back the next evening

Monday, 27 June 2011

Never Go To A Funeral On Your Own

If you should find out that you are coming to my funeral, and you will be going there on your own and won't know anyone there, then my friend you are excused. Turn round. Go home. With my blessing. I have been to a funeral solo and it is not how it should be done. It was six weeks ago, in mid-May, and while I got over the immediate impact, I realised this week I haven't really processed it.

Funerals are supposed to remind us of our mortality as well as of the life of the deceased. We are supposed to reflect on our life with and without them, and become aware of the little losses we will feel over the next year every time we do something and they aren't there as they used to be.

Everyone else had come with wives and even with children. I had never met any of these people, and I'm not sure many of them had met each other. Those people could share their grief, squeeze each other's hands or put arms round shoulders. I couldn't, so it was probably a good thing I wasn't feeling tearful. Actually I don't know what I was feeling at the time. I may have looked like I was on Mars.

The other people from the same part of his life that I was in did not show up. Unless I didn't recognise them nor they me, but I doubt it. I don't think I expected them to be there, but given that they were the only other people I knew, they were the ones who left me in the lurch. If that makes sense. There was nowhere to go with whatever feelings I had.

There was a long moment when I really thought that smoking a cigarette would be a good idea. I quit smoking in 1995 and after the first year have never had a craving or an urge for a cigarette. Until then. The original plan was that I would go back to work and go to the gym, as usual on a Thursday. On the way back to the station, I knew I had to go home. I stopped in Richmond to get some cake and chocolate (uh-huh, yep) and spent the afternoon and much of the evening watching DVDs. I even watched Rent - it's a great movie for when you're feeling a little emotional and then along came this...

...and because I'm a human being living a real life, of course I burst into tears. "Will someone care / will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?" At the time I thought I was letting out feelings over my friend's death. The next morning, I got on with life, maybe a little subdued, but not emotionally hungover or upset.

I wasn't letting out feelings about my friend's death or my own mortality. You forget that I regard a quick and timely death as a reward for passing the endurance test that is life. I didn't feel sad for him. He died quickly and with all his faculties, despite the cancer drugs. His wife and son are left to get on with their lives, and they are both sensible, practical people who will do so with application, pausing every now and then to feel a twinge of sadness. They have a lot of support from their friends, and me, if they ever need it.

Yes, I was looking at all those people and once again there's a whole crowd I don't know that perhaps I might have thought I should. The funeral was making me feel isolated and lonely again.

Funerals are a religious service and I don't do religion. The more time passes, the more I see the Middle-Eastern influences of Christianity and the more those influences seem wrong for the times I live in. In my world what's gone is gone, and what remains are the lessons, the debt and the mess to clear up. (No. Good stuff never lasts beyond the moment.) No matter what happens, we will pay our taxes, our due bills and re-fill our refrigerators and petrol tank; we will go to work, where we will be surrounded by people who need us to behave as usual so they can do their job. The Middle-Eastern tradition was developed in a world where people could take weeks out to mourn or fast or attend ceremonies, and where those ceremonies served to gather together people who needed to be gathered together anyway. The Middle-Eastern tradition invites us to feel emotions and behave in a manner that is unsuitable for the Western world, and therefore to feel guilty if we don't feel the way it says we should. And I don't.

Nobody needed me there and there was nothing I could do. Why would I go somewhere I'm just going to feel useless? You may say: to show my respects. That makes sense in a Middle-Eastern setting where there's a functioning community and extended families, and my presence and actions will be noted and judged, but I live in the suburban world where my presence and actions are invisible. You may say: to show my support for the family. I had already done that.

I went because I thought it was the "right" thing to do. Well, guess what? It wasn't. I sat through a ceremony I think is a sham, humming along to lyrics I don't believe. Nobody needed me to be putting on a show. I was reminded that that when I die, I will not be found until the smell of my decomposing is noticeable by the neighbours. (Actually, I'm okay with that. I'll be dead when it's happening.) And mostly I was reminded that I have one nearby close relative and my few friends are otherwise scattered across the globe. Yeah. I needed that. The point of going to a funeral is to share our grief. I had no-one to share mine with. I should not have been there.

Which is why you are excused if you are travelling to my funeral on your own. Turn round, go back to work, go back to the world. With my blessing.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Waiting For Barry Manilow

So I was on my way into work Thursday morning, weaving through the side streets of Covent Garden (actually, with the exception of Long Acre, all the streets of Covent Garden are side-streets) and suddenly I saw this...

The tables told this was serious waiting...

...for the man whom many consider to the heart-throb of all time...

Ladies and Gentlemen... Barry Manilow will be in the building!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Why I Stopped Watching "In Treatment (Bi'Tipul)"

In Treatment is an HBO adaptation of the Israeli series Bi'tipul about a troubled therapist and a bunch of his patients, each of whom reflect some part of his own problems with his life. Gabriel Byrne is the therapist, the seriously sexy Michelle Forbes is his cheating and frustrated wife, and there's Blair Underwood, Mia Wasikowska, Dianne Weist and Josh Charles supporting. This is a serious cast. The production and directing credits are pretty serious as well. The script structure is tight. It's pretty impressive.

And I decided at week eight of series one that's enough. I gave up fairly quickly on the Josh Charles / Embeth Davidtz couple squabbling about whether she should have an abortion, because it was obvious they shouldn't even be under the same roof let alone be parents. Dysfunction isn't drama. After about five episodes I passed on Melissa George's thirty-something sexy but unbalanced anaesthetist who has had, when the series opens, a one-year crush on her therapist. Yeah, I don't think so. He looks old, tired and dead in spirit. I don't care how unbalanced she is, no woman would keep going for a year with someone with so little joy in life. This left Blair Underwood's US Navy pilot and Mia Wasikowska's terminally messed-up teenage gymnast Olympic hopeful with an absent super-model photographer father and caring but wet mother who doesn't want her to train any more.

Right. Let's just say "terminally messed-up teenage gymnast Olympic hopeful with an absent super-model photographer father and caring but wet mother who doesn't want to train any more" again. Notice anything unlikely about it? Read the biographies of top athletes, or talk to the parents of high-performing athletic teenagers, and you will find out that in order for a teenager to get to be even a regional contender, let alone an Olympic hopeful, the parents have to turn their lives over to providing logistical, financial, moral and domestic support for their child. The idea that a teenage girl could make it to being a US Olympic hopeful with an absent father and a mother who doesn't want her to do it is terminally, totally unrealistic. And it's utterly unnecessary. Mia Wasikowska's performance is so compelling we would be fascinated if she was just on the school team.

So now to Blair Underwood's US Navy pilot who performed his mission as instructed, but because he was given some wrong co-ordinates or because some insurgents had moved a bunch of kids into their base, a bunch of children got killed. He is known as the "Madrassa Murderer". At first he seems to have no qualms about this, but in the end, it and what gets stirred up by the process causes him to commit suicide by mis-flying on a Top-Gun style training exercise. Of course he had to be in moral agonies about bombing a bunch of school kids. Let's have him wonder if he's gay through some pretty crass dream symbolism, and then have him talk about how he just loves hanging out with his two gay friends. Of course that, and the harsh and unloving upbringing from his father caused him such emotional turmoil that he couldn't take it any longer. Spot the politically correct liberal sensibilities.

Military pilots are chosen because they have the temperament to drop bombs, knowing that some innocent people might be also killed, and then sleep well at night and especially because they have got the temperament not to crash their planes out of guilt. How did the Allies and the Germans conduct all those bombings of civilians in WW2? If the pilots were in agony about killing civilians, the bombing campaigns would not have lasted more than a week. And what on earth he is doing seeing a civilian shrink when the Navy psychologists would be all over him is anyone's guess. I'm guessing that in real life, the civilian shrink would have to be security-cleared, vetted by the Navy shrinks and have gone through some military orientation. (Now that would be a story.)

Those two unrealistic stories are there for reasons. First, so that we will be more interested in two of the characters than if they were just ordinary Joes. Second, to suggest that successful, high achieving people can be screw-ups as well. Now the latter is true, just not about teenage gymnasts or Top Gun combat pilots. The writers guessed, and rightly, that we might not be too interested in the problems of a highly-paid derivatives trader, conceptual artist or soccer player. Third, the screw-ups can't be too similar to the audience, or the audience will feel the pain, make excuses and change channel. (Bickering married couples are there for contrast: isn't it terrible how some marriages just don't work, whereas we get along really well, don't we darling?) Fourth, and this is crucial, at least in drama, therapeutic screw-ups must be caused by family: schools, employers and local and national government must never be to blame for anything. It seems we can get help dealing with how Daddy and Mummy messed us up when we were seven, but not with how the incompetent egoists who ran the company messed us up when we were thirty-seven by dumping everyone out on the street with an IOU for their severance package. In the carefully Bowdlerised world of mass media drama, Capital and State are invisible, leaving only the Family visible to take the blame. It means the writers are restricted to family dysfunction, and like I said, I don't think dysfunction is drama. I may be in a minority on that one.

Its compression of the lengthy process of classical (as opposed to CBT or short-treatment) therapy into nine thirty minute episodes meant that what we got was a concentrated dose of dysfunctional conflict on a par with a bad episode of Eastenders. What was sucking me in was the sick feelings not the interest of the process. You might like that ride, but it's not good for me.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Sound of Laughter In The Next Room

Have you ever felt you belong with a group? I see one of the Group and feel better, relax a little, or perhaps start to anticipate something good. I see a look of welcome, pleased-to-see-you on their face. We exchange some greeting, catch-phrase, and start to go somewhere neither of us need to name, or else wait for the Others and pass time with some chat that means something to us. That's what it's like for children, teenagers, undergraduates. For adults, maybe something similar, maybe with overtones of favors done and received as well. Mothers see the neighbour who baby-sits the kids on Wednesday evening, and whose children she takes on the school run Tuesdays and Fridays. Tradesmen see the guy they call on when a day's plumbing is needed, and who passed them a couple of day's plastering last month.

This is not a feeling I have. I must have had it once, to know what I'm missing. Or maybe I have just deduced it from what I've read and heard and seen of other people's lives. I could not even tell you what kind of people would give me that feeling, and I'm not at all sure who would feel that way about me. I have for years thought of myself as invisible - but the truth is that it's other people who are invisible to me. I'm pretty sure no-one talks about me in the pub after work, but I know I don't talk about them except in the abstract. The other people are invisible to me because we have nothing in common. How do I know that? Don't be silly. You know who your tribe are just by looking at them. Maybe you react to the a part of the mix of pheromones or whatever else chemicals we all give off as signals to each other.

I feel the hurt from this most when I meet someone who my instincts - those messed-up co-dependently-trained untrustworthy instincts - tell me I should get involved with. When I don't, through cowardice or good sense or just because I know she's already got a partner, that hurts. It feels like denying myself and it hurts. I've heard people talking about "sexual anorexia" or "emotional anorexia", but it's not the same thing. I understand anorexics feel a buzz when they deny themselves food. (I felt that buzz once myself in early recovery on my way to Phone Service one Saturday morning - and stopped off for breakfast at the Earl's Court branch of Balans immediately.) I don't feel a buzz when I deny myself people, I feel sadness.

You would think that by now I would have "got over it" and "moved on". However, no-one adapts to that - though there comes a time when you have to have the manners to stop going on about it in public. Conversely, it would be nice if the public would stop throwing people across my path and reminding me of it. Is this why most old people don't go out? Because they don't want to be reminded of their age and irrelevance? I used to go to a Thursday evening boxing class: between it and the train timetable, I wasn't back home until 21:00 and the traditional physical jerks that emphasise explosive strength don't suit me. But I kept with it for quite a few weeks. Many of the others did at least one if not two other classes a week and they chatted before the start and shared a handful of in-jokes. Not much, but just enough to suddenly make me feel that once again I was on the outside. And that upset me, so suddenly I found the logistics inconvenient and stopped going. I noticed that every now and then some new people would try the class out and not come back. Was it because they thought "no, this is an in-crowd thing and I want some hard-core exercise without a reminder that I'm not part of a little group" and didn't get upset with themselves for not feeling part of the group? They felt, in other words, that it wasn't the place for a "group"? Which sounds pretty "well-adjusted".

The exclusive gyms, exercise classes, schools and even pubs (The Blind Beggar anyone?) are exclusive because what they really offer is networking: the guarantee to their members that all the other people there will be reasonably congenial and possibly useful company. No time-wasters, tyre-kickers, glommers, celeb-spotters and other parasites, misfits and plain ordinary people.

A group is formed round some common experience or activity that its members want to share. This is why commuters aren't a group: they don't want to be there. It's why office workers often aren't a group: the nature of their work by and large isolates them in themselves (compare a bunch of analysts with their heads stuck in their computers with a bunch of guys in a foundry, who have to co-operate or they will be seriously injured by hot metal).

At some stage in our lives - I'm guessing it's well before eighteen - we need an experience of what being part of a group is like. We need to see and feel what it is like to exchange favours, to help and be helped, to trust and be trusted. Then we can see the world around us as somewhere we have a place in, that can be trusted, can be helpful to us and to which we can be helpful. These are not experiences that can be "had later", but lessons that need to be learned when we are still forming ourselves. Otherwise we make the adaption to a world that isn't helpful and can't be trusted and become, in the words of the song "cold, alone, just a person on my own". That was my experience.

I and others like me might have adapted like that, but it doesn't mean the urge, need or instinct to want to belong dies. That's still there. It's what lies behind our sense that we're incomplete and it's what causes the sudden bolt of loneliness when we are somewhere we would like to belong and know we arrived too late. It's why the sound of laughter in the next room is so tantalising and cruel.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Let's Play.... Name That Fear (Part 3,214)

On my way out to lunch, I fell into conversation with a fellow Colleague and he remarked that morale seemed to have slipped quite a bit over the last three weeks. Nothing anyone can put their finger on, just a general slackening of mood. Well, three weeks or so ago we had confirmation of when we are being expelled from the Eden of the West End into the Hell of the Liverpool Street Industrial Estate. Then there was an announcement that the Great Computer Project would be delayed, which added to the experience most people have of it, that it is going to be a huge mess that leaves brown smelly stuff all over everyone except the Truly Guilty.

Now the "cost savings" are coming. There's National No-Travel Week once a month. There's a rumour that anyone seen with a colour print-out will be marked as Not On Program. We're not supposed to print stuff. Now the reason I know this is a gesture is that if they were really serious, they would be removing the photocopier / printers. (They did a hand-in-your-old-computers week.) Except it wouldn't help if they did because photocopier / printers are on unbreakable multi-year rental contracts. Not printing is a gesture. There's a hiring freeze - but then, when isn't there a hiring freeze? The message that's going out is that non-compliance with the cost-cutting program will sink you, commercial creativity won't get a budget and actual success won't matter.

But the press rumour about 15,000 more job losses is way more true than you might think. The Bank must employ the corporate PR equivalent of Max Clifford, it's so good at keeping stuff out of the Press. If anything comes out, it's because The Bank wants it to come out. That article was a managing-expectations leak, and the expectations it was managing are the employees'. You know what happens now. The voluntary redundancy program, the office closures and moves, the non-compulsory compulsory headcount reduction.

Much more to the point is the increased pressure on the middle managers to get things done without the support and staff to do it and when the people who Actually Do Things have been told that they can't hire, spend and have these high priorities first. So the organisation turns into one huge pushing, bargaining, meeting-holding, priority-shuffling mess and the weak managers pass the tasks off onto their subordinates then blame them for lack of "influencing skills" when, surprise surprise, they can't get anything done. Which means everyone gets mediocre and poor reviews, no-one gets pay rises or bonuses and morale, having sunk, settles on the sea-bed. The whole place starts back-biting and arse-covering. Because no-one can actually do a grown-up's job, they make do by finding fault with each others' numbers and "challenging" assumptions and statements. Because no-one will actually be able to do anything, all they will do is posture.

Which throws us right back to the dysfunctional Bank of a few years ago. I hate that environment. Some people love it, but they were the kids at school who used to throw other kids back-packs over the fence.

Damn it. I liked the way The Bank was a few weeks ago. Now it's going to sink into the shite again and become just another posturing British Institution, like Virgin Media, Cable and Wireless, South-West Trains and all the others.

And double-damn it, the job market sucks. I've been on a couple of interviews and the phrase "frying pan to frying pan" occurs to me. And the rate at which Barclays hires people implies a rate of them leaving which is slightly scary. Like the annual recruitment of the Pricing Analyst at Tiscali as was.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

If I'm So Busy, Why Am I In A Slump?

Look at my diary and I'm busy, and have been since the bank holiday. The front garden is clear (hard work by my nephew, driving stuff to the tip by me). I had a day working from home because I had to have my old cooker replaced - this is what happens when the gas board replace the main on your street and the pipe to your house, they come in to switch everything back on and then tell you your cooker is a health and safety hazard and disconnect it. Oh the wonders of online ordering. Props to Comet who had what I wanted and delivered and installed it three working days later. I dealt with a speeding fine I got because I missed a camera that's up on a pole along the A316 just outside Richmond and didn't even get upset. I've got my two mile run to under eighteen minutes, which is actually another target ticked. I just knocked out forty sit-ups this evening before the spin class, and that's just inside another target. Don't ask about press-ups: twenty and I am suffering. Then there's the underlying housework-cooking-shopping I have to do because that's what you do when you're single. I just booked a couple of nights in a hotel in Wales at the end of the month as a short break. I'm hitting the gym four times a week at least. As this appears, I'll be in Sadlers Wells, and the next day I have an all-afternoon BUPA physical. All my killer workbook design and VBA programming skills are paying off at work - about which maybe later. I'm reading Bruno Latour's Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts and keeping up nicely thank you.

And I feel like There's Something I Need To Do I Don't Know I Need To Do. My brain is in a slump, though I have not forgotten the algebraic geometry, and indeed the next post on that is going to be a doozy.  It's trying to process something and get the message through to me, but either it's a tough task or I'm not listening very hard.

Either that or continually waking up at just before 06:00 every day (uh-huh, even at the weekend. I don't have late nights and hangovers, remember?) is taking its toll.

Somebody told me I looked happy the other week. I think that was when the trouble started. I've taken a close look at a photograph of me on the beach at Zandvoort, taken by my English Ex-Pat Friend. Look once, it looks like a smiling happy person. Look twice and you can see the strain. I can, anyway.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Problem-Solvers vs Specialists

(This follows on from the post about an analyst's view of programming.)

I was reading an interesting but often irritating little book called Science: A Four Thousand Year History by Patricia Fara. It reminds me of Felipe Fernandez-Armesto's Millenium and the attempts of other historians to play up the role and significance of non-Western cultures, which is fairly difficult as the development of both Islamic and Chinese cultures were effectively shut down by their politicians way before they had the chance to carry on for long enough to see if they could come up with mathematical physics. But that's another story.

Here are some quotes from her view of Crick and Watson: "...[Rosamund] Franklin...[was] taking enough time as she went along to master fully all the necessary techniques...In contrast, Watson described how he lurched from one faulty hypothesis to the next, homing on on the double helix through flashes of intuition and snippets of information borrowed from specialists... Watson and Crick...garnered only the pieces of information they required to help them juggle their cut-out shapes into a structure compatible with all the data...after many blind alleys and lucky flukes, they eventually hit on a version that made sense..."

I read that passage and thought but that's what I do. That's what anyone who wants to solve a problem does. Solving big problems usually needs techniques and ideas from many different disciplines, but not all of the ideas and techniques. I need the techniques and results I need to solve the problem, and no more. Crick and Watson were problem-solvers, not specialists, and grabbing around for a decent way in to solving the problem is what problem-solvers do.

Fara says this like it's a bad thing. Like an honest, respectable scientist masters their specialism for its own sake and if they solve a big problem, does so as a consequence of their devotion to their specialism, not as an aim in itself. I used to think that when I was in my teens and twenties, that I had to know everything about "the fundamentals" before I could move on to the advanced stuff. As if you have to be able to play the Goldberg Variations and Chopin's Nocturnes before you can play Blue Monk. You don't. I wish someone had told me that earlier.

In academia, they are paid to research in their subject and teach. Though you might think otherwise, academics are not paid to solve Big Problems, like how hereditary works. Academia is a hierarchical institution (this is why female academics are hung up on "hierarchy") and taking on a big problem is like making a bid to be the alpha dog. Nice, well-behaved researchers don't take on big problems.

In business, we're paid to solve to problems, not develop skills and knowledge for the sake of it. (Taken too far, this can be counter-productive for the company: the more skills you have, the more likely you are to solve tougher problems. You need to know what skills you want to learn and look out for problems that will let you practice them.) The ambition and competitive nature of the problem-solver does better in business and the military.

Neither is "better" than the other. Both need each other. Problem-solvers need the specialists to devise the techniques and come up with that, until now unappreciated, crucial but obscure fact. Specialists need the problem-solvers to give their work significance and direction.

Friday, 10 June 2011

An Analyst's View of Programming

It's an odd thing, working as what's known as an "MI Analyst". What's my job about? Getting the best information out fastest with the smallest amount of maintainable code. A large chunk of my value to the company is my understanding of the data tables, the meaning and reliability of the data in them (what are the values and meanings of that flag?) and the processes by which the tables are produced. So I can interpret or avoid some of the anomalies ("use that table instead of this one for that exercise, it's faster and the data is, errr, more reliable"). Another large chunk is the ability to translate business-speak into data and code, suggest other things the user might want to look at, and remind them of the various odditities of the systems. The business doesn't set a lot of store on my technical competence as a programmer (in the sense of design+coding). Which seems an odd judgement, as the better I am at it, the better I work.

I have a very different focus compared to a full-time developer (code hacker), let alone a full-fledged LISP junkie. I'm not really interested in neat programming tricks to solve a problem in number theory. I am interested in how to use a language to help me achieve a task. I'm not the guy whose code uses bit-arithmetic - I'm the guy who writes copious comments and gives his variables meaningful names. For me, the languages are tools I use to get the job done, not something I think it's cool to know more about. The day I have a problem (and far more importantly an IT environment environment) best solved in LISP will be the day I learn LISP.

You'll notice something here. I have enough background to know that LISP exists, what it does well, how it differs from YACL++ (Yet Another C++-style Language), and what kinds of problems it might be good at solving. That kind of background knowledge is, to me, one of the things that separates a senior from a regular analyst. It's why I advise the young 'uns that they must scan the manuals. I scan the manuals so I know what the tools can do, not to memorise it all. Then when a new task comes along, I have an idea that this or that tool may have a feature that make my life easy. (No. Using the internet won't do. It encourages a script-kiddie attitude and works best for very specific tasks. It doesn't really work for a general problem.)

One more thing. Notice that I said I put lots of comments and used descriptive variable names. Anything can be done with proper style, and should be. It doesn't matter if I'm writing a little bit of SQL or a VBA class with a bunch of methods, I want to do it so it looks the part and makes me look the part. Call me shallow and superficial, but it leads to good code. And that ain't bad.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Holiday In The Algarve (7): Praia de Beliche

Some of those west coast beaches barely exist at high tide and the Praia de Beliche, just up the road from Sagres, is one of them. Instead I wandered around the headland and saw some more guys practicing the Algarve Extreme Fishing, which must be done from cliff edges many, many dozens of metres above sea level. I had lunch on an hotel balcony, photographs and details of which I forgot to gather partly because I was Having An Emotion at the time, and partly because I was greatly distracted and amused by a retired Dutch businessman and his wife spinning the waitress / manager (Elena, I think, who taught English) a line about shooting a commercial and how she should be in it. I don't think she believed it any more than I did. And, yes, I did chat to the Dutch couple and confirmed they were just having fun.

Click on the flower pictures, because those are full-size and you need to see the details.

Finally, I defy you not to see what I saw in this...


Monday, 6 June 2011

Holiday In the Algarve (6): Praia de Monte Clerigo

Another beach on the west coast, though this one is a lot easier to get to, has parking by the beach, and even an actual village.

Get away from the bit right in front of the bar and car park, and it gets more interesting. The guys standing on the headland are fishing. As are the guys standing on the rocks. Turns out that fishing from the edge of a cliff into water sixty feet below you and fishing is quite the thing to do on the west coast, as some more photographs at another beach will show.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Saturday Stroll, Amsterdam

I like Amsterdam, and not for the reason you do. I'm not allowed mood-altering substances, remember? No-one bombed the centre during any of the wars, so it still looks like it did a few hundred years ago when the Dutch were as rich and middle-class as it got. My routine is to wander around, have lunch, visit a record store, the American Book Centre, get afternoon tea, wander some more and get supper. This is the front of the cafe, on the Utrechtsstraat, which I thought I had collected a card for but it wasn't.

 It gets much cuter inside, where there is a tiny courtyard at the back.

Just up the road is the quite wonderful Concerto record store, over three fronts and with a basement. It has vinyl 12" for serious DJ's and buffs and a decent mix of most other genres. I picked up three Eric Dolphy and two Tomatito CD's. I know I could have got them on Amazon and maybe cheaper, but it's not the same as browsing the bins.  If my companions are very unlucky, I spend a while in Art Multiples on the Keizergracht: it has at its own boast the largest collection of postcards in Europe and I don't doubt it. This time I picked up thirty to make a couple of collages.


Afternoon tea on the pavement at Goodies, followed by a stroll with swift dives in and out of art galleries in the Jordaan.  Most of it looks something like this. Everyone who can't afford to live in the centre on one of the canals - which is most of the human race now - wants to live in the Jordaan.

If you're wondering where the foodie photographs are, the Dutch have been adamant about maintaining the simplicity of their snack foods: it's basically eggs, ham and cheese in various permutations, and apple tart with cream. But in the end, who cares? The centre of the town barely changes, and may be the last famous town left in the world with as relaxed a feeling. Just walking round it is enough to clear the soul.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Beach At Zandvoort

The Eastern edge of the Netherlands is one very long beach, and in all the visits I've made there, mostly just for a weekend, I have never walked along those sands. So this time we went out there: Utrecht to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Zandvoort direct. The station is a terminus really is about a hundred metres from the promenade, reminding me of Sheerness. (Don't ask. Childhood.) The beach is wide and flat, and makes for a big wide sky. It's not the prettiest place in the world,

but it had the atmosphere of those Edwardian beach paintings, and it really did have waving flags

There are about twenty cafes and restaurants along the beach, all numbered, and they all looked good. We stopped for a coffee and ice cream at this one, which my intuition told me might look better on the inside... indeed it did.