King Lear at Wandlebury

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I persuaded Greg and Bryan to accompany me to a walkaround performance of King Lear at Wandlebury Country Park.

After a very showery day we were treated to a beautiful midsummer’s evening. The cast of seven made wonderful use of space and all inhabited their roles with convincing and physical madness and tragedy. They took turns to invite us to accompany them to the next setting.

The programme says:
The play will not be performed in anything like its entirety, nor will each role be played by any particular actor. Instead we’ve imagined a group of people who, perhaps as a result of some social or personal trauma, are attempting a reenactment of a tragedy the details of which they can barely remember. It is full of gaps, jumps, repetitions, amnesias and improvisations.

This was very true. Effective up to a point, but I felt there was too little narrative thread left for the audience to hang onto.

None-the-less there were some spine-tingling set pieces making perfect use of various settings in the park. Two stand out: the three women demanding the barrenness of Cordelia whilst slowly walking backwards through the gloomy ring fort ditch; and the ensemble wandering sightlessly through a glade of young birches as they narrate the blinding of Gloucester.

Narrative aside the cumulative effect was a harrowing sense of loss, madness and grief. An evening well – if strangely – spent.

in situ:

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EWBC 2009

En route to the European Wine Bloggers Conference in Lisbon:
http://winebloggersconference.org/europe/

Technology permitting, I’ll be posting while I’m there. However my t-mobile number is being ported to my iPhone today and I have an old netbook with a brand new installation of Ubuntu, so events may conspire against me…. Watch this space.

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Wine blogging news

Exciting news on two fronts.

My first article has been published on the Majestic Wine blog: Kebab Shops Are Bad To Enter.

Secondly I have signed up to attend the 2009 European Wine Bloggers Conference in Lisbon at the end of October. The programme of discussions, tastings and visits looks very exciting and it’ll be my first visit to Lisbon since I was 15 months old.

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Beautiful evening

Is it really five months since I last posted? Oops!

After a mellow day at work, and having the chance to leave a little early, I nipped down to the Riverbank Club to catch the last of the sun, grabbing a bottle of rosé at home on the way. What a lovely evening! I’d forgotten that it was a barbecue day, and there were sausages left to nibble in exchange for a glass of the rosé. Lovely chatting with Ray, Caroline and Ted. Seagulls, pigeons and a beautiful pheasant added to the August evening charm.

The only downside: Graham’s over mid-Atlantic en-route to Washington DC. I missed him and he will be jealous as hell.

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Skylon

To celebrate my birthday we met up with Christopher and Matthew and had dinner at The Skylon Restaurant in the Royal Festival Hall. It’s a lovely setting combining a modern take on 50’s retro with fab views over the river.

The food, service and wines were all excellent. My baby squid starter with squid ink risotto and a parmesan velouté was a highlight.

Since we had mostly chosen fish dishes, I decided on a bottle of Terras Gauda O Rosal Albariño from Rias Baixas (Galicia), which was delicious and a lovely match.

In place of dessert I tried the Dessert Wine Tasting Menu, comprising:

  • Saracco, Moscato d’Asti, Piedmont, Italy, 2008
  • Anton Bauer, Eiswein, Gruner Veltliner, Donauland, Austria
  • Disznoko, Tokaji, Aszu, 5 Puttonyos, Hungary

The Moscato d’Asti was lovely, light and floral and petillant. The Eiswein had a gorgeous nose but I was a little disappointed that it didn’t deliver on the palate. Fortunately the Tokaji more than made up for this.

A wonderful evening!

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The Knowledge

My first product knowledge course was on Tuesday at head office. Adrian and Tom put together an excellent selection of sixteen wines for us, some of which are quite scarce. Highlights:

  • Pol Roger Rich Non-Vintage Demi-Sec champagne
  • Chateau de Chassagne-Montrachet Blanc 2006, Bader-Mimeur
  • Walter Hansel Russian River Chardonnay 2005
  • Chinon ‘Les Cinq Climats’ 2007 Charles Joguet
  • Savigny-les-Beaune La Bataillere aux Vergelesses 1er Cru 2001, Domaine Albert Morot
  • Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Rioja 1985

The Tondonia was the star, with some of the others not far behind.

Our morning blind tasting was a bit tricky. We mostly chose the wine correctly as a French Viognier, but all failed on the price, mostly going for £5 – £10. It turned out to be Condrieu at £19.99.

By the afternoon my tastebuds were getting tired and I was a little disappointed to mistake a Shiraz for a Malbec but apparently the Malbec option was a deliberate red-herring based on some of the characteristics shown by this particular Shiraz.

I think most of us came away with a new interest in decent Burgundies! Bodes badly for the wallet, though…

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Wine picks

One of the benefits of my new job is trying lots of different wines. A small handful of recent favourites:

Interesting that two of the three are Vins de Pays from southern France rather than traditional Appellation Controlee wines.

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Puente Colgante

Day two in Bilbao started with a stroll through the university where Jorge has been doing his masters: la Universidad de Deusto. Crossing the river we had a whistle-stop tour of the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao which merits a much longer look, but at least is free on Wednesdays.

We caught the metro out to Portugalete and popped in to the impressive Basílica de Santa María before descending to river level to our target: the industrial age’s first transporter bridge.

Puente Colgante

We explored this amazing structure from above via the high-level walkways before crossing on the transporter. The bridge was designed to allow tall ships to pass unimpeded and is still the only crossing between the city and the sea.

Puente Colgante from above

Ending up in the posh seaside suburb of Getxo, we lunched in a smart little bar full of locals having a glass of something, and then we slept it off on Getxo’s lovely beach. I was a little sparing with the suncream and ended up with a strip of sunburn as a result. Some people never learn…

On the way home we picked up some extra supplies in the Eroski supermarket in Deusto. After a little snack to keep us going we headed back out onto the streets, taking the Funicular de Artxanda up the side of the hill to get a view of the city from above. Bilbao is surrounded by hills which have limited its growth and lend it some of its charm.


We returned to river level briefly, waling to the Casco Viejo to take a lift up to the Parque Etxebarria, site of a former steel foundry but now an open space and today the site of a funfair. We declined to try any of the rides but it was fun watching the crowds of families and teenagers.

Descending by foot once more to river level we watched some excellent street theatre in the Plaza Arriega: a French circus group, Cirque Hirsute, staged a mini-drama full of humour and invention – Bal Caustique. Time for a wee drink, although as the week progressed the streets got busier and busier every evening (look in the background):

This evening’s fireworks were part of the annual Bilbao firework competition and were 20 minutes of simply stunning (and deafening) spectacle.

Jorge brought the day to a nourishing close with his excellent baked chicken, washed down with a bottle of lovely Albariño from the supermarket.

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Bilbao

A nastily early start to catch the 05:10 bus to Stansted, which was already busy. The flight was delayed by the crowds at the airport, but arrived into Bilbao only fifteen minutes late. It’s only a ten minute bus ride into the city, where Jorge met me at the first stop after the impressive puente Príncipes de España from which I’d had my first of many glimpses of the Guggenheim.
Puente Príncipes de España & Guggenheim
To reach Jorge’s apartment we had only to re-cross the bridge on foot and take the lift down to street level, and walk half a block up the hill. Excellent location!

Having left my not-very-big bag, Jorge proceeded to give me a whistle-stop tour of the very walkable city on foot: el museo Guggenheim, la Plaza de Moyúa, la Gran Vía, el Parque Doña Casilda and la Plaza del Sagrado Corazón. We stopped for lunch in a typical local bar serving pinchos or little bites on a skewer or cocktail stick. We shared rabas (squid) and picos de carne (lovely little meat skewers).

The tour continued after lunch, taking in a bus ride to la Plaza Circular, a stroll through the Casco Viejo (old town) and a look at the temporary bars set up along the banks of Bilbao’s defining river (known both as El Nervión or La Ría de Bilbao). The bars were part of Bilbao’s annual fiesta: Aste Nagusia which is Euskera for Big Week. In fact nine days of celebrations, fireworks, free concerts and theatre.

After a well-needed siesta we headed back into town for a drink before finding our spot for the excellent nightly fireworks viewed above the river. Then a mad dash along the river to the temporary stage next to the Guggenheim to enjoy a simply excellent – and entirely free – concert from Rosario and her superb band. The trumpeter and bassist were especially good. She performed from 11:30pm through to 12:45am, what stamina!

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GBBF

On Thursday I took myself to Earl’s Court for the Great British Beer Festival. It’s huge! The venue is a bit cavernous but very well laid out with various bars, mostly broken down geographically. My beers:

  • Wapping Baltic Gold 3.9%
    – pale and hoppy, a refreshing way to start
  • Tydd Steam Mother in Law 4.5%
    – probably the most balanced of the six, and the winning British ale for me
  • Neder Schwarze Anna 5.2%
    – very dark, but surprisingly malty and drinkable
  • Humpty Dumpty Little Sharpie 3.8%
    – a bit of a ‘beer festival’ nose, but tasty and very hoppy
  • Anglo Dutch Brewery Tabatha the Knackered 6.0%
    – strong with sweetness balanced by the hops
  • De Molen Tsarina Esra 11.0%
    – simply amazing! Matured in and served from an oak barrel. I only had a third of this, but it was so tasty that I was sipping away at it for quite a long while.

The CAMRA members’ lounge was a nice refuge, upstairs on the balcony, and I wished I’d discovered it earlier.

Overall verdict: definitely worth doing again, during a weekday session, but would be more fun in a group.

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