Rearranging web hosting

I’ve moved my blog from http://www.michaelgray.org.uk/blog/ to http://blog.michaelgray.org.uk/. I hope I haven’t broken anything.

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Ribs

This morning I sent Graham a link to an article about barbecued spare ribs on the Cooking For Engineers blog, in an “out of interest, have you seen” kind of way. So I wasn’t expecting to come home to the full works wonderfully prepared on our new barbecue.

They were fantastic, extremely tender and very spicy. Yummy! Thanks Graham!

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Australia tasting

Another great tasting at Cambridge Wine Merchants last Wednesday, in their new basement tasting room at 42 Mill Road. The intention was to show that it’s possible to move away from the fruit- and alcohol-driven mass market and discover Australian wines which attempt a little more finesse and terroir.

There wasn’t a duff wine amongst the eight. The four I ended up buying were:

  • Harewood Estate Denmark Riesling 2006 – A lovely petrol nose undercut with citrus. Elderflower and under-ripe green pepper (tasty in a wine!) It lacked the minerality of a German Riesling but was excellent, and much more to my taste than the big tropical fruit style found elsewhere in Australia.
  • Woodlands Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2006 – A full nose of dark cherries with herbal undertones. Full flavour of soft spice, mulled plums and damsons. Soft tannins but an underlying tautness reminiscent of a decent claret. Probably my favourite.
  • Heartland Dolcetto Lagrein 2006 – The most unusual of the eight. Deep blackberry nose with a slight hint of farmyard. Full of blackcurrant and spice, tasty tannins and cedar. The Dolcetto grape is the mainstay of the Piedmont region of Italy, whilst the Lagrein is from Alto Adige.
  • Kooyong Massale Pinot Noir 2006 – A spicy cherry nose with a slight gaminess. Fruit and light cherries on the palate, redcurrants, refreshing acid and a nice complexity. I bought this for Graham to try to see if it meets his requirements for exciting Pinot Noirs.

I almost got a bottle of the Chalkers Crossing Hilltops Semillon 2006 too.

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Stormbound in Woodbridge

I had a fun weekend with the S&CA East Coast regulars, but it didn’t all go according to plan.

After work on Friday I drove to the Royal Harwich Yacht Club at Woolverstone, roads blissfully free of bank holiday bottlenecks, and arrived in plenty of time to join my hosts Nick and John on Retriever for a pre-dinner drink together with Graeme and Bruce. Dinner in the yacht club, chosen from a short but appealing menu, was excellent. Paul arrived in time to have a drink with us, and plans were hatched to meet off Shotley Point Marina at 8 the next morning in order to arrive at the mouth of the Deben with sufficient rising tide.

The morning brought a northeasterly force 5, and John’s initial suggestion of two reefs would have been a good choice, but just the one gave us a lively day and Nick plenty of exercise on the tiller. We were half an hour late at Shotley and Bright Oyster had already left, although we passed them en route to the Deben. Once out of Harwich, tide and wind were against us and it took the best part of three hours to cover the three nautical miles up the coast, bouncing about rather a bit in places.

Nick shot us expertly into the mouth of the Deben and through a host of racing and capsizing dinghies, with the depth-gauge turned off “as it only causes one to worry”. It’s a beautiful river, and out of the swell the sail upstream to Woodbridge was very pleasant.

We arrived with just enough water to enter the Tidemill Yacht Harbour by raising our keel, but a certain Shiny Mollusc was lulled by the beautiful surroundings into a premature insertion attempt and a close encounter with the sill. An encounter which haunted her long-suffering crew for the rest of the long weekend. Lunch in Retriever’s cockpit made the most of the lovely sunshine.

Buttrums Mill

Woodbridge is a very pretty town and some of us walked up to Buttrums Mill which was turning slowly in the strong wind against its brake and with the shutters open. Drinks on Bright Oyster started our evening, where we were joined by Steve and Pete from Blue Streak and by locals Duncan and David. The Anchor didn’t have any room for us to eat, but we sampled the beers and moved on to the Royal Bengal for an excellent curry made interesting by the Goan dishes on the menu.

We knew the forecast for Sunday was bad so had a very leisurely start, brunch in the Station Cafe, and an afternoon in The Riverside Theatre being entertained (just about) by Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Harrison Ford was good, and Cate Blanchett excellent as the Russian baddie, but the film lacked story and direction. Still, it kept us warm and dry and the numerous children quiet.

The end of the film marked decision point for the return journey. If we were to make it to the Orwell on Monday, it would be best to head down the Deben on the falling tide to pass the night on moorings nearer the mouth. The forecast had got worse, so the reluctant decision was to stay put in Woodbridge. Our hostelry of choice was the lovely Kings Head, enlivened by Adnams Ales, a young and pretty crowd, and a tasty menu including a pint of smoked prawns which kept me out of trouble.

Prawns

Jon and David from Jollie Rs drove down from Westleton to join us at the Kings Head, as did Sam from the Ore. We moved on to the Old Mariner, where Duncan and David put in another appearance, making a grand total of 13 members attending at some stage over the weekend.

John and Nick produced a fantastic cooked breakfast on Retriever on Monday morning before we sadly abandoned the boats at Tide Mill and made our way home by land. Here’s hoping for fair winds at the weekend to allow Retriever and Bright Oyster easy passage home.

Many thanks to Nick and John for being excellent and relaxed hosts, and to Graeme and Bruce for coordinating a successful weekend in the teeth of gales and lashing rain.

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Twisted Vision

Chris K arranged a trip to the Greenwich Theatre to see Twisted Vision, directed by and starring his friend from South Africa, Gavin Wright.

Synopsis: Leonard Watkins is successful female impersonator and actor in London. A “diva” on stage but a lonely soul in the privacy of his home. All he wants is to love someone and be loved in return. Confronted one night backstage by Russell Lawrence, a straight stage hand and struggling actor, he is fascinated by this young man. Russell decides to take advantage of Leonard, by pretending to fall in love with him, hoping Leonard’s connections will help establish his acting career. Then Russell meets Natalie Harper. a young reporter, and his journey of self discovery begins with surprising consequences…

The script and the cast were excellent, but sadly the audience was tiny – the ten of us on comp tickets and about ten others. I think a little more publicity would have helped. The only other negative was that most of the South African cast were trying and largely failing to carry London accents.

Afterwards we had a late meal at a Mexican restaurant nearby, where Gavin joined us and the sexy actor playing Russell put in a tantalisingly brief appearance. Suddenly it was time to hot-foot it to the DLR for the last train (actually we had at least three in hand) and then the Northern Line back to Chris and Matthew’s.

On Saturday, after a leisurely breakfast, the four of us (Nicky was visiting from Dublin) headed by bus and District Line towards Kensington High Street, getting as far as Earl’s Court before engineering work jinxed us. On foot we had to ask a local for directions, following her most of the way before she outran us. Our target was Whole Foods Market in part of the former Barkers department store. It’s a wonderland of wholefood and organic produce, an American fusion of health food shop, deli and top-end supermarket, with prices to match. The cheese room and meat counter stood out. It’s not all good though: five yards away from a wall display about the advantages of local food, the fruit and veg department was full of such luxuries as fresh asparagus air-freighted in from Peru. We ate upstairs and discovered (by failing to do this) that the best plan is to buy your lunch from the deli area on the ground floor and take it upstairs, as there is more choice and probably better value than from the cafeteria serveries.

In the evening I went to the George Inn in Southwark(see also Graham’s blog) for John and Andrew’s post-Civil Partnership celebration. It was lovely to catch up with them and to bump into David & Heiko, Ian & Richard and Danny & Malcolm. The buffet was yummy too. Home on a strangely-timed train from King’s Cross which sat at Letchworth for five minutes waiting for its timetabled departure. A fun weekend!

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Norfolk Broads Picnic Weekend

The East Coast S&CA moved inland a little in September for a weekend on the beautiful Norfolk Broads. The advance party assembled at Martham Boat Yard late on Friday afternoon to take possession of our flotilla of traditional wooden boats: two gaff-rigged yachts (Japonica 1 & 7) and a six-berth motor cruiser (Judith V).

Having sailed from Martham as a teenager in the eighties I knew roughly what to expect. These boats, built in the 40s and 50s, have seen a lot of use and they’re not shiny, but everything works and they have bucketfuls of character (and bilge water) that the newer plastic bathtubs lack. A bit of a shock for some members, though! The boat yard toilets hadn’t even benefited from the basic maintenance and cleaning afforded the boats, and were truly frightening!

Since we weren’t fully assembled until after dark, we strolled through a beautiful Norfolk sunset to Martham village and the Victoria Inn. A local pub for local people, so a combination of not being local and the landlord preparing for a Saturday wedding reception meant that it was scampi and chips or chicken in a basket for dinner, but the Greene King IPA was in good shape.
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An early challenge on Saturday morning was Potter Heigham bridge, just inches taller than our cruiser. We had to take on the bridge pilot who sagely advised “you can sit on the back if you like, but you won’t be there on the other side” and proceeded to whizz us under at frightening full throttle. The yachts didn’t need pilots but had to work out how to unhitch all the knitting and drop their counterbalanced masts into their ready-and-waiting low crutches.

Moored by mud-weight for lunch in the middle of beautiful South Walsham broad, we were joined by one of our local hosts Chris in Tim’s mast-less Colvic-Watson. He filled us in on local gossip and on Broads background. The rivers are natural but the broads themselves are the man-made result of peat cutting, dating back a thousand years or more.

Lack of wind meant that we didn’t make it to Wroxham but Tim and Chris found us moorings at the boatyard next to the New Inn in Horning. Air Hockey and a six-sided pool table provided entertainment either side of dinner for fifteen in the New Inn. The food was okay but the company (and the beer and the wine) more than made up for any lack of culinary sparkle.
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Sunday brought some welcome wind for the yachts and those of us on the cruiser began to wish we’d opted for sail instead. River sailing brings its own challenges: Nick, John, Robert and Mike had a couple of close encounters with the bank with consequent deployment of the quant (sturdy punt pole). We squeezed into the staithe at Ranworth and worked up an appetite by climbing the 87 steps and two step ladders of the church tower for great views across the broads. A picnic followed on the grass by the staithe, filling up on endless and delicious roast chicken and pesto sandwiches courtesy of Paul and Jimmy. We exchanged waves with the crew of a posh plastic hire cruiser sporting a big rainbow flag – perhaps we need flyers and membership forms to hand out in such circumstances?
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With demon driver Graeme at the wheel, Judith raced back to be at Potter Heigham before the pilot went home at 4.30, only to find him otherwise occupied until almost 5.30. But this let us admire the honed skills of Japonica 1 as she dropped her mast under way and shot the bridge. Safely back at Martham we went out separate ways, some staying on to return the boats on Monday morning.

The Broads are very pretty and very relaxing, ideal for a low-stress weekend afloat, and this may become an annual fixture. Many thanks to Tim Hallam for the original idea, recommendations and local knowledge, and to Graeme Thompson (VC East Coast) for coordinating and cajoling.

More photos in my gallery.

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S&CA

After visiting Dad and Dawn I met up with Mark for dinner before we both went to the monthly Sailing & Cruising Association social in Kudos. I hadn’t seen him for ages and it was great to catch up. He contacted us because he’d seen our details in the S&CA list of members.

The basement bar at Kudos is a good venue: not too big, air-conditioned, no-smoking, friendly staff, nice decor. I met various people including: the commodore Colin Weston; David Ashby and his young Polish partner Filip who is studying law; Bill Alexander; Carl the membership secretary; David Browne (co-owner of Aurora); Terry Eaves (co-owner of new Najad).

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Lima

I think this is my last chronological posting for the trip, some two weeks after returning home!

Another early start for the 90 minute taxi ride back from Ollantaytambo to Cuzco airport, retracing the route we followed to start the Inca Trail a week before. My flight left on time, and just over an hour later we were landing in Lima under the mist which moves in towards the end of April and stays for most of the winter.

A friendly taxi driver was waiting to whisk me across the city to the district of Miraflores, to the pretty and friendly Hostal El Patio. My room was right next to the entrance but this didn’t turn out to be a problem. I took a late lunch of excellent ceviche in the restaurant opposite, and explored Miraflores on foot for what remained of the afternoon.

Lima has something of a bad reputation but Miraflores is safe at all times, given the usual precautions, and the center is safe during the day. So the next morning I took a mini-bus for the 60 minute journey – at a miserly one nuevo sole or 20p – to the impressive Plaza de Armas at the heart of the old colonial city. I visited the huge cathedral, again experiencing some unease at the incredible riches on display in the midst of a city with serious amounts of poverty. I strolled around the central area and some of the shopping streets and lunched in a cheap and cheerful pollo a la brasa restaurant on chicken and chips.

In the afternoon I took a taxi to the impressive Museo Larco in a western district of the city. Its remarkable collection of ceramics and other artefacts including precious metals and textiles chronicles the development and achievements of pre-Columbian Peruvian history, and includes a well-presented gallery of erotica too! Another collectivo took me directly back to Miraflores, just ahead of the rush hour.

I’ve already written about my last night in South America, following pizza and pisco sours at a restaurant on the main drag in Miraflores.

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My last morning in South America was spent packing and reading the paper at a cafe on the park in Miraflores. Then I walked to the sea, where the mist was rolling up the cliffs off the Pacific, and parasailers were appearing out of the mist from above in a very eerie fashion. There’s a big posh shopping mall perched on the cliff, and I lunched overlooking the ocean on sea bass stuffed with prawns, yum!
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Lima is a strange city. I wasn’t there long enough to understand it, but my impression was of a less rich version of Los Angeles, where there are exciting things to be found but all spread out around acres and acres of non-descript urban and suburban sprawl.
My final hours were spent, as needs be, taking a taxi to the very modern airport and then waiting for my evening departure to Madrid and thence London.

Perhaps I’ll post again with some reflections on my trip, but for now: that’s all folks!

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Ollantaytambo

A lovely breakfast fueled me for an exploration of the wonderful Inca remains at Ollantaytambo, a steep but compact mixture of terraces, fortifications and temples rising rapidly above the rear of the town. At ground level there are extensive water channels, fountains and pools. The gents is built into the side of the cliff! All this and more in the gallery. Ollantaytambo was one of the last strongholds against the conquistadores.

The old parts of the town are more-or-less Incan themselves: wonderful narrow streets with half-block courtyards hidden off to each side. Whereas they would have housed Inca nobles, now they contain colonial-style houses and townspeople.

After a salad lunch in a restaurant at the foot of the ruins I took a two hour walk out of town, across the bridge built on the original Incan pier, and along the opposite bank of the river upstream to the next bridge, returning through the fields and terraces to the town.

The rest of the afternoon was spent packing ready for the last phase of my journey, and taking another excellent sauna before dinner in the kitchen of the hostal.

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Pisac

After my brief second stay I finally checked out of the excellent Rumi Punku, leaving my bag – with instructions – in the hope that it would be collected during the day. This left me free to make my way by public transport along the Sacred Valley, visiting some of the sights on the way. A short taxi ride took me to the small bus station which serves Pisac, and within minutes I was on my way a medium-sized bus, climbing out of Cuzco and over the pass before descending and descending into the Sacred Valley and crossing the river Urubamba on the edge of the town of Pisac.

Pisac is famous for its craft market, especially on Sundays, but also on Tuesdays (which it was) and Thursdays. I was quite early and stalls were still setting up. I wasn’t in a souvenir shopping mood so all I came away with was a couple of nice photos (see below). I charged up on coffee and cake before starting the climb to and through the Inca metropolis above the town.

It’s an incredible place, climbing up the mountain, full of incredible terraces, fortifications, temples and dwellings. It’s more extensive than Machu Picchu but also more spread out and although the setting is dramatic it is not as outstanding nor as rugged than its more famous sister. I spent the best part of three hours there, most of the first two spent gradually ascending through the various parts of the site.

You can see my photos of Pisac in my gallery.

I jumped on another bus to take me further up the valley to the town of Urubamba where I hoped to find lunch, but there wasn’t much on offer. After wandering about for twenty minutes, I decided to carry on to Ollantaytambo. A trishaw saved me slogging along the main road to the bus station, where I caught my third bus of the day for another 45 minutes upstream to the main square at Ollantaytambo. Here I did find a late lunch in a bizarre but friendly cafe run by an Englishwoman.

Feeling content I strolled down to the station and negotiated security at the gate to reach my hotel, the lovely El Albergue. My bag hadn’t arrived but I was assured it was en-route. No problem, I relaxed first in a hammock in the garden and then in the gorgeous wood-fired eucalyptus sauna. Fantastic!

I finished the day by having a pizza in a small restaurant built against an old Inca wall. I got chatting (in Spanish) with the owner and he showed me around his ceramics shop and workshop.

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