Sunday, 27 February 2011

Silent weekend

It's been a funny old week. Having nursed everyone else through the lurgy, I finally succumbed and ended up bedridden myself. Then on Wednesday, I completely lost my voice. But I started a new job three weeks ago and thought it would be bad form to look like an ill person who always takes days off, so I hauled my sorry self in and whispered to everyone. Which made the voice worse (and, frankly, made me look like an ill person).

Well, yesterday was my birthday, and because last year it was disastrously eclipsed by our house move, K very thoughtfully arranged dinner an a room for us at 36 On the Quay, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Emsworth. We had planned to go there for our anniversary in November, but as readers of this blog will know, our travel plans are generally foiled. And so it was that on that occasion, the Boo was too ill to be left. So the whole expedition was rescheduled to my birthday weekend, when, inevitably, we were foiled again, this time by the ridiculous situation of my not being able to speak.

But this was our first night away together since the Boo was born and I was determined that a lack of words was not going to fail me. (After all, the queue of volunteers willing to lose a night's sleep on our behalf is not long.)

We arrived in good time and were taken to our room, entitled 'Clove' and fragranced accordingly to give the off-putting impression of being at the dentist's. Style-wise and size-wise it was rather like spending the night in a caravan, but no matter: it was clean and child-free.

K explained our predicament. Could they please seat us in the quietest corner of the restaurant, so as to avoid the ridicule of the other diners while I played out the necessary charades? But of course.

And indeed much thought and attention was granted to the seating arrangements, but unfortunately none whatsoever to the evening's timings. I imagine that they put their staying guests on the most leisurely serving schedule. New diners arrived and left while we waited. Very quietly. An hour after being seated we got our amuse bouche. Two hours after being seated, we finally got our main course, by which time - conversation being a sore point - I had drunk fifty quid's worth of Chablis. So I ask you: what the fuck did they think we were going to do for an entire evening when we were unable to converse? Eating seemed to be off the menu.

So when the main course arrived, it was subject to the kind of great expectation that carries its inevitable disappointment. The food may have lacked balance and flair but so did I, and feeling decidedly queasy I abandoned my fish and poor K, and beat a hasty retreat upstairs. And thus, I am sorry to say, it was not the happiest of birthdays.

But there is a happy ending and it arrived in the form of breakfast in bed. Breakfast is my absolutely favourite meal of the day. Perhaps it's because I am 'a mornings person' (which is not to say that post-midnight revelling and gluttonous consumption are pleasures unknown to me). But if you have an enormous breakfast, you have a whole day in which to work it off. If you have an enormous lunch, you lose a three-hour chunk out of your day and feel as if you need a sleep afterwards. If you have an enormous appetite for dinner, chances are you won't have an enormous appetite for sex afterwards. Yes, breakfast works for me.

So I will say this about 36 On the Quay - they serve a mighty fine breakfast. A Continental breakfast that is (which always brings out a kind of xenophobic disgust in my beloved, who never fails to find room for a Full English, in the same way that the children can always squeeze in a pudding, even when they are 'fully up for veggies'). Delicious homemade muesli, hot toast and jams, warm and perfectly-formed pastries, sweet fresh raspberries and pineapple, and not-too-gelatinous yogurt.

Enough of poncy dinner reservations. Have a break, have a breakfast. I now intend to launch a very thorough investigation into the finest places to breakfast. And you know the best bit? It is socially acceptable to breakfast in silence.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Déja vu

Have you seen Episodes starring Matt LeBlanc, Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan? There have been four episodes so far and it’s just about the only thing on British TV at the moment that leaves me wanting more rather than less. But as I sat down to watch the first episode I realised it was strangely reminiscent of Moving Wallpaper (which to my mind was just a teeny bit better.

I hardly ever watch TV these days – mainly because I’ve developed A-list fatigue. I simply can't bear to see any more of the likes of Jamie Oliver, Stephen Fry, David Attenborough, Alan Titchmarsh and Graham Norton. I'm not saying they're not brilliant, and of course they are national treasures, but it's a bit like having visitors that stay too long: however fond of them you are, sooner or later you just want to see someone else in your living room.

And it's not just the talent, it's the formats. Peter Kay's hilarious parody Britain's Got a the Pop Factor and possibly a new Celebrity Jesus Christ Soap Star Superstar Strictly on Ice revealed Saturday night TV for precisely what it is - the same programme shown over and over and over again. And they go on forever. I mean how many more series of The Apprentice and Strictly Come Dancing will they foist upon us? Big Brother is a genius concept, but has now run to 11 series (not to mention all the celebrity series), which surely makes it rather tired in anyone’s eyes. Several people have asked me if I’ve been watching Michel Roux’s Service and the answer is ‘only the first ten minutes of the first one’. I’ve seen Raymond Blanc’s The Restaurant and I’ve seen Jamie’s Kitchen – I get the idea and am bored now.

To be equal handed, I won't limit my derisory sniping to reality shows, because so-called factual TV has been driving me bonkers too. The same old tedious A-listers making documentary series about things they know nothing about. For example, Alan Titchmarsh on nature (British Isles: A Natural History), David Dimbleby on British architecture and art (A Picture of Britain and How We Built Britain), Jeremy Paxman on history (The Victorians), Sophie Dahl on cookery (The Delicious Miss Dahl)... I'm find myself so embarrassed watching it that I have to peep out from behind the cushions. I mean, it would be like me commentating on the tennis - sure, I like tennis, but that hardly makes me qualified to comment on it.

Of course they can't make new things all the time, and with so many channels now they have to fill the schedules with something. And it's fair enough to say that I probably don't know about many very good new shows because I don't like watching TV any longer (and because it was my New Year's Resolution to stop buying the Radio Times). But the unfortunate truth is that in the UK we have the BBC and we actually believe that our creativity and media are pretty much the thing we do best.

So are we quashing that creativity with a risk-averse media culture, or have we just run out of ideas? Is the golden age of TV long past? Long live the internet!

PS For what it’s worth, here (in no particular order) are a few things past and present that I’ll never say a bad word about:
Cracker, The Street, Lost, 24, Mad Men, Sex and the City, Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes, Shakespeare Retold, Jeeves and Wooster, Cold Feet, Sopranos, Yes Minister, Moving Wallpaper, Outnumbered, The Trip, Grass, Gavin and Stacey, Blackadder, Teachers, The Green Wing, Grand Designs, Simon Shama's History of Britain, Andrew Marr's Making of Modern Britain, and pretty much anything by Louis Theroux (which is why I must stop typing right now - Ultra Zionists is just about to start).