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Monday, January 10, 2011

Days past




5th January 2011


It's about now that I start to panic about the fact that I have done nothing in the way of packing for my short trip to the UK tomorrow. Not only have I done no packing but also I haven’t even printed out the boarding pass for the plane, nor to think about it the information about the hire car.

I always say that a holiday, no matter how brief, is nothing without a modicum of panic to season the voyage!

I have a sneaking suspicion that I have deleted the emails which gave the information about boarding passes etc which adds a further level of concern to tomorrow's journey.

I am looking forward to it – after all which starts with a visit to hospital and takes in a Michelin star restaurant and the January sales has got to be memorable.

THE CROWN AT WHITEBROOK 8th January and onwards, 2011

I have now consumed probably the most expensive meal that I have ever eaten.

In a four hour opulent, self indulgent fantasy of food we steadily ate and drank our way through nine courses each of which was accompanied by its sommelier chosen wine to complement the food.

Ceri and I behaved like spoilt children throughout the meal and Dianne has a look of martyred, self-resignation – when she remembered to wear it, otherwise she was as taken as we two. At one point we all made little moaning and whimpering sounds as a cacophony of warring tastes assaulted our tender palettes.

The food was consumed with an added zest as the shortish drive from Cardiff was made that little bit more exciting by the fact that the small country roads that we had to negotiate at the end of the trip were both vertical and hazardous with ice and the gleam of the headlights showed by the grey scummy frozen slush which was smudging the hedges which pressed in on both sides.

Our eventual arrival left us all just a little tense and it was with relief that we were guided to our “named” rooms. Mine (Ivor after Ivor Novello – a fine Canton-in-Cardiff boy made good) was a hovel under the eaves on an added-on attic to the original building.

It was an en-suite hovel of course and it had tea making facilities which included five different types of tea and sachets of ground coffee for the cafeteria. There was also a metallic vacuum flask filled with fresh milk. As an added ethnic touch there were two Welsh cakes scintillating with more sugar than have seen on anything that I have eaten in the last year or so.

I had a bath (using up the bath crystals) and a shower (using everything else that was set out by the side of the bath) and then started to use up the luxuriant towels that were obviously provided for the two people that they expected to be staying in the room.

When we eventually got down to the lounge to, well, lounge in the armchairs and try and drink something in a decorous way which could mask our growing excitement it was already to late as our expectation was egged on by the excellent service we had when merely trying to drink a bottle of beer.

The appetizers were exquisite: small but tasty and we were all rather too hyper to take in what they actually were – what I took to be rather bland pale orange caviare was actually some concoction of tapioca!


We do now have a menu which lists the food and the accompanying wine that we had for each course and even without the necessary technical (and of course quintessentially foreign) language that was used to describe what we were about to eat it still sounds quixotically exotic. It will take a little time for the experience to become bedded into our memories and even longer for the counselling to try and accept just how much we paid for the whole experience!

But, by god, it was worth it. Everything was done well; it was unostentatious but throughly competent and assured. As plate succeeded slate slab and wooden sliver; and glass gave way to yet more glasses in a constant scintillation of flashing crystal and as knives and forks and spoons were laid, used and cleared canteen by canteen it became clear to all that we were made to live like this!

The cheese board had to be seen to be believed with the vulgarly named “Celtic Promise” (a cider cured cheese) being a startlingly good find. The poor girl who was adding cheese after cheese to our communal slab of slate only stopped taking our requests because there was physically no more room on the slate to put another morsel.

When we finally staggered back to the lounge well fed and well oiled and still reeling from the two desserts which followed the cheese board and clutching at proffered coffees as if they were a combination of essence of Rennies for Fast Relief and the Elixir of Life we were appalled to find one of the staff appear with a narrow tray for each of us with petit fours on them. One of them was a bubblegum mousse and there was no concession to lightness.

My breakfast the next day was admirably restrained compared with the excess of the night before: tea, yogurt, smoked salmon, poached egg and blinis – positively Puritan!

The drive back to Cardiff was conducted in bright sunshine and a complete absence of ice and snow.

This has been a fantastic way to end my holiday and make the start of teaching at 8.15 am tomorrow morning a little more bearable.

As a fitting end to the holiday and as a response to the vivacity,good humour and sheer friendliness of the staff in “Worlddutyfree” shop I have bought a rather startling new watch, this one constructed (“made” seems inadequate) by Diesel. It has a sort of iridescently blue watch face of curved rectilinear design with the indicators for 2,4,8 and 10 being indicated by a rearing prong of metal. It is, of course, day and date and I have made sure that it is safe to swim while wearing it. It is a rather assertive little number and I like it a lot.
Diesel DZ1251
To show that buying the watch was the right thing to do, it emerged when I got it into my hands that the price on the actual watch was £25 cheaper. I got it for the cheaper price. The woman serving me was an absolute delight and I think that I would have bought virtually anything just to keep her in humour!

As I had “gained” £25 I immediately spent it on a selection of four small bottles of after shave which are small enough to be part of a toilet case in a “one bag” EasyJet scenario. A sensible as well as a “free” purchase!

All (well, most) of this has been typed while sitting in the departure lounge watching the Departures Board document the increasing lateness of the plane for Barcelona. However my new watch and my perfumes comfort me and the Apple logo shines out like a good deed in a naughty world.

If the last departure time that the board gave is accurate then we should be boarding in about ten minutes. Time to pack up and look expectant.

For the first time in my life I am actually typing on an aircraft: typing that statement out is surely the computer equivalent of shouting when using a mobile phone on a train in the early days of those now ubiquitous devices. Still, it is a sort of rite of passage, especially as the young lad sitting on the opposite side of the aisle has a much bulkier Mac than my svelte, gleaming beauty!

I might also add that the lad is wearing a baseball cap and is now using his computer after using two other electronic devices before the plane had started taxing on the runway prior to takeoff. To my great astonishment he has also produced a book and has actually managed a few pages, but as soon as the seat belt lights went off he ignored the mere printed media and turned to his small screens. He is only using his computer for music and he is playing a handheld game on something else. Such is progress. He also ate a truffle (my membership of the Cubs came in useful for noticing and remembering the different stages of his amusements.

His attention span must be minuscule and his life must be exhausting if he constantly has to be amused through the 24 hours of each electronic action packed day of his life!

There again, everyone else is assuming that I am some sort of electronic nurd myself for having the barefaced shame of getting out a computer.

I have to admit that I too have played a game of solitaire on my telephone and eaten the notorious “meal deal” for which EasyJet is justly maligned. It cost six quid for a small tin of Pringles; a chicken and stuffing roll and a bottle of pop. What, I hear you ask, is a mere six quid to someone who has just eaten in The Crown in wherever it was in the back of beyond. Let it pass; let it pass.

The two people next to me have now brought out an iphone and a nano ipod so, apart from the bloke next to the window on the other side of the aisle we are all using Apple products! There is nothing like market saturation!

The musical harshness of my telephone alarm broke through escapist dreams and dragged me back to the reality of an 8.15 start to teaching the passive this morning. How teaching the passive relates to reality I have yet to understand, but it is a staple of the Cambridge Examination that the hapless kids have to take so it remains an essential ingredient in the melange of grammar that we offer up to whatever nit picking gods there may be!

I only had four lessons today so that I could prepare some of the work for the next lot of history of art classes that we are going to take. Prepare on my new computer of course which had a most satisfactory reception of unashamed covetousness by my colleagues – so that was money well spent!

The new WJEC book on Media Studies has given me plenty of ideas to extend and develop what I am already doing with the kids so that too was an excellent purchase – as indeed was my new watch which also elicited a somewhat startled response. As Oscar said, “There is only one thing worse than achieving a startled response and that is . . . etc etc.

I know that they say that the first day back is the worst, but I am so tired that I am afraid to go to bed in case I don't wake up!

But wake up I will and have to go in an teach with only the distant promise of some vague days off at the end of February to keep me going.

At least the sun was shining.
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