Tour de France comes to Marple

Well not exactly but at 3 miles away close enough for this picture to seem like something from a dream. The reality of the the world’s third most popular sporting event came to Britain this weekend and stimulated many, many hundreds of thousands to turn out to witness the very brief passing of the race. My eldest son rode for three and a half hours on a mountain bike across desolate moorland to glimpse the first heroes to reach the summit at Oxenhope only to be distracted by an inconsiderate mobile call which almost caused him to miss the whole four minutes of excitement.


For my part, I extended the couch potato weekend of sport ( Both World cup games yesterday ) and some of Stage 1 of Le Tour into at least two hours of Stage 2 today. Only the last few games of the Men’s Final at Wimbledon to do. What was fascinating, apart from the nuances of the race itself, was the commentary by the ITV given by Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. To pass the time, Liggett loves to season his cycling knowledge with poor French pronunciation and interesting facts about the history, geography and geology of the places the peleton passes through in a blur of rainbow lycra .

It is also remarkable for the sheer inaccuracy of most of it. The commentators probably get away with it in France as most of us couldn’t separate one King Louis from another and are not “au fait” with the finer points of the topography of Alsace-Lorraine, but,  Phil, you need to brush up on your Pennine reservoirs ( Woodhead is not Ladybower) and it was Henry the Eighth not the Seventh who was responsible for the dissolution of the monasteries.

Cycling must now be as popular as it ever was. My father was a keen cyclist, a member of the Altrincham Ravens in the thirties and the picture below is from that time. He looks as though he was taking part in a hill climb possibly near Hayfield ( not 3 miles from where the picture of the signs above was taken )


At that time Le Tour was as exotic as the South Pacific today, brand names on jerseys were of things beyond most people’s experience. My father’s only experience of France came a few years after this photograph when he was forced to retire from the Royal Artillery team in early June of 1940 at Dunkirk after a bad crash with an opposing German team.

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Football is back on, now!

I suffered from withdrawal symptoms yesterday , for the first time in 15 days there was no football on the telly. Partly due to my virtually retired status and partly due to the convenient timings of the matches, I have realised that I have watched over 20 games in their entirety and bits and pieces of many others.

In terms of quality, whilst not yet a vintage world cup, there have been some memorable games and incidents. Some of the expected big names have delivered: Neymar, Messi, Robben, Van Persie, Benzema, Mueller and Suarez. Some other names played well although lack of quality in the rest of their teams has meant that they will not grace the next round: Ronaldo, Rooney, Iniesta and Pirlo come to mind.


The failure of the Europeans and the not entirely unexpected dominance of the South Americans in particular and the New World (USA, Mexico and Costa Rica) in general has been more pronounced than many would have anticipated. What odds would the headless Ray Winstone have given on the failure of Spain, Italy, England and Portugal as a group to progress. ” Ere, Algeriah and Costa Ri’ah to go frew. Ave a bhang on that!!”


In those 20 games, some have seemed like a waste of life’s precious hours. Iran v Nigeria, Most of the Russian games and the England Costa Rica dead match. Thanks go to world’s most talented footballing hyena for providing a compulsive reason to switch channels. Clive Tyldesley’s ” Bye-Bye everyone” is up there now  with “they think its all over..”

Brazil 2014 so far has given us Van Persie’s equalising header against the Spanish, Messi’s goals, Ghana’s temporary exposure of the Germans and their tribal dance, the Lucho Libre goalkeeping of Guillermo Ochoa, the streetfighters of Chile, Cahill’s goal for Australia and the best kit marketing stunt ever with those blue and pink boots.


So bring on the next round with no more cold turkey to suffer until Wednesday and Thursady next week.

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A point of view on Gogglebox

Who remembers the BBC tv comments show, Points of View? Those plummy voiced actors reading carefully selected viewer’s letters, often from some outraged retired colonel from Tunbridge Wells. Why did Yorkshire housewives all sound like a Debutante from Kensington? Why, oh why, oh why…did they take it off air (Apparently not! it is still running, hosted by slitherey Jeremy Vine) For those too young to remember Robert Robinson or Barry Took, here is a video of Barry Took presenting a programme in 1985:

But now, there is a new way to feedback our views of Television, and not just the BBC’s output. I tuned in last night for the first time to GoggleBox on Channel 4. This show is filmed using static cameras,  positioned as the TV looking out, recording  various familes and groups of friends watching TV. It’s like the Royle family but live ( the narration of Caroline Aherne provides another subtly suggestive nod to Wivvenshaw’s finest ) The real families are a cross section of 2014 Britain with young and old, black, brown and white, north and south.  You are basically watching a TV show where other people are watching TV shows that you have or have not seen It is strangely addictive on many different levels.

Each week they watch a series of different programmes, a remarkable mix of content from When Corden met Barlow to Andrew Marr’s politics show with Nigel Farage and David Milliband. This last one provided my favourite moment as posh pisshead, Dominic, shouts at Milliband “Answer the effin question you Tw*T”  Part of the fun is watching the interaction between the people watching. You see a lot of eating , swearing and a surprising amount of emotional involvment in the material broadcast. It is Britain today on both sides of the screen. Here is a brief extract of an episode from the last series:

What you cannot avoid is the urge to identify with some of the goggleboxers more than others. After just one show , I am already feeling like a synthesis of Leon, the eighty year old retired teacher, Dominic the posh one and a bit of the taciturn Siddiqui guys. You could also add in a splash of Sandra, Brixton’s answer to Carmen Miranda ( check out the nails ) for sheer madness!

I love the way everyone has their own seat in the lounge, just as we do. We are all different yet all the same.It’s out now, its OK to interact with the TV.  I am off to check out catch up Channel 4 for more. Which Goggleboxer are you?

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Pilgrimage to Cartmel

Cartmel in south lakeland has been a place of pilgrimage from the establishment of the Prory in the twelth century. Since my first visit to Cartmel some ten years ago, attending the excellent July Thursday race meeting, the picturesque Lakeland village has enjoyed a rapid rise in the foodie world stimulated by the restaurant L’Enclume and it’s chef/patron Simon Rogan. Once the home of four sleepy pubs and a Deli famous for Sticky Toffee pudding, the village now has three restaurants owned by Rogan, a high end bakery , an artisan cheese shop and a craft brewery. It is the Cumbrian answer to Padstein , sorry Padstow in Cornwall.

A meal at L’Enclume, now graced with two Michelin Stars, was an ambition fulfilled by a thoughtful and generous Christmas present from our sons who presented us with a voucher allowing to enjoy the full tasting menu at a future date. We chose to visit on St George’s day and take a very long lunch as the the full menu needs three to four hours. We  booked into the Cavendish Arms overnight rather than drive back after such a, hopefully, memorable meal.


Cowheel but not as we once knew it

I could not resist reading about the food beforehand and it contained many things that would have  terrified me, a  faddy ten year old child,  fifty years ago: cow heel, eel, duck gizzards, raw shellfish, ox tongue, sweetbreads, raw deer. Furthermore there were two cheeses in the middle of the meal, four desserts without a hint of chocolate or  sugar, an ice cream made from a root vegetable, a drink from a conifer. Written down it sounds like a meal from wartime Britain , the products of Dig for Victory or a poachers bag and yet, and yet….

..each small dish was a triumph, outstanding favours and a delight to the eye. Each course, often no more than a canapé or tapa was presented on different stoneware crockery or bespoke pottery and was perfectly timed. Simon Rogan’s food is described and photographed now in great detail on the internet. I will not describe each dish or attempt to fill this post with food photos. If you want to see what we ate and what it looked like then click on this link to Uber Food Blogger Hungry Hoss’s description here to see an exact replica of the meal. The highlights were many and various but the Venison  with mustard mayonnaise and the Langoustine dish will live long in my memory.

2014-04-23 14.06.31

The restaurant is  housed in the old village blacksmiths, the interior is understated with whitewashed walls and simple wooden tables decorated with pebbles. The front of house staff were thoughtful, affable and very professional and added to the experience, explaining in detail all the 20 courses (more if you count the three different types of bread and butter and pork dripping). No one called us “Guys”.

Rather than take the full wine package, we gave the sommelier our budget and asked him to provide wines suitable to the food. After glasses of Henner’s English champagne , we shared a bottle of Piemonte white, Favorita from Umberto Fracasi, I took two glasses of Gamay, a red wine from Savoie and we shared a glass of the more famous Nyetimber semi sweet English Champagne with our dessert courses/

After three and a half hours we were replete but not overstuffed. Was it worth it?  Absolutely yes. The cost was, well,  a lot! There has been an event this week where people have been living on a £1 a day or less to show solidarity with some of the world’s poor. You would be living for several months or more on the cost of this lunch.

If asked to describe the best meal I ever ate, I used to reply that it was a bowl of tinned tomato soup in a cafe in Llanberis after a cold November hike up and down Snowdon. I am going to have to revise that now.

Could I do this type of food all the time? Probably not . But three or four times a year would be often enough to enjoy without losing the magic.

L'Enclume on Urbanspoon

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Christmas Quiz 2013

The other day I read that a tradition can be said to be anything that you have done at least three times. So , following on from that logic, here are links to the quiz I put together this year for our annual lunch at Stockport’s Arden Arms.

I like to use a theme and this year’s theme was loosely based on the number 7.

2013 quiz

xmas 2013 picture quiz

2013 quiz answers ( Spoiler Alert)

2013 quiz answer sheet

Previous Year’s quizzes from 2010, 2011 and 2012 can be found in these posts:

2010 Quiz

2011 Quiz

2012 Quiz

Feel free to use any of this material as you wish, plagiarism is actively encouraged. If you use any of it and enjoy it, then please let me know in a comment below.

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An Alpine traverse by the Bernina Express

Today is without doubt the planned highlight of our trip. A one way trip through and over the Alps on a scenic train from Switzerland and down into Italy. Echoes of Hannibal, Otzi and Edward Whymper. The Bernina Express, a panoramic train, takes four hours to travel just over 100 km, through 55 tunnels  and over 196 bridges. It climbs to 2250 metres. This part of the journey was pencilled in first and the rest of our travels effectively planned around it.


We check out of the Post Hotel in Chur after a good breakfast and make our way on foot back to the station to await the 8.34 am Bernina Express. It will be on time; this is Switzerland after all: regimented, just a bit anal, fussy, tidy,  litterfree, well behaved  and all in all  a little too “German”.


The Bernina express exceeded all our expectations, the 4 hours went by so soon. There was good overall visibility but rather overcast during the first part of the journey along the Albula line as we saw castles and churches on precipices of rock with distant views of the approaching mountains. The railway climbed ever upwards until we reached the Landwasser viaduct , an astonishing feat of engineering which delivered the train on a sweeping curve into a tunnel entering a vertical rock face. The view from an open window was remarkable.


The section from Bergun to Preda climbs over 1500 feet in just a few kilometres , this increase in altitude achieved with a bewildering series of viaducts and tunnels, some of which are complete spirals, which constantly change your view of the valleys and peaks. At the end of this section the line descends to the valley of the Inn river and the town of Samedan. So far, Every corner has brought a new chocolate boxtop or jigsaw view, with green alpen fields, cows and swiss chalets all in an immaculate manicured landscape.


I realise later that as we started our journey on this train , any rainfall we saw would eventually end up in the Rhine and arrive in North Sea, at this point of the journey though the Inn river drains into the Black Sea and the odd flake of september snow that we saw at Alp Grum ( see below) would drain into The Po and the Adriatic Sea! The watershed of Europe.


From Samedan the train climbs ever higher to Lago Blanco, the high point of Ospizio Bernina ( 2253 m or almost 7400ft) and then a pit stop at Alp Grum. Here the passengers disembark to stretch their legs, photograph the train and the glaciers, and there, to the distant south Italy and its sunshine beckoned. The Italian peaks in the distance are highlighted with blue sky.


After the stop the train begins an incredible descent towards a distant blue lake at Poschiavo. We are still in Switzerland but the on-train audio guide has told us that Alp Grum represents the boundary of language and we are now in Italian not Romansch or German Switzerland. The houses are less tidy, graffiti appears and occasionally people are possibly late for work! Eventually we reach the last major landmark of this trip; the Brusio viaduct which is completely circular and reminds you of a snake swallowing its own tail.


The train arrived in Tirano, Italy had now taken over completely, joyously scruffy gardens, doing something tomorrow is a good excuse and laughing out loud is not punishable by a fine. We left the Rhaetian Railways station and entered the other Italian railway station across the toytown square. We bought 2 rail tickets to Milan for 22 euros, two and a half hours away. Don’t tell Richard Branson. A small cafe is a useful source for  sandwiches, water and wine. The aged train with its 60’s rolling stock had possibly 15 to 20 coaches but only 60 people on board. Very inefficient, if this was run by the Swiss they would have  a fit!


Signs in the loo tell you not to use the facilities at the station, there are dirty windows and it’s all a bit decrepit  but after Switzerland, we loved it. The journey is warm and sunny, Mediterranean smells come through the open windows as we picnic on wine and substantial sandwiches. The  initial part of journey is through Valletina borderd by the Rhaetian alps, vineyards and forests. From Colico to Lecco the train runs alongside 25 miles of Lake Como affording  brilliant lakeside views, tantalisingly broken by tunnels of unknown length.


After passing through Monza, we arrive in  Milan’s huge grand limestone edifice of a station. This must be a Mussolini legacy , all quasi-Roman Empire. We take a taxi to Hotel Berna as we were hot, bothered and want to avoid hassle. Ten euros for what was effectively a five minute walk. But our generosity to the local economy was repaid as the Hotel Berna gave us an upgrade! Our room had everything, a large bathroom, lots of mirrors, free soft drinks, jacuzzi bath and more pillows than John Lewis.


After a quick wash & brush up we get out to see city. Three stops on the underground, direction San Donato bring us to Duomo. A Perfect time to see this marvel of a cathedral as the late afternoon sun lit up the white marble western end in  glorious luminance against a cobalt blue sky. Along the northern edge of the piazza ran the huge 19th century Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Forget the Meadowhall and the Trafford centre, this is the original shopping mall built in 1865, filled with designer shops and expensive cafes and restaurants. After spending time in the piazza, we passed through the galleria into the Piazza la scala and sat in the little park below the statue of Leonardo da Vinci.


We wandered around the streets looking for somewhere to have a meal. We decided not to have the 19 euro sandwich in Trussardi despite the chic interior. After much debate, we ended up in a virtual takeaway eating gnocchi bolognese , aubergine parmigiana and chicken with fried potatoes. Water and two glasses of wine, 25 euros. Eventually found our way back to duomo where it was still busy and the cathedral was now lit by lights. Just by the entrance of the galleria was the stylish bar Camparino, which specialises in a drink not dissimilar to the name! Here I was obliged to enjoy a Negroni and the free bar top snacks whilst OH used the “facilities”. The things I have to do!


Back on the metro, and a last, somewhat overpriced, drink in a pavement cafe before bed. Venice tomorrow.

Stop that train: I’m leavin’ – today!
Stop that train: I’m leavin’ – anyway!
Stop that train: I’m leavin’. And I said:
It won’t be too long whether I’m right or wrong

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Across the river and into the mountains..

We declined the offer of paying for breakfast at Austin’s Hotel and instead went into Cafe Leonard, and learned two things. Firstly that a tartine is a small half baguette, and, because the  Cafe Cremes were over 4 euros each, it is often false economy to try to save a couple of euro by eating out. Taking the Metro a few stops to Chatelet, we enjoyed more  moments of confusion before finding the Seine and the  Pont Neuf bridge. The walk took us past the iconic Samaritaine department store which is now closed. Then back to the Rue de Rivoli behind the Louvre, walked the arcades admiring the mixture of tourist tat and expensive furniture, before we entered the Louvre to emerge in the main square with the glass pyramid.


The need for refreshment sent us across the Seine to the Rive Gauche and St Germain. We paused  at a cafe and took coffees at the bar, where our neighbour at the zinc top was reading L’Equipe and last night’s football results. At first I took him for a Frenchman, but he was another Rosbif . Afterwards, we walked along the Rue Jacob admiring the fine boutiques selling  either beautiful macaroons or collectible letters, including examples from Proust, Hemingway, Picasso and Buster Keaton. ( Letters of course, as far as I know Buster Keaton was no baker!)


I learned today about Baron Haussmann, the 19th century prefect of Paris who was responsible for so much of the ‘Grand Boulevards’ architecture made up of blocks of  buildings of typically six storeys. These include a ground floor usually given over to cafes and shops, a lower mezzanine floor, the balconied grand second floor and so on in declining importance to the 6th floor garrets and attics in the sloping mansard roofs. Here though, on the left bank, the narrow streets, haphazard alleys and the less structured buildings represent what medieval Paris must have looked liked. Back across the Seine, we walked on to the Ile de la Cite to look at Notre Dame. Marring the approach view of the famous frontage is a strange structure apparently built to help people look at the building. I am not sure it works. We caught the Metro back to the hotel in order to quickly pack, check out and then get over to the Gare de Lyon for our afternoon journey to Zurich on the 320km per hour TGV Lyria.

I had researched Tripadvisor to find somewhere to have a good lunch before spending over 5 hours on the train to Zurich and then on to Chur. The most famous place to do this is The Train Bleu, a restaurant in the station, but although the interior is a spectacular vision of Fin de Siècle Paris, the prices are as high as the painted ceilings, the staff indifferent and the general online consensus is that it is now a tourist trap of the worst kind. We settled on the Duc de Richelieu, a family run bistro on the Rue Parrot. Again there were mixed reviews but very few suggested the food was a problem.


We were shown to a table for two in a dining room already well populated at 12.20pm. Madame la patron was keen to upsell to her suggestions menu offering Turbot, Lobster and 13 euro starters but we held our nerve and insisted on a choice from the 14 Euro Menu Formule for the OH, Salade de giesers confit followed by Poulet Fermier Roti, whilst I went a bit off-piste and chose the Rillettes d’Oie ( duck pâté ) followed by a Pave steak with a pepper sauce and frites. I asked for the meat to be cooked A Point on the recommendation of YS. We also asked for Un Demi (50Cl) of a white Macon wine.A carafe of tap water was provided as a matter of course.The food was great, just ignore the blatant attempts to persuade you to spend more. The locals all did.

Into the Gare de Lyon and Hall One with its line of TGV’s facing the waiting passengers ready to whisk them away to Germany, Switzerland, Italy and the South of France. The train was very well appointed including interiors and seats designed by Christian Lacroix, the only problem was that I was facing the back again. After 30 mins we realised that there were a pair of spare seats facing the right way just behind and so we changed. Visited the bar for a tea and a wheat bear at Mulhouse, recalling my last time on that station was in 1966 on a school walking holiday to Austria .


After 4 hours, we reached Zurich, and then had an hours wait to take Intercity train to Chur. The barman on the TGV had changed a few Euros for Swiss Francs so we had enough for drinks on the concourse. There was a strange vibe, the station seems to be a meeting place for young teenagers, those that managed to avoid being swept up by constant patrols of cleaning machines. Just before boarding we walked to the edge of the station to take a brief look at Zurich town centre and saw some trams. Zurich – done.

Boarding the train, we reflected on how pleasant Swiss Intercity trains were. Wide, comfy seats and a general feeling of luxury. That notion lasted through 45 minutes of the remaining evening light and the most spectacular part of the journey with views over Lake Zurich before the ticket inspector disabused us , announcing we were in First Class and could either decamp to Second or pay more. This was an easy decision and Second Class was still good. One observation that says a great deal about the Swiss and their attitudes was that in second class were the usual numbers of young people lost to the outside world on their Ipods and phones, many with their feet on the empty seats opposite. Without exception, each  had removed their shoes or, in one case, placed a sheet of paper on the seat to rest their feet on.

We reached Chur after dark at around 9pm. We decided to check in to the Comfort Post hotel without delay and then find somewhere for a quick bite to eat. I knew the hotel was an easy walk from the station but was unprepared for the ‘Stepford Wives’, deserted streets feel of the town centre. Lots of closed, expensive shops with lit displays but no people and no sign of life.  Ahead,  I noticed a drunk starting an argument with himself over a dropped and broken bottle. As we passed, I watched him carefully and sure enough after we passed he chose to run directly at us, heading for the non-existent space between us. , My initial adrenaline driven  response was to advise him of his similarity to the male member perched on his shoulders in a loud voice and a brief stand off followed before he dropped more of his pointless possessions, started to weep and we continued to the hotel. Wilkommen am Chur!

We checked in, asked about eating only to be told everywhere closed at 10. So we hurriedly dropped the bags into the well appointed room before venturing out into dark, depopulated Mittel Europa . The churches, Rathaus (town hall) and other medieval buildings were all proving a bit too Teutonic for OH. I was simply living in some episode of Tales From Europe. I neglected to tell her that Chur is situated on the Rhine river. We were both defeated by the menus which were all  uncompromisingly German. Bill Bryson compares German to Italian in the language of food and asks you to draw your own conclusions: Schweinefleisch mit kartoffeln or Vitello alla Milanese.


After a number of nearlies we settled on the Drei Bunde, which promised pork in many varieties to be served by Eva Braun’s granddaughter complete in dirndl-like outfit and leather waistcoat. The wooden panelling, tiled stove and pictures of local scenes were a bit disconcerting but in reality the family owned place was friendly enough and the food quite good. I had breaded Pork Cordon Bleu, ham and cheese in an escalope with my second lot of chips in the day, OH went for breaded pork, as above but without the ham and cheese, with noodles. These were substantial portions. Back to the Post hotel with everything very correct and efficient, although as I rapidly dropped off to sleep under a warm Swiss duvet, I imagined I heard several people being dragged away from the street outside for thinking about dropping litter or staring too long into shop windows. And perhaps from some closing Bierhaus:

The branch on the linden is leafy and green
The Rhine gives its gold to the sea
But somewhere a glory awaits unseen
Tomorrow belongs to me

Tomorrow , our Alpine crossing on the Bernina Express over to Italy. Von Ryan is waiting!

Take the last train to Clarksville,
And I’ll meet you at the station.
You can be be there by four thirty,
‘Cause I made your reservation.

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