Category Archives: Travel

An English afternoon tea

I appreciated the way we were able to sit for a few hours talking, even if the chairs were on the uncomfortable side. But if you charge the going rate for a hotel afternoon tea outside London – around £30 since you ask – you need to do more than call it afternoon tea. The taste and quality of what you offer should be at least passable, and the way you serve it, and when, is worth considering.

Or was the fact that we weren’t turfed out after a couple of hours a sign that not too many people were clamouring for our table? I mean, they knew what we didn’t.

Tea corner at the Randolph

I don’t know whether to feel embarrassed admitting to having gone twice, in two days. The first tea was sufficiently acceptable, and I enjoyed chatting to my friends in an unhurried way, which is why I booked a table for my next meeting, the following day.

And yes, I did get – partly – what I was looking for and again, I loved seeing people and talking for hours. But that was down to me having nice friends to meet up with, more than the tea or the service.

Day one the non-English head waiter was polite and pleasant, if not good at getting a tea order together. I forget the number of times we had to ask for milk. Meanwhile the tea stewed and got blacker and blacker, and the sandwiches dried. That’s what I thought, anyway. Until…

Day two the same non-English head waiter needed to have his sleeve pulled after a search to find him, when the placing of an order for tea got quite urgent. There is only so long you want to wait. Tried the Earl Grey in the hopes of less black tea, but that didn’t work. I.e. the tea was as strong as the previous day, and lukewarm. Later on when we asked for more hot water we were rather alarmed to discover the waiter wanted to simply pour it into the teapot.

The sandwiches were dry. It’s the only description for them. And the fillings had been sparingly applied. For £30 they could afford a bit more egg, say. And clingfilm to cover sandwiches so obviously made well in advance.

Would I go back to the Randolph in Oxford?

Maybe. The hotel is well placed for meetings. The room is pleasant enough. In fact, if you consider the cost of the tea more as a fee for a corner of the room we sat in, then yes, it’s OK. Just about. And I have no problem with non-English waiting staff, as long as they know how to serve an English afternoon tea in a vaguely English way. With milk.

(It can’t have been the wheelchair, can it? The second day? The first day they even wanted to hang our coats for us, while the second day we had all that time alone, putting the wheels away, and waiting for service. Surely not?)

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Advent Roger

I have a crazy friend. Crazy is generally the best. But even so, I didn’t expect this.

This year for Advent, my friend is giving away gifts to her Facebook friends. You know, if money was no object, kind of thing. So after a safe start of a holiday in Florida and a £2,000,000 house in Devon, this morning it was my turn.

I had had my doubts. I am a notoriously difficult person, and I was mainly settling down to see what inappropriate gift ‘her money’ would provide. I take it all back! This is what I woke up to:

‘If I had money, I would offer so much of it to Roger Whittaker that he would agree to come and sing one last time, especially for you. As one of his signature songs is The Last Farewell, I would hire a tall ship and crew from Topsail to bring Roger over from the nearest port in France, where he now lives, to Leith. You and Roger would have a fine meal on board in the harbour, and Roger would sing The Last Farewell to you, before sailing away into the sunset.’

Roger Whittaker and CultureWitch

What a lucky witch I am, to have a friend like that!

She’s right. It is what I’d want. Well, maybe I’d whisper into Roger’s ear that he could pick a different song, if he felt up to it, but my goodness, what a spectacular gift!

(And for anyone who wants to help my friend get rich, do buy her books. I thoroughly recommend her Belgian trilogy for a good scare. It’s so scary I have recently learned that her husband couldn’t quite finish the last one… Here is a list of all Helen Grant’s books. They are very good. And very scary.)

Afternoon tea

I’ve been craving some ‘posh’ afternoon tea for a while. Contrary to what people might believe about me, I don’t tend to do the touristy and extravagant stuff when on home ground, so not only do I not do afternoon teas, but I don’t know where to go.

When Pippi came to Edinburgh this week, she needed a tea companion, and she’d heard of Colonnades at the Signet Library, and wanted to try it. And while pretty expensive, it was about the lowest price of all the places I found online.

Colonnades at the Signet Library

The library is just off the Royal Mile, next to St Giles Cathedral, and they have two-hour sittings throughout the afternoon, so you can treat it as lunch if you start early enough. And you need the two hours. I reckon they couldn’t serve all that food faster if they tried.

Colonnades at the Signet Library

Soup in a coffee cup to begin with. Then silver cake stands with around six savoury things plus a couple of sandwiches. A second stand for the cake, meaning six sweet things and two scones with jam and clotted cream. As your arteries begin to clot I recommend a discreet doggy bag if you feel you can’t manage it all. All this can be washed down with tea, or coffee, and the optional champagne, which I’ve never understood how it goes with afternoon tea.

Once you’ve reached the end, you are rescued by a cleansing sorbet.

And I recommend a trip down the many stairs to see the toilets.

A boxed holiday

The big question is whether we run out of holiday before we run out of Elementaries.

I’d expected to watch more films, but somehow we start watching so late in the evenings that we have opted for shorter episodes of shows instead. Better that than falling asleep halfway. And I’d only brought Elementary. The wi-fi isn’t up to Netflix, so that’s not an option.

Hence Elementary almost every night. Which is amusing, as normally the Resident IT Consultant chooses to watch almost anything but Elementary.

We’re only on season three, but without a season four, I started counting the remaining number of episodes. We might make it. Because it appears he will watch just about anything as long as it’s not Bull.

Bye to the Saint, Ivanhoe and 007

Roger Moore died earlier today. He’s not someone I have thought very much about in recent years, but when I was a child and teenager he was right up there with the best.

Most people refer to him as James Bond, but his 007 days were almost a bit late for me. I’d liked Ivanhoe, and I’d loved The Saint, and sort of enjoyed The Persuaders. But that’s quite a bit of screen entertainment from one man, and enough to cover many of my early years.

Roger was a good 007; I think it’s mainly that I was never big on Bond.

But almost nine years ago when Roger appeared in Cheltenham, there was no question but we had to go to his event. He’d just turned 80 at the time, and had a book out, I believe, which is why he appeared at a book festival.

He showed his age, which I suppose is unavoidable, but his acting skills carried him through. The one thing that surprised me was his dislike of Hjördis Niven. Well, no. More that he didn’t mind airing it publicly.

Roger Moore

Goodbye to this handsome man who gave us so many screen adventures!

Regular

I read an article, probably in the Guardian, on eating the same thing – in the same place – all the time. I believe it was seen as odd.

Now, most of us tend to eat the same thing for breakfast every day, with little concern for nutritional variety or boredom. We just do. And if you’re the type to eat breakfast out, then that is the meal where variation is not required. You can pop into the same café every day of your life if you want to.

And can afford to, obviously. I’d say that having the money to pay for meals out in restaurants all the time is what matters. Not going to the same restaurant every time, nor ordering the same dish. Or not having to order, because staff bring it without being asked.

I don’t have the money, and I like being at home. But I can see the attraction in being a regular somewhere.

In fact, I used to be a regular in an Italian restaurant in London many years ago. Not every day, as I didn’t live there. But every time I was in London I ate there; sometimes several times a day. Once I discovered this place and realised I felt comfortable there and that the food was just right, and affordable, it became my home from home.

I believe this is what we need. We don’t want to trawl round looking at new places every time. I made ‘friends’ with the staff, and got acquainted with many of the other regular diners, some of whom ate out every day because they had no cooking facilities where they lived, often in rented rooms. It’s no different from drinking in your local [pub].

‘My’ restaurant is no more. It was housed in a narrow in-fill between larger properties, and the time came when land in London became so valuable that it had to go, and it has been replaced by a run of dreadful shops. I miss it every time I walk past, and if it was still in business, I’d eat there every time I’m in London.

Hindsight

Watched a couple of random episodes of NCIS on this eve of September 11th, fifteen years on. The Resident IT Consultant is away for a few days, which is why I indulged myself. He is back in Moscow, which is where he was that fateful day in 2001 as well.

Russian station

It was a strange feeling, having him there, his brother near Boston, the rest of us somewhere in the middle, and all watching the same thing developing.

But that’s not what I wanted to say here. One of the episodes was Broken Arrow, the one where DiNozzo Sr assists the team in solving the crime, by staying at his favourite Washington hotel, running up a vast bill, having hitched a lift from Geneva on someone’s private plane. (Most likely one of the ones Daughter sees from her kitchen window.)

And then as we’ve got all sweet at the end and Jr and Sr finally see eye to eye, we have the older DiNozzo declining a taxi to the airport, because he just ran into Donald Trump in the lobby and has begged a lift home.

Six years ago that was amusing. Now, not so much. And I hope that whatever happens in real life won’t mean a repeat of that day fifteen years ago, just because someone was unable to do the right thing.