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Bet big. Just once

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Privé (South Africa) Summer 2010

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One day you need to stick your neck out. Bet big and feel the rush says Daniel Ford.

My friend Ray used to be in the merchant navy. From Singapore to Malaysia to Durban, a girl in every port, the sun on his back, life on the ocean wave and all that. The trouble is the ocean waves do get a bit big sometimes. Very, very big, and the waves can toss around even a 14,5 million tonne vessel as if it’s a leaf lost at sea. Which isn’t much fun if you’re stuck on the said leaf.

So why exactly did Ray decide to venture out to the crew deck as his ship passed through the edge of Hurricane Ida? Yes, a hurricane. Why did he scramble across this foam-covered deck with a pooping just waiting to happen and wash him off like an even smaller leaf, never to be heard of, or remembered again? And why did he wrap his arms into some iron bars on the deck for stability, stick his chest out, close his eyes and allow the powerful spray to pummel him so hard that it left speckles of blood on his face?

Ray did it because it was exhilarating. And he did it because he wanted to feel that burst of exhilaration that only comes from taking a chance.

Now, Ray was being a bit silly (silly, silly boy Ray) and he admits it’s the biggest chance he’s ever taken in his life but I know exactly what he was after because I’ve always believed that every betting (wo)man should take at least one BIG chance in their betting life.

It means sticking your neck out, breaking all the normal rules of sensible betting and making one big bet that sets your heart racing again (remember the excitement of that first bet?). I’ve been a betting man as long as I remember but it’s always struck me that never feeling the rush of stretching yourself is like going to a sumptuous feast and sticking to the tomato soup.

Bear in mind that ‘going big’ varies from person to person. What’s ‘big’ for you may be nothing to your friend. It’s not the actual amount that matters; it’s whether it takes you outside your comfort zone. Are you looking at your chips on the table and absolutely fascinated by the bet you’ve just made? Too often I bet and don’t really mind one way or the other because, as it should be, it’s a bit of fun. Of course I want to win, who doesn’t? But the amount I bet is well within my comfort zone. My pulse won’t speed up until a pretty girl in a short skirt walks past.

It comes down to adrenaline and stress. Stress generally gets a bad press, always associated with a hard day at work or a nightmare afternoon out with the screaming kids. But controlled stress can take us to a new level. If you never stress your muscles in the gym your muscles stay the same. If you never stress your brain at work your brain goes flabby. People who never stress themselves rarely get anywhere in my view. Get up, eat, tickle the dog’s tummy and go to bed.

And so goes the theory in my betting world. If I were to always bet within myself my whole life then I would never feel the adrenaline that stressing my betting brain brings.

So one day I decided to stick my neck out. I should explain at this point that although my experience of sticking my neck out ended in a win, I would still be writing this article even if I had lost because it was the feeling just before the bet was concluded that mattered not the actual win itself (nice though it was).

I’m on a weekend away with two friends and we’re playing blackjack, my friends’ favourite game. After an hour of going up, going down, trying not to upset the guy next to me by drawing the card he needs, I decide to scoop up my chips and move to my favourite game: roulette.

I put the lot on black. It wins and I let it ride. My friends join me and double up my bet. We win again. We look at each other and laugh. The weekend is paid for and more.

“Let’s leave it,” I say.

This is the moment that counts for me right now. Black comes in but it doesn’t actually matter because those few seconds while I stare at my (rather large) pile of chips and wait for the wheel to settle are amazing. Stressed I was. And not in a screaming kids sort of way.

Just for once, go out on the deck in Hurricane Ida.

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Poker in Paradise

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Prive (South Africa) Summer 2010

It’s not often you get to play a national champion at poker. Daniel Ford heads off to the sun to beat the Bermudian champion.

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The giant leaves of the palm trees are gently rustling in the breeze while the Atlantic waves slap half-heartedly against the rocks as if the warmth of the day has sapped even their energy. The double doors to the balcony are wide open to frame the sun setting on another perfect day in Bermuda. I’m wearing shorts, slops and a T-shirt and am completely coated in that amazing warmth you get only on those days when you feel as if you can actually reach out and grab a chunk of the air and put it in your pocket for later. This is poker in paradise.

There’s only one problem: I’m sitting down to play against the Bermudian champion who has just returned from the World Championships in Las Vegas. A Canadian, who’s been working on the tax-free island for a number of years, had defeated locals and ex-pats alike in the months-long island-wide competition to earn the honour of representing the small country at the big tables in America.

“I made it right to the end of day one,” he tells me. “I went all-in on silly cards. I think it was a mixture of tiredness and wild confidence.”

The others sitting round the table are mostly financial people, here for the money and their own slice of the good life.

There are a couple of other South Africans sitting round the table and we swap tales of rugby, spit braais and where to find Mrs Ball’s chutney as you always do when you meet someone from home. Like everyone else they are here for the tax-free dollars. Talk abounds among all ex-pats of returning home laden with their booty and buying cars and houses in just a fraction of a time it would take to achieve the same goal at home. Maybe it’s simply a way of distracting ourselves as we prepare to lose our money to the national champion.

I’ve come across quite a few South Africans on the island (Facebook’s South African’s in Bermuda group has 98 members) some in the financial industry, of course, but many working as part of the many gardening and maintenance teams that keep the homes of the many rich and famous (Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are residents here) nice and shiny.

Stakes are pretty high, as you’d expect from a bunch of bankers on six-figure dollar salaries. I wince as the dollar notes with more than one zero start to be flung about. My friend nods across the table to indicate that he will cover me if I want to stay in. It’s just the Bermudian champ and me. Oh, what the hell.

I go all-in, he follows and we both flip our cards over. My six and seven really look rather sad against his pair of kings.

“What are you doing Dan,” asks my friend. I suppose it is his money after all.

The flop generously adds an eight to my wildly hopeful bid for a straight. The trouble is the tens mean he’s got two pair now. Oh well.

A three. No good to anyone.

Then a beautiful nine on diamonds to complete my straight.

“Six, seven, eight, nine, ten,” I declare as if he has just lost his eyesight as well as his sense of humour. I’ve just beaten the Bermudian champion. Vegas, Smegus, I think quietly.

“Sorry,” I tell him. “I was lucky; they were silly cards to go in on. I think it was a mixture of tiredness and wild confidence.

Once more over the (sort of) cliff face

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Land Rover One Life 2011

It’s understandable when sportsmen and women punch their fists in the air to celebrate but it’s never done much for me. If I’m running in a road race (particularly if it’s a hard one) I simply pat my legs with a little congratulatory ‘well done’ as I cross the finish line. It is, after all, my legs that carry me through the whole thing (and I’m too exhausted to punch the air anyway). The gesture is a simple one (oh, alright, silly one too) because frankly I expected nothing else from my legs anyway. A difficult job well done by something built to purpose.

And so it is after two days with the Land Rover Discovery out in the rough and steaming hot terrain of Catalonia, Spain. If it had legs I would have given it a little congratulatory ‘well done’ for carrying me over slippery log bridges, along ravines, up slopes that are close relations of cliff faces, down inclines covered in loose rocks and dirt and finally through mud-filled tracks that would go down a treat with a bloat of hippos.

Okay, I admit I was a tad nervous before the three-day Land Rover Experience, geared towards novices and Land Rover drivers alike. Driving through London is just not the same as being perched with two wheels on the edge of a rocky slope with just the on-board camera display offering any visibility to what lies ahead (cameras offer views straight ahead, to the side, and to the back for when you can’t see yourself). But after a couple of days I’d found a remarkable confidence, knowing that terrain that appears impassable is simply waiting to be gobbled up by the Discovery.

“You went over that lot with even blinking,” laughed cameraman Darren, who’d gamely sat next to me on the adventure (although he did keep leaping out as we approached really dodgy looking bits, claiming the shot would look better from the outside). He was right. A similar patch of steep dips, sharp rocks and tight turns had me breaking out in a cold sweat the day before. But confidence is quick to build after a few hours inside the Discovery.

And one reason for this confidence is the Terrain Response console which you can adjust to normal mode (road), grass-gravel-snow, mud-ruts, sand, or rock crawl depending on the terrain you are driving into. This will automatically set the gears (eg on rocky terrain it will start in first and on snow in third), the throttle (in sand it would be responsive and in grass it wouldn’t so as to avoid skidding) and adjusts the anti-skid DSC (dynamic stability control) accordingly. Just think of it like the time when the automatic cameras came out with their easy-to-understand settings and hey presto, suddenly your photos were in focus.

Then there is also the Land Rover team. If, like me, you’d never driven off-road before, you’ll appreciate a little help when staring a slippery rock climb ahead of you when, due to the steepness, all you can see is the bright blue of the sky as you crawl upwards. And, like me, when you see the vehicle ahead veer to a 45-degree angle in deep mud you might just be zipping down the window and insisting on the help. Thankfully at every tough stage the Land Rover team leap out to guide you through with their hand signals. “Muy buenas direcciones amigos.”

The Discovery might not have legs for me to congratulate but it’s certainly getting a little pat on its mud-splattered tyres.

• For more see http://www.landroverexpeditions.com

Your bag, I believe?

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Sowetan Sunday World

The first thing a woman looks at when she meets you is your shoes. Every man knows that (except that guy at the back with the scuffed brogues obviously).

But in the pecking order of making your first impressions last longer, there is one thing even more important than shoes. When travelling, whether you’re on a bus or a plane, always check-in classy luggage. Because everyone notices what you’re carrying.

I learnt that lesson at an important conference I attended not so long ago. There was my Samonsite suit bag, ideal for three suits and matching shirts and ties, and the Gucci bag for shoes, jackets and underwear. That was it for my decent bags so I figured the jeans and T-shirts would have to make do with a sports holdall. After all, I had two decent bags and no-one would notice one little bag in among all the others would they?

Alas yes, I was told by a colleague who knew all about the conference from experience. In a business world where everyone looked good and performed well, luggage was the only way to stand out.

So we set off, first on an intercontinental flight, then a regional flight, then a bus, then a boat. All the luggage piled up, anonymous, designer bags mixing downtown and sports holdalls chatting it uptown. And so it was for the whole trip; luggage moving quietly from airports to hotel rooms and from hotel rooms to airports, unseen and unknown. What was my friend thinking making me buy a new (third) bag because a sports holdall ‘just wouldn’t do’?

So we headed back: boat, bus, regional flight, intercontinental flight, to the luggage conveyor belt. Meeting place of luggage from three flights, converging at one airport, ours from the conference among them. I am standing with an MD from a big company, and we’re chatting about a successful trip, and hey, look,  I spot my (third) bag heading our way.

‘Here, this one’s yours,’ the MD says, picking it up and handing to me.

Curry corner

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Greenwich Visitor January 2013

There are a few good reasons to like Green Chillies in Blackheath Road. The staff is always friendly for starters, and the food consistently hits the spot (Green Chillies was highly commended in the takeaway category in the Greenwich Curry Club Awards 2012). But they also care about the community in which they operate. They have been involved with supplying freshly cooked food to homeless people in London for some time and now they are looking to link up with some organisations on their doorstep. Bench Outreach, a Christian charity in Deptford, work with alcoholics, drug users, ex-offenders and homeless people, and many of these could soon be enjoying some tasty Sub-continental meals.

“We hope to be working closely with Bench Outreach to supply hot meals where the need is identified,” said the Green Chillies’ manager Ali Ibn Tawhid. “We are particularly pleased that this is a multi-faith initiative [Green Chillies is a Muslim-run takeaway]. After all, I don’t think someone who is hungry and in need is really going to care about the chef’s religion. We have the knowledge of food – we are thinking healthy biryanis and dhals – and Bench has the on-the-ground knowledge, so we hope this will be a great partnership.”

Meanwhile discussions with the Salvation Army, also in Deptford, have led to an interesting possible link-up beyond supplying food for the needy. The community church has identified a problem with obesity in the area so the Green Chillies staff could soon be providing information and guidance to some of the less privileged families the church works with on how to cook healthy but affordable meals.

Do you get the blues on a Monday? A sure-fire fix for curry lovers is to head to the Viceroy in Charlton (10 The Village) where it’s banquet night and for just £10.95 you can enjoy a starter, a main, a side dish, rice, naan, ice cream and coffee. Not surprisingly it gets packed so it might be an idea to book. Tel 020 8319 3436.

Curry to Go is the latest incarnation of the curry takeaway at 106 Blackheath Road (it was previously called Medina). The new owners will be open every day from 5pm-11pm and will be hoping to tempt you with dishes such as Balti Duck Tikka Masalla (£8.50) and King Prawn Jalapeno (£9.50) as well as old-school favourites that start from just £3.95 (vegetable) and £4.45 (chicken). There is free delivery over £12 (within 3.5 km) and a free side dish if your order is over £15 and you collect. Tel: 020 8692 2423.

Draam busters

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Chaat! (British Curry Club magazine) 2012

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My friend suggests a whisky bar he knows just a short walk from the station. I’ve just arrived in Aberdeen and the wind blowing off the North Sea feels capable of biting even into the solid Granite that built the city. A couple of warmers later and we’re heading off for a curry, a smart new place he’s heard about that’s just up Market Street.

Whisky followed by fish seems appropriate in Scotland, but strangely we end up with a fish that’s been imported from Bangladesh – a whole tilapia, spiced. It’s not bad but a bit dry. As we are. We down our Cobras and order a whisky. The choice is from the region of Speyside, the small but prolific whisky producing area that is famous for its mostly gentle style of the drink. My friend wants gentle so as not to over-power the fish but goes for something slightly oily to help the dryness. It’s got a taste of pepper too. Three cheers for my clever curry-whisky friend and we’re soon happily off back to the whisky bar to discuss the merits of importing a fish from the freshwaters of Asia to the north of Scotland.

Whisky and curry go together remarkably well. The spicy notes – cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, pepper, cloves among others – are central to the aroma and taste of many whiskies while a host of the other tastes you associate with your favourite curry can be found too. In whisky you’ll also find creamy smoothness (Korma dishes), smokiness (Tandoori), sweetness (Dhansak), vanilla (Kulfi), nuttiness (Pasanda), zestiness (Achari) aniseed (Goan fish dishes), as well as saltiness, fruitiness and slight oiliness.

There are two approaches to pairing food and drink. One is to complement the dish by choosing a drink with the same or similar tastes and aromas; the other is challenge the dish by adding new tastes to the equation.

Master of Malt John Lamond is firmly on the side of the former. “The whisky you choose has to complement the food. I’d say always do this, but particularly with Indian dishes which are so complex. They’ve been carefully put together to create a range of different tastes and the last thing you want is to choose a whisky that upsets that and blows the food’s taste out of the water.”

But Lamond also warns it works both ways due to the power of some curries. “The art, or magic, is in the marriage of the flavours of the whisky with the flavours of the food so that each complements the other, rather than one swamping the flavours of the other. The more highly flavoured, such as Vindaloo blast the taste buds and make tasting almost anything alongside them almost impossible,” he advises.

“Creamy masalas would go with youngish (up to 15-year-old) Speysides – Glenfarclas, Aberlour, Mortlach, Glenfiddich for instance. Jalfrezis would work with Ardbeg, Black Bottle, Big Peat or Caol Ila, even Springbank or Johnnie Walker Red or Black. Some would also fit well with tandoor cooked dishes, but they would have to be quite heavily flavoured and a lot of the flavour in curries is down to the contents of the dish rather than the way it has been cooked, such as perhaps a Gosht.”

Pairing whisky and curry works, but ultimately it’s about experimenting and having fun.

There’s a lot of snobbery associated with whisky (as with wine) but just as you don’t choose your favourite beer with an elaborate performance of swirling, staring and sniffing nor do you have to do so whisky either. See the boxes for some ideas of Indian dishes and whiskies but don’t be afraid to experiment and see what works for you. A few select whiskies and a selection of dishes from your favourite takeaway can make for a great night at home with friends.

As Lamond mentions, curry has plenty of complex flavours so give your taste buds a chance! I’d advise trying the whisky and the dish you want to pair it with before loading extras like pickle on to your plate. Keep the rice and bread dishes as plain as possible (plain or pillau rice and plain nan or chapatti); you’ve got enough taste stuff going on without introducing lemon rice and garlic nan into the equation as well.

Ultimately, have fun discovering which whiskies work with which curries, but always tread carefully with powerful tastes, as Tom Morton, BBC broadcaster and author of the whisky books Spirit of Adventure and Journey’s Blend warns.

“Matching curries with whisky is really about the post-prandial hitching of a dram to the aroma left behind by a curry. A Glenfarclas 105 after a nice wee korma can cut through the cream and coconut. But you have to be careful. A cask-strength Talisker on the back of a ferocious Jalfrezi may leave your throat or oesophagus in tatters.”

Classic dishes and popular whiskies 

• Butter chicken, with its creamy, tomato base works well with the vanilla smoothness of America’s favourite, Jack Daniel’s. No Coke!

• The strong and powerful smokiness of popular blend Johnnie Walker Black is needed to compete with the extra hot spiciness of Lamb madras.

• Famous Grouse combines spiciness with sweetness (from its fruit tastes) something that fans of a Prawn Dhansak will recognise and enjoy.

• Biryanis are dry but highly aromatic and need a light and sweet whisky that will not fight the subtle aromas of whole spices used in the dish. Go for a Bell’s.

• Kormas or Pasandas, with their creamy and nutty tastes both work well with the easy, smoothness of Ireland’s triple-distilled Jameson. Any wonder it’s a favourite for Irish coffees?

Advanced tasting menu

Starter: Onion bhaji and Glenkinchie 10 Year Old. A classic, simple starter of sliced onion and gram flour that deserves a gentle accompaniment and this Edinburgh whisky is light but has a touch of spice and ginger.

Lamb: Lamb tikka and Caol Ila (pronounced Cal-le-la). The tandoor-cooked lamb needs something as strong and smoky as the single malt Caol Ila (it’s the lead whisky in Johnnie Walker Black) with its hint of pepper and spice.

Chicken: Achari chicken and Tullamore Dew. This Irish blend offers spicy and lemon flavours, ideal if you like your chicken cooked in tangy pickles.

Vegetable: Motor paneer with Wild Turkey. The smoothness of the cheese needs a smooth whisky and this famous Kentucky Bourbon provides that, but also adds hints of spices including cinnamon.

Fish: Goan prawn curry and Bowmore 12 Year Old. The great texture of this shellfish is popular but their taste of origin is often lost in the cooking process. Go for a whisky that was matured by the sea. Islay whiskies are well known for their salty, seaweedy flavours.

Dessert: Kulfi and Johnnie Walker Gold Label. Have a bit of fun with this creamy, soft dessert. Take a mouthful and let it freeze for a few seconds then enjoy a nice amount of this creamy, honeyed blend.

Curry corner

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April 2013

If there is a lull during the night (or at the end of the shift if it’s particularly busy) the staff in a curry house will take a break and eat their own meal. But for them there is no pondering about whether it’s to be Chicken Tikka Masala, Lamb Vindaloo or a Prawn Bhuna. The chef will already have a pot bubbling away so there is no messing about when the time comes for the staff to eat. What’s in the pot is what the staff get to eat. The curry (if that’s what it is) is commonly called the Kitchen Curry (although some might say Staff Curry). Very few places actually advertise it on their menu (Memsaheb on Thames near Crossharbour DLR, a place Delia Smith has raved about, is one that does) but quite a few places will dish it up if you ask and there is enough to go round. The Kitchen Curry will change every day and will more than likely be a dish that is popular in the region that the chef or staff originate from. Memsaheb’s menu says the Kitchen Curry (£7.95) is, ‘Usually fairly hot, sometimes very hot, meat is always on the bone.’ You want authentic? The Kitchen Curry is the place to look.

There’s more of what is promoted as authentic Indian food on offer for those of you visiting your broker or investment banker soon, or more likely if you work in Canary Wharf. A new kiosk has opened up just outside the entrance to the Jubilee Line (opposite Smollensky’s) serving Indian street food. Perfect for lunchtime, but expect a queue, and remember not to spill any on your new suit.

My favourite fish supplier, Lockie’s Shell Fish (in the Lord Hood Pub garden on weekends) has been expanding its range lately, which is great because fish curry lovers cannot live on whelks and cockles alone. The red mullet is a must try and it’s easy to rustle up a spicy snack. Take half a tsp each of coriander seeds and cumin seeds, a quarter tsp of black peppercorns, a couple of dried chillies and a pinch of salt and cinnamon powder. Crush it all up and rub into the flesh and leave for at least an hour. Then on a high heat fry the flesh side for two minutes and the skin side of the fish for one minute. Eat with a pickle of your choice.

Being surrounded by beautiful things when your eating a good curry really can make a difference to a night out. @Benb111 (a regular tipster for Curry Corner) has unearthed a gem at Ladywell Tandoori, where beautiful murals of Indian scenes (by artist Gill Golding) go hand in hand with great food. The Murg Achari (£6.95) is recommended while you enjoy the artwork on the walls.

So now we’ve got great food and great art how about some music? My favourite curry songs are Korma Chameleon, It’s Chappati and I’ll Cry if I Want To, and Oh Dhansak Boy, the Pipes are Calling. Of course, if you don’t like those you must be Sharp Dressed Naan so maybe you can Tikka a Walk on Wild Side?