Writing

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.

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The first drink

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Nuts

This introduction is being written in a pub. My publishers would expect nothing less I have decided. Plus I fancied a pint. But more importantly I fancied looking around at other people, and wondering what they hell they are doing here at 11.14 on a Tuesday morning and why they are not at work (like me).

Can I claim this beer on expenses do you think?

“I’m writing a book on pubs, you know.”

“Yes love,” replies the barmaid.

“And Dave over there is a rocket scientist.”

I may be wrong but I suspect she’s taking the piss. But then pubs were probably invented so we had somewhere to take the piss out of each other. It’s a British obsession, right up there with updates on the weather and endless cups of tea. And where better to start a book on the unwritten rules of pubs than with rule number one? You can, generally speaking, take the piss out of people in a pub to an extent you could never get away with on the street. However, like all rules of grammar, there are exceptions, and in these cases piss-taking should be avoided.

  1. If the other person is bigger than you.
  2. If you are wearing a cravat.

It’s 11.58 and two builders have just walked in. At least they’ve been to work first, unlike Dave and the other people sitting at the bar.

“Can I claim this second beer on expenses do you reckon?” I ask them.

“I’m writing a book on pubs, you see.”

“Sure,” says the big one.

“And Dave over there is a rocket scientist,” says the one wearing a cravat.

“Hang on, hang on, I’ve used all that material already. How am I going to complete this book if I am using the same stuff already?”

They ignore me.

I decide I should hang around a bit longer. Just so this intro is authentic, you’ll understand.

The builders have downed their beers and left already. Good old swift ones. Swift ones are not so much a rule as a custom. Me? I’m not much of a swift-one type of guy; pubs are to be enjoyed, savoured. I can sort of accept people like the builders who are on a short break and fancy a quick pint, a packet of crisps and a check on the cricket score. But what’s with those people who come in order a double vodka and have downed it before their change is out of the till? I mean, that’s just mainlining alcohol. What’s the point? You might as well just keep a bottle in your draw at work.

It’s 1.26 and a few people have come in for lunch. The special is pork chops, mashed potato and vegetables.

“Would you like a receipt for that pint love,” asks the barmaid (her name’s Clare she tells me; I think I might have pulled).

“For your expenses?”

She’s now warming to the idea of this book, especially as I just bought her half a lager, and I now know Dave is actually a life insurance salesman and Tuesday is his day off. He apparently comes in every week, has breakfast, reads his Telegraph, disappears to put his bets on and comes back to do some work (Clare thinks so anyway, because he’s always on the phone and writing notes). Later he just talks rubbish, plays darts with his friends and gets drunk.

In Dave’s day off I have found the perfect summary of why us Brits love pubs. Ah, thank goodness I stayed here. Everyone knows pubs are central to life in Britain and Dave’s shows why. In just one day his local is his restaurant, his library, his office and his social meeting place. If he’d just put some money in the jukebox and pull the barmaid (not Clare, she’s too nice for Dave) then he’d never need to leave the pub at all.

We Brits do pubs better than anyone, let’s be honest. In fact, apart from the Irish and the odd enclave dotted around the English-speaking world, we are pretty much the only ones who do pubs at all. Elsewhere it’s all pavement cafes, bistros and bars. But to really enjoy a pub you have to know how it works. You have to know what pubs you can and can’t go in, where you can and can’t sit, what to drink, who you can and can’t talk to, and, most importantly of all, which urinal you can pee in.

I’ve got a Colombian friend, Carlos, who reckons British pubs are like foreign islands in what (to him) is already a foreign island. Bit like Guernsey maybe.

“In Colombia,” he says, “we also meet friends and have a drink. But I can’t work your pubs out. It’s all a bit confusing to understand what’s going on.”

Be confused no more. Pubs are run by a set of complex rules but over time they can be understood. It’s not a set of rules you will find on the wall; they are unwritten. Well, at least they were until I started this book.

Sorry, must go, Clare’s smiling at me. Think I’ll stay for one more.

Daniel Ford, Greenwich, London, 3.27pm, one Tuesday afternoon.

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.

Curry Bard 2011

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Daniel Ford has been named Curry Bard 2011 by the National Curry Week following a countrywide poetry competition. His poem about curry included some of the places he’s eaten the food…

National Curry Week

It’s early, it’s early
Very early and it’s breakfast time
The Delhi train rattles us on its way
A hawker’s fruit slice. A metal thali tray
The curry day is ready

It’s midday, it’s midday
Exactly midday and it’s lunchtime
The sun hits us sharp on the Durban sand
A bunny chow’s the order in this land
The curry day is underway

It’s afternoon, it’s afternoon
Dark wraps us up and it’s dinner time
Smart jackets here in Bermuda don’t you know
Masala’s the choice but the red is for show
The curry day is full on

It’s late, it’s late
Stars are our guides and it’s supper time
London’s partying’s all done
Closing time choices. Madras won
The curry day has ended

Gambling glamour

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Privé (Autumn 2010)

This is the part of the magazine where all you women should make a cup of coffee (or pour a large glass of something stronger), sit down and prepare to shake your head at us boys and say something about us not really ever growing up. And I do mean boys, even among those of us who have long since forgotten what a school was (unless it’s a card school, of course).

We all long to be James Bond. Yes, I know you might have heard that mentioned before, but I mean we ‘really’ long to be James Bond. It’s shallow and it’s obvious. Good-looking, the fast cars, the women, all those languages he knows (without ever practising), all those gadgets he gets to play with; he is basically a collection of all the parts every boy wants in his personality and life. Ian Fleming invented him for us.

But however good Bond is behind the wheel, in bed or stopping a plot to ruin the world, it all amounts to nothing when compared to 007 at play in a casino. That’s when we ‘really’ want to be Bond. Is it any wonder so many scenes are shot with the backdrop of the green baize, colourful chips and rolling dice? And that the plot of the first novel (Casino Royale 1953) that set the hero on the road to stardom revolves around the action in the French casino at Royale-les-Eaux? James Bond belongs in a casino. In fact, let’s be honest, Fleming invented him for the casino, not us boys.

So here we are then. It’s so dark outside it’s purple, while inside the soft lighting round the tables is sultry and sexy, like the women in the long, oh-so-classy dresses that dance round their ankles. Bond is wearing an immaculately fitting black suit with crisp white shirt. He orders a martini (did you just say ‘shaken not stirred’? Thought so). The man is a risk-taker. This is no spy scuttling around the back alleys with a hood and a brown bag filled with documents. This is a man who, bold-as-brass, marches up to his enemies and tells them his name (this is the bit where you say, ‘the name’s Bond, James Bond’).

Then he buys a large stack of chips and settles down in a chair to enjoy the action. He doesn’t even stop playing when he has to switch the conversation to a strange foreign language or two or when turning down the attentions of the best-looking women in the place (at least for now, anyway) because he’s busy gambling and enjoying his martini.

Most of us come to play the tables in a casino to take a risk and to escape. We come to the tables to enjoy that touch of glamour surrounding us. And we come to the tables to feel that we are part of a movie scene just like the one described above.

Not everyone one of us can drive a car really fast, not everyone can attract the hottest women in the world and few of us get to play with really cool gadgets (sorry, your iPhone doesn’t count unless there is an app on it that sprays oil onto the road to deter the Russian spies who are trailing you). But around the tables we can be our own version of James Bond. Or for you girls who enjoy a touch of the high life, the girl who wants Bond. Or even Jamie Bondette if you prefer.

It is here, when sitting around the table with our pile of chips in front of us that we get to take our own risks. We don’t just want the thrill of winning; we also want the rest of the place to look up and wonder who we are when we are winning. Who is that well-dressed stranger, swanning into the place, tossing those chips around and really enjoying the whole occasion?

So when you’re next out playing, move around the tables and see the glint in the eyes of different players who are in the room playing their own film role. There’s nothing glamorous about being the kid at the back of the class who never moves seats the whole term. Sneak glances at the couple playing Blackjack who gently whispering to each other between deals. Watch the group of tall men discussing tactics on the roulette wheel in the middle of the room. And cast the girls sipping drinks at the bar as they chat loudly about which table to hit next.

Play big sometimes, play small sometimes. Enjoy the games. Order a cocktail. Hell, make it a martini, everyone else wants to really, trust me.

Dress up. Men for seduction, women for romance. Catch someone’s eye as they win, smile when you win and accept the congratulations from around the table. Really soak up the atmosphere; we’re all here to catch a touch of our own slice of glamour and romance after all.

The People

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Win a copy of A Fan’s Guide of World Cricket, thanks to this competition that appeared in The People in September.

Are you showing the game?

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JetAway (June 2010)

No matter where you are in Europe this summer, someone will be showing the World Cup. Daniel Ford selects 10 key matches and where to watch to them

South Africa v Mexico

11 June, Manchester

The poor old South Africans have had it in the neck ever since winning the right to stage the 2010 World Cup, but 11 June is the day when, after 80 years, football’s big celebration arrives in Africa. It’s Friday afternoon and the first match of the tournament – will there be an office open anywhere in Europe? Watch the hosts (the lowest FIFA-ranked side in the tournament) in the first ever Revolution (90-94 Oxford Road, Manchester. 0161 236 7470, www.revolution-bars.co.uk). With its swish bar and comfy seats, this smart vodka venue, opened in 1996, beats standing up in the Dog & Duck any day. Pre-book your World Cup burger and drinks on 0800 6300 800.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Nkosi sikileli’ iAfrica!/God bless Africa!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Springbok (half Baileys or Amarula cream combined with half crème de menthe)

URUGUAY V FRANCE

11 June, Paris

No one will be heading home early after the opening game, especially on a Friday night, so continue to soak up the atmosphere as the flair of the French takes on the rugged Uruguayans. Watch outside on the big screen with the locals in the beautiful surroundings of Place de l’Hôtel de Ville (City Hall Square, 29 rue de Rivoli, 75004 Paris). Situated near the Seine and surrounded by fine architecture, the square used to hold public executions, including that of Jacques Clément, the assassin of the French king Henry III, in 1589.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Est-ce que Thierry Henry à utilise son pied maintenant?/Did Thierry Henry use his foot this time?

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Pastis

ENGLAND V USA

12 June, Paphos

Every four years England wait in hope of World Cup glory. Every four years they are disappointed. The disappointment might as well come in the sun at Aces (Ayias Anastasias, Kato Paphos. 00 357 269 36400, www.acesbarpaphos.com), a popular bar with English football fans. If there’s one game the Three Lions could lose in their weak group it’s this one, so make sure you get into the much-coveted position where you can see the game but still sit in the sun (the holy grail is to have some shade on the head, lots of sun on the rest of the body but no glare on the screen).

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Rooney!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Anything

ITALY V NEW ZEALAND

20 June, Rome

The highest score in a World Cup match is 9-0 (Yugoslavia v Zaire, 1974). Can Italy go one better against the massively outclassed New Zealanders? Flann O’Brien (Via Nazionale 17, 00184 Rome. 00 39 06 488 0418, www.flannobrien.it) is a popular Irish bar for fans of English and Italian football, boasting numerous screens to watch the (no doubt) numerous goals in classic pub surroundings.Your main problem, however, will be getting the attention of the waiters.

Post-Match Celebration Cry:Dieci!/Ten!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Grappa

SLOVAKIA V PARAGUAY

20 June, Prague

The Czechs didn’t make the finals but their former country-mates and now neighbours Slovakia did (for the first time) and the city’s large Slovak population will be aware that this game could decide who qualifies with Italy from Group F. In an area with a few sports bars dotted around, Sports Bar Zlata Hvezda (Ve Smeckach 12, Prague 1. 00 420 296 222 292, www.sportbar.cz) has a good mix of expats, locals and visitors, and claims to be the first of its kind in the city.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Kde je Paraguaj?/ Where is Paraguay?

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Pilsner Urquell

SPAIN V HONDURAS

21 June, Benidorm

It’s unlikely that favourites Spain (4-1 to win the cup) will be shaking in their boots playing Honduras (1000-1), but at least they’ll be able to console their Central American opponents in the same language. The Winning Post (Calle Girona, Benidorm) is a big bar attached to a betting shop, selling cheap food/beer in basic surroundings but at least you can put a few euros on Torres to score first and Spain to win by more than four.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Ole!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Sangria if it’s a hatful, San Miguel if it’s not

GREECE V ARGENTINA

22 June, Crete

Despite the name, the locally owned and run Sky Sports Bar (Agios Nikolaos, Crete. 00 30 28410 82860) is a traditional venue in which to line up the ouzos as the Greeks look to topple Diego Maradona’s Argentina. When the sides met in 1994 Maradona’s manic goal celebration into the camera was later found to be fuelled by substances more than adrenaline and ended his World Cup career.

Post-Match Celebration Cry:Ouzo!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: More ouzo

AUSTRALIA V SERBIA

23 June, Ibiza

There are nearly 100,000 Serbians in Australia (Holly Vallance and Jelena Dokic among them), so who should they support? A young energetic bunch heads to Hogan’s Aussie bar (Carrer Bartolomé Vincente Ramon, San Antonio, Ibiza.www.hogansibiza.com) for cocktails and to mix with a sexy crowd in the heart of Ibiza.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi! Oi! Oi!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Cocktails

CAMEROON V NETHERLANDS

24 June, Amsterdam

One of the most attractive games in the group stages, this one will be attacking football all round. Expect plenty of goals as you merge into the sea of orange in Amsterdam. Join backpackers from around the world and locals in Belushi’s (129 Warmoesstraat, 1012 JA, Amsterdam. 00 31 206 231 380, www.belushis.com). The international nature of this bar means there will plenty of shots and strange-coloured liquids flying around, but try to keep one eye on the game. Based in the red-light district and attached to the Winston Kingdom nightclub, you won’t be short of after-match entertainment should the strange-coloured liquids start to kick in.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Hup, Holland, Hup!/Go, Holland, go!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Some more strange-coloured liquids

PORTUGAL V BRAZIL

25 June, Albufeira

The world’s big Portuguese-speaking derby. Who needs sun? Escape the heat and watch the game in Diamonds Sports and Karaoke Bar (Rua Alexandre Herculano 33, Albufeira. 00 351 289 542 952), then follow up what has to be the best clash of the group stages by belting out your favourite karaoke number to cheering football fans. Maybe.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Goooooooaaaaal!

Post-Match Celebration Drink:Superbock