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Qype: Travelodge Hotel – York Central Micklegate in York

YorkHotels & HolidaysHotels

If you’re tired of over-elaborate hotel rooms and service offerings then you’ll absolutely adore the York Central Micklegate Travelodge.  It’s also ideal if you’re keen on visiting the Reflex 80’s bar, which is conveniently located right across the road.

You certainly wouldn’t stay here under any other circumstances.  Although, in its defence, the shower worked.

There’s not a great deal to say – the room was a basic rectangular affair, with 2 utilitarian coat hanging nubs protruding from the wall.  The end of the room featured a floor length curtain, suggesting perhaps a full-length window or maybe a small stage?  Bewilderingly, about 1/6th of the curtained off section contained a window, and the rest would be useful for snowboard storage, or, like, errm, something.

All curtain, no window

The breakfast was the famously bleak Travelodge breakfast experience – the perfect start to help you appreciate the rest of your day more.

Without intending to sound like complaining – the bed was possibly modelled on early York monastic fashions, when monks used to sleep 2 to a bed and it was imperative for one to stay awake at all times: whenever one bed occupant moves it’s impossible for the other to remain asleep.  Equally, the hotel have gone for authentic period pillows – small cotton pucks resembling perhaps a Juicy Fruit, which you need 3 of in order to avoid permanent neck damage.  Sadly, you’re only issued two, so it’s vital to procure extras from the front desk before they run out.  Helpfully, the desk clerk offered us extra towels to roll up and sleep on in lieu.

Still – 2 stars, because it was better than the place we stayed last time.
Check out my review of Travelodge Hotel – York Central Micklegate – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: Padron in London

LondonEating & DrinkingRestaurantSpanish

So, from what we can gather, this place is located on the site of a former burrito joint – and its new incarnation is… a Spanish place, which does burritos!

(I’m reviewing this place purely on the strength of its burritos, by the way – couldn’t comment on the rest of what’s available, although the chicken looked nice from what we could see)

Fans of convenience and thrift will probably enjoy Padron if they work in the neighbouring area, but it’s not somewhere that I’d seek out, as its burritos didn’t make a lasting impression.  A great sign was that rather than the usual 3 or 4 filling options, Padron offers about 8 different possibilities: the chicken & chorizo option was a breath of flavoursome fresh air.  The rice they used was nicely cooked, without being crunchy or sloppy.  Our table service was speedy enough, without being friendly or memorable – but definitely not bad at all.  And quite keenly priced, it has to be said.

Things you might not like if you’re a burrito enthusiast: it was a very sloppy burrito. Whether that’s a property of the sour cream they use or some aspect of the sauce, I’m not sure.  They use orange cheese which is a little on the flavourless side.  And the biggie – you only pick the filling and the hotness of salsa you want.  Maybe it’s a stupid expectation, but established burrito protocol is that you’re given a choice of options, rather than saddled with chopped iceberg, diced tomato, and lashings of sour cream.

Like I said – nowhere near the worst burrito in the world (Mexicali in Soho still holds that lofty title), but certainly makes it worth the walk down to Tortilla in Leadenhall Market.

Probably the most upsetting thing though is that the window writing enticing people in is in Comic Sans MS typeface.  There’s just no call for that sort of thing.

Check out my review of Padron – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: Ciao Bella Restaurant in London

LondonEating & DrinkingRestaurantItalian & Pizza

The plan was to meet at the pub next door, then pop over to Ciao Bella for a low-key bite.  And what an experience!  There’s seldom a vibe that can be matched by a bustling cheery Italian restaurant – this place was absolutely heaving, filled with happy, chatting people and fuelled by the boisterous waiters rushing about despatching plates to tables with a certain brash informality.

The piano player was over on one side of the room, standing behind his upright piano (no room for anything else in here!), and making his way between lounge standards and old songs that everyone knows – though you could scarcely hear him over the din.

I wouldn’t give this place any awards for the food, that’s for sure.  But you get the feeling it’s more designed as the Cheap & Cheerful student haunt or casual meal spot – and who complains about a starter being a plate of microscopic previously frozen prawns in sauce when it’s only cost you £6.50, and you’ve got access to bottles of house red wine for £13.50.  In Bloomsbury!

Spaghetti Carbonara is a bit like the Sweet & Sour Pork equivalent of Chinese food – it’s probably not particularly authentic or subtle, but you can get it almost everywhere, and I really like it: so that’s my Italian yardstick.  And on this occasion it was… different.  Not bad at all, but certainly not what I was expecting.  But again – for £8, and accompanied by wine, good vibe, and excellent conversation, I’d go back in & have it tomorrow!

The piano player belts out a chorus of Old MacDonald’s Farm from the piano, totally unnoticed by anyone.  We applaud at the end: he looks up with surprise that anyone’s paid any attention and smiles at us, where many others in the room stop talking to see what the fuss was about, and several suddenly realise there’s a piano there.  The restaurant was full when we arrived, and people are still arriving as we leave.

How have I not heard of this place before?
Check out my review of Ciao Bella Restaurant – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: McDonald’s Restaurant in Bristol

BristolEating & DrinkingFastfood & Takeaway

It’s hard to really know what the best part of a McDonald’s visit is – we got back from the Bedminster branch about an hour ago, and I can say with honesty that I certainly don’t feel like eating anything else for quite some time.

It’s been so long since I’ve been to one – I’d forgotten the level of artistry that the place embodies.  The photographs of the food on the menus match the presented product only under the most exact lighting conditions and camera angles, and one can only wonder what the minimum concentration of actual potato particles are legally required in order to sell fries.

The beauty of a trip to McDonald’s is no only with the food-based entertainment though – it’s their unique take on what constitutes customer service.  Having been delivered a Chicken Legend with bacon & salsa with no bacon in it I returned it to the counter and informed them of the mistake.  The youth in charge snatched the sandwich away from the server and opened it up in front of me, flipping through the layers with his fingers like a rolodex, and then having established that I wasn’t causing trouble, sent the sandwich out the back and ensured me that I’d get one with bacon.  It wasn’t abundantly clear to me whether I’d been issued with a new sandwich, or had bacon inserted in the one the chap had fingered his way through.  Optimistically, I convinced myself it was the former as the limp squares of iceberg looked as if they were arranged differently to the one I’d previously inspected.  The customer is always wrong, I imagine.  To their credit, the server did apologise to me, and assured me that the crew there had been working very hard all day – serving not only the neverending queue of people at the till, but also the ceaseless stream of people demanding to have food delivered through their car windows outside.  No wonder the manager was so grumpy, poor thing.  It was probably getting on toward time for his nap.

I also enjoyed the spectacle of two barely-literate people trying to communicate in different thick regional accents (and failing), and resorting to a series of grunting and pointing at the pictures above the counter – so not just a promotional concern, but also a vital tool for understanding.

One couldn’t complain about the view from the front window – it’s a great place to watch the world go by.  I couldn’t quite get a handle on what music was playing to the dine-in customers, as a near constant array of beeps and sirens emanated from the kitchen: at one point leading us to wonder whether the restaurant was being attacked buy spacecraft and had had its defensive forceshields knocked out.

An absolutely unforgettable meal.
Check out my review of McDonald’s Restaurant – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: Tapasia in London

LondonEating & DrinkingRestaurantJapanese & Sushi

For someone with “tapas baggage”*, the idea of a “tapas style” place can be fraught with angst and a sense of impending disaster.  Although as Tapasia describes itself as “Japanese Tapas” the agony’s a little lessened…  after all, sushi and sashimi are easily shareable small-portion format food.

Initially I was a little hesitant about the place, I’ll admit – walking past a well-stocked cocktail bar, we wondered if this was going to be a bar which did a sideline in Japanese food, rather than a place with the high quality food we were hoping for.

When our first round arrived – tuna and salmon sashimi, and salmon skin maki – any fears we had were immediately dismissed.  The food was tremendous!  The texture and flavour of the sashimi put Tapasia clear ahead of many other Japanese places we’ve visited.  And the salmon skin maki were an absolute culinary revelation.  However, the best was yet to come…

We followed up the first round with a selection of hot tapas – the BBQ pork, Baby Gem in Truffle Butter, Ying Yang Kushi Yaki, and Seabass Ponzu.  The pork was tasty and the sauce a little feistier than you’d expect but as soon as you wondered whether you might suffer heat effects it subsided again.  We very much liked the baby gems – an interesting and innovative way to serve them, ,with the truffle earthiness just delicate enough to remain enjoyable.  The Seabass Ponzu was flavoursome & interesting and came with a brace of mushrooms that made me think of Cthulhu.  Far and away though our favourite was the beef skewers – 2 sticks of succulent cubed beef, served with a hint of herbed bearnaise-style sauce.  They were so good, we ordered 2 more!

If it were possible to give half marks this would be 4.5 – the service was competent enough without being amazing, and the decor was understated to the point of seeming forgotten.  And probably the overriding impression we had was that it would’ve seemed overpriced had we not had a 50% off deal through the website we made our booking with.

Splendid meal though.  Perhaps the restaurant section upstairs may have given a different vibe and “formalised” the place a bit.  If we can get the same deal again though we’ll definitely be back!

* tapas baggage = dislike of the format owing to repeated occurrences of going out for a group tapas meal, selecting a couple of dishes, and then being forced into eating the horrible stuff other people have ordered whilst they enjoy the wonderful things I’ve selected – usually including them cooing about how amazing tapas is and how they’d never have tried the thing they’re currently eating if not for the small & multiple portion format.
Check out my review of Tapasia – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: Kimchee in London

LondonEating & DrinkingRestaurantOther AsianKorean

Having worked in the area for a while, Kimchee is typically referred to as a landmark with the description, “That Korean place that always has the queues out the front”.  If you have the good fortune of spending any time inside, the reason for the queues becomes abundantly clear.

It’s really, really good.

I’ll readily confess that I didn’t really notice the names of all the dishes and drinks that were flying around the table, but that’s possibly no bad thing and you could have quite an interesting evening from just randomly pointing and ordering from the selection available in this consciously Korean place.  I know we had the eponymous fermented cabbage speciality, Kimchee, which was simultaneously weird and compelling, and made for an excellent component to more familiar menu options such as fried chicken bits, and a sort of pancake/omelette thing with seafood mixed through it.  My personal star tip is for the steak tartare, which was nothing short of stunning and not at all what I expected.

We were lucky enough to pair each group of plates with a Korean drink – such as a fermented rice milk drink and a plum-based spirit.  Quite a departure from what the Western palate’s familiar with, and though I’d hesitate to order any of them alone they too provided a fascinating contrast & counterpoint to the cuisine.

Based on the fact Kimchee doesn’t take reservations (although the queue turnover is quite rapid) it’d probably be a handy and different option for small groups with a good sharing mentality.  The bench-style seating (think Wagamama) probably rules it out for an intimate dinner for 2, but it’s keenly priced options make it handily informal.  The owners have gone to incredible attention to detail with the decor, plates and glassware, and this all adds to give the place a busy informality without falling into “cheap, cheerful & chaotic”.

As well as being my first run at Korean food, this was also my first VIQ event – two serves of massive luck in one!

Based purely on personal preference I found the cocktails and alcoholic drinks to be a lot sweeter than I’d customarily drink, but am very eager to head back and explore some of the main dishes: from what we got to taste, it’s easily worth a 20 minute queue.
Check out my review of Kimchee – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: Damson Cafe in London

LondonEating & DrinkingCafes & Coffee Shops

Damson Café replaces a fairly forgettable Italian bistro, and though some might claim that this area’s already got loads of choice where coffee is concerned I think the addition of Damson is no bad thing!

Even on a murky day it’s a bright, airy space which would be pleasant to sit in – sadly I was in a rush and had to take my cortado and muffin away.
The range of food on offer all looked lovely and appealing, and the banana & cinnamon muffin I settled on was an interesting twist on the usual parade of muffin options.
The main thing a coffee shop is judged on though is its coffee, and Damson’s cortado held its own amid the more established places in the area – perfect balance of coffee and milk, and great texture.  I spied Square Mile and Hasbean beans during my visit, so they’ve got that bit right, anyway.  Also on offer were specialty teas.
I can see this place becoming a breakfast must-do.

Check out my review of Damson Cafe – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: El Mexicana in London

LondonEating & DrinkingRestaurantsMexican

Atmosphere-free refit of an atmosphere-free refit of a former Pret: El Mexicana seems to churn out a solid burrito, although doesn’t come near some of its neighbours.

Nevertheless, the Barbecoa meat was flavoursome and mid-way between dry & moist. The wrap was performed a little naively and felt a bit too wide to be considered ideal. Chipotle salsa imbued a wonderful smokiness, which mainly covered up that the Mexican Rice tasted like it’d either been made from a supermarket packet, or in bulk in a school lunchroom.

Not somewhere I’d take burrito-lovin’ friends to impress them, but at £5.79 for most of the burritos on offer (and they have taco baskets & other stuff too) it nudges in as an easy & decent lunch candidate if you’re in the neighbourhood.
Check out my review of El Mexicana – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

2011 – the motion picture(s)

Following the recent post on the books I read in 2011, here’s a roundup of all the movies that I saw this year.  I’ll highlight the ones wot I saw in the cinema, somehow.  As mentioned previously, this is sort of inspired by Billy’s post of a similar nature last year.

And because it’s not just going to be a dry list, you’ll have to endure my commentary along with it.  Who wants to just read a damn list, anyway?

Films I saw in 2011
(* means watched on a plane, ** means in a cinema)

  • The Tourist – Fairly tedious outing starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie.  Not sure what about this film was worse: the utterly implausible premise, or the wooden acting.
  • Salt – In a brilliant coup of self-control, having that afternoon vowed never to watch another film with Angelina Jolie in it, we wound up watching Salt.  Starring Angelina Jolie.  One of those utterly bullshit spy action drama things where you know the entire plot hinges on some unexpected plot twist, but once again it’s the sort of bullshit thing where even if you were watching like a hawk there’s no way you could have spotted it, cos it’s so frigging contrived.  And after having already watched an Angelina film that day I was starting to get concerned every time she walked near a pane of glass that she might inadvertantly turn 90 degrees too quickly and stick to it.
  • Robin Hood – following up Kevin Costner’s excellent work forever connecting the legend of Robin Hood with implausibly accented actors, Rusty Crowe dusted off his sandals for a stab at the Rich Robbin’ Poor Givin’ archery nut from Nottingham.  I really liked it. It was dumb, epic, and fun.
  • Once – I have no idea how we stumbled on this film about an Irish busker who falls in love with a girl who works in a vacuum cleaner shop.  It was a little bit whimsical, a bit “awww”, and with one of those open-endings that leaves you thinking “Okay then!”.
  • Black Swan – disturbed psychological piece about ballerina(Natalie Portman)’s triumphant rise to playing the White Swan in a production of Swan Lake.  Massive conversation piece because of tortured sequences and disjoined visuals giving you the impression that the action was part hallucinated.  Disturbing.  Got loads of hype.  I’m sure I liked it more than this description would indicate.  It’s worth mentioning that the guys in my office gave it a damning review: “Really weird.  Only one lesbian scene in it, and it’s not very good”.
  • Submarine** – Nearly every bit of promotional material proclaimed that this was directorial debut by Richard Ayoade, who plays “Moss” in “The IT Crowd”.  No idea why, as that information’s almost utterly peripheral.  Submarine however was a fantastic film following the life & dramas of a teenage boy in Wales, the girl he has a crush on, his family life and school life.  Excellent film, enjoyed it immensely.
  • The King’s Speech – Another film that was hard to enjoy objectively due to the humungous hype bubble surrounding it from the word go, however excellently executed story about… why the hell am I summarising this film? I think everyone on the planet saw this one.  Rarely, I really enjoyed Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of The Queen Mother.  It’s very unlike me to be able to watch her and think, “Oh look, there’s Helena Bonham Carter dressed as a witch/pie chef/ape/etc.”.  Excellent character work by Geoffrey Rush as well – second only to his portrayal of Casanova Frankenstein in Mystery Men.
  • Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Pt 1* – If there’s a way to understate the majesty of a rich visual effects extravaganza, it’s to watch it on an in-flight seatback TV screen like I did with HPATDHP1.  Seemed to follow what I remember of the book, probably.  Jolly good.  Once they’re all out on DVD I expect I’ll have to marathon them and relive the highlights.
  • True Grit* – Coen Brothers remake of the John Wayne character piece about a grizzled frontiersman fighting against the odds, etc. etc.  All very good, naturally, but I get a bit pissed off with remakes when the original’s already perfectly good enough.
  • Requiem for Detroit* – Documentary about the rise and fall of one of the USA’s largest manufacturing centres, and an explanation of the social and political drivers behind why consumerism was directed the way it was, and the resultant effects of that when market conditions changed.  Utterly fascinating!
  • Paul* – Simon Pegg & Nick Frost providing vehicle for Seth Rogen who is by now so ubiquitous on screen that the only way to get him work without nauseating audiences is as the voice of a wise crackin’ alien.  And the hijinks that ensue.  The trouble with putting Frost & Pegg as leads in anything now is that it immediately invites comparison with The Cornetto Trilogy.  But you can tell that Edgar Wright’s nowhere to be seen.
  • Rango* – This was a pretty torturous flight.  Rango was about, like, a chameleon.  Or something.  Animated thing with lots of celebrity voices and promotional gear hyping up the involvement of Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski.  And any merits it had were rendered utterly pointless on the inflight screen.
  • Killing Bono* – Cute piece about an Irish band who were contemporaries of U2.  Sort of an element of the hopelessness of Anvil about it.  Lovely.
  • Tron: Legacy* – Would have been good to get this one on a proper screen.  Future-past visualisation of going inside the computer, directed with a fairly 2-dimensional view to turning swathes of the film into a console game for 30+ man-childs to play on their massive TVs in the suburbs.  It had Jeff Bridges though, so it had to be good.  I think I liked it.
  • Hitch* – Will Smith plays an absolute master pickup artist.  Formulaic and stupid, but I really like Big Will, so I’m giving this one a free pass.  Even though it’s a stupid film.
  • Source Code – Struggled to remember what this was.  It falls into the fairly narrow but nonetheless distinct category of films that feature a person waking up over & over again.  Not sure why that particular device irritates me.  I can say with conviction, of all the films I saw in 2011 – this was definitely one of them.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean IV – On Stranger Tides – On stranger tablets, more like.  This debacle is what happens when you take a colour character and try to spin off around it.  There’s enough discussion online examining where Lucas went wrong with the Star Wars franchise by overcomplicating the story – why the hell did the PotC franchise blunder into this mess?
  • Bridesmaids – The most moving and raw emotional spectacle I’ve ever witnessed.  Touched me in ways I can’t describe.
  • Four Lions – Wanted to see this because it’s got Chris Morris, and also because at an early stage of development they were looking at crowdsourcing the funding – so I was nearly a backer!  Of sorts.  Fairly amusing, and maintains a “truth is stranger than fiction” presence.  Liked it.  Wouldn’t rush to watch again.
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy** – Every now and again you get a film which is more about a performance than a story, and Le Carré’s tale of intrigue set itself up as the sort of thing I perceived I’d have trouble gripping the nuance of, however you couldn’t ignore the sheer presence of Oldman’s Smiley.  EVERY time he was on screen you couldn’t take your eyes off him.  Bizarrely intriguing for a film which could be summarised as “man with glasses walks from one room to another, and sits down occasionally”.
  • Michael Clayton – Can’t remember how we got to watching this – I seem to remember cooking partway through it.  It was something about a senior lawyer going crazy, but I’ve watched way too much Boston Legal since seeing this to remember which had what.  Not that Michael Clayton was a comedy.
  • Red State** – FAVOURITE FILM OF 2011!  Kevin Smith returns to cinema with a 3 act piece that leaves you stranded just when you think you’ve got it figured out.  GREAT performances, and well written.  Kevin Pollak’s performance was unforgettable.  Not a film to take granny to.  But just excellent.
  • Horrible Bosses – Fairly middle of the road caper about disempowered suburban idiots.  Supposed to be made funnier by the incongruity of the actors playing the boss figures.  Just noticed on IMDB that one of the actors in this film was Steve Wiebe – the guy from the excellent King of Kong documentary who should have registered the world’s highest Donkey Kong score, but… well, I won’t ruin a great film for you.
  • The Untouchables – Finally got around to watching the 1987 classic which has spawned so many scene-parodies that it’s now hard to just watch this film without getting put off by the memories of other versions.  Solid film.
  • Zombieland – Watched this twice.  Excellent fun.  Amusingly, when I was describing the cast to Liz I said “Not sure who the main actor is – some kind of Michael Cera wannabe, but I don’t think he’s really done anything else”, and then once we started watching it she said “Hey, wasn’t he the guy from The Social Network?”.  As in, the guy playing Mark Zuckerberg.  Yes, yes he was.  I’m a tool.  Anyway, great fun film, and has Woody Harrelson AND Bill Murray.  Epic & awesome just for that.
  • Super 8 – I wasn’t entirely sure where this one was going, and possibly made some wrong assumptions about the style of film it would be, but ended up being a fun sorta Spielbergy kid film, not entirely dissimilar in tone to Stand By Me.   Sort of 80’s Adventure, I guess.

So, not that many, I guess.

There were a couple we started and didn’t make it all the way through – main one to mention is Frozen: we felt we’d been virtualy strongarmed into this by our French snow holiday companions, who asked at every opportunity “HAVE YOU SEEN FROZEN?!”, irrespective of knowing full well that we hadn’t.  It’s an utterly woeful thriller about 3 kids who get stuck for the weekend on a ski lift.  My only hope is that the producers made a pact immediately after this film’s release to NEVER MAKE ANOTHER FILM, EVER.

2011 – a post of lists

I’m not sure that I get massively turned on by end-of-year retrospectives and Top Tens (you can put together a top ten ANY time – why limit it based on some arbitrary calendar point?).  However last year I was interested whilst reading Billy’s blog to see that he’d kept lists of all of the books he read in 2010, and all of the films he watched in 2010.

It struck me that this might be an interesting exercise, and so for your reading pleasure…. here are my lists!

Books I read in 2011

  • Stewart Lee – How I Escaped My Certain Fate – Hard to believe I read this right back at the beginning of the year, it made such a big impression on me.  Dry comic legend Stewart Lee’s memoirs of his comic career, alongside annotated transcripts of several of his Edinburgh shows – explaining why he’d written jokes the way he had, and at once either giving the reader a glimpse into the workings of his genius mind, or stringing a load of people along in some elaborate additional joke.
  • Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw – Why does E=mc² – An admirable foray into explaining relativity for Cox’s new-found TV audience, but swings between coddling, and impenetrable jargon.
  • Antony Wild – Black Gold: The Dark History of Coffee – Fact packed but fairly opaque working history of the coffee industry, covering economics, history & social developments.  Interesting, but not really a page-turner.  I enjoyed the sections covering Napoleon’s exile on St Helena.
  • Richard Feynman – The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out – Anecdotal transcripts from Nobel prizewinning physicist, bongo player, safecracker, and general all-round legend, Richard P. Feynman.  Reading Feynman never fails to bring a smile to the face.  Well, his biographical stuff anyway.  I’ve never tackled any of his actual physics text.
  • Stephen Davis – Hammer of the Gods – considered an authoritative Led Zeppelin biography.  Given that I wasn’t really around at the same time as Led Zeppelin, it was fascinating to get a good glimpse of the sort of stuff they got up to.  I guess they were one of the pioneering badly-behaved rock acts, and the source of many of today’s clichés for rocker behaviour.  I especially enjoyed the passage explaining how John Bonham had a penchant for throwing TVs out of hotel windows, as he enjoyed the sound they made when they exploded.  When Peter Grant was peeling off the hundred dollar bills to pay for the most recent brace of TV fatalities, the hotel manager remarked how he’d always wanted to throw one out of a window just to see how it felt.  Grant peeled off another $500 and said “Have one on us”.
  • Stefan Lasczuk – I Dream Of Magda –  Fiction about a guy who works in bowling alley, written by an Adelaide author who knows my sister in law, and who I used to know from our days as junior ten-pin bowlers.  Not a bad little read, but interesting that I immediately had visual images of most of the characters seeing as they were based on people I knew years ago.
  • Steve Martin – Born Standing Up – an autobiography by Steve Martin which was amusing enough but didn’t really engage me greatly.  Interesting to get a firsthand account of the hard graft and legwork that comedians have to do, and a useful counter to the idea that standup success is instant or overnight.
  • Charlie Connelly – Attention All Shipping – a really fascinating and funny “boy project” book about a chap who decides to visit a place in each region named in the BBC Shipping Forecast.  I’ve got a penchant for people going to great lengths to visit obscure places for thin premises, and this book’s full of them.  Lots of excellent research also, and very well told.
  • Danny Wallace – Awkward Situations For Men – another exponent of the “boy project” genre, this was unfortunately a collection of Danny Wallace’s columns from Short List, collected and bound as a paperback, rather than an actual book.  Disappointing.
  • Simon Singh/Edzard Ernst – Trick or Treatment – I bought this directly from Singh himself (possibly part of a sale to help cover some of his legal bills from the recent Chiropractic episode?); it’s an exploration of several types of complementary and alternative medicine, pertaining to the evidence validating them and explaining the harm that they can still visit on people.  Very intelligent, thoughtful, considered and balanced book.
  • Tina Fey – Bossypants – I’m not usually one for autobiographies written “in character” (I threw Rik Mayall’s away, because it was so tedious and hard to read for that reason), however Tina Fey’s contains enough information about her as a person and her life & progression to balance out the excellent silliness in tone with which she writes.  Total page-turner.  I finished this about 2 days after I started it.
  • Keith Richards – Life –  You can see by now I’ve got a thing for autobiographies.  I’m a little hesitant to get into rockstar autobio’s based on my reading of Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers: it made me want to slap him about for the repeated lapses back into drug addiction.  For that reason it might seem a weird move to tackle Keith Richards’ book.  However I thoroughly recommend it – for all the adventure and randomness, Richards comes across as an incredibly sympathetic and down to earth figure, and is remarkably lucid about the intricacies of what happened, why it happened, and displays his overriding passion for music (he’s a musician first, then a rockstar).  Just fantastic.  So glad I read that.
  • Dan Ariely – Predictably Irrational – Behavioural economist Ariely investigates several cases of counterintuitive human behaviour and establishes a case for a more psychology-driven approach to economics rather than the classical one underpinned by the ideas that people behave rationally.  Very insightful, although in a way it reminds me of my overriding view of economists as people who can look at a group of data and explain why something happened rather than people who can use an ongoing set of data and predict what’s going to happen next.
  • Edward Burns – Bad Whisky – very enjoyable account of the Victorian scandal in Glasgow where a newspaper employed the services of a doctor to covertly analyse samples of whisky from various Public Bars and other less reputable sources such as druggists and shebeens, and uncovered the extent of the adulteration of the liquid that was reaching peoples’ lips, by way of additions such as fusel oil, shellac, meths, and even sulphuric acid.  A tale of just how far some people will go in times of necessity to make a few extra pennies, and a fascinating set of correspondence back & forth via Letters pages in the paper.
  • Michael Lewis – Liars Poker – the engaging tale of the author’s experiences as a new recruit at Wall Street firm Salomon Brothers, the behaviour, attitudes & culture of people on Wall Street, and how Salomon Brothers created the Mortgage Bond market out of more or less thin air.  Equal parts instructive, depressing, and terrifying.  If more people had read this book, the Occupy Wall Street movement may have gathered more momentum.  It’s utterly infuriating to have my suspicions confirmed that hotshot traders earning “phone numbers” perform no better than chance.
  • Pete Brown – Hops & Glory – Described in one of the sleeve-quotes as “the Bill Bryson of beer”, Pete Brown embarked on a project to rediscover the origins of one of the world’s most popular current beer styles – India Pale Ale – studying old recipes and talking with historians, and then having used his extensive beer contacts to brew a barrel according to authentic original recipe, to transport it by sea from Burton-on-Trent to Mumbai.  It’s a tale of beer, travel travails, the rise & fall of the British Empire and the East India Company, and all told with a great & hilarious turn of phrase.  My copy’s already earmarked to send on to Patrick in Canberra to read (although unlike the author I’ll most likely send it airmail), however I think he’s going to have to wait for Liz to finish it first.

In a way I’m a little disappointed that the list is so short, although I suppose I’ve not had a particularly long work commute this year, and in London that’s when most reading tends to get done.  Having recently gotten myself a fondleslab (or, iPad, as most people call them), I wonder if reading will once again give way to watching episodes of US TV series.  The only way to tell is to start a new list and compare notes next year!

Oooh, and at 1400 words, that post is good enough to go out on its own!  Next, films from 2011…

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