Thursday, September 30, 2010

Our kids read this?

There is a scientific paper somewhere that examines the psychiatric disorders that permeate Winnie the Pooh, but this is so much easier to remember (plus I couldn't find it on Google).

demotivational posters - WINNIE THE POOH
see more Very Demotivational

Which one are you?


Monday, September 27, 2010

Keeping it real

Relaxing, mellow jangly-guitar indie soundtrack, a seemingly non-Type-A attitude to cycling, mockney narration and nary a tri-bar, shorty-short or bare-sholders-and-arm-warmers combo in sight. This should make me feel happy and glad to be a cyclist, it should inspire me, and indeed it does. However it starts with two of the words in the English language guaranteed to make me come out in a cold sweat. Unsanctioned. Unmarshalled.


Still recovering my wits after the weekend.

The relay was really enjoyable. The weather was a bit grey and misty for the first six legs, but in the 12km stretch of leg#7 the sun came out and we finished under sunny, blue skies.

As relays go, this was a pretty calm one. No real dramas, no traffic accidents, no medical emergencies; for the first time in a couple of years I didn't have to scrape anyone off Rte #3 (you know who you are).

Perhaps the atmosphere on the road was a little more restrained than in years past. Maybe it was the damp weather during the early legs, but the roads seemed more subdued.

As an official/marshall (who knows what one's real designation is at a Gonzo event) it did feel a bit strange. The last event I was officiating at, three weeks ago, was a world championship, where I had the full weight of the International Triathlon Union behind me, should I have needed it. Fast-forward twenty-one days and its the Rum Runners, with the full weight of Nancy Holland behind me, should I have needed it.

The trick is to remember where you are. At Worlds you can be a lot more picky and generally have a zero-tolerance attitude to anything. At Rum Runners (well any provincial level event) you have to relax a little more. smile and let a lot more "stuff" go. If you do this, and I did, you'll enjoy it a lot more. Nothing's going to run your day like thinking constantly "but at Worlds we did this....". That's not to say that you shouldn't use your experiences and knowledge to try and improve delivery of local events, not at all, but at the end of the day it's not Worlds, it's not going to be closed course, barricaded, chip-timed, branded, dope-tested and catered with officials' only loos so get over it. It'll be more fun this way anyway!

Besides, there are way more smiles at Rum Runners and fewer high-maintenance Brazilian women.

As far as the running goes, HRC-A went out to win the barrel, and win we did. A consecutive four-peat, possibly an unprecedented feat in RRR history (it depends on how you define team).

We won five of ten legs (#1, #3, #4, #7, #9), and were second in three of the ones we didn't win (#6, #8, #10). We were in control from the beginning of leg#1, when Greg stormed off the front to put us in the lead by five minutes and we never looked back. Oxford at 8 gave us the occasional scare within a leg, but were never consistent enough to get close to us in the overall. Les boys de St Pierre et Miquelon weren't the force we thought they might have been. As with Oxford, they had good individual runners, but not ten. We put half an hour or so into Oxford, who were second overall on the day. Third overall were the Runners Attic crew from Yarmouth. Many triathletes on that team! Kudos to the guys and Denise, bigger kudos to team captain Jeff Courish for herding the cats, and, of course, thanks to the Gonzos for the show.

There's little to say about my leg. I started on the wrong side of the group (on the outside) and had to hop, skip and jump to the front of the pack when Mark blew the horn. I didn't see anyone else for the rest of the leg except for a runner from Tyrone Grande's ZX team who came up on my shoulder after a kilometer and stayed there for another two until he was gapped on the climb by John A MacDonald HS. That was all the excitement I had and it was just "one foot in front of the other, repeat" from there on in.

The idiot-box gave a pace of 3:43/kilometer which I think may be the fastest pace I've ever had for a "long" race (17:24 at the NSAC 5K doesn't count). So much for Phil "Tact" McElroy telling me I was looking a bit "heavier" than I did last year. Bitch!

Does this traffic cone make my arse look fat?

What can I say? I have my mother's thighs. The only problem is she used to ride the kilo for East Germany!

The next day Rami Bardessey wanted to go to Truro to support a fund-raising event for Chris Cashen. The two of us, plus la belle, piled into the minivan we still had after RRR and drove up to Truro (don't worry Nancy, we covered the extra gas we used). We got to Truro for about 10:30 and got a couple of hours in on the Cobequid Trail beforehand. It was a gorgeous day, sunny but windy. Rami and I floated out with the tailwind to the site of an abandoned Acadian village before turning around (we seemed to be running out of trail anyway). He gave me a right proper kicking on the way back. Just what I needed three weeks out from MDI (meant non-sarcastically). It was a little shorter than perhaps it could have been, but the 4:20 average pace made it a 2 hr marathon pace run at a pace I'll be lucky to hold on the hills of Acadia National Park. Plus it rounded off a high-miles eight days, 115 kms (over 70 miles). Time for a taper methinks.

On the way out I was joking that Rami would have an impromptu stab at my "soft" Cobequid half course record and at some points we were going as fast, or faster, than the race-pace that got me the win. Eek. For the record, my 1:20:20 still stands, but it's clearly at Rami's mercy!

After the run, we ended up at Chris's fundraiser, which was for the Brain Repair Centre here in Halifax, where Chris did much of his recuperation. Rami was the epitome of an Elite athlete; talking to everyone, listening, posing for photos, there was no-one "too small" to talk to him. True class. He even gave one of his Boston trophies to Chris.

Like I say, class.

I have to say that I was inspired by Chris. He's determined to get back out there and race. He know's what it will mean, but running itself is reward enough for him. It's not about medals, trophies, wins and records. It's about doing what you love.

He did say he has a tandem bike in the shed, and he's getting out on a recumbent now too. If you ever need a pilot for that tandem Chris, give me a shout and it'll be an honour to do it for you.


Friday, September 24, 2010

It was like that when I got 'ere gov!

Wow, it seems the blog has made it through one whole year. I wonder how many blogs make it this far; just like a new-year's resolution one can see how a blog can soon run out of enthusiasm and steam. I think this nearly happened to this blog too, grinding to a near halt last winter. Well, we made it through and I thank you, both of you, for sticking with it.

The intent was a fashion-y type of blog. I think I tried, but whilst we always come back to socks in the end, I think I've failed. Thanks to Stacy Juckett-Chestnutt who brought "fitness fashion police" to our attention. This is how it should have been done. Click on the link, but might I humbly suggest a pair of sunglasses and possibly a kidney-bowl before you do.

Instead, it's turned into a chronicle of my racing endeavours, general bike porn and coffee punctuated with the occasional sock. So as such it would have been more accurately called "caffientated-croissant-addicted-fat-boy-cyclist's-view-from-the-back" but to be honest, it would have been quite tiresome to have to type that in every time. Even so, I'm pretty sure that URL is still available, so keep your eyes peeled.

So, a sock. If there is one thing that I am constantly told is that there aren't enough socks. I've been keeping this one for a special occasion, and I think one's first birthday probably merits such an occasion. This was seen in Condor Cycles, and I promise you it is a for-real item;

Yup, you read that right; a sock kit.

Also Yup, that's an Assos product, as in "luxury body" Assos. Obviously they didn't read Fatty's letter!

The Sock Kit rather charmingly rolls out to reveal a bunch of socks, one for each season or part of a season (or part of season) and each in it's own labelled compartment.

Is it me or are people getting dumber. This pack comes with a reference guide, each compartment handily telling you the correct conditions under which to wear these socks. This boggles my imagination; if you're at the point in your life you can afford a speciality "Sock Kit" then surely you are at a point in your life where you can dress yourself without printed instructions. Maybe it's a manifestation of the "why did this happen I wasn't told" culture we're told we're in, the one where people no longer take responsibility for ther own actions. It's always someone else's fault. Not so much mea culpa as mundi culpa. Is this provided perhaps in deference to an inability to stick one's head out of the window to assess the weather and so if your toes are cold, it wasn't your fault but had to be someone elses? It couldn't be me!

Thirty-two is just a tad optimistic!

I know what you're thinking; early summer and late summer in the UK need separate socks? We could start with a "summer" as being distinct from a generalised blending of Spring and Autumn and do you really need special socks for the two week interregnum?

I can only imagine the poor, confused stock-broker who buys the kit, wears the socks indicated by the Assos/Met Office nomogram and gets cold feet anyway. How can this be? Assos assured me these were the right socks for the day!

Doubly so should it be a Canadian stock-broker. Check out the "winter plus" socks, rated to a mere -6C, or a pleasant autumn morning as we say here.

At least they were all white!


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Rum head-winds

Two very windy days on the bike. Yesterday was just a block head-wind around Purcell's Cove. You know it's going to be bad when climbing the hills on the way out doesn't actually feel hard and you spend the time going out wondering exactly how hard it's going to be once you make the turnaround. Once Mac Grant and I did Sambro in the crazy windy and at one point on the back side of the loop we came around a corner and were stopped dead by the wind.

Today wasn't quite so bad, blustery and changeable, but still a net tail-wind on the way out and the corresponding head-wind home. To make matters worse I decided, pig-headedly to do it on 68" fixed. Maybe it's my way of cramming my miles in. They say you spend 30% of any ride free-wheeling. Fixed, obviously, changes this.

I will say this, I do find fixed quite useful in a head-wind or a climb. Instead of spending all your time and focus on hopping up and down the cassette trying to find that "magic" gear, you are left to concentrate your focus on getting the pedals up and down, around and around. Very Zen.

As long as your choice of gear was a judicious one. And you likely chose your gear last night in the shed!

I'm sure if I was a real, focused, goal-driven triathlete (or athlete of any description) I would have finished the ride off with my remaining Shot Bloks and for a treat used a little more powder in my post-ride protein-shake. Good job I'm not! I finished off at TIBS instead, where else. My heart, well stomach, was set on an almond croissant, but they were out, so I plumped (plumped being the operative word) for the proscuittio and cheese. Rounding out a 2500 cal ride (according to the Garmin) with a 2500 croissant is just good maths. No?

It was washed down with a cappuccino. Not normally my poison of choice, but a 'spro seemed to be a little "much" and an Americano would have been too much volume.

A big weekend this week with the Rum Runners Relay. Halifax Running Club A (HRC-A) is going for the barrel for a fourth consecutive year. no team has ever won four in a row, so statistically we're doomed. Lies, damned lies and statistics however, we have a good team going forward here. You take a list of winners (overall, age-group or both) from RNS events this year; Rami Bardessy, Denise Robson, Nick McBride, Greg Wieczorek, Ray Morehead, Shawn Deleu and Hugh McIssac and (God help you) me, and that's the core of the team.

We are in for a fight this year. Oxford At 8 have been gunning for us for a couple of years now and have made it clear we are in their sights. Of course, to be their sights, they have to be behind us! Oh well, perhaps HRC-Ladies can give them a run for their money.

I think they must be worried has they are claiming (apparently) we have recruited ringers for the team. I can go on record publicly and say that everyone in the team is a club member or has been running with the club for months. No-one has been included on the basis of "they ran with the club one Thursday evening on February, that makes 'em a club member". We've always been scrupulous with this.

The other unknown is the team from St Pierre et Michelon. For a tiny speak of nothing, these guys always bring a good team. The last time they were here was my first time on the winning team and they pushed us close. It looks as though the threat to us may come from without rather than within.

I got new shoes yesterday for the upcoming month of madness; a race every weekend I think for the next month, perhaps three if the 'cross starts on schedule. Mizuno Presicions. The same shoes I've been in for a couple of years. For some reason, the blue-and-white ones aren't around any more and so Dana at A1 sold me a pair in red-and-black.

As comfy as they may be, I'm never going to be able to match those with anything!


Monday, September 20, 2010

Bikes, glorious bikes

Here in Halifax, we are pretty much a Cervelo and Trek town. Down in Yarmouth you'll be riding a Giant. A few have Gurus or Marinonis from Montreal, and these (sometimes bespoke) bikes are about as exotic as bikes get here.

Fundamentally, there's nothing wrong with a Cervelo, Giant, Guru, Marinoni or, God help you, a Trek, but travel opens the mind. For a real bike junkie, someone who values a well proportioned frame or a neat lug just for the the sheer aesthetics of it, then a trip to London is like going to one massive Hamleys

Of course we went to Hamleys as well;

The "kid in an, er, toy-store" look was pretty much the same whether we were in Hamleys or Condor.

In fact, outside Hamleys I could swear I saw a Marinoni. For a split second it seemed so normal, "Oh look, there's a Marinoni" before logic kicked in "How did that get here?".

Before we got to London there was Edinburgh. There was plenty of bike-porn on display at World Du's. However, past a bit of surreptitious bike-fondling on the morning on the age-group race at the TZ entrance bike-check, which was really touching-up-under-the-guise-of-checking-brakes-bars-and-frame-number, I wasn't in a position to take any pictures.

I have to say, I was more taken by the tandems in the paraduathlon, but I am a self-confessed retro-grouch. The only bike I took pics of was this Trek (not sure if it's the Speed Concept or the 7 series) at the "sports expo", which was a small pop-up tent outside registration selling Rapha jerseys and power-bars. This is the one with the Kammtail tubes, integrated brake and Draftbox.

No denying it looks fast, but you'll never catch me on one! Green? With my eyes? Naaah

Counterintuitively, the bike-porn of the trip started after we left World Dus and got to London.

There are a lot of bikes in London. Plenty of foldables, like Bromptons, which makes sense as well as the species we are used to. I think the success of the British team at the Olympics; think Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins (before he, ahem, "became" a Tour rider), Shanaze Reade and Victoria Pendleton (schwing) has popularised cycling in a way no amount of traffic calming could ever do. And London is aggressively traffic-calmed now. The weather helps too; in four years in London I rode in the snow a handful of times. It's hardly ever too cold to ride and cycling can be a viable, 365 days a year transportation option. Plus there are all those studies (are there really that many studies or is it just one study reported a bunch of times) showing that a bicycle is the fastest way around central London.

I felt a little like a biologist on a field-trip to the jungle; able to see an categorise all of Bikesnob's cycling types in their natural environment; the hipsters, the roadies, the triathletes, the beautiful Godzillas, the bike-salmon, the retrogrouches and the contraption-captains. Stuff you don't really see in Halifax, with it's token example from each category. And yes, I am well aware I just implied that "Bikesnob; Systematically and mercilessly realigning the world of cycling; BikesnobNYC. ChronicleBooks, pp223 as a text-book. Just read it and see why!

Not surprisingly, the public face of cycling in London has changed in twenty years. Condor Cycles has moved across the road from it's pokey little shop-front I remember to a larger, airier building with one floor given to accessories and one just for bikes. I could swear that Evans Cycles had just the one shop in sarf London, in fact I think a club-mate used to be a frame-builder there, but now there are Evans all over London and even all over the country.

We'll start at Evans first.

A bit more of a chain-store feel;

You see that yellow l/s jersey in the window? I got it! On sale (but of course). It's got a crash-dummy theme to it, which is fitting because that was pretty much what the guys in the Crest CC called me once upon a time. It may be cliched, but's it's surely time to play, in honour to the jersey, the Primitives...

Sorry about that, but it had to be done! Anyway, it's more uplifting than the alternative!

It was nice to see a Colnago; they have a bit of a mythic status to us here in Nova Scotia; the bikes you read about but never see. Some of the Colnagos had Colnago-branded brakes; cool huh?

Even if it's no more than a bog-standard, repainted stock Ultegra dual-pivot. However desirable the bike, I understand Colnago's after-sales service to be less than stellar :(

Apparently it's mandatory to have a bell on your bike, so every bike from the urban runaround costing a few hundred to the dog's-bollocks racer costing many thousands, had a bell on it!

Interestingly, they were not under the same compunction to sell a bike with two brakes, as many of the fixies had only one. Then again, the Highway Code does recognise the fixed-gear as being a brake in it's own right....

Top-tube brake-cable clips! How old-school is that?

I should have bought some :S

Quite literally next door to Evans in Spitalfields was the Cyclesurgery, which was depressingly nondescript. I did see this Brooks leather bag/satchel thingy and had to be lured out of the store by a hot salt-beef bagel.

There used to be a bike-shop in Kilburn run by a famously taciturn and grumpy Irishman who considered himself the "gatekeeper" to cycling. Or put it another way, legend had it he wouldn't sell you what you wanted if he didn't think you deserved it. For completeness, I Googled it but couldn't find it; I think it might have become a Cyclesurgery and that Irish bloke is likely well pissed off as they sell Campy Record to City types with high disposable incomes whereas in my day you had to beg to get a Stronglight TA crank-set!

Condor is the real deal, a boutique retailer. If you want a Condor, your options are to get thyself to the south end of Grays Inn Road, and that's that. They are also the co-sponsor of Rapha Condor. Condor used to be "my shop" back in the day. I still have wheels built by Monty at Condor and 20 years later they're going strong. It's Monty's 80th this year and they say that when the TdB finishes in London later this week, the British riders are forgoing the end-of-race party and going to Monty's 80th instead! Yup, the guy has that much pull in the British cycling scene.

My sense was as much as I loved, love, Condor, it's sold out a bit, to (literally) fat bankers buying $10 000 CAD carbon wonder-machines to be strapped to the back of their BMWs and driven out to the country for a 20 miler and then calling themselves cyclists. People who are trying to buy into cycling without doing their apprenticeship, sans fait le metier. I remember Condor as a place I went to when my inner tubes were beyond patching and I actually had to buy a new one, rather than paying someone to change my flats for me! The Condor Rapha club seems to exemplify this culture of buying into cycling to me; a place for rich people to spend their money on expensive memberships, expensive bikes and expensive clothing (any and all of which I would give my eye-teeth for) and pretend to be cyclists on "epic" Rapha rides. And by epic I mean out of iPhone range.

They still have their soul and still cater for the couriers and other, skinnier types with unironically shaved legs. I heard of a promising junior who had a tab at Condor (get now, pay later); in other words Condor were literally banking on him to make good and wouldn't necessarily hold the price of a new pair tubs against him. Such people are a million miles (and probably a million pounds) away from the banker buying the Rapha/Paul Smith tweed. Perhaps the corporate market is what they have to do to be able to do what they do.

Condor sells many Condor branded bikes; steel, aluminium (note the extra 'i', we're in the UK now), carbon and titanium. Frame-sets or complete builds. Road, track, urban, cross or mountain. Sure, they stock a token Trek or Cervelo but they pale next to the Condors.

First thing you see walking down the stairs are the fixies.

Don't know about you, but I'm not sure about the gold rims and matching chain on that one nearest the camera;

The Specialised Langster Tokyo Edition has a lot to answer for! Besides, if you didn't like gold rims, take your pick

Of course, a fixie needs a gear, and Condor have their own range of gears, all with the logo etched on

A little deeper into the shop, a Condor TT bike; aluminium frame and 105 gruppo for a grand (sterling). not bad for a bike you'll only ride ten times a year

On the seat-tube, the Condor Eagle is in red, white and blue. Made me come over all patriotic

Getting to the very back of the shop is the good stuff; you've been tempted by the fixies of many colours and the good-value builds and even a cyclocross bike or two but if you survive these almost biblical trials at the very back is the mix-n-match section for the real snobs, sorry, I mean connoisseurs.

These are two titanium frames; the upper one is a 49cm track frame - 50% off, the one underneath a stock Moda

Some of the frames are sourced and built in Italy and sold in England, hence the decal on the down-tube

God who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet indeed!

The Moda is nude titanium, really sweet. In ye olden days (which to a triathlete means before Greg Lemond won the Tour de France with aerobars) Condor made steel frames with fancy lugs; in homage to this the Moda has the lug-work etched onto the bare metal before varnishing

Any frame needs a gruppo and below the frames were cabinets with full gruppos; this is a case full of Campy

Call 999 immediately!

The Moda caught la belle's eye. Good job Condor was one of the first shops we visited in London as every conversation for the next three days ended up with "so, that frame-set then". We decided she should at least try out the frame to see how it fit her; after all it wasn't WSD and she could have been all over the place! Even though they didn't have a 49cm Moda built up, they had a bike-fitting gizmo thingy dowstairs at the shop;

which interestingly was made in Canada.

She got a full hour of bike-fitting from a nice guy called Conrad, who as well as helping fit the bike, spent a little time slagging off Cervelo, which was interesting, as the mark-up on a P3 is greater than the mark-up on an own-label frame so really he should have been trying to sell us a Cervelo. Then again, that would be like selling coals to Newcastle.

The deal was done; there was no compelling reason not to get what I was assured was "the frame of her dreams". Then again, she did ride a Y-Foil for a few years, so exactly what entails a "dream" is open to interpretation. At least we agree on the Moda!

Conrad asked us to come back on Friday so they could pack the bike. When we got there it was all ready to go; in a Cervelo box! Bastard! He assured la belle she was now also the proud owner of the cardboard box with the highest environmental footprint in the world.

That pretty much concluded the bike-porn aspect of the trip, but we sat in a cafe and reflected on building this bad-boy up, it underwent an identity change and is henceforth to be known as the Silver Lady.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Food, glorious food....

Part of travelling is experiencing new cultures, and cultures are in part defined by their food. My residence may be in Canada now, but there will always be a corner of my heart that is British so perhaps I was not so much experiencing British culture as re-experiencing it.

Scotland was weird, but not in the Mike Myers "Scottish food invented on a dare" weird, but because I was there for a reason, and not to lollygag around and enjoy the experience (per se). I was there to get the job done and my gastronomic experiences were similarly utilitarian. For example, the bike-loop in Edinburgh was ridden on the right, just like we drive in Canada, and I spent so much time driving on the right (as rear-gunner on Moto1) it felt strange to be on the left hand side of the road driving to the airport. So I never really got into the British way of life there, I was just on the blue carpet for a three days and I could have been anywhere in the world. Same with the food. Most of my meals were either refectory breakfasts....

Black pudding and haggis, two food-stuffs guaranteed to raise the gorge of your average North American (and not in a good way). And this was breakfast! No wonder Scotland tops the cardiac disease league table. If it weren't for the dire state of their coffee, espressosnob could make a mint here!

....or something-in-a-bun from the concession stands at race site....

They may look interchangeable, but two of these something-in-a-buns are from Highlandhogroast and the other from a beef-products based company with the saucy seaside postcard name of Well Hung And Tender (titter ye not!). On race day, they were selling branded cups; two pounds fifty for the coffee in a cup and a quid per refill after that for the remaining two days of competition. They didn't make any money from me! TIBS it may not have been, but it helped me in not falling asleep on the back of that Goldwing (the usual caveats of not drinking too much coffee before a long stint on Moto#2 lest a Dumb and Dumber moment ensues; you know the one).

Although I did make a break for it one afternoon and got a "real" coffee from a cafe around the corner from halls

Still, we tried a coffee-shop before we left that made some bold claims

which was ironic as bold was not a word I would have associated with their coffee. Normally I trust the Grauniad; clearly I shall have to revise my opinion of their opinions!

London was better. Think about it; Scotland has a population of 5 million, a fraction of whom live in Edinburgh, whilst 8 million live in London alone. By statistics alone, this has to improve the standards of food delivery.

Any visit to a supermarket was like going to Petes but without getting gouged on the price. Marmalade for 60p, digestive biscuits (and good ones too) for 50p a pack. Then again, the British Empire was virtually built on digestive biscuits, marmalade and tea and if prices rose, there'd be revolution on the streets! Tescos had Jaffa Cakes at half-price; I was so there!

Some of the best words in the English language....

Also at Tescos, I could, if I had wanted, have re-created the Pollack Hall refectory breakfast experience, for the princely sum of two pounds (about $3.50 CAD).

I suppose at that price you could still afford to go private for your angioplasty!

I was also reunited with Soreen Fruit loaf.

Funnily enough, I remember my Grandmother cutting tiny slices off this tiny loaf, perhaps toasting them and serving them buttered. Me, I just cut the loaf in two lengthways and have it for breakfast. Clearly, there are significant generational differences when it comes to Soreen Fruit Loaf consumption!

Brick Lane, E1. Hmmm. Two gastronomic delights in one, perhaps three. The closest tube is Liverpool Street (which actually has a sign directing you to the nearest bike shop, sweet!)

We walked through the gentrified Spitalfields Market, now full of cafes, boutiques and Evans Cycles. It was too early to buy a bike or a tie-tied Indian-look blouse so we settled for coffee from Leons instead.

Suitably fortified, it was on to the Bethnal Green Road end of Brick Lane. The bagel bakery was exactly where I'd left it.

Two pounds thirty later, I was the proud owner (albeit temporary owner) of a salt-beef bagel with mustard.

Salt beef is essentially the same as Montreal smoked meat except, as you can see, instead of shaving off wafer-thin slices, they hack dirty great big chunks off a huge piece of meat in front of your eyes and slap it between two halves of a freshly baked bagel.

If you're looking for it, just find this intersection on Brick Lane and you're nearly there...

For better or worse, bacon, or indeed pork-products of any kind, seem to be a unifying factor in British "cuisine"

Speaking of British cuisine, did you that it has been seriously suggested that Britain's true national dish is the chicken tikka masala? This is essentially an Indian dish that none-the-less doesn't exist in India, the original (chicken tikka) being westernised to certain degree with a creamy masala sauce to make it more palatable to the British Raj.

But I digress! After a day of wandering around the City, SE1 and the Tate Modern it was back to Brick Lane. I liked Tate Modern; even if there are only so many monochromatic canvases about the monotony of modern existence and impenetrable installations you can take in one day, it's all about the space dahling. The coffee shop at the Tate had cool cups though;

with a more personal take on the "warning, contents may be hot" message

Back to Brick Lane, this time the Mile End Road end, also known as Banglatown. Banglatown is curry central, and the restaurants run the gamut from lah-di-dah to sleazy, from large to (seemingly) four tables in the front room of someone's house. We also ran the gamut of people trying to entice us into their restaurants with offers of free drinks or free naans. We stuck to our guns and chose a place somewhere between lah-di-dah and sleazy, of reasonable size and they hadn't tried to aggressively get us through the door. Plus, there were Bangladeshis eating in there, not just white-eyes, so it had to be good. No?

No chicken tikka masala for us! hariyali chicken, biryani, dhansak, rice and nann washed down with a pint of Cobra. The food was awesome and possibly for the first time in a week, I felt full.

and we got a free drink anyway! Djam!

We also came across this place, just south of Covent Garden.

It had the same beers as any other London pub, with it's Canadian credentials only bolstered by bottles of Sleemans and Moosehead and served the same food as everywhere else but with maple syrup. Give it a miss.

Speaking of giving places a miss, when in Chinatown I also had the worse Chinese food I'd ever had, and I've eaten "Chinese" in foot-courts. Through a combination of events which aren't worth relating, I ended up in a place in which the jasmine tea (plus one point for this place at least) was served in a melamine cup (minus three points) and I was given Western cutlery (minus several billion). Forkin' hell.

The Chinatown experience was balanced out by a Dutch (yes Dutch) place on Bloomsbury way. Large savoury pancake (crepe) washed down with Hoegaarden

To give you an idea of scale, here's the plate with la belle's pet Pig puppet

Who as you can see, was lucky to leave there in one place. He didn't have legs when we went in, did he?

Dessert was Poefetjies; little mini-crepes dusted with icing sugar and served with butter and maple syrup

Except the maple syrup wasn't real maple syrup, but I don't suppose your average Londoner would be able to spot that (unless they hung out a lot at that Covent Garden pub). A tip however; if you're ever at My Old Dutch, get the poefetjies without butter!

On our last night we went out with my brother et al to a place in Muswell Hill called Giraffe. It was a kid-friendly place so we didn't need to worry about my three year-old nephew going ballistic, because the place was already full of toddlers going ballistic.

In a interesting twist when asking "what's good here", my sister-in-law had just finished the art design for Giraffe's cook-book, coming to a bookshop near you soon (well in Muswell Hill at least) and consequently was feeling decidedly M'eh about the menu. La Belle had the hoisin duck stir-fry (at least in part making up for the Chinatown debacle) and I had the peri-peri chicken.

If memory serves, peri-peri is a South African BBQ/chilli sauce/spice thing. It seems to be the big thing in British cuisine now thanks to the arrival of Nandos, a South African chicken restaurant solely (in)famous for the innuendo of their advertising strap-line "our cock's bigger than yours". Oo-eer missus indeed.

Nice to see racial sensitivities being preserved in the new South Africa. Amandla ngawethu!

The food at Continental hadn't got much better in the 12 days we were away, but at least my pet cow was happy with the tea.

Those aren't Conti biscuits though, I got 'em at Costa Coffee before we boarded! Speaking of which, Moo preferred the coffee at Cafe Nero.

There's just no pleasing some cows, is there?

As predicted, the first thing I had in Canada when we returned was a Timmies. Purely to keep me awake after a 20hr journey so I didn't drive the car into a ditch!