Parts Unknown

I’ll admit; I had a long-standing prejudice against Anthony Bourdain for a few years. I perhaps relied too much on a friend’s construction of him as just another arrogant chef. It wasn’t until many years later, when another friend suggested watching an episode of No Reservations[^] that I discovered I was completely wrong. Kitchen Confidential may have been full of cocky swagger, but here was somebody intensely curious about the world and the people that inhabit it; and whether it was a Waffle House or somewhere in Eastern Europe or whereever, he was always respectful and never condescending.

A grown-up’s version of Brian Cant. And you can’t say better than that, in my little opinion.

And every day the darkness grows darker and the way out smaller and smaller. But hey, how has your week been?

[1]: (or was it Parts Unknown? I don’t suppose it matters for the story, though another sign that my memory is slowly failing me)

Where Was Everybody?

BARTENDER: Hey, I like your tattoo!

ME (confused): Tattoo?

BARTENDER: Yeah! On your arm! The Celtic knots!

ME (still confused, but at least armed with a little knowledge): Oh, that’s not a tattoo. That’s psoriasis.

silence

BARTENDER: So…er, what are you having?

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The weekend saw visits to five distilleries, the same amount of bars, inordinate quantities of bourbon (I am not actually going to give a unit calculation here, but let’s just say that I’m not planning on drinking again until the end of June), odd little conversations like the one above, and a recurring question: just where was everybody in Louisville last weekend?

We went to some of the highest-rated bars in the city (Meta and Haymarket). And they were good! But…on a Saturday night, they were both almost deserted. Even the most tourist-friendly street that’s done up in best ersatz-Vegas fashion had very few people sampling the donkey sauce in Guy Fieri’s Smokehouse. It was quite odd.

Anyway, some observations, in handy list form!

  • A little bit of planning goes a long way
  • Angel’s Envy Rye is very nice, but you will have great difficulty tracking down a bottle
  • O.K.I. is even nicer, but at this point, you’ll have to knock off a bar to get hold of even half a bottle (but New Riff will be bottling their new bourbon in the Autumn)
  • Americans have a very loose definition of Britpop
  • A great way of confusing somebody is to turn up to their gin tasting station one day, and then at their distillery one hundred miles away for a tour the next
  • Perhaps surprisingly, the rooftop bar on top of the Hilton Garden Inn is really quite nice, with great views of Tyvek. Oh, and some historical picturesque views if you must look in the other direction
  • Despite also being very very empty on a Sunday night, I can also wholeheartedly recommend Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar in Covington. Lots of flights! Lots of fancy things!

However, the most notable discovery of the weekend is probably Heaven Hill Green Label. This was introduced to us by a bartender in downtown Louisville as an alternative that we might not have come across before. It’s a great mixer and holds its own against bourbons that cost $40 or more. And you can buy it for $12.

The only slight drawback is that it tends not to escape the borders of Kentucky. Of course, that’s not much of a drawback for me anymore, as Kentucky is simply a bridge away. Expect my first liquid bourbon caramels using this to roll off the production line next weekend.

Goodbye Durham, Once Again

This page was going though my mind as I saw that the wire transfer from the sale of my house had gone through late Friday afternoon. A considerable sum of money, and all I did for it was to have the luck of buying a house in an area of Durham that hadn’t gentrified completely yet. It’s not quite “selling a house in San Francisco after owning it for 30 years” windfall, but it’s a lot for doing almost nothing.

In a sign of how crazy the Durham market has become, my house never actually even made it to market. My estate agent came by to have a look, and but a few days later contacted me to say that she’d found a private buyer. That meant I could just pack up and leave; no need to do the house up at all.

They’re not going to be pulling it down, which is something; they’ll likely do up the kitchen to make it much fancier, sort out the dropped ceilings and a few more bits here and there. What they will do is build on the separate plot of land to add a new house and sell that. That’ll increase the density of housing on the street…by one. And it’s not like that house will be anything approaching affordable. So, like Mister Six, I’ve become a turncoat. But he did come back to help save the day later on…

In other news, the Ballad of Ian and Bob (the mouse that moved in last week) finally came to an end this Saturday. After a week of Bob eating his way through the bait traps, looking up at me as he did so, and then scampering off downstairs, Tammy decided that the solution was Captain America.

This involved waiting for Bob to go into a trap, blocking off the entrance, placing the whole lot in a sealed jar…and then putting the jar in the freezer for several hours. But probably no Iron Mouse to save him. Or at least I hope not, or I’m in bigger trouble.

Right, as it’s a Bank Holiday Weekend, I’m watching Octopussy. And next week? Well, next week, it’s off to Louisville and all sorts of distilleries…

Morning update: Okay, I lasted about 1 hour and 10 minutes into Octopussy before going to bed. My goodness, it’s dull. And terminally unfunny with a large dash of colonial racism thrown in to boot…

Everything English Is The Enemy, Part 2

One gets more right-wing as you get older, they say. I don’t really agree1, but I have found myself mellowing a little in recent years towards institutions I previously railed against. The House of Lords, for example, is a towering anachronism at the heart of Britain, something that in the 90s I believed should have been liquidated.

These days, I haven’t so much changed my mind as come to terms with the idea that yes, it is a laughable mockery of democracy, but strangely often manages to check the actual democratically-elected arm of Parliament better than the official Opposition. And while it’s a cynical view, it seems good to have the Lords there as a reminder for all the battles of 1911 onwards, they’re still there, still with their power after all these years.

As for the Royal Wedding, well, it’s not my thing, but who am I to rail so hard against somebody who lost his mother at an early age thanks to a group of people that hounded him for all the years following? It’s not a life he chose, after all. And obviously, seeing Harry excoriate the royal tabloid press for being the racist, classist scum that they are was incredibly entertaining.

(but the idea that ‘the Royal Family will pay for the wedding’ is a complete fiction. Aside from them not paying security costs, which dwarfed all other expenses, where does their money come from? The state, of course, or land that essentially is owned by the state through the family.

Given my ambivalence towards the wedding, I am therefore turning my ire onto the real enemy: Americans. Reactions here to the wedding seemed to fall into two types:

  • ‘OH MY GOD, YOU’RE ENGLISH DID YOU WATCH THE WEDDING?’ - this said to me in the middle of an American supermarket where all the cashiers were wearing tiaras. I mean, you fought a war to get rid of us; have a bit of self-respect. Even if the country is a dumpster fire at the moment.

  • ‘Flint still doesn’t have water! #royalfamily’ - if you’re going to do performative woke statements, you could at bloody least tailor it to the country in question. What about Windrush? Grenfell? The on-going disaster of Universal Credit and the humiliation of ESA check-ups for disabled people? It’s not always about you, you know…

Aside from the wedding, been a tough and long week that I’m glad to see consigned to history. But the blackcurrants in the back garden are flowering, I’m meeting one of my favourite pastry chefs today, and my friends are on their way.

Next week: if I finally get the documents signed and sent off tomorrow, I will no longer own my house in Durham by the end of the week…


  1. And for anybody questioning my credentials, I’ll have you know I joined the DSA at the start of the year, so there [return]

Everything English Is The Enemy

I get angry sometimes.

It might be getting worse, perhaps because I have spent so much time by myself for the past few years that my filter no longer works as well as it used to. And yes, not managing to get past the BBC’s new geolocation defenses and thus missing Eurovision was an annoyance. But I don’t really think it should have got me so worked up that I disappeared into the garage and tore cardboard boxes apart until I calmed down by virtue of being exhausted.

(the good news is that now I’m living in Cincinnati instead of Durham, I was soon joined by a friend and explored some more of the city. So that is an improvement!)

It has been a week. I’d say I’m done with it, but tomorrow is already attempting to bash through before midnight.

Is there any time where Mr. Punch isn’t terrifying?

ASSEMBLE THE WALL OF BOOOOOKS!"

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It has now been a week, and I think I’m almost there. The books are out of their boxes, the chocolate room is assembled, and I’ve broken in the kitchen. I’ve also driven solo to Fairfield and back! Of course, I haven’t braved downtown Cincinnati yet. But maybe next weekend.

Hello Cincinnati

I watched this show on Netflix, ‘Very British Problems’. And all those things I thought were you being you…it’s how your country actually is!

I left Durham just in time to be confirmed as a walking stereotype, apparently.

Surprisingly, the 500-odd mile drive from North Carolina to Ohio (through Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky) wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it was going to be. Oh, it was long, that’s for sure, but fairly uneventful; I just had to make sure I kept Tammy and the U-Haul lorry in sight for nine hours.

Anyway, I am now here in Cincinnati. Unpacking is…a work in progress, but I have managed to sort out the CDs, the DVDs, the boardgames, most of the kitchen, and the new chocolate area (no longer its own room, but there’s also a lot more of it in the kitchen itself now). Wednesday is the day I return to IKEA to buy all the bookcases. And by the weekend, the garage will be full of nothing but empty boxes.

Odd things so far? It was 16˚C outside today. But it was lovely. Like when it hits 16˚C back home and you can go out in a t-shirt. There’s no humidity, and it is amazing.

(I will pay for this during the snowdrifts next February, obviously. But for now, it’s great!)

Oh, and my neighbours gave me a cake. I guess this means I need to get this finished by the weekend so I can give them some chocolates in return:

Chocolate Room Mk. III in progress.

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And now, I’m going to bed.

Status Update

To sum up: I hate almost everything right now. The fuse on my temper has grown very short, the house is covered in boxes, and of course I’m also at the state in the selling process where you discover awkward things about the house which a) you had no idea were an issue, and b) may torpedo the current process. So yay!

Next week, I will be driving 500 miles.

I Just Sighed, I Just Sighed, Just So You Know

“Clouds are bumpy you know. Do we look worried?”

While I do appreciate that the flight attendants were trying to make me feel better as I gripped hold of the armrest in a manner akin to a bear giving out a generous hug, they really only made things worse. I am fully aware of all these things they were saying, but it matters very little at 35,000 ft. One of these days, I will rip out one of the armrests, which is going to be quite embarrassing.

Anyway, I flew places! Firstly, to Seattle, where it was wet, windy, and 26 floors up, and right now, I’m in Las Vegas with my family for my birthday weekend. Which is the first time I’ve been here since…2007?

(Yes, 2007.)

Oh, and I’m also trying to co-ordinate a move, sell my house, and work all at the same time. It’s a fun combination! Especially since I have a moving date of…two weeks from right now. I may be a little frazzled, and perhaps that’s why my psoriasis is the most painful it has been in a long while. And also one of the reasons why there has been a lack of updates here for a bit. I’m hoping May will be a little easier, though I also imagine I will spend a lot of it staring at boxes full of books and wondering if the new house will ever look moved in.

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Back in 1994, this was, I think, the first shop we visited on our first-ever trip to the USA. It seemed appropriate to re-visit it before it’s gone forever. The good thing about coming here with family is that we don’t tend to hang about The Strip too much (indeed, we’ve been here two days and haven’t been there yet; and won’t tomorrow, either). You do get to see a slightly different Las Vegas, even if that’s essentially Newark, CA with a bit more sun.

However, on my birthday, I will be heading to the bright lights in order to visit Milk Bar and Bouchon Bakery!

The Last Tour of Durham

The Goodbye Durham Tour is now in full swing; whilst my house isn’t on the market yet1, and I’m not scheduled to move until the end of April, I’m going to Seattle and Las Vegas in a week’s time. Then I just have two weeks which will mainly be a flurry of me getting increasingly more exasperated as I try to fit all my things into little boxes that somehow take on the density of a small black hole even after just putting a few books in them2.

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So that means it is time for a final trip to OnlyBurger, in their original location, of course. One of the top priorities I have when I get to Cincinnati is to find a replacement, but it’s going to be hard.

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Toast! Ten years old, and still going strong. Many an afternoon or evening was spent here, although I haven’t been much since I stopped working in downtown Durham.

A few of us will mourn you, South Bank building!

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And of course, one final shot of the South Bank Building, which if I do come back to Durham in the future (and I expect I will!), I imagine will be raised to the ground. The centre of Durham has changed a huge amount in the seven years I’ve lived here. Can’t quite get along with all the changes; in particular, this hideous work of glass:

Ugh.

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It’s a building that’s too tall and is too close to the amazing Hill Building. But, I do hope that they have a plaque inside to commemorate where Colin Firth once stood and attempted…that…accent.

It’s not all bad; I’d argue that despite reservations about Unscripted, they prevented a lovely little modernist building from being demolished and turned into a soulless glass block matching the one across the road. Of all the hotels that have sprung up in Durham in the past few years, it’s the one I’d actually want to stay in.

Anyway, so you may catch me out and about in the last couple of weeks of April frantically trying to check off the last of my old haunts. And not just Durham, of course! It has been so long since I’ve been to Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen. Apparently they now ship biscuits, but I feel that they’d be somewhat cold by the time they reached Ohio…


  1. But I already have a fun story about that, trust me. [return]
  2. ‘few books’ means 3 cookbooks that weight about 10lbs each, obviously. [return]