THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

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A sketchy celebration

 Sketch Gallery Restaurant London (Mayfair).

Sketch-restaurant-london-pierreBlogging has been light because the Paines have had a tense few days. As previously mentioned, Mrs P. had a nine-hour operation last week. Today her test results confirmed, after a nail-biting wait, that it had been successful. She has a long convalescence ahead, but the news is as good as it could have been.

We and Miss P. the Younger celebrated with a bottle of Krug on our return from the hospital, followed by a very jolly dinner at the Sketch "Gallery" restaurant in Mayfair. Frankly our mood was so good that no problems with the food, drink, surroundings or service could have spoiled it. However, to round off one of the best days of my life, the meal was very good indeed. The interior of the restaurant is splendid.

Your blogger is cheerily tipsy on alcohol of the finest quality. Britiain's economic misery and rampant political corruption cannot dampen his spirits. Mrs P. is weary and needs her rest now, but I am going to enjoy Question Time. I hope the audience managed to smuggle in the requisite rotten fruit. Tomorrow we drive North from London and at the weekend I shall head back to Moscow, my annual holiday spent in and around hospitals, but more cheerful than for a long time. I apologise for the off-topic rambling, but you may need to discount my comments here to allow for an unusually sunny outlook for some time!

Of Lyon, her most famous son and of excellence in general

  Link: en - Site Officiel de la Ville de Lyon.

Dscn1089 We have hurtled through Lyon on our previous trips to the Côte d'Azur but this year we decided to take a couple of days to look around. It's a beautiful city, straddling the rivers Saône and Rhône. It's the third largest in France with a population of 1.78 million. It is the culinary capital of France (and therefore the world) and home to her most famous living chef. This is a pioneer of Nouvelle Cuisine who has held his Michelin stars (currently three) for a staggering 42 consecutive years. Paul Bocuse's genius has - as he claims modestly on his menus - elevated chefs in general from "lackeys" to potential stars. It has also won him membership of the Legion d'honneur.

Dscn1097_2Last night, Mrs P. and I were lucky enough to dine at his home restaurant, l'Auberge du Pont de Collonges. At the suggestion of our hotel's manager, we hired a motor yacht for an hour to take us there down the Saône. This was a brilliant idea as we had a splendid view of the city en route, and also arrived much cooler than we would in a taxi. The picture of Bocuse with "our" yacht at his pier is from the yacht company's website - the others (click to enlarge) are my own from yesterday.

Mâitre Bocuse's art did not disappoint. Of course, at 82, he is as constrained as an old rocker who must play his hits or disappoint his fans. For a creative genius who won his fame by innovation, it must be hard to cater to those who want to experience the dishes they have read about (and who then must often, as we did, notice that what was revolutionary in 1975 is a little passé now). We were surprised to see many Japanese guests an learned that this was because Bocuse introduced French gastronomy to that country in partnership with his late friend, a renowned Japanese chef.

Dscn1108It was a great experience and as we worked our way chattily through the menu de dégustation in the charming surroundings of L'Auberge - sipping at a delicious Puligny Montrachet - we were quietly conscious of how lucky we are to experience the best of this life. At such moments it is my habit to raise my glass silently to the many ordinary young people, just like Mrs P. and I were, who - thanks to Labour's systematic destruction of British education system - will never have the chance to appreciate the good life, or even to know it is there.

City_pbIt is a scandal that today's Britons are not more, but less, socially-mobile than they were in our day (when mobility was declining from its peak in the grammar school era). It is a scandal that Mrs Thatcher's Cabinet was more classless than Gordon Brown's. It is a scandal that so many will live their lives unfulfilled, with a vague sense that "there must be something more." There is, guys, there is. The squalid life of the Labour heartlands is not, by any means, "it". Out there, if you will lift your eyes, there is beauty, truth and excellence in all fields of endeavour - whether literature, science, engineering or gastronomy. Paul Bocuse is a rich man who has lived a charmed life, but to the French he is a source of pride. They are right to feel that way. Whether you strive for it yourself, or learn to appreciate it in others, excellence is not to be despised, but embraced. Every man's achievement takes humanity forward and should be a source of pride, not envy, for us all.

3rd Anniversary "celebration"

Link: Moulin de Mougins.

LlorcaI have just realised that I shall be dining at one of the great restaurants of France on my blog's third anniversary next week. The creations of mâitre-chef Alain Llorca, worthy successor to the legendary Roger Vergé, should make for a suitable celebration.

Sadly I shall be in the company of clients and colleagues who know nothing of "Tom Paine" of the Last Ditch. Nonetheless, I shall raise a glass of Armagnac in a silent toast to my respected readers.

Raedwald on Wine

Link: Raedwald.

The prigs at Alcohol Concern believe (like so many other Statist swine) that they know better than us how to bring up our children. Both my daughters were introduced gradually to alcohol from a young age in the French manner, with a view to their learning to appreciate quality wine in joyful moderation. Understandably, Alcohol Concern's demand to criminalise such an approach, has brought Devil's Kitchen into full, fine, fulminating, foul-mouthed form:

Personally, I shall be sending a letter to Alcohol Concern, expressing my concern at their authoritarian tendencies. Oh, and I'll probably call them a pack of ***** as well.

Gse_multipart55221By comparison, Raedwald - the most articulate boat on the internet (and normally no slouch at invective) - comes over all lyrical on the subject:

When I think back on all the good things in my life - all those brief little scenarios of joy and pleasure, the warm laughter of friends, the passion of lovers, the sudden stunning realisations that you are gazing at a scene of true beauty, the closeness of companions who have shared past danger - always in the scene somewhere is alcohol. The old French vintner who declared "A day without wine is like a day without Sunshine" had it spot on.

Please go read the whole delightful thing. Then bookmark one of the best sites around; my blog of the week.

Singapore, India and the good life

I have learned a lot in the last couple of days. For instance, that India is short of about 20 million homes at present. Her cities are growing at the rate of 5% per annum (on average). The investment required to build the homes and supporting infrastructure the country needs in the next ten years is enormous. One speaker at the conference I have been attending in Singapore estimated that the country will need 23 million homes for "LIG" (Low Income Group) families. With a startling lack of political correctness, he helpfully clarified that this meant "the homeless and the slum dwellers." He thought another 56 million homes will be needed for HIG families. He estimated the costs (including infrastructure) at $22.5 trillion US.

There is precious little chance of that kind of investment (particularly, to be fair, for so long as the Indian people continue to see foreign investment as a threat to be controlled). The Indian government seems to understand the need, but peasant farmers' protests at their land being compulsorily purchased for "Special Economic Zones" have caused that programme to be put on hold, for example. If Karl Marx were to come back to life, even he would have to admit, after the global experiment of the last century, that his ideas were barking mad. Yet major Indian states are still ruled by Communist Parties - albeit their members seem to be otherwise more sensible chaps than our own New Labour.

Frankly, India is such an attractive proposition at present that I am not sure any special Foreign Direct Investment programmes are needed. All the Indian Government would have to do is remove the legal barriers so that investors can come and go without restraint. That seems, alas, to be politically impossible.

Marx has a lot to answer for.

The Indians at the conference were all, by the way, utterly charming. I have not heard such polite English spoken for a long time. They would apologise in advance for making a "strong statement" in their speeches, before going on to say something utterly innocous.

After the conference ended, I went last night for drinks and dinner at Raffles Hotel. That may seem crass, I know, but I can assure you that no Indians were harmed in the exercise. Here are some pictures.