Monday, January 21, 2008

Bark: Life wouldn't be interesting without at least one unmitigated disaster a week

This weekend ended up being pretty good overall, but did not exactly go entirely according to plan...

We started off well on Friday night, having a somewhat premature birthday dinner (I'm 32 next Sunday - yes, I'm OLD, blah, blah) with our neighbours, Richard and Lisa. They introduced us to a rather nice Chinese restaurant in Chobham, which does an all-you-can-eat three course (appetisers, crispy duck and then mains) menu for £16 a head. The food's pretty darned good as well - a lot better than your average Chinese buffet. We'll be going back there, methinks. Afterwards, we all came back to play a bit of Wii Sports, where I finally got Fleur to do some bowling. A 149 point game on her first go is pretty decent going - a heck of lot better than we both do in real life - so I think I might be able to persuade her to play me again. Hurrah for multiplayer!

Saturday had more changes of plan than the TV adverts IBM used to run last year with the Matthew Perry-lookalike... We'd been invited to a housewarming party one of Fleur's colleagues was throwing in Twickenham. Originally, we thought that the party was closer to the centre of town, so we had planned to take the train in and stay with our Canadian friends Chris and Tanya overnight in Stoke Newington. It turned out to be a good decision to drive instead, because not only did it work out a quicker trip, half of the train route was being replaced with bus services, and there's nothing more miserable than going on a train-replacement bus, because they're so slow and never leave on time. The party itself was pretty good - Amy cooked enough lasagne for a small army, and it was top-notch stuff. I had to restrain myself to two plates, as I was seriously tempted by a third, there was so much left over. We bailed out around eleven and drove back home - just a short 30 minute jaunt down the M3 - which again was a good decision - I didn't fancy trying to get across London on replacement bus services.

Sunday was another trip back into London, as we'd planned to meet up with a group of friends (the Canadians, my buddy Mark and our chums from Essex) for a bit of art and culture at the National Portrait Gallery in the afternoon. Things didn't start particularly well when I found out that South West Trains have decided to start charging for car parking on Sundays at Woking station (the phrase "money-grabbing bastards" may have been uttered at one point), and we had to stand up on the train, thanks to a group of three people deciding that they wanted to take up three banks of seating on a full train, rather than sit together and leave two free seats for Fleur and I (the phrase "inconsiderate wankers" may have been uttered at one point).

Then the plan truly went off the rails when we had to spend 40 minutes in Waterloo as Fleur was arranging tickets for the exchange group coming over from France to her school next month. Once that was done, we had to wait nearly 20 minutes for a bus to take us up to Chris and Tanya's place, completely screwing up my carefully planned timetable for the day. I was, at least, able to reward Chris and Tanya with a bottle of good Californian red wine for unceremoniously standing them up at short notice the previous evening (by opting to go home, rather than stay with them for overnight). To make matters even worse, Flo and Philippe were having a nightmare getting into London: the Central line east of Liverpool Street was shut, the A12 was jammed up the bum and the train lines into Essex were borked due to engineering works as well. Mark was also running late (and in the end couldn't attend) because he had chores for this year's Art In Action to do for his parents. Everything was pretty much falling apart around my ears. If this had been a game of Baldur's Gate, half the party would have been killed by kobolds by now...

So we did the only sensible thing: Chris and Tanya took us to café in Stoke Newington for a late breakfast. It was good. I had a Cumberland Sausage breakfast, with baked beans, half a plate full of fried mushrooms and a runny poached egg, that I ate by spreading it on mildly carbonised toast. Life doesn't get much better than runny egg yoke on warm toast. Bliss. Then we took the bus back down to The Strand, getting there an hour and a half behind schedule, just in time for the arrival of Flo and Philippe, who finally reached central London after an epic, three hour ordeal.

We had to skip the shopping expedition I'd planned for Foyles and Cass Art, due to the lack of time, so we went directly to the gallery; whereupon Philippe managed to sprain his arm, as he wasn't used to the rigours of sketching while standing up (it's surprising hard work, if you're not used to cradling a sketchpad and drawing upright). I still managed to show him some of my favourite pieces in the gallery and get a couple of sketches done before Flo and Philippe had to head back to Essex. Next time, we agreed, we'd go for an earlier start, and we'd do the V&A, because at least they provide you with chairs you can sit down on while you sketch. So, not exactly what you'd call an unqualified success...

Chris and I sat down for a Guinness while we waited for Fleur and Tanya to finish their shopping expedition to John Lewis on Oxford Street, and then we all headed off to the Wagamama on Leicester Square, where I treated the four of us to a meal ("What's the point of having money if you can't buy friendship?" I joked, as I paid the bill). I went for my usual yaki udon and duck gyoza, washed down with a Kirin Ichiban which went some way towards compensating for the disaster which had been our Sunday.

At least we got to sit down on the train home, and we got back in time for the South Bank Show on Tim Burton, which was quite fascinating. I love pretty much all of Tim Burton's films (especially Batman and Mars Attacks!), so I'll definitely be going to see Sweeney Todd in the next couple of weeks.

Though I guess, given what happened this weekend, I shouldn't try and arrange anything too far in advance. After all, if you don't have a plan, nothing can go wrong...
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