This seems to be turning into a weekly thing

This seems to be turning into a weekly thing…

3 July 2000

First things first: an update on the whole car thing.

On Sunday afternoon I had been playing with the idea of hopping on a plane
and delivering the winning ticket by hand, but by Monday morning this seemed a
bit over the top. So I called Fuji, and asked them what we should do with it.
The ticket itself said that we should take a photocopy and then send the original
to Fuji by recorded delivery, but I wanted to hear it from a real person. When I
spoke to them, this exactly what they said, but somehow that reassured me.

Of course, as soon as the envelope left my hand at the post office counter,
I immediately had second thoughts. The probability of the envelope getting lost
in the mail was surely about the same as of us winning the car in the first place.
Why hadn’t I splashed out on a courier instead? What if the person I’d spoken to
at Fuji wasn’t a real representative of their marketing department, but an impostor
who was going to intercept the ticket and use it for himself?

After an anxious afternoon and night, I called them again the next morning,
just to confirm that it had arrived. It had. (A victory for common sense, or
a lucky escape? Who knows…) They said they would be back in touch towards
the end of the week once they had verified the claim, and sorted out things with
Toyota. Unfortunately, when they did call
on Friday, it was to say that the only
person authorized to release a car is off on holiday, and won’t be back until
Monday 10th July. I’m sure we can wait, though.

Mobile Phonery

I thought the day would never happen. Neither did Abi. Even at the best of
times, I hate getting phone calls. Using an answering machine isn’t much better,
because I don’t like making phone calls either, and when someone leaves you a message,
they generally expect you to call them back. So why would I conceivably want a
mobile phone, so that I could be reachable all the time? The very
notion is absurd.

…But somehow, while I had the loan of my mum’s mobile phone while they were
away on holiday, I sort of got used to having it around. While I still worked
for the bank I used to have a pager, and although it had the same problem as an
answerphone (i.e., you have to call back), it was kind of useful (sometimes)
for keeping in contact with Abi. For meeting up after work, for example.

So, thanks to the friendly people at the
Carphone Warehouse
, I now have a
state-of-the art WAP-enabled Nokia 7110
with a spring-loaded front cover (like
in The Matrix).
In the past I’ve been quite disparaging about WAP, mainly
because it’s being marketed as mobile internet (you know who you are, BT).
While this claim is true-ish technically, the
shortcomings of the WAP protocol itself
and the size of the screens involved make it a thoroughly silly idea. Mini-services are the
way to go, but nowhere but Japan (with the
seems to have got a proper clue yet. And anyone
who seriously thinks that composing an email or text message on a phone’s keypad
is somehow clever, or a productive use of their time needs to spend some quality
time in a padded room far from the rest of humanity.

Will I use the WAP features? Probably not. I bought the phone because it
makes me look cool. Anything else is just a bonus.

And Finally…

…I’ve been playing way too much Diablo II. Not the most sophisticated game
in terms of graphics, nor does it have a hugely compelling storyline. But what
it lacks in innovation, it makes up in sheer playability. It’s easy to pick up,
but hard to put down. Check out
Gamecenter for their
initial thoughts on the game.


Darroch Learg

If, when you’re out for dinner, you ask for a gin and tonic, and get offered a choice of Gordon’s, Tanqueray or Sapphire gin, you can be reasonably sure that you’ve ended up somewhere that pays attention to detail, and prides itself on offering a selection based purely on quality. The Darroch Learg Hotel in Ballater (near Aberdeen) is such a place.

With three AA rosettes every year since 1997, it is recognised as one of Scotland’s top restaurants, and this recognition is thoroughly deserved. Two comfortable lounges (one smoking lounge) allow you to enjoy an aperitif or an after-dinner coffee in the kind of surroundings you only see in costume dramas. The dining room is half made up of a large conservatory, which allows the evening sun to sparkle in through the trees of the nearby forest. The whole place exudes old-fashioned charm and timeless style.

All of this would be for nothing, though, if the food wasn’t up to standard. No danger there. The tortellini of crab and langoustine I started with were large and succulent, with the shellfish inside chopped to a moist, flaky consistency. The home-baked breads (sourdough or wholegrain) served with the first course came in very handy for mopping up the crab sauce, and leaving my plate perfectly clean.

For my main course, I had the fillet of Aberdeen beef, with braised shin and green vegetables, served on a bed of creamed celeriac and Madeira sauce. (It was either that or the veal on a bed of puy lentils, with a gratin of potatoes and butternut squash; but fortunately my wife had that, and I could steal a nibble of hers.) Perfectly cooked, fresh fillet tastes buttery and creamy, and this was a fine example of the species. The braised shin provided a rich, almost gamy strength to the dish, while the peas and the green beans were crisp and ripe with their own flavour.

My dessert was crème brulee with toffeed apple rings and apple sorbet. The caramel crust of
the crème brulee was thin, but the body of it was deep and thick, and when I’d scraped the bottom of the ramekin as much as politely possible, the base was covered in tiny vanilla seeds… Rich and delicious.

The wines we had with the meal were an Alsatian gewürztraminer and an Australian Merlot, both from the lower-priced end of the 57-page thick wine list, but perfectly tasty and appropriate nonetheless. For those with more sophisticated tastes, the selection was elaborate, though my personal favourite (Tokaji, for dessert) was absent.

Overall, the quality of the meal was excellent, and the surroundings luxurious. The hotel is run by Nigel and Fiona Franks, who work hard to make every guest feel special, and succeed admirably. The price for this three-course experience is a mere £33 a head (excluding wine), and that kind of value is hard to find these days. If you’re visiting the area, you’d have to look really hard for a reason not to choose the Darroch Learg for an evening out.