Friday, 20 February 2009

Services wanted

I'm working in London Monday to Friday at the moment, and this has obviously caused some serious disruption to my normal routine. When I'm at home, I have a regular Pilates class and regular massage. Being away so much means I can't attend these, so I thought I'd seek out some London surrogates. Finding a Pilates class was relatively easy as I just consulted the instructors list on the Body Control website and emailed a few to find an instructor who was 1) conveniently located and 2) had drop in sessions. I've lucked out with the class I've chosen taught by Federica at The Light Centre in Belgravia (near Victoria) as it's a class of four, including me, so there's a lot of individual attention. I've been doing Pilates for 5 years, but the corrections I'm getting in my new class are showing me that perhaps I didn't know some of it as well as I thought I did, which is awesome.

Finding a massage therapist has been a little trickier. From the look of the phone boxes around London, finding a "massage therapist" is trivial, but as I'm after a legitimate and highly competent practitioner who can work out my muscular tensions (in my shoulders, get your mind out of the gutter) rather than give me a "happy ending" it's a fairly daunting task. The problem is compounded by my high standards (surprise, surprise). My regular masseuse Sarah looks after the British Olympic Sailing team, so I'm pretty fussy about massage and very easily disappointed. On Sarah's advice, I checked out the comically awful ISRM website and then used a shotgun email approach to see who responded. Here's what I sent:


I found your details on the ISRM website. I'm in London Monday - Friday at the moment and am looking for a substitute massage therapist! Location wise ,I'm working nr London Bridge and staying either at Swiss Cottage or Edgeware Road. I'd like evening appointments between 6-10pm if possible.

If you're suitably located and work evenings, please can you reply with exactly where you practice (incl. nearest tube!), your prices, how long you've been qualified for, and to what level. If not, then don't worry about not responding.

I look forward to hearing from you.



I had a variety of responses, but I thought I'd post this one from the excellently named Wolfgang Mittelmaier. He sounds awesome and is very proud of his website. In my head he sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger and has one of those doorman style clickers for counting his patients.

"Hi Tim,
Thank you for your enquiry.
My clinic is five minutes walk from Blackfriars tube station (see my website for more detail and a link to Google maps). I qualified over 6 years ago and have seen over 1,400 clients in that time.

You can find out a lot of detail about me, my colleague and the clinic on my website

Prices are:
15 minutes: £25
30 minutes: £35
45 minutes: £50
60 minutes: £60
90 minutes: £90

The clinic is generally open 7am-8.30pm, but you can see up to date availability at
Please don't hesitate to ask again, should you have any further questions.
Best regards,

Although I enjoyed reading his response the most, his location isn't ideal and he's very pricey. I know it's London and hopefully I don’t sound like too much of a bumpkin, but at home I pay £37 an hour and have an amazingly skilled therapist. So last night, I went to see Jackie Martin at the Millbank Dental clinic (it's a multi-function clinic, including cosmetic surgeon!). Jackie's email response told me that she's spent the last 3 years working with various London football teams, so I thought she'd be a pair of safe hands for such a highly conditioned and athletic frame as mine. Initial impressions were very good, and I've booked to see her again in 5 weeks, so hopefully it'll work out well for me.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Heston's Little Chef

I don't know if you caught "Big Chef takes on Little Chef" on Channel 4 as part of their "Great British Food Fight" season at the beginning of the year? If you didn't, my summary is that the ailing Little Chef roadside restaurant chain agreed to have Heston Blumenthal come and give them a complete overhaul to try and get them turning a profit and keep them in business. A more in-depth summary can be found here.

As soon as we discovered that the Little Chef chosen to pilot Heston's new menu was the Popham branch, just up the road on the A303 near Junction 8 of the M3, we headed on over to give it a whirl. This was a few weeks ago and shortly after the final TV show, and when we arrived there was a six car queue to get into the car park and a minimum 1.5 hour wait for a table. This was at about 2.30pm on a Sunday afternoon, and as we hadn't eaten we decided to give it a miss. 

We had another go tonight with our friends Kev & Dean, on a Wednesday night at 8:45pm and found the restaurant much quieter. We had a bit of excitement on arrival when we spotted a bald chap that looked like a bit like Heston, especially given that Kev's sister had been earlier in the day and seen a film crew. The new décor is smart and crisp, with a painted sky, modern tiles and chairs, plush booths and dangling butterflies. They now serve alcohol, and the classic orange lollies have been replaced by delicious jelly beans.

We each had three courses, with me opting for mushroom soup, sausage and mash and then waffle with ice cream. Whereas I was a little pedestrian, Kev went classic style with the Olympic breakfast (“Best black pudding I've ever had”), and Dean braved the braised ox cheeks (“Very nice, very tender”). I was initially a little bit disappointed with the food, as given Heston's reputation, I was expecting amazing quality and incredible attention to detail. May's mussels were beautifully presented, but small and my sausage and mash although tasty was not mind blowing.

I guess you could say that the food was less overtly amazing than perhaps I had expected, but then I remembered that the sausage and mash I was eating was costing me £6.25, and May's mussels were £4.95. I then really appreciated the dichotomy of getting Heston to rework the place – his focus on high quality ingredients and innovation is clearly at odds with the Little Chef's price bracket. Having realised this though and having modified my perceptions to fit that fact that I was in a competitively priced roadside restaurant, I became very impressed with what Heston has achieved at Popham.

If all Little Chefs offered the same quality and menu as Heston's trial restaurant, I'd certainly make more effort to stop at them when travelling. I believe then I'd be in line with the Little Chef idea that travellers on long journeys will make multiple stops at Little Chefs as they traverse the country.

It's going to be very interesting to see the final TV programme and discover whether or not Popham has turned a profit. I hope that Heston is successful, as it would be a real shame to lose a brand as iconic as the Little Chef in amongst all the other casualties of the economic crisis. Either way, I'm pleased to have experienced it as it will either form the blueprint for all Little Chefs across the country, or it will revert back to the current mediocre menu but keep its decoration and perhaps become a bizarre curio of Hampshire roadside eating. “Hey, do you remember when?...”

Friday, 13 February 2009

Hotel du Vin, Winchester

Yesterday, for May's birthday, we went to the Hotel du Vin in Winchester for dinner, taking advantage of their ridiculously good value "This 2009, think 2000 and wine" deal. The deal is on until the end of March at all Hotel du Vin, and offers 2 courses, a bottle of wine and coffee for 2 people for a jaw droppingly cheap £29. Hotel du Vin is owned by Malmaison (if you haven't stayed in one, make the effort, they're truly great hotels) and it's worth noting that Mal are running the same great deal.

As an ex-fussy eater, I'm still not a massive fan of overly complicated food, or overly formal dining and I'd always had the impression that I wouldn't enjoy eating at the Hotel du Vin as it's something of a Winchester institution, in an historic building and with formal and slightly imposing decor. My mind was put at rest when I discovered that they were owned by Mal, and I have to say that based on our recent experience my fears were totally unfounded.

The service was impeccable and effortless, without being formal, intimidating or intrusive. When I "gracefully" dropped a spoon, someone was on hand in about 5 seconds to pick it up, closely followed by someone else with a new spoon for me on a tray. Obviously I dropped the spoon because I was testing them, not at all through mal-coordination. On the waitress’s advice, we had a main each and a starter and dessert to share. We ordered one side dish and stuck to the house wine, but the sommelier did successfully upsell us two glasses of champagne otherwise we'd have paid just a little over £30 for the whole lot. 

We had gnocchi with provencal sauce to start, then I had confit duck and May had lamb neck plus our side of green beans with pine nuts, and we finished with an excellent crème brulée. The food was consistently excellent and the overall experience comes with a high recommend, especially on the current £29 deal – book your local HdV now!  We particularly enjoyed checking out our fellow diners in the Winchester bistro, who were mostly a bit stuffy and occasionally lolarious irritating, although I think that’s probably just Winchester for you.

The only two things that could have been done better were: 1) on arrival, the girl on the front desk was on the phone and remained so for about 5 minutes while we waited and no other member of staff took care of us. 2) the bill could have been brought quicker, I much prefer the American style of bringing the bill early and saying “take as long as you want”.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Tim vs Acupuncture

You may be aware that over the last couple of years I've had some problems with my arms and neck, caused by repetitive strain injury (computers are bad, mmmmkay?). I've been seeing my current physiotherapist (Sam) for nearly 2 years now, and she's been trying to convince me for a while to have some acupuncture. Sam is truly amazing, and I trust her completely, so after much deliberation and in spite of being a needlephobe, I decided to give it a whirl today. With a previous (inferior) physio, I'd had 1 needle in my shoulder before, and didn't get on with it too well, so I spent the four weeks between my last appointment and this one mentally preparing myself for having acupuncture in my shoulders.

In my appointment today Sam asked if I wanted to go ahead with the acupuncture and I said yes; she ran me through the consent questionnaire where I indicated that I was a bit of a needlephobe (a tick between yes and no) and got me to sign on the dotted line. She then got me to lie face down, and from behind me I could hear her wheeling in her trolley of needle related apparatus. In a perfect illustration of why she's so awesome, as she wheeled the trolley in Sam asked me if I'd like her to describe what was going on, or just do it. My control freakery response was for her to describe the process "a little bit", which started out with her preparing my skin with an alcohol wipe. I think it's at about this point that I started to freak out a bit as she wiped across my hands. Now, I'd spent a month doing mental prep for needles in my shoulders, no-one had said anything about needles going into my hands (yep, Tim is not great with surprises).

She popped two needles into my shoulders, and then proceeded to pop 2 needles into my hands, into the fleshy bit between the thumb and index finger. The needles in my shoulders were fine, but the needles in my hands resulted in a very strong sensation that I don't have adequate words to accurately describe, but can certainly say was unpleasant. I suspect that this was mostly caused by my brain not coping very well with the unexpected needles in my hands and I'm taking it as an excellent illustration of the mind's power over the body. Thankfully, May had come along to the appointment with me, and sensing my freak out she talked to Sam about a selection of mundane topics while I tried to relax into the acupuncture.

After about 10 minutes, Sam took the needles out and chose this moment to reveal that it's completely normal to continue to feel the needles after they've been taken out. Although I think she told me at the right moment, Tim does not like things he's not enjoying and was expecting to end to unexpectedly continue. After resting for a while, I slowly got up and sat on the edge of the bed as instructed. Apparently, once there I went quickly through white and straight to green and when asked how I was responded with "quite nauseous". This response resulted in an excellent and very rapid private hospital response of an oxygen canister and mask, a blood pressure test, sugary tea and enforced shortbread before I could even think about leaving (apparently, there's a lot of paperwork if they let you go and you faint).

Sam did suggest that one the reason I might have felt so weird was that acupuncture triggers the release of loads of endorphins in your body. Endorphins are opoids, which are the bodies form of opiates. I don't think that's the reason why I freaked out, but it could be a handy excuse if I ever feel I need one.

Now although it probably sounds like I really didn't enjoy the experience, I'm completely open to having more acupuncture in the future. This is for 2 reasons: 1) I experience some good pain relief in my shoulders and 2) I think my reaction was mostly because I didn't know what to expect, and now I know exactly how it goes and what the worst case scenario is. Any worst case scenario that involves enforced shortbread isn't too bad in my book.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Status: January

01 January
01:41 Tim wishes May could feel better and stop throwing up.

02 January
22:05 Tim is working at home today.
06:58 Tim is creating his brother's birthday present.

03 January
18:58 Tim is fixing May's electrolytes.
04:58 Tim is pleased that May is well enough to try playing Scrabble.

04 January
04:06 Tim has been providing May's food service. All's well so far.
07:05 Tim is sorting through stuff from his old PC. Amazing that Facebook has replaced MSN file transfer.

05 January
19:53 Tim is back in the office and thinking about buying a lot of vacation.
06:07 Tim is making lolcats.

06 January
21:06 Tim just got awarded his personal injury claim for car crash 2 years ago. £5k.
02:51 Tim is uploading designs to Spreadshirt.

07 January
02:01 Tim is rocking out - seamless online file sharing/sycnronisation with 2Gb free space.
05:59 Tim is remote controlling his Dad's knackered laptop with logmein.

08 January
20:42 Tim is waiting on CitiLink.

09 January
08:00 Tim is backed up.

10 January
19:50 Tim is doing the Ocado shop.
05:07 Tim is going to see Slumdog Millionaire.

11 January
08:28 Tim thought Slumdog Millionaire was very good. Go see.
02:32 Tim just bought tees from

12 January
07:13 Tim enjoyed watching Million Dollar Traders on BBC2.

13 January
09:32 Tim has upped his Glucosamine intake to 1800mg.
14:20 Tim 's new company car package has arrived. £342 a month.
19:57 Tim really wants a neon gearstick now.

14 January
07:36 Tim is working in London today and the seeing Cirque du Soliel at the Royal Albert Hall.
17:26 Tim is meeting May at Pizza Express on the Southbank.
23:31 Tim really enjoyed Cirque du Soliel, amazing diabolos and tumbling, made all the more exciting by boring clown audience participation sections.

16 January
02:35 Tim 's Xbox360 is back from the service center.
07:08 Tim has had the first creme egg of 2009. It was good.

17 January
20:48 Tim is at the O2, going to BodyWorlds.

18 January
07:39 Tim je down the drain in the morning.

19 January
17:47 Tim is surprised that the markets have risen on the back of the new bank guarantees.
21:24 Tim just got the new 50p from the nice lady at the post office.
04:53 Tim is in bed ill, but absolutely thrilled by news from his bro (no, not a baby).

20 January
20:04 Tim is at home today recovering.
23:38 Tim 's Freeview box seems to have lost reception. Not helpful when wanting to watch the Obamathon.

21 January
05:24 Tim has discovered that actually some tosser electrician has been in the block, and seems to have broken the TV aerial. Missing final Big Chef vs Little Chef.
06:11 Tim just spotted than King Lear feat. Ian McKellen is on Channel 4 online catchup for 4 more days.

22 January
16:38 Tim is a bit obsessed with videos of cats.
07:09 Tim is digging the new serieas of Skins.

23 January

24 January
08:33 Tim has a runny nose.
18:09 Tim is baking pain au chocolat and preparing to start S5 of Lost.
01:14 Tim is in love with the Oxfam music shop, vinyl nostalgia ftw.
06:44 Tim just got back from seeing Frost/Nixon. Stuff that you never knew happened. It was good.

25 January
22:20 Tim is going to Heston's Little Chef.
14:30 Tim got pwned by Heston's Little Chef. I'm too hungry for a 1hr 30 wait for a table.
18:50 Tim is at David Lloyd on a free pass.

26 January
07:52 Tim is standing on the train to London. Rat race me up.

27 January
00:00 Tim got so carried away booking flights to California for Dad's 60th over the phone in a restaurant that he absently used his pen as cutlery.In front of colleagues.
19:48 Tim is massively underestimating the complexity of doing anything in London.

28 January
11:03 Tim is shocked and dismayed by the demise of Pablo Alvarez.
23:25 Tim just got back from seeing The Wrestler. It was pretty brutal. Wondering where May is.

29 January
19:05 Tim walking from London Bridge to St Pauls to meet Paul for a drink. Hoping that Vik's meeting doesn't go on too long.
23:55 Tim had a nice dinner with Paul and Julie. Last night in hotel bed this week and hoping for no bad dreams.

30 January
09:06 Tim is still in London today, home tonight woo! Also just ordered an E71 from O2.
15:16 Tim is enjoying the London friday feeling near Borough Market and really looking forward to coming home.

22:06 Tim reached consensus with May to exit no booze January ahead of schedule.

31 January
12:07 Tim has caught up with Million Dollar Traders, Lost, House and Skins.