Saturday, 21 May 2011


A few years ago I was privileged to be invited by Red Bull to a wine tasting at my favourite Thai restaurant, the impressive Blue Elephant in Fulham Broadway. It was organised to promote Monsoon Valley Wines that are produced in Thailand by the Siam Winery owned by Red Bull. Until then the thought of drinking wine made in Thailand went somewhat against the grain. But then, why should it? The winemaker had a fine French pedigree, and coincidentally had worked for a friend of mine, the wonderful chef Peter Chandler, owner of Paris House restaurant in Woburn who sadly died two years ago. 

The extreme temperatures of the Thai climate means vines can be grown with a high concentration of fruit. These are produced in two areas; in the hills around the coastal town of Hua Hin and on floating vineyards near to Samut Sokorn, 30 miles from Bangkok, in the Chao Phraya Delta on the Gulf of Thailand. The local grape varieties are Malaga Blanc and Pokdum - the latter, when blended with Shiraz and Black Muscat produces an excellent red. The wines, produced by the Siam Winery, are not at all bad and are an admirable compliment to spicy Thai food.  The wines are available in many Thai restaurants and I suggest that you give them a try if you want to be suitably impressed.

This brings me conveniently to another story that I became aware of this week  with the announcement that Moët and Chandon has invested in 163 acres of farmland at Ningxia, a region of China located south of the Mongolian steppe and Gobi Desert.  This is one of the poorest areas of China but the renowned Champagne producers will be bring added benefits to the economy by planting Pino Noir and Chardonnay vines that will produce China's first traditional method sparkling wine. Wine experts have said that the terroir of Ningxia closely match that of Rheims, although the Yellow River flood plane is very different to the soft water of the Marne. The company has a purpose-built winery that is jointly owned with Ningxia Nongken a local state owned agriculture company. Planting is due to begin in April or May next year and the first wines will be ready in three years although they cannot be called Champagne as to lay claim to the name wines must be produced in this region of France. 

The Chinese drink about one million bottles of Champagne a year despite it being heavily taxed and the overall consumption of wine in the country more than doubled between 2005 and 2009 to over one billion bottles a year. Once available, the local brand will allow more Chinese to enjoy a quality sparkling wine and Moët believes that it will encourage new drinkers to progress through the range of sparkling wines to eventually invest in Champagne.  

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


It is interesting; I had an exchange on Twitter with Jack Schofield who describes himself as a 'tech journo who covered IT for The Guardian'. I told him that he had been largely responsible for my development as a writer. After writing this Tweet I paused for thought and began considering people who have had the most influence over the way my life has panned out.  

Jack had been the editor of a magazine called Photo Technique during the early 1970s at a time when I took the plunge to start my photography business. I had been exceptionally well trained as a wedding photographer by Ron Hayward, who managed Wilkin Studios in Enfield. Ron had become my mentor and friend and it was entirely due to him that I became a professional photographer.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


Most people are capable of stringing words together to produce a reasonable piece of text but this does not necessarily mean that the copy they write is capable of reaching their targeted audience in the appropriate 'voice'. As we know, being able to communicate in the most effective way is often dependent on choosing the right words to persuade readers to react. When writing web content, key words embedded in the text are especially vital to optimise a site if it is to have any chance of being recognised by the search engines.

A fundamental mistake is that many writers fail to consider the needs of their audience. They tend to overload their text with references to I, me or we instead of addressing the reader by the second person pronoun - you.  This is symptomatic of DIY efforts by SMEs to create their own marketing communications - but they often unwittingly adopt a tunnel visioned approach caused by being too close to their business. Often they fail to distinguish the wood from the trees by not identifying the key features of their business that will be of most interest to their target audience. But writing about oneself is never easy. Trying to divorce yourself from your business ideals makes it almost impossible to write about it in an unbiased way. For this reason it makes perfect sense to employ a professional writer who, although speaking with your voice, will be able to put your messages across in a far more balanced way. 

Small and medium sized businesses frequently miss out on opportunities to gain good publicity by ignoring the potential that well-written press releases, newsletters and blogs have to offer. Businesses frequently have plenty of positive things happening within their organisations that, for one reason or another, they are not always conveying to their potential customers. Usually they are too busy or do not feel able to blow their own trumpet by conveying their good news in sharp, interesting and appropriately targeted marketing communications.  

Instead of missing the boat - most businesses can benefit by hiring a professional wordsmith to produce their written marketing communications.

Sunday, 8 May 2011


The football season is thankfully nearly over but what concerns me most is that there will be another one along very soon. It is a time for reflection and for the first time I am starting to doubt my sanity by bothering to get enthused as I anxiously await the next game.

I gave up watching England ages ago ... although I did try to become enthused during the World Cup but now it looks like Arsenal are going to be devoid of my support because I simply find them too frustrating to watch. I have been an ardent supporter of the Gunners for as long as I can remember. I went to my first game in 1958 when they beat West Bromwich Albion at Highbury 4-3. That day, Jackie Henderson scored twice for Arsenal, David Herd once and WBA put the other through their own net.  After that I didn't get to Highbury again until 1963-64 when my mate John Cochrane and I became old enough to go on our own. Previously my cousin Harry had taken me to Spurs but I was angry when, at the age of 11 my mother would not let me go to see them play Moscow Torpedo because it was a school night. Then, during the amazing 'double' season of 1960-61 I went with another cousin, Pete, and his mates during the days when we would need to queue at the schoolboys' entrance. However, my support for Arsenal never left me as I watched them suffer in the mid positions of the old First Division league table. On the night that Arsenal won the League Championship, ironically at Tottenham as the first stage of their 1970-71 'double' - I was unable to get in the ground and spent the evening with a girlfriend moping in a coffee bar in Tottenham High Road. 

Saturday, 7 May 2011


Along with other sports lovers everywhere I was saddened to learn of the death of Severiano Ballesteros at the age of just 54. He died from a brain tumour first diagnosed three-years ago. He was a terrific golfer, a professional's professional, and a truly great character. His passing will be a huge loss to golf and sport in general. 

I have my own fond memories of Seve. From 1986-1994 I was the official photographer for Dunhill at the British Masters Golf tournament held at Woburn Golf & Country Club. I met him for the first time in 1986 in the tent assigned to my team on the 1st tee at the ProAm event that preceded the main tournament. Seve had been teamed with Tim Brooke-Taylor, the former Goodie, who was naturally apprehensive about how his golf might stand up to scrutiny playing in the same foursome as the great master. Tim had cut his hand while searching for a ball during his warm up on the practice ground and as my wife applied first-aid to his injury they were filmed by TV cameras causing Tim further trepidation. Seve won the Masters that year and returned several times more, winning again in 1991. 


While tuned in to Radio 5 Live this morning as I slowly cruised through the M1 roadworks in south Bedfordshire, this weird little calculation was phoned in by another listener that I thought was worth sharing.

The roadworks has no connection to the story but is merely to set the scene and to emphasize that you can pick up the most useless pieces of trivia no matter where you happen to be! Apparently if you add the LAST TWO DIGITS of your date of birth to the age you will be NEXT birthday it will come to '101'. Now I tried this with several people I know and it was always correct. For example, if you were born on say 1 June 1961 you will be 50 next birthday. Add 61 to 50 - what do you get - 111. Peculiar isn't it?

I confess that I have not tested this out on more than a few people - so I will now sit back and wait to hear from anyone who can tell me that it doesn't work for them. I think it is interesting so please give it a try.

Thursday, 5 May 2011


I am quite certain this sort of thing happens to many hapless people and it is the sort of thing that you read about in the newspapers. What I cannot understand are the reasons why a few people feel they have the right to totally upset the equilibrium of other peace loving citizens by their selfish and hostile behaviour. It is the kind of thing we are used to seeing on The Jeremy Kyle Show when one family imposes will unfairly on another. But these aren't uneducated yobbos but adults who simply want to get their own way at everybody else's expense.

In this case I am of course referring to The Neighbour From Hell!

Sunday, 1 May 2011


Fallowfields Hotel and Restaurant has always had an excellent reputation for food and hospitality.

They have just announced the arrival of Shaun Dickens as Head Chef. Shaun's sparkling career has taken him to a Who's Who of Michelin starred restaurants; with three years at Oxfordshire’s own Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons (two Michelin stars), two years at Per Se in New York (3 Michelin stars) and L’Ortolan (1 Michelin star) where he worked with Alan Murchison for the last two years. Additionally, he spent short periods with Gordon Ramsay in London and New York, Michelle Roux Junior at the Gavroche and Daniel Boulud at Restaurant Daniels. In 2009 Shaun was a finalist of the Young Chef of the Year Competition, and in 2010 won the title for the South West Region and came 3rd overall nationally.

The world of Michelin seems open for Shaun, almost wherever he has chosen to go. So, why did he choose Fallowfields? "I am at a point in my career where I needed a project", says Shaun – "and Fallowfields, with its farm, orchards and kitchen garden, is a chef’s dream turned true. So when I saw Fallowfields was looking, I just knew this was the job for me". There was a sense of passion about Fallowfields that struck me when I first came, that matched my own – you could feel it - and with the passion that I as chef will bring, the future of Fallowfields is unlimited. The journey starts here, today the 26th April.

Anthony Lloyd, owner of Fallowfields commented: "This is an unparalleled opportunity for a good business to become a great business. We are food led and Shaun’s arrival has been anticipated with much excitement in the last few weeks. Right from the days when my wife Peta cooked in the kitchen on an Aga and we planted our vegetable garden and orchards and then starting the farm three years ago, Fallowfields has almost been sitting waiting for a talent like Shaun to come along to make it come alive".