No corkscrew ? No problem. A handy guide on how to open a bottle of wine.

vine-bottles-post

Now before we start let’s get this clear. This handy hack is for CORKED bottles only. I know that screw tops are becoming the rage now and you may not need this , but hey, you never know.

I’ve used this method several times and it doesn’t fail.

It would be super cool if this guide was to show you how to slice the top of a bottle off with a sword  like they do in Spanish sherry cellars but that would mean carrying a sword around with you JUST on the off chance that someone might have forgotten the corkscrew.

I don’t advise it.

Thus method is really simple and may come in handy if you’ve decided on an impromptu picnic for example and it was left to you to pack everything. First of all you go…Damn, I’ve forgotten the corkscrew. What are we going to do ?

Well, here’s what.

Get yourself a tea towel or a cloth of some sort and fold it over to cushion the base of the bottle. Then , hold the towel against a hard surface , a wall or a tree for example. Then, holding the bottle horizontally GENTLY but firmly tap the base of the bottle against the cloth. Continue doing this and you will see that gradually the pressure in the bottle will force the cork out. Wait until the cork is far enough out to grip it and then ease it out with your fingers. The wine has become a bit shaken so wait for it to settle.

Voila. You are welcome.

Probably best not to do this in a restaurant or with really expensive wine , but it’s a good one to keep up your sleeve for emergencies.

 

Taste wine like a pro

A few years ago I went out for dinner with a friend and was asked if I wanted to taste the wine. I did. And I did the usual thing we all do when we THINK we know what we’re doing but really haven’t got a clue. I raised the glass up , sniffed the wine and tasted a bit and went ‘ Mmm, yes , that’s fine.’ To be honest unless I’d been served cat piss I don’t think I’d know one from another.

I got the p.. taken for my sad efforts and rightly so. That year though , presumably having taken pity on me  , my friend bought me a wine tasting course as a birthday present and I’ll share with you here what I learned because believe me it does make a difference to your enjoyment and it’s the sort of thing that we as 50+ men should be confident in doing. We’ve been around long enough to have found stuff like this out.

Firstly , look at the wine. Hold it up to the light and check the clarity.

Secondly when the waiter has poured a little wine into the glass , swirl the wine around wine-legsgently so it rises up the sides of the glass. This serves two purposes ; one it allows the wine to aerate which improves the aroma and secondly when the wine pours back down the sides of the glass it leaves a trail known as ‘legs’. The legs of the wine are not an indication of quality but alcohol content. The thicker the legs , the higher the alcohol content. So try to avoid those wines that look like a glass of water with two drops of blackcurrant cordial in them.

Thirdly raise the glass to your nose and sniff…hard. That’s not the one that does anything wine-sniffthough. What you do now is sniff again and allow the bouquet to reach the back of your palate and stay there. The longer the bouquet stays on your palate the better the wine.

 

 

Then, and only then do you taste. Try and suck the wine through your pursed lips a bit like Hannibal Lechter when he does his ‘I ate his liver with some fava beans and a fine Chianti’ line. And do this twice. The first one is to prepare your palate and the second is the real taste. You will notice a difference between the two, I promise.

When you’ve gone through this whole palava you can then look at the waiter and go ‘That’s fine thank you.’ Pretty much the same as before but at least this time you look like you know what you’re doing. And when you do get a wine that tastes particularly good it is worth it.

Good luck with it.

 

Jasper Conran strikes again

Last week I decided to go shopping for some new jeans and made my way into the town centre. I know myself well enough now to know that one of two things will happen – I’ll either find exactly what I want within 10 minutes or I’ll be looking for hours and find nothing.

In a large department store in the centre which has some brilliant concessions in the men’s department ( Rocha John Rocha , Red Herring , Duffer St George , Jeff Banks , Mantaray ) I went downstairs to find some jeans only to be stopped in my tracks by the most amazing mid length coat which is a must-have for a modern gent’s wardrobe.jasper-conran-coat-2

jasper-conran-coat

Designed with a lustrous herringbone lining, it is crafted from a premium wool blend for a soft and luxurious feel. Finished in a navy shade it fastens with poppers and a zip. Jasper Conran had struck again. I am already the proud owner of a beautifully cut navy suit by good old JC and this coat was not something I was looking for but boy when I saw it, it was a must have it now moment. The coat will be perfect for walks along the beach or in the country on a chilly winter afternoon.Not cheap but with a 40% discount it had to be. From here on it got even better. I’ll go and have a look at the shoes I thought. Not looking for shoes but I hadn’t reckoned on the persuasive powers of Jasper Conran and his amazing outfits.

In the shoe department I found a stunning pair of chocolate brown men’s suede Chelsea boots. They were on display in my size , it was a sign.A perfect retro-looking smart casual addition boots-jasper-conranto my wardrobe. They will look amazing with  jeans or even a smarter pair of chinos. I did manage to finally get my jeans , not that day though. I was perhaps a bit giddy with excitement and my wallet was suffering from overuse.

But hey , who cares what was suffering. I am a proud owner of some amazing new clothes courtesy of one of my favourite designers , Jasper Conran.

 

My first September holiday

sept

After teaching for 23 years and running a supply teaching agency for 9 and a half I have always had to suffer that most awful of things…the school holiday and its’ added expense , noise and general inconvenience. Don’t get me wrong , I know teachers have loads of holidays blah blah blah and they should be grateful etc but the point I’m making is that when you’re involved in schools and have children of your own then you HAVE to go away in school holidays.

Except now.

Now I’m in my 50’s , my children are both adults. I have retired from my business and this year I went on holiday in September ! I know. For the first time in my life I holidayed out of the school holidays.

And what a treat it was. I’m going to do it every year from now on. And this is why…

There are no kids running around the place jumping into pools , yelling and screaming.

We chose to go to Greece for the first time and in September it is still hot but it’s not so hot that you can’t bear it. Like a lot of 50 somethings I’m going a bit thin on top and have to slap the factor 50 onto my balding bonce , not this time !

It’s coming towards the end of the season, for the Greeks at least, and they are trying to squeeze every last euro out of the tourist trade before they pull down the shutters and curl up for a nap till next March or April. So , there are some bargains to be had on excursions and the like as there are fewer tourists.

Restaurants , bars and tavernas are not as crowded as they are in the summer. We ate in a different restaurant most nights and didn’t need to book any of them. We did our research and as we enjoy eating good food we found some really lovely places.

The cost of accommodation is A LOT cheaper. We spent less than 300 euros for a whole week in a spotlessly clean self catering apartment. During the summer it is more than double that.

You find the people who go away at that time are very similar to you. They are of a similar age and outlook probably because they’ve all cottoned on to the magic of the September break.

It’s so quiet everywhere and that’s not just because of the lack of children. Even round pools and on the flights you notice a sense of calm and tranquility around you, as if everyone is party to some special secret.

So all in all , I have to say ,for a first time September holidaymaker, I am a convert. I will be back and I will see if my theory holds true for Malta which was booked for a week next September about 2 days after coming home !

Karate…a way of living

Karate

Some eight years ago now I nervously entered a local dojo to try out karate. I’d always harboured a desire to do a martial art properly but life, as it often does , got in the way.

I remember my first lesson well and the look on my wife’s face when I got home saturated in sweat. I hadn’t worked so hard for years.

I started karate when I was 48 and now I’m a very proud black belt. But you can ask any karateka if that black belt is the most important thing and I guarantee they’ll all say no.

I’ve practised many sports in my life , most of them to a level of ineptitude in keeping with my ability and all those sports have given me is some memories of games I’ve played and several friends.

Karate is different. Karate impacts on every aspect of your life.

The most obvious is fitness. My level of cardio-vascular fitness is probably better now than when I played rugby at university some 30 years ago. The warm up and basic training , not to mention sparring and fitness drills take it out of you like nothing I’ve ever done before.

Muscle toning. The repeated kicking and punching, warm up and cardio exercises linked to karate have a huge impact on muscle toning and the extra training for conditioning can have a positive effect on bone density and stave of effects of arthritis.

Self confidence has soared. This comes from the knowledge that if something did happen , I could probably look after myself. I don’t mean I walk around with a ‘don’t mess with me ‘ look on my face. I haven’t got the face for that. But what it is I think is a sort of inner confidence that you give off by the way you walk and act around others.

Respect is key in all martial arts. If you are concerned, as I was , that you’d be walking into a dojo a nervous wreck and people will laugh if you get it wrong. Don’t. Martial arts are rooted in respect and if the sensei runs classes properly then there will be a series of bows and thanks at the beginning and end of each lesson. These rituals are followed everywhere that karate is practised and are fundamental to the art.

Breathing. What ? Yes, breathing. We generally don’t breathe properly because we breathe into our lungs which is too shallow for us to get the real health benefits. Karate trains you to breathe deeply into the diaphragm and the benefits are too numerous to mention here. Look it up somewhere. I promise you it’s pretty amazing.

Flexibility. Ok I started when I was 48, I’m never going to be able to flick a kick at anyone’s earlobe but I know something , I’m a LOT more flexible than when I started training. Stretching and flexing are part of the general warm up and warm down in classes and you will see the impact very quickly.

So if you want to try something that will impact on EVERY area of your life , that will benefit your health and mental well being and that has NO upper age limit then give karate a try.

Just think , they practise karate in Okinawa and that island has the highest number of centenarians on the planet. Coincidence ??

To Tip or Not to Tip

Earlier this year we were fortunate enough to spend some time in Las Vegas and we have already been to New York a couple of times. When you’re in the USA things are pretty clean cut , you tip. You tip , it’s expected. Employees at restaurants , bars , hotels and so on are not well paid and it is understood that we , as the consumer , should supplement their income by tipping. We are even given a handy guide in some restaurants suggesting amounts based on varying percentages.Now , what is also understood by the employee it that the tip , whilst it is expected , has to be earned and as a result 90% of the time , certainly from my experiences , you get really good customer service in the USA. They deserve every penny.

That is not the case everywhere however and this is my dilemma.

I refuse to tip simply as a matter of course. To give a couple of examples ; on a recent holiday to Greece we took a day trip to a nearby island. The tour guide was on the boat but not particularly visible. She refused to accompany the group to  visit the chapel from ‘Mamma Mia’ saying that she’d visited it a few times and it was too hot anyway. During our lunch at a local taverna rather than circulate and check how everyone was she opted to sit and chat with her friends for an hour. On the way way back though , as soon as the boat became visible form the shoreline of the upcoming port she, and her friends , suddenly became very animated. Playing music at full volume , encouraging everyone to stand and clap hands to say ‘Look at what a great time we’re having !’ As the boat docked she announced that she would accept tips and promptly held out a large bucket labelled ‘ TIPS’. I am now old enough not to fall for that emotional blackmail and stoically ignored her as I walked past. Earn your tip ! Don’t expect it. You did nothing exceptional and yet you expect us to pay more simply because you ask. NO.

And this brings me to my second example. A group of four of us went to a local pub restaurant for a meal and were greeted by our charming and jolly waitress who enthusiastically talked us through the menu.

‘This is looking good’ I thought ‘ She could be heading for a nice tip by the end of this’. Starters and mains were dispatched and it came to dessert.

Where had she gone ? She was at the other end of the pub clearing tables and try as we might there was no way we could attract her attention.We had to ask someone else to get our desserts. Consequently , any chance she had of a tip disappeared in that moment.

It sounds as if I have made a set of arbitrary rules for the tipping game that only I understand. Not true. All I expect in a restaurant , hotel , shop is to be served politely , helpfully and with some degree of enthusiasm. Recognise that I am not your friend , don’t call me ‘mate’ , as a consumer I expect to be treated with some degree of respect but not the unctuous grovelling from a Dickens novel.

My final example comes from a recent visit to a hotel with a restaurant near London. Our delightful waitress got it absolutely spot on. She was attentive , we didn’t wait for any order to be taken or food to be brought . She was chatty but not too much , telling us about how she’d recently tried the meal we ordered. She was enthusiastic , she clearly knew what she was doing and was keen to tell us about the specials.

Not difficult.In fact , very , very simple. Result ? She was given a big tip and the manager was told what a good job she’d done.

It’s a lesson to be learned. As consumers we have a dilemma about whether we tip or don’t tip. Make our lives easier , please,by doing the job well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Health and Safety break in Skiathos

img_0413
Skiathos from the old port

In early September we spent a week in Skiathos , a tiny island in the Aegean sea.It was , to all intents and purposes , a chance for us to relax after a particularly stressful house move. So avoiding stress was high on the agenda.

It appears to be quite high on the Greek agenda too.

What we first noticed was the volume of mopeds whizzing up and down tiny streets , on main roads , dirt tracks , everywhere. Not only were they whizzing about but they were whizzing about with riders with no helmets and generally no protective gear at all. In some cases they were used to pick up children from school by slightly overweight dads who then precariously balanced up to three small children on the moped and proceeded to whiz up and down streets as before.

As we sat down for a few pre-dinner cocktails looking over the picturesque old port we perused our menus and saw that there was a lack of any indication or notification of the calorie content of any drink , no indication of whether anything contained nuts , gluten or other additives. Their one consent was to state if a dish was suitable for vegetarians. But you did get a feeling that it was done grudgingly.

Wherever we went on the island stone stairs wound up hills with alarmingly irregular steps. There was an absence of warnings about the perils of getting too close to the edge when enormous ferries came in to dock.

Best of all however is the cafe that caters for aeroplane spotters with a difference. The airport runway in Skiathos is alarmingly close to the road. So close in fact that if you stand on the roadside while the plane is turning before take-off you can see pilots and passengers clearly waving to you. You are kept from harms way in all of this by a 3 foot high barrier and a sign saying `Be aware of engine blast when planes take off `. As the planes were a mere 100 yards from us blasting hot air at a rate of knots into our faces it was hard not to be aware of it.

img_0408
Precariously close to the runway

Similarly when planes landed , flying over the road at a height of no more than the average house , there was no warning to anyone of engine noise or potential danger of planes not quite making it to the runway and landing unceremoniously on your head.

The point of all this is that no-one cared. No-one cared a jot that motorcyclists had no helmets and were transporting small children clinging on like baby chimpanzees. It was their responsibility. The children seemed perfectly happy.

No-one cared that the meals weren`t labelled telling us of every possible allergy and how many calories we`d be consuming. It was our responsibility.

In fact during our whole week there the Greeks showed a refreshing disregard for the Nanny state mentality that we suffer in the UK on a daily basis. What they were saying was , “This is how it is. We know it might be dangerous , it probably is. But hey, you`re grown-ups. Take some responsibility. If there`s a motorbike with a dad and three children coming down the same street as you , get out of the way.”

The Greeks on Skiathos seemed extremely content and happy with their lives. They were , as far as we could tell , being left to get on with things like adults and to make decisions like adults. If they got hurt because they were too close to an airplane taking off then that`s their problem. It`s an airplane , what do you expect.

In the UK the balance has tipped too far the other way and we are led through our lives each day with everyone too petrified to do anything that would endanger anyone. Maybe the Greek way is too far the other way , but from our short time there I think I know which I’d prefer. I’m just off to get my moped.