Cafe Rouge

I met with my friend Anne on Wednesday, which was good because we are both so busy we rarely get time to see each other. I must start by saying that we had intended to have a quiet drink and maybe a little bite to eat in the Grosvenor Hotel. It’s attached to Victoria Station, so very convenient, and we went in there the last time we met up.

I hate to say this, but the last time we met, we found the maitre d’ a trifle off-putting, and Wednesday was exactly the same. I don’t know why, Anne was dressed in casual clothes and my coat is a bit old and tatty (what can I say? Buying a new coat hasn’t been at the top of my list of priorities. I know I need to get one for next year, but I can tell you all, I’ve seen very wealthy people look far worse than I do). Anyway, one way of another, the first time, he got a pass. This time, we decided to take our custom elsewhere. So we went to Cafe Rouge in Victoria Place instead.

How pleased am I that we did! We had the best waiter in the whole of London, a lovely young man named Curtis who was so attentive and pleasant that we nearly missed the meeting we were due to attend. Curtis, I hope you read this, because you were a star.

Anne and I had both had dental things going on, so our “meal” was quite strange – chips and olives. And, of course, wine. So the Grosvenor’s loss was our gain. The food was cheaper too.

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As usual, Anne gave me some interesting info from her spooky friends, I am keeping everything crossed that they have got the timing right. I shall report back on that in due course.

I ended up going to a meeting with Anne about Organo Gold coffee. Organo Gold is known as healthy coffee, with a reduced amount of caffeine, and containing Ganoderma lucidum.

Ganoderma is a genera of mushroom currently being investigated for their potential to assist in antioxidant activities, protecting the liver, lowering blood glucose, antibacterial and antiviral effects and in reducing blood cholesterol to name a few. Ganoderma lucidum specifically is being trialled in chemotherapy patients and has been shown to give a better response to the drug therapy, although I think it’s fair to say that those trials are in the early stages. It’s also been shown to improve immune functions in those patients (chemotherapy often compromises the immune system, so anything that helps strengthen it is a plus.

It is traditionally used in Chinese medicine to enhance longevity and generally enhance health. If it does all the things I’ve said above, it’s easy to see how it would do all these things, although like most things, you can have too much of a good thing, and it also thins the blood, and is apparently useful in altitude sickness.

I am unashamedly a full-strength caffeine, filter coffee type of girl, and I don’t normally buy instant coffee at all, but I will say that the Gourmet Black Coffee was remarkably pleasant. I don’t think I’ll give up normal coffee, but as someone who has a couple of types of liver disease, I think I will try Organo Gold, to see what effect it has. I’m also going to get some for my friend Geoff, the one who had the rare form of leukaemia. They do tea and hot chocolate too. I’ve tried the jasmine tea, but not the other yet, so I can’t comment on that. You can purchase it here if you are interested in trying it:

http://annegermain.myorganogold.com/gb-en/

A little bit of history of coffee in England

Coffee is thought to have originated in Ethiopia as far back as the thirteenth century. The Arabs tried to prevent it from being cultivated elsewhere so they banned the export of fertile coffee beans. It wasn’t until 1616 that the Dutch managed to find a way around the ban and took plants back to the Netherlands to grow in greenhouses. By the late 1600s, the Dutch were growing coffee in India, in Malabar, and in 1699, they took plants to be grown in Java (now Indonesia), hence the name of my favourite, Hot Java Lava. By now, the Dutch were the main suppliers of coffee to Europe.

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Of course, coffee had competition: from tea and hot chocolate. Tough choices. The first European coffee houses opened in Venice in 1683. Lloyd’s of London, the largest insurance market in the world, started life in a London coffee house in 1688. The coffee houses flourished because there was no alcohol, so they were considered to be more serious places. It’s always better to do business without those beer goggles. They played an important role in what is known as the Age of Enlightenment. In fact, the first coffee houses in England were established in Oxford rather than London, the first being opened in 1650, called the Angel. Christopher Wren was one of those who frequented the Oxford coffee houses. However, London wasn’t far behind, with the first being opened in 1652.

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The coffee houses were also closely associated with news, and The Spectator and The Tatler were widely circulated and considered to be the most influential publications in the coffee houses.

Were women allowed in coffee houses? Historians disagree, with some saying they weren’t allowed, while others say that they mostly chose not to go there because they and their conversation were male dominated. There was, however, a “Women’s Petition Against Coffee,” by those who claimed it made men sterile and impotent!!! Interesting when you consider that when it was first introduced, coffee was considered to be a medicinal drink and I can think of a number of women who’d be force feeding their men coffee if that were actually true.

By the end of the eighteenth century, the coffee houses started to decline. Again, historians don’t universally agree on the reason, in fact, it seems that there were a number of reasons for it, not the least being that the government tried to influence the demand for tea, as a result of positioning of the British East India Company (the John Company). Certainly, tea overtook coffee in popularity.

As far as I can tell, it wasn’t until the 1950s that coffee bars started to rise in popularity again. Predominately frequented by the young, there is the image of juke boxes and Teddy Boys that comes to my mind. But it was in 1894 that Lyons opened a teashop in Piccadilly. By 1909 the chain of Lyons Corner Houses opened up, finally closing in 1977. They were four or five stories high, and were open for twenty four hours a day for a while.

Costa Coffee opened up in the 1970s and from there they’ve gone from strength to strength. You barely go anywhere nowadays without seeing a Starbucks or Caffe Nero or a Wild Bean Cafe. There’s even opened up a little coffee bar at my local station.

So there we have it. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate. They’ll all do for me. As I’m such a big tea fan, I probably need to write about that soon.

© Susan Shirley 2015

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A Little Bit about the City

Gianni and I went on another of David Charnick’s walks yesterday (http://charnowalks.co.uk/) – Law and Order EC. As I’d recommended David to Gianni, I hoped she wouldn’t be disappointed. She wasn’t. David is very knowledgeable, but his passion for his subject shines through when he speaks. His tours are really well worth it and I’ll be going on more in the future.

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The tour started outside of Liverpool Street Station and covered some of the history of the City of London Police as well as the murders of some City police officers, bombings and ended up at the Old Bailey. This was the first of these tours that David had run, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. It was particularly good that it took place on a Saturday – there are still places to eat and drink open in the City but not the vast numbers of people that you get during the week, so it was much more comfortable for walking and listening to a tour guide. It may only have been a small geographic area, but there was a lot to learn on this tour, and anyway, I always find the City fascinating.

The Watch House, Giltspur Street
The Watch House, Giltspur Street

One place that I found absolutely charming was the Watch House in Giltspur Street. This watch house (the places the watchmen, the law keepers before we had a police force, used to be based) was built in 1791, destroyed in 1941 and rebuilt in 1962. It was built here partly to watch over the graveyard in the church behind it, St Sepulchre’s, because of the increase in body snatching. The watch house has a bust of essayist Charles Lamb outside. The plaque below this bust says,

“This memorial was moved here in December 1962 from Christchurch Greyfriars, Newgate Street, which stands beside the former site of Charles Lamb’s school Christ’s Hospital.”

Giltspur Street itself has its own history, unrelated to the tour. It was originally known as Knightsriders Street or Knyghtsrider Street (or similar) because back in the 14th and 15th centuries, Knight’s used to ride along here on the way to jousting tournaments in Smithfield, which is just down the road. I’m not absolutely certain why it changed name but I suppose it’s not a stretch to become Giltspur Street – Knights wore spurs, so…

More important facts about Giltspur Street (or Knightriders Street) are that it was here, in 1381, that Richard II met with the leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt. The king agreed to meet their demands, but the then Lord Mayor of London, William Walworth, lured one of the main men, Wat Tyler, away and stabbed him. Tyler sought sanctuary in the nearby St Bartholomew’s Church but he was dragged out and beheaded, ending the revolt.

It was William the Conqueror who clearly defined the Law of Sanctuary in 1070, which was only allowed for 40 days, and it wasn’t until 1624 that a law was passed to abolish sanctuary, so I think it must have been quite bad form to actually disregard it. Not that it made a difference to poor old Wat.

One of the streets running off of Giltspur Street is Cock Lane (so-named, because it was where a number of legal brothels were situated back in the day…). At the junction of these two roads is a little statue there called the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, where the Great Fire of London ended. These are all places I shall be investigating further in due course.

At the Smithfield end of Giltspur Street stands St Bartholomew’s Hospital, or Barts as it is more commonly known in London, the oldest hospital in Europe. I’ll be writing more about Barts on Wizzley, so if you are interested, take a look there:

http://wizzley.com/authors/Telesto/

 

The Guildhall
The Guildhall

 

The Old Bailey
The Old Bailey

©Susan Shirley 2015

The Pen is Mightier than…. Je Suis Charlie

It was a quiet week for me, personal wise, apart from my rant at the beginning of the week (all ongoing, I’ll provide an update as soon as I have one. Suffice it to say, I am even more sympathetic to anyone who has been the victim of identity theft) and having a drink with my little friend, Hot Chocolate.

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She’ll hate me for calling her that, but it’s quite a funny story. A couple of years ago, we were out in a bar in Covent Garden, having a quiet drink, minding our own business, not interfering with anyone. Hot Chocolate went up to the bar to get another bottle, and whilst there, an American chap started to talk to her. Actually, it was a bit more than talk; he took her hand in his and started stroking it, saying,

“Hot chocolate, I love hot chocolate.”

(Note to self: something vaguely creepy about that, I think.)

 

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He proceeded to invite her to spend “some time with him,” but my little mate declined politely and came back over to our table with our wine. I dare say that the fact that he had extremely bad taste in suits had as much to do with that as my scintillating personality. It’s been a standing joke ever since. I blame Hot Chocolate for bearing her arms in public. That evening, at the beginning of last week, was peaceful and fun, and promised a good New Year.

Since then, of course, the world seems to have turned on its axis. People who know me will know that I am not a political animal. I have no desire to write a political blog. I take an interest in politics purely because it affects me, but I have never been on a political rally or been a member of any political party in my life. But like most people, I have been shocked and stunned by the events in Paris on 7 January 2015, and I want to express my condolences to the families of all who were murdered on that day.

I think that those people who don’t understand why we in the UK is showing such solidarity don’t understand the connection between what happened in Paris and what has happened here in the UK in earlier years (yes, I do mean 7 July 2005), the Twin Towers in America and other terrorist attacks across the world. There is most definitely a link and, in my opinion, all terrorists are worse than scum, but I do not approve of using bad language in my blog.

I don’t always like what is written in the press, nor do I always like some of the satirical cartoons drawn – see the Guardian on 7 January but I’m not putting the link in. I find some of them offensive, but I have the right to turn the page and not look at them any further. I’ll tell you what I’m not going to do about my displeasure. I am not going down to the Guardian offices and kill everyone who works there. If something annoys me, I write about it. Even if I don’t write it here, I write my feelings down (you never know when they might come in useful for a novel!). However much we may moan, here in the Western World, we are lucky enough to be able to pretty much say and do what we want. The pen is mightier than the sword and our right to freedom of speech is something to be defended, to the death in the case of Charlie Hebdo.

Terrorism has nothing to do with religion. It uses religion as a front, a bit like a bookies or a restaurant might be used for money laundering. And when it drives a wedge between decent people of all races and religions it wins. So it is our duty, it is incumbent on all of us, to ensure that we don’t let the terrorists win, that we don’t turn against our neighbours and start to question the beliefs of people with different religions. At the risk of offending half the world, I have always thought that the major religions all teach the same thing: treat other people the way you want to be treated, don’t kill and don’t steal. I think that pretty much covers it and I apologise if I’ve missed anything, and offended anyone, that was not my intention.

Finally, I must just say a little thank you to Aman and her young male colleague (whose name I have forgotten) in my local Nationwide branch. They were lovely people to speak to, and very helpful and polite as well. I had a nice little chat. Please don’t think that I just pop into banks and building societies for a chat, that would just be silly, I had a legitimate reason for going in there, it just happened that I spent a bit longer than I had intended. It proves to me that there are still some truly lovely people in the world.

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Je Suis Charlie

 

© Susan Shirley 2015

 

The Start of a New Year…

2015 has got off to quite a trying start. I had (and still have) some problems with my website www.susanshirley.me.uk. For some reason that neither I nor the hosting company can understand, it temporarily wiped all my information. Ok, it’s a static site and there is not that much on there, but that’s not really the point. The site was down for about 36 hours. The hosting company was, frankly, less than helpful, a decision they will regret when it’s time to renew my contract in 2016. When I tried to do a further update last night, the site wouldn’t let me make the changes, although I checked today and it was ok. ???????? I still have some updates to do it though, I’ve realised, so that should be fun.

Just after Christmas, I checked my credit file. I check it every month through a company called Noddle, which is free to join. Four separate credit checks showed up on 21 December, from insurance companies. I can assure anyone who is prepared to listen that I did not request any insurance quotes nor did I give any company permission to do any credit checks on me. The next thing I knew was that Equifax notified me that some checks had been done, and, lo and behold, more insurance companies had been doing checks on me. Miss Shirley was not amused.

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Miss Shirley was even less amused when, having put the queries through to the credit reference agencies, two of the companies have refused to remove the checks (one agreed and the others are still outstanding). One of the credit reference agencies, unhelpfully in my opinion, told me the names of the companies to contact, but not name or address. The other one, at first, just replied and said that insurance companies may do credit checks when you ask for a quote. Really? And I thought it was just if I wanted to buy a pair of Jimmy Choos!

Now, you can call me paranoid if you want, but I think there is something decidedly dodgy about checks being done when I haven’t authorised them. I think it is even dodgier that, despite all the publicity about identity theft, it is virtually impossible to get anyone in an insurance company to give you a sensible answer as to how to deal with this. If you don’t believe me, check out the websites of a few of them: they give you a telephone number if you want car insurance, a telephone number if you want buildings and contents insurance, and so on, but do they give you a number if you are concerned about fraudulent checks? No, they don’t. At the risk of sounding like Queen Victoria, Miss Shirley was decidedly “not amused” yet again.

The Financial Ombudsman was far more helpful. They gave me addresses for the insurance companies, so I’ve now written to the offending companies, joined an organisation called Cifas (which is an organisation dedicated to prevent fraud, it’s not fee, but worth it to me) and have taken various other measures, so if anyone is trying to steal my identity, don’t waste your time, it’s not going to work, and I haven’t got any money anyway. I spent most of the morning on this, including notifying my bank, who have put a marker on my account, and this is all without being sure that any identity theft has taken place.

I’ll keep you updated about this as, I’m sure you can tell, my dudgeon is very high.

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In the meantime, please do take care of your personal data. Don’t put your full date of birth on Facebook and the like, change your online passwords regularly, don’t use the same one for all sites (stop groaning, I know it’s a pain, but trust me, it’s better than the alternative). If you do think you’ve been a victim of identity theft, start here:

http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/fraud_protection/identity_fraud

© Susan Shirley 2015