Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I Couldn't Survive Without Good Coffee

My coffee ran out this morning but I was seeing a friend at Tinderbox in Angel Islington which meant I was assured of a great cup of coffee. Tinderbox only has two stores--London and Glasgow--and the London one is about to move around the corner to a very light and spacious new shop. Isn't it nice to hear about something not closing down. Their coffee is serious. It's strong, dense, immensely tasty with just the right amount of milk in the latte. It's not the drowned rat of a coffee that Starbucks provides. No, this is individual coffee for folks who care.

I do care about coffee. I drink it every day so I want coffee that will give me something to relish. Everyone has their favourite coffee shop and mine is the Algerian Coffee Stores in Old Compton Street in Soho (a 120 years old according to their website). I first went there as a student when they used to sell their coffee in 2oz packets. They have around 70 different coffees from single origin coffees to their own blends. I went through every single one. By the way it's easy to miss this shop as it is quite small even though its frontage is painted bright red.

The first I tasted was a blend called Esotico. Even the name gets the imagination going on what the coffee will be like. Well, after the other 69 I returned to this and have remained faithful ever since. Esotico is a high roasted bean with a lot of oil. It glistens in the light. Its combination of visual impact and smell is almost unbearable. (Indeed, I want to be buried with some as I fear the afterlife might be a bit bland. I suspect Starbucks might have the franchise there.)

Slight digression here: I like strong tastes, always have. This is why I like Esotico and why years ago when I smoked for a while I only smoked French cigarettes, Gauloises Disque Bleu (Jean Paul Sartre smoked these) or Gitanes (especially the ones rolled in yellow paper). Now I love Thai food and Mexican, and sushi without wasabi would be painful. I do have taste buds, believe me.

From Tinderbox I cycled into Soho to buy my coffee fix. A kilo of Esotico beans in two 500 gram bags, vacuum sealed. I use two Gaggia coffee machines to make my coffee throughout the day. In the morning the Gaggia Classic hits me with an espresso before I plunge into the morning darkness for the gym. For this one I have to grind and tamp, which is a satisfying process. How much of twist shall I give the tamper this morning? The urge to experiment never ends.

Later on when I'm in my study my Gaggia Titanium indulges my laziness by doing it all automatically.

Just as the coffee must be nurtured--stored correctly, ground just so, the water at the right temperature and more--so must the machines. They need tending which is part of their charm. After dismantling one of these babies, you are at one with the coffee cosmos. There are times I have sought succour on the coffee forums when a machine has turned grumpy or is injured (yes, I do anthropomorphism, they are real), and the relief when someone responds empathetically and understands your quandary is profound. This is true symbiosis.

Please, don't ever take your coffee for granted. It is one of the vital essentials of life!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Comedy Redux

It's back.

I have restarted with my comedy group run by indefatigable Chris Head. We are such a different bunch this time. There are three of us from last autumn but the others are new. Well, they aren't really new, quite the opposite actually. Some of them have done rather a lot of gigs.

For us tyros, it was scary at first. We're just going to end up doing pratfalls and being hauled off with a giant hockey stick. But actually it hasn't been anywhere as bad as that. Maybe we are being too lovey dovey with each other. No one really says anything bad about anyone else. Indeed it's what they don't say that seems far more important. Pauses pregnant with what?

The aim of our group is improve our writing. For tonight we had to talk about five cock ups in your life. I played around with various things like sleepwalking through coal cellars, playing with my father's dum dum bullets that he left around the house (duh?), ending up in an operating theatre in Nairobi supposedly assisting in an operation but fleeing after being asked to identify some very unidentifiable and gruesome part of the body on the table.

No, I let that go and talked about the building of my house. Of course it revolves around the stupidity of the enterprise--if you get the urge to build: don't--and the incompetence of those involved from blithering, useless wife to Teutonic, Marxist architect to builder from Essex (surely no comment required...How many brains do people in Essex have? None, they wouldn't know what to do with them even if they had any.)

My own role will surely be heroic, honourable, and honesly stupid for ever thinking of doing it in the first place.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Murder One: Death by Degrees

It's a while since I posted about my love of detective stories. We in London have been lucky to have a bookshop specializing in the genre, Murder One, run by Maxim Jakubowski. Besides running the shop Maxim edits collections of murder stories, eg. London Noir, and writes his own books. And each week he would send us a newsletter with the latest books on offer.

This week (Jan 13) he sent his final newsletter:
It is with much sadness that this newsletter, which will also be our final one in this form, will confirm the news many of you might have already heard: Murder One will be closing its doors at the end of January; however in all likelihood we will all be working from behind closed doors packing and dismantling the shop from the 24th January.

It is not a decision that has been taken lightly. We have been making small losses for the past few years, and had actually been trying to find a buyer to coincide with Maxim's likely retirement later this year. Sadly after extensive talks with a couple of parties, these negotiations have failed due to the current economic climate which has discouraged the optimism of possible investors. In addition, the Pound Sterling's fall of 30% against the value of the US Dollar over past weeks has made the cost our American imports so much higher, thus badly affecting our future profitability.

Since our inception, we have never had bank borrowings or an overdraft and it is a fact we are particularly proud of. With the current poor prospects for retail on Britain's streets, now would not prudently be the time to go down that road, we felt.

We've survived almost 21 years which is not a bad innings in a time when chains and the Internet benefit from outrageously more favourable terms from publishers than a single independent bookshop.

When the news broke, it was covered by all the major British newspapers and television and brought heartfelt expressions of dismay from all: customers, journalists, publishers, authors. I can only say THANK YOU most sincerely (and a particular nod to the wonderful people at Orion, who also sent over complimentary champagne for the staff...).

On the positive side, two of our senior staff Tanya and Trisha have made an offer to acquire the mail order side of the business and the website, which has been accepted subject to contract and legal requirements. I sincerely hope they can keep the Murder One name alive and that you will be willing to continue doing business with them.

They will be contacting all existing and prospective customers soon with their plans.

It's been a great adventure. Thank you.


Friday, January 09, 2009

Being Ready to Tackle 2009

Are you ready for the challenges of 2009? Here's a guide by T.S. Eliot to help you through the next 12 months.

(Thanks to the New Yorker)

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Change Agenda - Whom Are You Callin' "Irreverent"?

A new legal web 2.0 site, Legal OnRamp, is engendering exciting discussions on the changes coming to the legal profession. One such is the title of this post--an American Lawyer feature--which was started by Legal OnRamp's founder, Paul Lippe, about how lawyers will need to speak change. We are seeing major law firms imploding in the US and I imagine it won't be long before UK law firms suffer similar fates.

On change I will make 3 points based on research I've done:

1. Change is often related to age and status. The most amenable to change are the young and the old. This last might seem at odds with conventional wisdom, but if looked at in the context of what law firms do, it isn't.

Middle ranking partners are the most committed to the status quo because they are at most risk, both personally (eg. family commitments) and professionally (eg. business practice subject to radical change because of credit crisis). Senior partners, those who become law firm managers, are the ones who will promote change. There are at least two reasons for this: one is that they can from their position take a global view; and two, they are preparing for when they leave the firm. As we know from the research being done, law firms retire their lawyers earlier. If you want a second career after being laid off at 55, you must prepare for one. Successful senior managers in law firms have been successful in garnering second careers as eg. investment bankers, government officials, company directors and so on. Non-managing partners don't move into these positions.

Younger lawyers tend to embrace change as normal.

2. Some of the most successful and rewarding firms are those that have continued to embrace some notion of professionalism in their modes of work. They are smaller but they are successful. One feels they have made deliberate choices to be lawyers rather than just business people. This is not to say business is wrong--I'm making no moral judgment here. But the late 20th century has been conspicuous by its abandonment of what might be referred to as professional values.

3. Now that the British government has unleashed the changes in the Legal Services Act 2007, lawyers everywhere have little choice but to anticipate and expect enormous change to modes of practice. Extreme commoditization of work, abandonment of partnership (inefficient decisionmaking), and much more sophisticated use of marketing tools (look at Tesco's loyalty card and see how much data it contains on customers).

Alternative business structures (MDPs) are going to change the face of legal practice. Do lawyers recognize this? No, they don't. At least, not yet.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


There is now a social network for academics at Academia.edu. Julian Webb has blogged on it. You can put up your CV, papers, websites, and link with others. It isn't just for faculty; research students can participate. Definitely worth supporting.

One interesting aspect to it is that when someone searches for you on Google, it will inform you of the search and the terms used.

Here's what Academia.edu looks like:


Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Elephant Sanctuary

In the midst of the credit crisis charities will need our help even more. I support a few, one of which is the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

Here's an example of what they do. Ned was confiscated by the USDA from a circus trainer who put him into this emaciated condition. The sanctuary is gradually restoring Ned to health.