Wenlock and Mandeville
Harrods Department Store
Easter Eggs
Tipping in America
Chichen Itza
Taco Bell
Miami Day One

Wenlock and Mandeville

What represents Great Britain’s cultural heritage, are the embodiment of Great Britain’s Olympic team, the pride of the British public and are made in China?  The answer is of course London 2012’s two mascots; Wenlock and Mandeville (Wenlock on left & Mandeville on right).  To some they are they are the very essence of this festival of sport.  To others they are merely ludicrous and infantile phallic eyesores.  London 2012 chairman Lord Coe has skilfully deflected any potential criticism by stating that the mascots are aimed at children and have the ability to inspire them to participate in sport.

Wenlock is named after the Shropshire town of Much Wenlock, home of the Wenlock games and the birthplace of the modern Olympics.  Mandeville is named after the famed Stoke Mandeville hospital in Buckinghamshire, where Sir Ludwig Guttman, the German neurologist and father of the Paralympics founded a spinal unit in the 1940’s.  The story of Wenlock and Mandeville’s creation could have come from the annals of Greek mythology.  It is said that they were formed from the very last drops of steel from the final support girder used to build the London 2012 stadium.

Not only do Wenlock and Mandeville have their own website, they also have Twitter and Facebook pages, in addition to their own story written by Michael Morpurgo and an animated film.  Over the forthcoming months we will all become very familiar with Wenlock and Melville, as they will be making regular  appearances in a wide range of attire, emblazoned with the much maligned London 2012 logo.

Will Wenlock and Mandeville’s legacy be synonymous with the success of London 2012 or will they be remembered only as objects of ridicule?  If in two or three Olympics time the next Chris Hoy or Jessica Ennis cite Wenlock and Mandeville as being their childhood inspiration for abandoning their sedentary lifestyle to pursue sporting excellence then their legacy will have been secured.

What is your opinion of Wenlock and Mandeville?

Harrods Department Store

Founded in 1834, Harrods  has been popular with London’s wealthy residents and foreign visitors for generations.  As I enter the shop and make my way towards the escalators, a thought occurs to me.  What if you found out that you had won a free gift from Harrods worth between two point five and six times the national average annual pre-tax salary of about £26k?  I expect that you would punch the air with delight and jump up and down in the excited manner of a child.  But there’s a catch you are told.  Your celebrations stop and you listen intently.  The gift that you will be receiving is to be the most overpriced, useless and tasteless item in the store as voted by your peers.  Your expression of glee is replaced by one of confusion but you remain hopeful.  For how bad can a prize costing a small fortune be?

I make the decision to try and locate some potential prize material and decide to make the Fine Arts department my first port of call.  I am met by the sight of a Maquette Jelly Baby Family (see picture 1), created by Mauro Perucchetti.  These are all the rage and there are currently examples at Marble Arch, the tallest of which is 3.2m.  They are an acquired taste and personally I do not find them overly offensive but the price tag of £65k is oppressive, due in part to the fact that these jelly babies are made out of pigmented urethane resin, which I am aware from previous research retails for as little as £28.05 per kilo.  Art is of course a highly contentious and personal matter.  I decide to move on.

Next stop is a department that one would describe as dining orientated.  There are various dining fowl including this large silver swan (see picture 2).  It has no stated purpose other than to sit in the middle of one’s dining table, the light from the chandelier above flickering invitingly on its silver contours.  That is all good and well but with a price tag of £150k I would be expecting far more.

I am perusing the items in the Luxury Gifts department when I stumble into this (picture 3).  A nearly two metre long ostentatious heron-headed boat with mannequins striking ludicrous and vulgar poses on its deck.  A glance at the £124,400 price tag confirms that my search is over.  For not only does this eye-sore have no purpose but it will also take up a great deal of space in your sitting room leaving you little room for a sofa let alone a widescreen television, in addition to leaving your guests feeling nauseous and violated.

So there’s your prize.  Did I mention it’s non-refundable?

Comments welcome.

Easter Eggs

Easter eggs are an opportunity to indulge oneself after the privations of Lent; or at least that is what I thought prior to making the acquaintance of a dairy free, wheat free, gluten free, egg free, vegan Easter egg, (see picture 1).  I have renamed this Easter egg The Lent Continued Easter Egg.  It is ideal for pious Catholics and those with food allergies.  My condolences go out to any unfortunate children who will be receiving Lent Continued Easter Eggs this Easter.

(Easter egg pictures 1 & 2)                                                                                   

My local supermarket contains the expected deluge of Easter eggs (see picture 2), each struggling for attention amongst the crowded shelves.  Perusing these commercial offerings I am unsurprised to see that there is no mention of the traditions of Easter, neither the story of Jesus nor the traditions of Lent.  But the Church of England has not surrendered in the face of this apparent overwhelming apathy and is fighting back with The Real Easter Egg.  These can be found in stores across the UK (see picture 3).  Not only is the story of Jesus depicted on the sides and back of the box but the chocolate is of the fair trade variety and a percentage of sales go to charity.

(Easter egg picture 3)

For those of us emaciated from our Lenten fasts might I suggest a gargantuan Easter egg (see picture 4); an Easter egg that if camouflaged with foliage could masquerade as part of the scenery in any Easter egg hunt.                                                             

                                                                                (Easter egg picture 4)

And for those unwilling to dine on the chocolate of the proletariat there is the Charbonnel et Walker milk chocolate egg with pink mare de champagne truffle (see picture 5).  Or even the rather pompous Ladurée petal egg (see picture 6); an egg not content with being oval it has instead embraced a postmodern deconstructed look.  The Ladurée petal egg is decorated with crystallised rose, jasmine and violet petals, garnished with dark, milk and praline chocolate figurines and bells.  This limited addition offering has a reassuringly expensive price tag of £72.50.

(Easter egg picture 5)                          (Easter egg picture 6)

If anyone has any Easter egg related observations that they would like to share, please feel free to leave  comments below.   Happy Easter.

Tipping in America

A Downtown bar in Miami – I find the cool darkened interior and the myriad of different sports playing on the numerous television screens appealing.  It is an environment where one does not appear out of place without friends in attendance.

Aware that Happy Hour is soon to end, I order two pints of Bud Light, a bargain at five dollars.  I hand over the money to the barman and return my attentions to the television.  The barman does not move.  I glance in his direction.  He departs muttering something under his breath.

The Following Evening – I walk into the same bar and order a pint of Bud Light.  I am in the process of sitting down when the barman (the same one from yesterday) informs me that he will not serve me and I am to leave.  Aware from several previous visits to this establishment that he is quite a jovial character, I assume this is some form of American humour that I am unfamiliar with.  Sitting down I say, ‘very funny’ and then repeat the order.

‘Out,’ shouts another man sitting at the far end of the bar.  Now conscious of the fact that this is not a jape, I am about to protest when I notice that the bearded and heavily tattooed man looking savagely at me is remarkably similar to one of those biker gang members’ with right wing tendencies I had seen on the television.  I leave the bar.  The barman shouts ‘butt head’ as the door closes behind me.  Utterly confused I am half way down the street before I remember that I had omitted to give a tip the previous evening and it must be this that resulted in their consternation.  This had been an oversight on my part and I scold myself for committing what is a cardinal sin in the USA.

A Miami Heat game is about to start and keen to watch it I decide to go to the only other bar I know in the immediate vicinity.  I approach the premises with trepidation, as the previous week prior to the visit to Mexico I had been involved in a minor altercation here.  I had been sitting contentedly at my table watching basketball when a young woman had approached my table and unannounced dragged away the chair adjacent to mine, resulting in several of my personal effects that were resting on it falling to the ground.  With no apology forthcoming, I had unwisely in hindsight made a comment about her expansive waistline.

The comment had been poorly received and I was berated by both her and her companions sitting at a neighbouring table, in a disorderly tirade of English and Spanish.  One of the males, who turned out to be the woman’s brother, appeared to be particularly angry.  He sounded exactly like a character out of the film Scarface though fortunately he was waving around a pastelito, (a snack popular with Cubans) as opposed to an automatic weapon, like in the film.  The argument had resulted in me, rather unfairly in my opinion being ejected by the bar staff.

Back in the present I approach the bar intrepidly and ask for a pint of Bud Light.  I am alarmed on recognising the barman as the same one from that evening.  He informs me that I am not welcome.  I consider arguing but decide against it and depart sombrely.

Chichen Itza

My guide is waiting for me at the main gate of the Chichen Itza complex; the most famous of Mexico’s numerous Mayan ruins.  He greets me with the words:

‘This is Chichen Itza not chicken pizza.’

I suspect that he has said this very same thing at least a million times before and wonder if anyone has ever found it remotely amusing.

The main feature of the Chichen Itza complex is Kukulcan Temple (see picture).  Until fairly recently tourists were able to clamber up its steep steps but several fatalities have brought an end to this practice and one must now be content with merely viewing the impressive structure. My guide, who is standing on the grass directly opposite the entrance at the top of the temple’s steps, proceeds to clap a number of times.  Each clap is followed by an echo, which sounds like the cry of the quetzal bird.  This is not the building’s only extraordinary detail.  On the evening of the spring and autumn equinoxes, the equinox shadows project a snake that descends down one side of the temple as a series of inverted triangles.

We saunter through to the ball court; an expanse of ground with stone walls either side (picture 2 shows one of these walls).  I notice that the walls are perfectly straight; an astonishing feat when one considers the Mayans used only basic stone tools.  This being a skill that my builder back in London has yet to acquire, I take a number of photos to show him on my return.

The exact details of the ball game that was played here are much debated but the basic rules were that the players on the field utilised their limbs to keep a rubber ball in the air.  The ball would be passed up to one player standing alone on the ledge (visible towards the bottom of the wall in picture).  He would then attempt to shoot it through a hoop high up on the wall.

The guide suggests that this game was the forefather of football.  I insist that it was us English who invented the game.  He appears ready to argue this point but, presumably remembering the prospect of a potential tip, does not.

My guide’s theory is that the game’s victor (i.e. the person who got the ball through the hoop) would be sacrificed after the game.  I tell him that this is a ludicrous suggestion and that he must mean that the losers were sacrificed.  The guide remains adamant that it was the victor and that they would have been more than happy to be sacrificed, as they were guaranteed to be transferred straight from this World to paradise.  It is difficult to imagine one of today’s over-indulged sports stars being prepared to forfeit their vast wealth for a ‘guaranteed’ place in heaven; departing now.


I am sitting in the back of a jeep travelling from the Mexican town of Tulum to a local cenote.  Cenotes are inland freshwater sinkholes.  These natural phenomena are unique to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and a few neighbouring Caribbean islands.  They are popular with tourists for sightseeing, snorkelling and diving; the activity which has brought me here today.

The diving instructor, a bandana clad Chilean by the name of Rodrigo, holds the steering wheel with one hand whilst he bangs the other against the side of the jeep in time with the heavy metal music resonating through the vehicle.  The frenetic drumming only serves to increase my apprehension.  My concern is that the majority of my very limited diving experience has consisted of floundering around at the bottom of suburban swimming pools.  This dive will be to forty five metres.

Turning off the main road we proceed to bump along a jungle track and are soon pulling to a halt in a small parking area adjoining a cenote known as The Pit.  As I clamber out of the vehicle, my Swedish diving companion Lars, whose acquaintance I made earlier that morning also confesses to feeling nervous.  I enquire as to why.

‘I am an inexperienced diver,’ he replies. ‘I have only dived forty two times.  How many dives have you done?’


After peering into the dark ominous waters of the cenote (see picture), I begin to hurriedly assemble the diving equipment, as Rodrigo outlines The Pit’s sinister history.  During Mayan times The Pit had been used for human sacrificial purposes.  He stops speaking suddenly and looks severely in my direction.

‘What?’ I ask somewhat defensively.

‘Your tank, it’s the wrong way round.’

Within a minute Rodrigo and Lars have reassembled my diving kit correctly and I am intrepidly approaching the cenote, along the very same path used by countless Mayan sacrificial victims.

Five minutes later – Clasping our torches in one hand we begin our descent.  I feel somewhat calmer now.  It is as if the cool waters of the cenote have had a therapeutic effect.  Lars and I look around in awe at the rock formations that surround us.  Some thirty metres later we reach a cloud of sulphuric acid air bubbles and our visibility becomes minimal.  Attempting to remain calm, I follow the beam of light being emitted from Rodrigo’s torch and within no time we have passed through it.

At forty five metres we stop and Rodrigo points out some fragments of human bones with his torch. Until recently there were actual skulls here; but the actions of one plundering diver have resulted in the skulls being taken to an archaeological museum.

Rodrigo points towards my pressure gauge, to enquire as to how much air I have left. I stare at the gauge in disbelief; for I cannot comprehend how the reading is only a hundred and ten.  We had been informed that we should have a reading of nearly two hundred when we begun our ascent.  For a terrifying moment I wonder if I too will be making a contribution to the collection of bone fragments.  On the trip up Rodrigo gives me oxygen from his spare regulator.  This action results in him having to stop to take breaths from an air hole in the rock.

An hour later – Both Lars and I are relaxed on reaching our next destination, a welcoming cenote with a wide welcoming entrance and transparent waters (see picture).  The dive will be to about twelve metres; merely the depth of a couple of suburban swimming pools.


I am ambling across the sun baked service station forecourt, clasping a two litre bottle of Coca Cola in one hand and my car keys in the other when I notice two boys crouching next to my car.  They appear to be inspecting something in the grass in front of them.  I too look ahead into the grass, curious as to what has caught their attention.

Suddenly the two boys jump to their feet and scream ‘gator’ in unison very loudly.  Emitting a loud shriek I hastily press the unlock button on the car control and clamber into the vehicle, slamming the door shut behind me.  Peering anxiously through the windscreen I am surprised to see the two boys still standing by the verge.  They are pointing in my direction, their features contorted in mirth.  Lowering the window a little I peer out apprehensively and ask in a timid voice, ‘where’s the gator’.

‘You’re scared of gators,’ responds one of the boy’s in a patronising tone.

‘Yes, isn’t everyone,’ I reply, now becoming aware that there is evidently no alligator in the immediate vicinity.  The two antagonists’ find this response very amusing and their laughter increases in volume.  I start the engine, waving a middle finger in their direction as I do so and then drive off.  A short while later I have concluded that this is a prank that they have probably pulled on numerous other unsuspecting tourists.

Some thirty minutes later having rented a bicycle, I am cycling contentedly along a scenic track enjoying The Everglades’ idyllic scenery when I notice the black outline of an alligator in the grass to my right, merely a few metres away.  I veer to the left in panic, struggling to remain seated on the bicycle and then pedal away furiously, until I am what I deem to be a safe distance from the reptile.  Turning around I see more cyclists approaching along the path, unaware of the monster in their midst.  I consider shouting out a warning, as the first cyclist, a small girl with stabilisers approaches the spot where the alligator is lying.  She looks disinterestedly in the reptile’s direction and then proceeds along the path at a leisurely pace.  Several more cyclists pass the spot, none of whom appear the least bit concerned at the sight of the alligator.

Over the course of the next hour I see numerous alligators and my fear of them subsides. Picture two shows me posing metres from one that had ambled onto the path.  By the time I have completed the circuit I am confident that any further gator related pranks will be met with a calm and collected response.

Taco Bell

Perhaps it would have been advisable to save cuisine related blog posts until such time as I travel to Tuscany or tour Toulouse, rather than a trip to Taco Bell.

For those non-American residents unfamiliar with this fast food franchise, let me take this opportunity to enlighten you.  In its fifty years of existence, Taco Bell has achieved monumental success and currently boasts over six thousand restaurants, making it America’s sixth largest fast food chain.  However the rapid expansion of competitor Chipotle casts an ominous shadow over its future, as have a number of unfortunate brand damaging occurrences.  These include:

  • 2011  –  Salmonella outbreak.
  • 2006  –  Ecoli outbreak.
  • A lawsuit claiming only 35% of beef in Taco Bell products is ‘real’ beef.

With typical American resilience Taco Bell are fighting back with a marketing campaign, unprecedented in its history; spearheaded by their new culinary offering, the Doritos Locos Tacos, described as ‘Taco Bell on the inside and Doritos on the outside.’

Undeterred by disease and food quality related accusations, I enter the Taco Bell premises eager to experience the Americanised Mexican fanfare; Burritos, Tacos and the like.  Ignoring the promotional material for Doritos Locos Tacos screaming at me from every direction, I order Volcano Nachos (I am not a big fan of Doritos), Pintos n Cheese and a 30oz Pepsi.  Moments later I am sitting at a table hastily consuming my Volcano Nachos.  Admittedly they are probably essentially offal masquerading as beef, but they taste remarkably pleasant, though I suspect this is more than likely due to the success of the Cheesy Molten Hot Lava Sauce in masking anything potentially unpalatable.

Barely two minutes later I have finished both the Volcano Nachos and the Pintos n Cheese and am contentedly sipping Pepsi, whilst calculating the nutritional value of my meal as conveniently stated on the menu before me.  I then proceed to compare its nutritional value to the recommended daily intake for an adult.

The calorie count is hardly surprising but I have to admit to being slightly perturbed at being nearly three times over my daily recommended sugar allowance.  Sixty six grams of fat consumed in one meal is not ideal either, especially with my dinner plans.  If I wasn’t before I am now convinced that Volcano Nachos probably don’t contain much in terms of what one would define as beef.  However in the meal’s defence it was both appetizing and inexpensive.

On exiting the outlet I notice an Emergency Weight Loss centre, a large windowless building conveniently located barely a stone’s throw away.  Briefly I consider what emergency weight loss procedures might entail but the waves of nausea bring this pattern of thought to an abrupt halt.  As I return to my car, I wonder how many diners go directly from the restaurant to the weight loss centre and whether Taco Bell have considered the possibility of charging the centre commission on these clients.

Miami Day One

I awaken early; reinvigorated, refreshed and seemingly unaffected by either yesterday’s eight hour flight or the five pints of Bud Light drunk the previous evening.  My mind pours over the anticipated excitements of the forthcoming days in this vibrant U.S. city tinged with a Latin fervour. The glamour of South Beach, fun filled nights in waterfront bars, exotic cuisine and the clamour of the crowd at the Miami Heat basketball games.

Sometime later I am behind the wheel of my Chevrolet Camaro hire car, attempting unsuccessfully to find the exit to the multi-storied car park maze in which I had parked.  On exiting it a full fifteen minutes later I am thoroughly disillusioned with the inconveniences of city life.  The decision is made to leave the city and head north to the southern periphery of The Everglades.  Forty minutes later I am finally on the highway; a virtually traffic-free sun baked expanse of road that would be the envy of most every other nation.

A little over an hour later – The Everglades are everything I had imagined they would be.  To the left of the road the thick foliage is an abundance of green and to its right cormorants and herons line the sun strewn banks of a large body of water.  Several miles later I notice the unmistakable black contours of an alligator in the water, lurking in a sinister manner, no doubt waiting to strike, as if it were a German U boat in the Atlantic.

Late morning – Feeling rather weary and extremely hungry having not eaten since the soggy penne with broccoli consumed in my economy class seat the previous evening, I perform a U-turn and start back towards Miami, perusing the road signs for local eateries as I drive.  Gator Land appears on my right, its outdoor dining area a heaving mass of humanity, followed shortly thereafter by a sign for the Miccosukee Resort & Gaming.  I press my foot down on the accelerator as my mind mulls over the imagined culinary delights it will offer; a fusion of American burgers/ribs and Seminole Indian inspired recipes.

The interior of the Miccosukee is cool and dark; the lights of the vast lines of gaming machines flare incessantly.  Following the concourse to my right I enter a vast room.  Bewildered I inspect the long tables with moulded polypropylene chairs on either side.  It gradually dawns on me that this is a vast bingo hall.  Noticing what appears to be a café on the other side of hall; I hurry across the garishly decorated carpet towards it.  My culinary expectations evaporate instantaneously on viewing the sorry looking food items through the grease smudged Perspex screens.  They appear to be poor imitations of pasties and pies.  Gingerly I pick up a tray and after inspecting the food items miserably for several minutes decide that the guava and cheese pastelitos appear the least offensive choice.  I ask for two. The waitress stares back at me blankly.  I repeat the order in Spanish whilst holding out two fingers for added affect.  Finally having located a table not marked with a disabled sticker I sit down and hurriedly bite into one of the pastelitos.  The taste is abhorrent, the guava and cheese having merged into a sticky pink paste; a loathsome combination that leaves one feeling both nauseous and violated.  The offending items are hurled angrily into the plastic bag stuck to the table to the right of my chair; in fact there is one positioned next to each seat.  I wonder if they are sick bags.  On closer inspection it is evident that the bags are for bingo paper.

I remain in my seat taking large gulps from the large paper cup, which purports to be Coca Cola yet tastes nothing like it; however it has the desired effect of gradually dissipating the pastelito aftertaste.  As I drink I analyse the surroundings.  A sparsely attended bingo game is under way at the front of the hall; its elderly players stare forlornly at the bingo paper in front of them.  It is obvious as I am drawn into the depths of lonely introspection that the prospect of hope has long since deserted the Miccosukee.  Sometime later out of the corner of my eye I notice a man biting into a pasty like food item, he grunts in disapproval before hurling his paper napkin onto his plate and then marching off (see below, man in the black shirt walking away).

Stumbling out into the oppressive sunlight I return to the car, troubled, jet lagged and queasy.  It occurs to me as I drive out of the reservation that it is as if the medicine men of the Miccosukee Seminole Indians have performed a malevolent spell, which results in not only the frequenters of the Miccosukee losing the contents of their wallets on the gaming machines but also their soul; souls that will drift listlessly for eternity in the bingo hall.  A modicum of revenge for the centuries of injustice meted out to them by the white men.

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