Thursday, April 30, 2009

Finally Some Parliamentary Decency

Despite Brown’s Government’s efforts, yesterday Parliament filled me with pride and hope when MPs voted against disgraceful proposals to deny certain Gurkha soldiers the right to live in the UK, in the first opposition debate a Government has lost since Callaghan in 1978.

Gurkhas are troops from certain areas of India and Nepal with a proud history from 1815 continuing up to the present day or of distinguishing themselves in the British and Indian armies, showing bravery and strength well beyond what would be expected from a regular soldier, and winning 26 Victoria Crosses along the way.

Wikipedia mentions qualities like courage, loyalty, self sufficiency, physical strength, resilience, orderliness, the ability to work hard for long periods of time, fighting tenacity and military strategy, all of which they are displaying today in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What thanks do they get for defending a country that is not their own? They are paid a fraction of what the British troops they fight alongside receive, their pensions are less (5-10% of what a British solder would be entitled), and despite spending a good part of their life in Sandwich where their base is, those who served before 1997 (36,000 or so, of which not all would necessarily even take up the offer) are being refused the right to settle in the UK.

I have a vested interest in this story – having visited Nepal four times, I have met many from the various tripes – Nepalis, Sherpas and others, and they are amongst the most friendly, hospitable and hard-working peoples in the world, and I have come away each time with new friends and warmth from the way in which I was hosted. When I think of those we allow in to our country from all over the world – Russia, the Middle East etc.. to not allow these fine decent people who have risked their life to defend us the right to settle here is a scandal.

Recently we have experienced questionable parliamentary expenses and second homes, explained away by saying that the rules let them get away with it, historic and unprecedented levels of debt from which our country will take decades to recover from, and something I have been personally involved in – the Government sell-out of the British isle of St. Helena. I am so glad that Parliament has finally been responsible for something positive.

Like with assisting the British citizens of St Helena, it was the Lib Debs who led the way, proposing a motion to give all Gurkhas equal rights of residence here. The Tories and 27 rebel Labour MPs backed it, leading to a victory of 267 to 246. Note that the Labour rebels secured the victory, and among Labour MPs supporting the motion were home affairs committee chairman Keith Vaz, ministerial aide Stephen Pound and former cabinet minister Andrew Smith. Indeed Mr Pound said he had resigned as a parliamentary private secretary to vote against the government.

Disgracefully in my opinion, Labour MP Martin Salter, chairman of the Parliamentary group on Gurkhas' rights, abstained. Surely his position is now untenable?

Shame on Brown

In PM questions earlier in the day, Gordon Brown said "We have got to balance our responsibilities to those who have served our country with the finance that we need to be able to meet these obligations - and not base our offer on money we cannot afford." Shame!!!! His entire government and financial approach is something that we *the people* cannot afford!

Last year the High Court ruled that the government stance in refusing to allow Gurkhas serving before 1997 in to the country was illegal. The response? The government changed the law and set the bar so high that only a few hundred veterans could ever qualify. Indeed hours before the vote, Jacqui Smith was offering sweeteners to rebels to try to win them over. These were not enough.

After the vote, Clegg and Cameron met with Joanna Lumley, who has led the campaigning on behalf of the Gurkhas, said “This is an immense victory on a series of fronts: for the rights of Gurkhas who have been waiting so long for justice, a victory for Parliament, a victory for decency." Mr Cameron said it was "embarrassing" for the prime minister because his efforts to strike a "shoddy deal" with Labour rebels had failed.

Nick Clegg: "This was a cross-party effort and a great, great day for everyone who believes in fairness and decency in this country."

I myself call on the Government and Home Office to now quickly implement the new laws, and not drag heels or try to obstruct the will of your people.

Read more here:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

London Chinatown Supermarkets

Following up from the Noodle Round-up, I thought I'd summarise the supermarkets in Chinatown and what I find each of them handy for..

New Loon Moon
On Gerrard Street, about half way along on the north side, there are a few tables of fresh vegetables and fruit. Up the adjacent stairs, one finds a small but well-stocked chinese supermarket. The speciality here is noodles - they have all of the essentials - Maggi Mee, Mama, Shin Ramyun and above all, this is the only shop in London I know that stocks Indomee Mi Goreng. If you want to sample, they have individual packets of everything available. The boxes (about 7 pounds for a box of, say, 40 packets) are all up high, so you have to ask one of the assistant chaps who are experts at knocking them down with a spiky stick.

New Loon Moon

Loon Fung
Opposite New Loon Moon is the biggest and so probably best-known of the supermarkets. I don't tend to use it much unless I can't find what I need in one of the others. It is large though, so you have a good chance of finding things. Seems to be good for biscuits and snacks!

Loon Fung Supermarket

Unknown Name Place!
On the corner of Newport Place, near the oriental bandstand and just opposite Jen Cafe (of the Pearl Ice Tea and dumplings fame) is one of the old supermarkets which used to be a staple - this was the main place for Maggi Mee noodles. These days it seems to have gone Korean in terms of what it stocks - I wonder whether it will be there much longer.

See Woo
On Lisle Street, the adjacent parallel road to Gerrard Street is See Woo, always with crates of food outside being wheeled in. This is very cramped but quite large. Website here. It seems to not have the best overall selection but also tends to have particular things that others do not - and above all else they stock...

Sichuan Peppercorns! 2GBP45 for a bag of red peppercorns. My goodness.. these are heaven.. I'm putting them in everything. Read here for a good blog entry discussing them and their use.

See Woo

Other Asian Supermarkets outside Chinatown

Japanese supermarket on Brewer Street. Not cheap, but it stocks something almost impossible to find elsewhere - proper Kim (i.e. the Korean thin seaweed that is very moreish!), sometimes in small bite-sized packets, sometimes in larger nori-sized sheets. Kim never lasts very long in my house!


Japan Centre
On Piccadilly this has recently expanded into an adjacent property to become much bigger. Expensive but well staffed and stocked, and with a deli, and a great range of teas downstairs. Also has non-foodie stuff like library and travel centre.

Japan Centre

Hanna "Super Market"
In Store Street, near the British Museum and Goodge Street, a small Korean supermarket. You can get kimchi and gochujang in almost any Oriental supermarket, but this has a better range.


Natural Natural
Small Japanese supermarket in Finchley Road. Website here. Good range of veg and snacks, but not that cheap (especially these days with the exchange rate as is).

Atari Ya
If you like sashimi this is paradise! Will and I used to come here and spend rather embarrassing sums of money (by today's credit-crunched standards) on piles of freshly cut fish - tuna, salmon, yellowtail, mackeral, etc. They have people who are expert at carving it all up for you - one of the chaps who used to always serve us used to work in Nobu. The main one is in North Finchley, website here, though they have others in Acton and elsewhere. This is where all the Japanese people in London go to get their fish!


They also stock the magical Japanese Chilli Rice Crackers.. not sure exactly what they're called, might be something like Himemaru Arare? Anyway look for the red black and green stripy packets, like these:

Manna from heaven!!

Wing Yip
The only other place of interest I guess is somewhere I haven't been to - Wing Yip have an enormous warehouse place out on the Edgware Road / North Circular somewhere. Catering volumes of everything and a vast selection. I'll report back if I ever visit!

Happy shopping and eating, foodies, hope this round-up is useful!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Noodle Round Up

It can be awfully confusing when you pop into your local Oriental supermarket to buy instant noodles. Here are my favourites:

1. Indomee Mi Goreng
The MacDaddy of noodles.. once you've tried a bowl of these dry noodles with their magic sauce, preferably with a fried egg on top and a couple of chopped frankfurter sausages, maybe some fried onion sprinkles on top, you will never go back, your life will take on a new wonderful edge. Available in one place in Gerrard Street in Chinatown (north side in the middle, up a small flight of steps), these are the best a noodle can get. Useful fact: Mee Goreng means Noodles (Mee) Fried (Goreng) in Malaysia, it's what you have from the Mamak street stalls with an iced milo.

2. Maggi Mee Asam Laksa
Another glorious noodle, this one soup-based, spicy and sour, Asam Laksa means curried fish, though you wouldn't guess it from the taste. Nevertheless it is a marvellous sharp infusion of delicious flavour, and I commend it to you! The secret with this one is to drop in and mix and egg towards the end of cooking, also to vary the quantity of soup depending on how you're feeling!

3. Mama's Shrimp Creamy Tom Yum
I actually settled on a box of this when I couldn't find any Maggi Mee (what has happened to the Maggi, there's definitely some sort of global conspiracy going on). Anyway, I was fortunate in my choice, and discovered another wonderful instant noodle, this one having a lovely spicy creaminess, and if you have any tahini in the fridge.. a dollop of that mixed in seems to work well, though makes the noodle bowl a bugger to clean afterwards!

4. Shin Ramyun
These are apparently Korea's most popular noodles, and whilst they're not part of my regular noodle investment portfolio, I am partial to an occasional one. Interestingly they come with a sachet of bits of dried vegetables which rehydrate to form a sprinkling of random coloured bits in the noodles! Try to identify what they're supposed to be for a fun game!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Grandpa Clifford Crawley

My dear Grandpa Cliff, the epitome of a gentleman, passed away this evening, aged 88. Rest in peace my dear Grandfather, you will be missed. Grandpa used to joke that every day the first thing he'd do every day was open the paper and turn to the obituaries to make sure he wasn't listed. Tomorrow I'll do that for him as he's joined Grandma Kathleen in heaven.

Grandpa Cliff

Clifford Crawley was born in 1921 in East London. He was an apprentice sign-writer when WW2 kicked off, when he joined the Navy. At the end of the war, he was assigned to a merchant ship with naval guns, and travelled all over the world, from Singapore to Mozambique and Argentina to Canada, playing the piano in bars and meeting all sorts, including Oscar Peterson. The trip was cut short when his mother wrote to the Admiralty demanding her son back!

Back in London, he was involved in workers' rights, even giving a speech to a crowd of 6,000 in Trafalgar Square, and giving a false address to the police when he came off the podium. Later he joined the Fire Brigade, rising to become the local chief in East London, which involved responsibilities such as "inspecting" the Truman Brewery Director's Bar for fire safety!

He and Grandma Kathleen retired to Sheringham in the early 80s, and were active in the local community and travelling in Europe ever since, Grandpa an active member of the local photography club, giving shows on his specialist interest Horatio Nelson, also Norfolk history, and on his travels, especially Yugoslavia.

Above all else, I will remember Grandpa Cliff for his perfect gentlemanly manners and marvellous knowledge. He would complete the cryptic crossword with ease, and would always be the first to surrender his seat or help anyone out. He maintained his independence to the end, living in Salisbury Road, with occasional visits (and foot massages!) from his girls. I loved to sit with him and listen to his stories as he recounted his stories from his long and interesting life. He will be sorely missed..

RIP Grandpa Clifford Crawley.

Damn Chinaman!

The Listen Mate Crowd
Recently met some of the old COLT crowd around Aldgate. Was good to catch up, especially with new father Al, and the "Listen Mate" crowd, Ali and Seamus!

Ali Butt

Seamus Sloyan

Fishing in Oxford
Finally I have the opportunity to visit Herrington and gloat at his current disability. It's good to be out and about at the moment, the country seems to be covered in blossom, very pretty. Pink a couple of weeks ago, and white now.

Pretty blossom in my street

Herrington came off his bike recently at speed, hit a tree and broke both his wrists. I'm not sympathetic, he had it coming! Anyway, seven weeks with both arms in casts, and no ability to wipe one's bottom. Nice!

Disabled man

The reason I haven't come up until now is that Will has been off the booze, and where's the fun in a sober visit? If I'm going to be a Bad Influence I might as well play to my character. This time we pack plenty of beer into a bag and head out to do some fishing with my portable rod I bought in Australia whilst travelling.

Yebisu and snacks

Included in the pack is the Yebisu the Hop that Kaori gave me. Will brings the Japanese snacks. First up.. permit from the post office. As the online and telephone permits systems are down, we have to go into a branch. UKP 3.50 later, we have a receipt, and we head off to Fat Phil's Angling Centre outside Oxford. There they tell us that it's closed season and we can't fish. Great!

Luckily they tell us the canal in town is still game, so we find a nice spot with a bench.

Redneck look

Sitting on the river, one meets all sorts. People pass by and offer advice, or tell us that we're doing everything wrong. We lose control of our fishing as a mad chap takes over, and meet some serious fishermen. They tell us about the damn Chinaman who is stealing all the bigger fish from the canal and selling them to Sojo Restaurant. Don't order the fish there!!

Maggot friends

The maggots take some getting used to, especially as they warm up and start wriggling more and more! Doesn't seem to help, as we catch nothing. We're told that we must be shark fishing with my large hooks, and I'm asked whether my rod came from Argos!

Quiet on t' river

Still, a pleasant afternoon in marvellous weather with good beers. There's only so much a formula like that can go wrong. I think next time we'll head a bit further from the centre though, where less strange people lurk!

In the evening, a marvellous Chinese take-away. My Sichuan mapo tofu is not very authentic, but tasty nevertheless.


Of course Sandychan has earned a medal for putting up with Will in his current state, and indeed he organised a real one for her to wear into work!

Bonfire on the Beach
One of the benefits of living on the beach is an occasional bonfire. Lewis organised the latest one, which I linked up with by cycling down to Whitstable.


Small Crowd

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Cycling Through the Medway Tunnel

One persistent irritation with my cycle route from London to Whitstable is the Medway Tunnel, which currently bans cyclists from using it, despite it effectively being a link between major long-distance NCN1 routes (Gravesend-Strood Canal and Chatham-Sittingbourne). What's especially bad is that this tunnel is a modern one, built in the 90s, so why does it not have provision for cyclists?

Particularly ironic is that when the Tour de France came through Kent in 2007, they shut the tunnel to road traffic and used it for the route!

No such luck for regular cyclists though, we must use the alternative, which is to go over the chalk hills above Strood, or through the delightful large industrial estate, over the Rochester Bridge, and through Rochester and Chatham.

Is this just a regular rant from me? No, there is substance to my complaint. In the beginning of 2003, the local council looked into encouraging cycling in the Medway region. They came to much the same conclusions as me - council notes here and cycle strategy report here. The key findings from the report (my bold and italics):

The most important infrastructure issue from the consultation exercise is the provision of a cycle facility through the Medway Tunnel.

Currently an Act of Parliament precludes cycling through the tunnel and the provision of a safe route is difficult to achieve without considerable financial implications. However, the omission of a link for cycling in this locality effectively divides Medway for a great number of cyclists and reduces cycling as a viable option for a large section of the community. This division is highlighted by the proximity of the University of Greenwich and Medway City Estate to the Medway Tunnel.

However, the intimidating environment in the tunnel may discourage its use by inexperienced or nervous cyclists.

It goes on to say :
Whilst there is strong demand for a cycle route through the tunnel by existing cyclists, the delivery of a scheme will be problematic due to:

* the need to amend the tunnel bill;
* the need to obtain the agreement of the Rochester Bridge Trust;
* the requirement to reduce the effective carriageway width;
* the requirement to undertake physical alterations in the tunnel to allow for the safe passage of cyclists; and
* the likely additional ongoing maintenance costs and possible increased closure time for maintenance.

So my reading of that was that they would have to go to the effort of doing some paper shuffling, and a bit of tinkering to the tunnel. By all accounts there is already a narrow pedestrian walkway at the edge which is wide enough for bikes, but currently has some obstacles which could be moved. Let's do it!

Their alternative short-term solution is apparently to introduce a bike shuttle, which is ridiculous for the short length of tunnel. It does, however, recommend that an investigation be carried out to progress the recommendation. There doesn't appear to have been any progress in this matter subsequently. I will submit a complaint to the council soon and report back if I make any progress.