Oyster Therapy

with Patty & Shirley

Tears of a clown - do not judge anyone by their appearance

It is always headline news when someone ‘funny’ commits suicide. It somehow seems more poignant as it appears to be diametrically opposed to the persona of the person. It jars so hard against what we see. This is no more clearly demonstrated that with the death of Robin Williams. From the outside he had it all; the adulation, the wealth, the loving family and all the trappings of international success. How utterly contrasting this must have seemed to him alone with himself in his own mind. The contrast would perhaps be even sharper than for most. I wonder if this reality gap made it too much to bear. How helpless would you feel and how ungrateful that with all the material trappings, you experience not an iota of relief? And it may resonate with so many others who suffer from depression: well, if he can do it with all he’s got, what hope me?
Suicide touches everyone. The person who does it is so involved in themselves that the bigger picture disappears. They probably consider their action a totally personal one, which of course it is. However, it is not someone sneaking out the back door of life. It is not a ripple caused by a stone being tossed in water. It is a bomb going off in a small pool and its devastating tsunami effects reach out to all of us. Not just the person is gone, the family is blown apart, the friends get the fallout of guilt and the world at large suddenly feels vulnerable. This ripple continues. This sad event can serve as a timely and ongoing reminder to us all that we need to be kind to ourselves, to each other and never be too scared to say and do the things we need in the hope that this deep rejection and sad action need not be the only choice for a despairing person. And who of us who have lost someone in this tragic way would give anything to have their loved one back, in whatever fractured, frightened or fragile state, to let them know it needn’t end like this. I am not here to preach or convince, as everyone has their own story to tell, but it is occasions like this that we need to reflect on what we are here for and what cost the trappings of fame and pressure to perform, publicly or privately, can have on us all. And at this time it cannot be said loudly enough, depression kills. And the sooner it is taken out of its bag of shame and stigma the better. Consider this also, that it remains a criminal offence in some countries. Cold comfort today for Robin Williams’ family and for the families of the approximately 3,000 other souls worldwide that have taken this option today alone. Rest in Peace.

Martinis and Fortnums, August 8th 2014

There is an unusual event taking place at the Royal Academy this month. The Dennis Hopper photography extravaganza orgy? Well that is also there but around at the back entrance of the RA and up the stairs and to the left of dear one time narcissist and nevertheless gorgous, old Dennis, is the Belvedere Vodka “Legends of the Martini”. My daughter had found this little treasure and it is one of those exhibits that London does so impossibly well. It was one of the smallest and cutest exhibits I have seen, offering no more than an oversized mock up of a Martini glass in which you can sit (69kg limit which we both giggled nervously about, knowing full well we both fall way short of that weight but I have history destroying seemingly indestructible items that ‘can take the weight of an elephant’ but not me when I was then about 50kgs! But that is for another time).There was then a 60’s style chaise longue and an oversized cocktail shaker that two people could squeeze in to watch a short and silent film on Martinis being mixed. Well, I consider the Martini to be one of the few cocktails that can stand alone and be celebrated in this way and it was delightful. Beyond the room was a pop up bar where a shaker of barmen ( group noun? no the correct term is a promise of barmen) and groups of twos and threes were enjoying the ‘experience’. We wanted the experience as well and were shown to the bar. Our man was Ian who ended up being not only an events bartender, he owns his own coffee business in south London and tends and sells produce from his own allottment. He is one of many and happily, increasing numbers of young people who are into a new business model of operating. They are into local and sustainable and diverse interests and it served to set my resolve to use some of the wasted space in the gardens where I live - which is such a blessing in central London - to set up large planting areas that could provide free food. There is a definite, if not slow, sea-change in work patterns in the UK and hopefully beyond, which is most welcome.
Oyster review? Coming up shortly.
Anyway, Ian was knowledgeable and provided some insights into the history of the Martini. It was originally a gin based cocktail (I knew that) and that is how I prefer mine. However as this was a Belvedere vodka event you can see where this is going. Was it only last week I mentioned I HATE vodka, and yet here I was sipping at three miniature vodka versions: the dry and stirred, the wet and shaken, and finally one with a hint of gin and a twist of lemon. The wet and dry relates to the ratio of vermouth added. They were ok but I remained unconverted. When we were finally allowed to choose our own mix, I went for what I like best; dry, stirred and with a twist. Oh and yes it was gin all the way. India went for the house ‘Noel Coward’ special which included a very peaty whiskey and a drop of orange bitters which was very flavoursome. What I was surprised to learn and still question, is that the Martini did not make it to a recipe book or officially appear until the 1930s. I cannot believe that and I will do further research but surely somewhere amongst the crazy Hogarth’s London gin swilling days, they knew of Martinis. Apparently not. The film noir glamour and silent screen decadence along with smoking using a cigarette holder were all evoked parked on the stool sipping our cocktails and laughing at the quotes painted around the room. Noel Coward’s went like this. “A perfect Martini should be made by filling a glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy”. Well I laughed and India asked me who Noel Coward was. Please people, google him if you need to ask, same goes for Dorothy Parker. But there you have it. Martini=Gin, unless you are at the Belvedere Vodka “Legends of the Martini” exhibition. OK, enough plugs for them.
After all that, our mother and daughter quality time had hardly passed start so we looked across the street at Fortnum and Mason’s, supermarket to the Queen, and also seemingly, all the detritus which is the general public, plus tourists plus us. In days gone by, the ground floor was always flooded with token seekers but the other floors offered gentle and quality items. Not any more. Each floor is packed with dinky little round tables displaying a limited and expensive array of what I am generously calling here, bric a brac. It is still very pretty but it has lost its chutzpah. As we climbed down the stairs we decided to swing by the basement food hall, just in case. And as we looked around a small restaurant caught our eyes. In fact what caught our eye was the big blackboard with Cumbrae and Carlingford oysters at a most reasonable £1.50 a hit. Next thing we know we are seated in the 1707 bar ordering. As we sat a waitress came and rubbed out the chalked Carlingfords. Our waitress came out asking if we minded only having five Carlingfords and seven Cumbrae. So, we got the last batch. Bread was served in a tiny little wicker basket. Our oysters arrived and we set to work. I recognised the creaminess of the Irish and was not put off as I have managed to embrace rather than dismiss these moreish mouthfuls. Mouthful the first, tantalising and tasty. Then I swapped and went for one of the Scottish ones. It was superior to its island neighbour, was small, succulent and totally tasty. We divvied up the rest so I would be the brave eater of the more creamy Carlingfords and I did well until the last one. I am not sure if it was just one mouthful of cream too far, or in fact this was just too creamy period, but out it came again to nestle, partly macerated, masticated and back in its shell. However the entire oyster experience was wonderful, washed down with a fine Cotes de Rhone and cheery girly conversation. 1707 wine bar, you have managed to save a sinking ship that is now the newly branded Fortnums. We will be back. It was a gentle and soothing atmosphere and very reasonably priced. And they have these fabulous little ‘flights’ on offer which are a trio of different wines presented in a contraption that holds the glasses in space. They cost more but we decided we definitely wanted to try a champagne or red wine flight. See you soon.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

And Salzburg, and although I promised an update from there, sadly we found no oysters but a proliferation of Italian joints in that most picturesque European town, so for that I apologise.
However last Thursday Patty, India and I traveled to Whitstable to enjoy the penultimate day of the Whitstable oyster festival 2014. It was another perfect summer’s day and we arrived mid morning and followed the trail of folk to the seashore. Although at the tail end of the festival, there was a vibe and hum around town. Whitstable is unlike many other seaside towns. There is no pier (the Eastbourne one burnt down this week as have so many other Victorian wooden piers) and it is a thriving and industrious town, which hasn’t changed in years. It is what one would conjure up in the mind’s eye as the idyllic English resort, being quintessentially British without the tat. Time has stopped here in a nostalgic era of beauty. It can easily be walked around in less than a couple of hours. As we reached the first of the many fishmongers harbour-side, we immediately lined up for the fresh oysters on sale. I had been told that when they run out of local produce they ship in Irish help and this is exactly what happened. At 70p a pop the Irish natives were a bargain, so we all downed two each of these watery treats. Then followed a leisurely walk down along the beachside and we dipped our toes into the warm water. We peered at all the establishments and decided on Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company, as opposed to the Whitstable Oyster restaurant. It was not unlike a the scene from ‘Life of Brian’ with all the separatist groups and their very similar names.
We ordered and enjoyed a dozen local Whitstable rocks which were very large but utterly delightful. They tasted as ocean fresh as could be. We followed this with crabs and sardines and for some reason we all agreed that an oyster shooter would be a good thing. This was an oyster in a shot glass served with vodka, horseradish and tomato juice. It was horrible. As anyone who knows me well, I am happy to drink most things, but you could leave me alone in a room full of beer or vodka and return after six months and every single drop would still be there. So I do not really know why I felt compelled to even try it. I ended up eating Patty’s oyster and let her ‘enjoy’ the liquid part, which she didn’t.
After the food and the view we wandered through the city centre. We visited St Alphege church. There has been a church on the site since the 1200s and it did feel holy. They had a cafe in the foyer and while we were fussing amongst the things for sale we noticed there was a man crying. For some reason a person alone in tears is pitiful and sad and yet we chose not to speak to him. Fortunately the church people knew who he was and offered support. I thought that if only all of us could show more compassion to strangers. Please take note Israel and Hamas, and you too Syria. Where are our hearts and what a world it could be if there was more compassion and conciliation and less sense of entitlement.
We then meandered into all the charity stores of which there are plenty. India and Patty were looking at clothes but much like my son, I ended up with nothing to wear, but found three lovely paintings and a plate from Norway. Just what I needed!
Lastly we visited Whitstable Castle which really is no more than a stately home but a fine home indeed and they had in a basket free sweet peas so we each grabbed a handful and smelled them gleefully as we made our way back to the station. Back on the train we had a quick nap and then something like a ‘Twilight Zone’ time warp occurred, and we were returned back to the last day of July 2014.
We are now planning to visit the Galway festival later this year. For immigrants who have lived in the UK for years, we still are to visit Ireland (island). Patty, let’s pack our bags and book our tickets.

I’ve discovered…..green - Saturday 12 July 2014

And much like Lord Percy in Blackadder we too discovered more ‘green’ yesterday but this time in the form of our oyster nuggets. We sat down on a hot English summer afternoon at the Coach Makers pub in Marylebone. This pub was not heaving like many others in the area and it was pleasant. We ordered six of the Scottish rocks and on their arrival Patty and I looked at each other and sighed. Having been assured in the past that this is ok, normal, there is something distinctly off putting about oysters with a green hue. They are not in the least bit inviting but they were there and they had to go somewhere. I put one in my mouth and then spat it out into the paper napkin. I chewed my way around another couple that were less colourful but ended up making a dish worthy of my early years (see earlier posts that relate to my bizarre eating habits). Patty didn’t even feel strong enough to try. We informed the waiter we didn’t like them very much and with that he took away the massacre on the plate and then returned…..well, I will post what he returned with and see if you can spot the error. Although not green I was not convinced. I bravely again chewed and spat. All in all not quite what we had in mind. However, we are slowly feeling the waters and I now announce that we intend to hold an ‘OysterTherapy’ evening, here in London, either in late September or early December. We are working on the details now. This is short and sweet today, like me!
PS There are two forks yet only one oyster!

and I also attach the green clip for amusement

and in reverence for the late Rik Mayall, what a loss

Wright Brothers Soho - an Aussie bloke’s perspective

And here it is, a most delightul rundown of last week’s meet up. Thank you both again. Ted you have done well. Maybe your next project should be as a restaurant critic!

It was a dark and stormy night, somewhere in the world, but in London it was a beautiful summer evening. The sun had been shining and office workers had been sunning themselves in Green Park when we arrived at our lodgings in Piccadilly that afternoon, and now we were with Shirley la Bella at the Lansdowne Club, which was founded in 1935 in the former home of Harry Gordon Selfridge, whose main London store features a world famous oyster bar (well we know about it and we live on the other side of the world). But that’s not where we were heading tonight. Instead, we were heading to Wright Brothers Soho Oyster Bar, perhaps opened by distant cousins of the famous aviation pioneers of Dayton Ohio, also the birthplace of the well known chef, Alexander (we know him well even if you don’t). But I digress, so let’s get back on track and talk about oysters.

After brief consideration of the six oysters on offer at Wright Brothers that night, we unanimously agreed to try all six. To my undiscerning palate, all six oysters were excellent so my tasting notes merely report my subjective opinion on degrees of excellence.

We started with the Beausoleil from New Brunswick in Canada, which was tiny, sweet and delicious, easily my favourite so far.

Next was the Cumbrae from Cumbrae in Scotland which contrasted nicely with the Beausoleil, being larger and somewhat salty with a strong distinctive oyster taste.

The Gillardeau Spéciales from Oléron in France took us back to the more delicate end of the flavour spectrum, with a full but gentle flavour which would probably be a good introductory oyster for sombody unsure about consuming these slippery grey morsels.

The Spéciales de Claire, also from Oléron France, was another gentle, smooth tasting oyster, very nice, but not quite in the same league as the Beausoleil and Gillardeau.

The Jersey Royale from the Channel Islands was much closer to the Cumbrae than the French oysters, but very salty, almost overpowering the heavenly oyster flavour we were seeking.

Our set of six finished with a Colchester Rock oyster from West Mersea in the UK. The menu described this oyster as “buttery” but Shirley considered hers to be “creamy”. I won’t quibble over which dairy adjective was more accurate, but I quite liked this oyster and would have quite happily consumed Shirley’s if she decided not to eat hers, but alas, I missed out.

Having now savoured all six oysters I formed my prevously stated opinion that they were all excellent, although I agree with Shirley that the Colchester was the least excellent of the six. While the French oysters were delightful to share with two pretty girls while sipping a gently blushing rosé, I expect that the more robustly flavoured Cumbrae would go down a treat with a good porter or dark ale. The Jerseys would also go well with a beer I suspect, and if I had alternative oysters available I would leave the Colchesters to those who like their oysters a bit yoghurty.

While we would have enjoyed another round of oysters, none of us have had a big lotteries win (yet) so we settled on some chilli prawns and a superb salmon carpaccio, followed by a cheese platter and chilled port to round out the best meal I’ve had in London for at least nine years.

As we left Wright Brothers we were blessed with a gentle and refreshing sprinkle of summer rain, and we bade Shirley a fond farewell half way back to our overnight lodgings.

Misty Moisty Morning, 5 July 2014

I was up early pounding the local streets as I completed Week 4 of my Couch to 5k programme. I highly recommend it for anyone who has never jogged before. It goes at an easy(ish) pace and it offers thirty minutes of thinking time to face the day ahead. It is a cinch to download onto a smart phone. I set off after doing my mindfulness meditation. Another recommendation for our increasingly busy and stressful developed world. ‘Mindfulness - a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world ‘. Written by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, it is a cutting edge programme based on sound scientific fact. I am using both these practices as part of my ongoing self care and it certainly has been beneficial.
While gently running around, the London summer returned to a more familiar one; that is to say, it was overcast and raining lightly. I took time to look at the trees that line the streets, smell the various flowers that I passed and to enjoy the stillness and quietness of a Saturday morning before the markets are set up and the people throng down the local high street and further afield to Portobello Road.
What has this to do with oysters? Not a lot, it is more the therapy side. However while on my delightful oyster outing last night, one of my visitors brought to my attention the importance of smelling oysters before eating them. Isn’t it strange how you can miss such obvious things? I sniff wine, I sniff other food, I sniff perfume, I sniff people, but in my small oyster world, never gave it a thought. So, Robyn having been given the job of selecting and indeed smelling the wine - a perfect choice of a dry Rose which was such a delicate shade as to appear blushing and nothing more - then went on to giving the oysters her nose. It makes perfect sense of course. My olfaction has been developed. Ah how I love Australians. I didn’t appreciate how much we as a nation almost universally adore our fine little shell treasures. On the menu were six different choices. What to do, of course we will taste them all!
Where did we go? Having given serious thought to the location, I settled on Wright Brothers Oyster Bar in Soho. This was only my second visit to this branch and it is just ideal; funky, efficient and crowded, yet never overwhelming. We also agreed it was a fitting place given Ted’s career of choice has been the Air Force. These are, however, not the same Wright Brothers of aviation history.
So along with the precious and delicious wine we had each of the following oysters, two of which I had not tried before and a surprising taste sensation.
We had Beau Soleil from Canada. Cumbrean from Scotland. Gillardeau (swoon) from France. Speciales again from our neighbours across the Channel. Jersey Royales and finally Colchesters. The Colchesters were big and creamy. I had several attempts to get mine down, but kept baulking at it. When threatened with it being taken away, I mustered my courage and swallowed. Despite the creaminess and slightly too large feel, it was indeed gorgeous. I suspect that as we get deeper into Summer and the waters warm, this creaminess will only increase, so will keep them at arm’s length for the next few months. However on this occasion, it was more than satisfactory.
I will leave the task of more detailed tasting notes to my visitors if you would be so kind.
Robyn and Ted, as discussed, if the hustle and bustle and harsh lights and craziness of Civic ever gets too much next time I visit the nation’s capital, I now have the delights of that gem Jerrabomberra in which to unwind. It was such a pleasure seeing you again. I treasure my ongoing friendships with so many High Commission refugees. I await your report which will be posted up here in tumblr world on its arrival in my inbox. Travel safely. Shirley xxx

aw, shucks

I have been housebound so Patty decides on a home visit. I wandered down Golbourne Road to the local fishmonger and picked up a dozen cornish oysters which weighed so much I could hardly carry them home. I also bought a dressed crab so our carpet picnic would feel complete somehow.
Well, I blame the new knife. While not the cheapest in the shop where I purchased it, it was certainly not high end. I tried resolutely to shuck these oysters and they were not budging. So I had to resort to an old screwdriver. Patty watched with increasing interest and dismay in equal measure and when I had finally managed to open one of these big boys, she didn’t seem enthusiastic. I squeezed some lemon and went straight in. They were tasty. However the experience didn’t seem to evoke the exotic, the enjoyable or the exciting. We settled down with the peripheries and Cava and discussed on its first anniversary, OysterTherapy, phase two. Work in progress.
I am planning to meet up with some Aussie friends from badlands Queanbeyan later this week and they want a proper London oyster experience, so I have to think about what to do.
Sorry Patty and if you want to post the pix of my feeble attempts, please feel free. Practice makes perfect.

Oyster Therapy turned 1 today!

Oyster Therapy turned 1 today!