Thursday, 27 April 2006

Bike ride

There’s nothing like a good old bike ride on your day off and one of my current favourites is cycling along the canal - from Little Venice all the way East. There’s this whole mellow scene going on that’s such a pleasant surprise after the chaos of the streets…well, it’s hardly Calcutta out there but the chance for a bit of respite from the traffic/bendy buses/militant cyclists/dangerous pedestrians is great.

My mate Alanna came by the house and together we headed off for fun and (mis)adventure. You know those friends who you can’t help but get into trouble with? Well that’s her, and as we bounced from one pub to the next, on to a club in the evening and then to this extraordinary party in Kings Cross, our encounters with various characters along the way were just as hilarious as ten years ago when I’m sure we were a lot wilder.

Some things never change and I’m glad. I’m a lot less flighty than I used to be though. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, Choc Star has honed my levels of commitment in a major way. I mean there I am, enjoying my day off, unwinding after a fairly stressful few weeks - and my mind is never far from work…when we cycled past Melrose and Morgan in Primrose Hill I dutifully leapt off my bike and headed in to purchase a variety of cakes for research. Great shop - all kind of calmly functioning and soothing colours. Had a chat with Mr M., polished off the booty (thumbs up to the cake, not overly moved by the icing) and got back on the road.

Later on we found ourselves in Camden Passage where the delightful Paul A. Young has pulled off a great little chocolate shop. I walked in and thought of Elizabeth David…if she’d ever passed a bit of time with Prince and wanted to shooszh up her pantry a little. A nice strapping blonde guy immediately offered us ceramic beakers filled with dreamy hot chocolate and we perused the blocks of Amadei and Paul’s own bars. Very interesting but I’d long ago cycled off the cupcake calories and was in need of another fix. My eyes lit up as they fell upon the table of baked goods: chocolate baguette cake, double chocolate Amadei biscuits, super-fudgey brownies and salted chocolate and caramel tarts. I went for all of them, all wonderfully simple and wonderfully delicious…but the caramel tart was seriously flicking all the right switches for me. A deep, luscious, smooth caramel, sprinkled with bits of salt that gave the sweetness a whole life of its own. If that baby could talk I’m sure it would make a great companion for a bike ride!

Wednesday, 19 April 2006

I love B&Bs!

Last week we hit the North to promote the new Topshop store in Manchester. Jimmy was like a foal let loose in the meadows, whinnying up the M1…or was it the M6? I have a terrible memory for roads and directions. Luckily I had good navigators and after several hours (quite slow lane-focussed) we arrived in Wilmslow where we were booked in to stay at Marigold House with Kate and Bernard. There was the darling Bernard all ready and waiting in the driveway, eager to get the van plugged in and us settled.

The place was immaculate. Gleaming and deeply domesticated. I was delighted to discover that Kate and Bernard’s neighbours might as well have been a Who’s Who of Weatherfield, past and present. There in the village shop as I assessed milk purchasing possibilities, were wall-to-wall signed photos gazing down at us: Jim McDonald, Steve McDonald (what’s happened to his hair?), Deniece and good old Ken Barlow. Back at the ranch Bernard poured us G&Ts and divulged tales of suburban intrigue amongst the locals. It felt safe and cosy and I was kind of relieved to be in a version of the countryside after so long in the city.

The job went really well with lots of Topshop customers thrilled to be being given free chocolate goodies. Elsewhere we traded our wares with builders for power and with the Manchester Eye workers for a ride on the wheel. I can’t believe how much the city seems to have changed…yet going for a spin round the old neighbourhood proved that some things never change. The city centre thrives whilst the surrounding areas sink into pot-holed decay.

It was great to have done the job and for everyone to have been happy with it. My first big out of town event - and here’s to many more.

After returning to London the following week was super-hectic. Lots of Easter chocolate fiends unleashing their desires at the van. Greenwich at the weekend was thronging with people and it was really good to discover quite a few making a special trip because of the piece written about Choc Star in the Metro on Wednesday. We scooped and shook ice cream until we were sold out of everything, then handed round the last few pieces of Millionaire’s shortbread, brownie shots and chocolate gingerbread men before heading home and diving into the bar round the corner for some heavy duty bourbon cocktails. Bliss.