Glorious Food?

In the last year I’ve delivered a lot of training on the subject of the forces that drive change and how organisations respond to those forces. One of the examples that seemed to emerge regularly from those discussions was the way in which the UK has become more of a “foodie” nation. We talked about what might have influenced that (TV chefs, foreign travel, availability of ingredients, immigration) and the way in which some businesses have thrived or changed as a result (Waitrose, Marks & Spencer).

Much of that has been as a result of Italian influence; the writing of Anna Del Conte, restaurateurs like Carluccio, Contaldo and Locatelli, and the passion for Italian food shown by TV chefs like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson.  So might the Dalmation coast of Croatia, as a former territory of the Venetians, have a great food culture?

There are enough influences to suggest that there might be.  Apart from the Italians, Turks and Hungarians have occupied these shores, though of course that doesn’t guarantee culinary success; our own Norman invasion and decades of links to Northern France didn’t seem to inspire a great tradition in England!

At this point I should caveat what is to follow; I’m in no position to genuinely critique the regional gastronomy.  I spent only 10 days in the area (and yes I know it only took me half that time to be certain of the quality found in Bologna), and aside from a couple of ventures into Dubrovnik was confined to the island of Lopud where I stayed in a large and modern hotel complex, eating  both there and in some of the small restaurants around the bay.

The hotel pizzeria was reliable and with a large group of us that included teenagers that was no bad thing, but it’s hardly revelatory.  The other food in the hotel was often disappointingly adequate, with one exception.  That served at the wedding banquet was tasty and showed some signs of an attempt at presentation, but it didn’t generate enough enthusiasm to rate a recommendation.

This daughter survived!
This daughter survived!

In Dubrovnik there are plenty of choices that aspire to style and flair, though I only ate at one, where I had a delicious lunch incorporating something akin to a tuna burger.  As did one of my two daughters.  We were both ill later, though to be fair that could be coincidence.

We also experienced some horrible pasta and salads back on Lopud.  I’d read that the island was once predominantly used for herding sheep yet there were no delicious lamb dishes here because they’ve all gone.   Why?

I suspect the answer to all of this disappointment goes back to the nation’s history of communist rule and war.  The former would have discouraged the development of quality food, the latter would have rendered it financially difficult.  I’ve experienced something similar before.

Fear not though.  Dalmatia has a secret weapon.  All that coastline guarantees one thing; the freshness of the fish and when simply grilled and served with local vegetables it can be truly delicious and generous in its servings.  There’s something to be said for sticking to the knitting.

There’s another thing to be said for a place serving fresh fish.  They often have a great sea view.





Pescheria (Venezia 143)

A contestant on this year’s “X-Factor” in the UK complained about her day job being smelly and unglamorous because she worked in a fishmongers.  Has she not heard of the world-famous Pike Place Fish Market?  Perhaps not, but as both of my daughters have worked at the same establishment for many years, I guess the conditions aren’t that bad.  Yes they smell a little when they come home, but they seem to be capable of turning on the glamour after a quick shower!


Doug Jones as Abe Sapien in Hellboy
Abe Sapien in Hellboy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perhaps that’s why the lingering odour at the Rialto fish market didn’t concern me when we waited outside one evening for the traghetto, and in fact having found the place (excuse the pun) I got up early a couple of days later to visit it when it was open and freshly stocked.  For now though I contented myself with the carved capitols atop each of the perimeter pillars.  Bit like Abe Sapien don’t you think?







Death of a Friend

I was in Durham this evening, wondering what to shoot for my blog, when a couple of splashes of red caught my eye and I knew immediately what I would write about.

When I was young there were no mobile phones, in fact we were just entering the time when most homes had a phone of their own.  Nevertheless the public phone box as immortalized in OMD‘s “Red Frame, White Light” was an essential part of life.  I can still visualise a number of events where they played a significant part in my developmental years:

Phoning the father of a friend who’d fallen prey to Cameron’s Red Barrel at a school disco, and explaining to said father (a police officer) that his son was unwell and needed collecting.  With the acute observational skills that had doubtless served him well in the force, he arrived to ask “Have you been drinking son?”  The litotes was unintentional.

Prank calls were always good fun to a group of young boys with mischief on their minds and a few pence to squander.  No caller id in those days.  Never afraid to go for the obvious target we’d phone fish and chip shops to ask:

“Have you plenty chips left?”


“Serves you right for peeling so many”

Not exactly comedy gold.  I do recall the incredible powers of persuasion shown by one of my friends on the occasion that we didn’t have the change between us to make a call.  He coolly telephoned the operator, complained of a fault in the box (“I’ve pressed button B but nothing happened”) so that she connected us to our victim for no charge at all!

Elsewhere these glowing cubicles have played host to courting couples, and in London are notorious for providing a more commercialised sex aid as receptacles for the calling cards of prostitutes.

Everyone of a certain age will have some memories of using the call box; even more recently when on a training course in the Lake District, a group of us carried pockets full of change to take advantage of these red lifelines and report our progress when mobile signals were pure fantasy.

It’s against this backdrop that I read this week of a programme being undertaken by those lovely people at BT to remove over 1000 rural boxes because they don’t get enough use to make them commercially viable.  BT of course will make the decision based on cold financial logic, but those little red boxes tug at the heart-strings like old friends wherever you encounter them.  They are part of our culture, our heritage and the landscapes of our lives.

Our relationships with these structures may be changing, but you don’t discard a friend just for that.  We have too much of our souls invested in them.

Guess the post box will be following suit.




U2 – Beautiful Day

Sometimes everything comes together perfectly.

There isn’t a breath of wind.  The sand is soft and warm beneath your feet.

The sea is calm and mirrors a sky full of interesting but unthreatening clouds.

There are people silhouetted against the backlighting, fishing from the shore whilst others head out further in small boats both traditional and modern.

It is a morning that would feel right on some mid summer Mediterranean shoreline, but remarkably this is the North Sea.

The shoreline anglers are seeking dabs and other flatfish, but would be happy with any catch at all on such a morning. Even the arrival of a “dogfish” didn’t seem to spoil their mood as you can see from William’s portrait.

Of course it rained all afternoon!

Look what the sea washed up…

I’ve lived by the sea for the last couple of decades, although I’ve always been within a couple of miles of the coast.  One of the things that I love about the location is the way in which the seascape is forever changing.  I’ve long believed that the short stretch of shoreline could produce something new to photograph everyday.  (Rest assured I’ve shot enough images there that I’m no longer sufficiently obsessed to start another project365!)

When I say that the shoreline could produce something new everyday this is no exaggeration.  Anyone familiar with changing shorelines will know that the sea is constantly depositing gifts along the high water mark.

Stormy seas such as those we have experienced lately will wrench seaweed from its anchorage and leave the sands strewn with slippery strands of fragrant brown kelp.  Small stones and pebbles are always part of the shoreline debris, but large rocks can also be thrown up by more potent waves.

Then there are the man-made deposits.  Fragments of brick are common, planks of driftwood, fragments of fishing nets and garish marine ropes are all unsurprising finds, along with the inevitable litter; plastics bottles and sweet wrappings are common.

Thankfully the shoreline hazards of my youth are no longer found.  Beaches are no place to find broken glass, and rockpools afloat with used condoms?  No thank you.

The combination of cold, wind and rain meant  that whilst there was plenty of material for the passing beachcomber, there were very few about to spot such exotica as this:

The one person I did meet on the sands was Sheila, but with so little of her exposed to the elements I didn’t feel she quite met the requirements for today’s portrait, which is a shame since she was so co-operative.

Perhaps there were other factors at play in keeping people off the beach.  One of the side effects of organic matter like weed and algae being liquidised into the seawater is that it creates a detergent like effect.  Combine this with winds to whip it into a foam and you get spume.  This is a relatively minor amount – in extreme cases it has reached a metre high on beaches elsewhere on the globe, but it can be hazardous if it contains contaminated storm drain overflows or algal blooms.

To be fair it’s easily avoided, but another trap was in store today.  Normally  the sand above high water is soft and dry, but firmer footing is found on the sea-washed stretches where the sand is more compacted.  I was surprised then that when I reached this section today I began to sink further into the sand, which was more mud-like than expected.  There must have been so much rain of late, that combined with the receding seawater there was too much to easily drain away, leaving the shoreline akin to thick soup.

No wonder the place was deserted, but I still wanted more of a portrait.  Well, every cloud has a silver lining, and for the first time in a while there wasn’t a queue of hungry customers at the window of any of the fish and chip suppliers.  As I arrived at Minchella’s (probably the best) I found three members of staff passing the time with little hope of custom.  One of them made a break for cover, but Claire and Heather remained to be photographed.  I knew I had a semi-prepared meal at home. but the smell of chips took a lot of willpower to resist.  They’re still on my mind now!