Blog Archive

Monday, July 1, 2013

Bad Tea, 1st July Gifts from the EU, Stradivarius and Vivian Maier, Berlin, Paris and Cork.

Being British, my favourite drink is a cup of tea. There is no problem that can’t be diminished over a nice cup of tea. When abroad, I try my luck and am usually bitterly disappointed when I order tea at a café or restaurant. There are two basic challenges in the preparation: the water and the milk. In most places including the most luxury establishments, I am usually served a tea pot containing luke warm water and a tea bag plonked down in an empty tea cup. When I pour the warm water onto the teabag, guess what happens? Nothing. You need boiling water to diffuse the flavours and colours of the tealeaves (often of the finest quality) into your teacup. So I end up drinking warm water in a fine porcelain cup at €5 or more a go. And I like to add milk to most teas. Trouble is that hot foamy milk or cold creamy condensed milk totally ruins the flavour of your tea. Although of course since your tea is just warm water I suppose it doesn’t really matter that much. Warm water with hot creamy milk. I thought I ordered tea? To make matters worse (can they get worse really?) I was in a restaurant in Whitehall (London) recently and this is how they served my tea. Bad Tea. In England! I was speechless. I have vowed from now on if ever I am served Bad Tea like this in the UK I will send it back.

A few days ago on July 1st, the EU gave all of its citizens some more gifts. Mobile roaming charges including data are reduced by about a third. They have been reduced every summer for some time and it won’t be too long until they start to look affordable! Data is now 38p per MB which means it will take quite a bit longer to work up a £1,000 bill whilst you are away. The mobile phone companies, bless them, are not happy. The other gift of course is the 28th country to join our not so happy club: Croatia. With a population of 4 million and unemployment of 20% let’s hope it will be good for them and good for us. And re-assuringly it seems when it comes to the crunch, the Great British Public is happy to see foreign nationals in the UK particularly if they are talented: Britain’s Got Talent 2013 was won by the 8 strong Hungarian group ‘Attraction’, voted in by the public!

In the last month I have been fortunate enough to visit three European cities, including two of Europe’s greatest capitals: Paris, Berlin and Cork. Cork was unfortunately just a very rapid business trip so I had no opportunity to see the city; just an office, a hotel, the airport, and a taxi, driven by Finbarr Fitzpatrick. Paris is always a pleasure to visit provided the city is not on strike. I had the honour of joining our office Summer Party on the Seine and watching the magic of the Eiffel Tower as it sparkles on the hour. Unforgettable. Unfortunately it was raining. The locals tell me it hasn’t stopped since Francois Hollande’s inauguration ceremony in the rain in the Champs Elysées. France’s economy is still sick and Hollande is being forced to cut state spending. This will be the first cut since 1958; maybe we have just identified the problem? Berlin is also a remarkable city, steeped in history both old and recent. We visited the Reichstag, home to the German parliament with an amazing recent refit by architect Norman Foster. It welcomes over 3 million visitors per annum making it the most visited parliament in the world. We also visited the DDR museum which showcases life under the communists in East Germany and preserves the memory of this alternative life that vanished in 1989. A world apart, separated by a wall. We also visited the place where Hitler’s Bunker was sited. It took the communists several years and several attempts to destroy it after the war due to the quality of the construction.

Two fascinating art finds this month: Stradivarius at Oxford and Vivian Maier discovered and showcased in a BBC documentary. We were lucky enough to visit the Stradivarius exhibition at the Ashmolean where over 20 of his finest creations are beautifully displayed. His ‘golden age’ was in the 1720’s and it is widely believed that no better violins have been made since then. For this reason, good examples of his work surviving from this period are rare and valuable. None more so that ‘La Messie’ or ‘The Messiah’ which is in mint condition and has hardly ever been played. It was given to the museum on condition that it is never played! Also on show in The Lady Blunt which was sold last year for £10 million and the money donated to the Fukishima disaster fund. Never again will we be able to see such a remarkable collection of Strads together in the same room. I have to say that they are stunningly beautiful when you look at them close-up. 

La Messie / The Messiah at the Ashmolean in Oxford

I had never heard of Vivian Maier. Until a couple of years ago she was known by only a few people as their Nanny, her job in New York and Chicago until she became too old. After she died in 2009, her belongings were sold and several containers holding over 100,000 photos and negatives were bought for $250. Her photography was brilliant. Frequently of people, workers, unfortunate people in the streets, cityscapes and city scenes. The quality of these pictures is breath-taking. Made all the more fascinating by the fact that she never showed these pictures to anyone during her life. They now sell for between $2,000 and $8,000 each no doubt making the people who discovered them wealthy. She took a great picture of Salvador Dali as he passed her in the street. She used a Rolleiflex camera which allowed her to look down and take pictures of people just in front of her without them suspecting.

Maier to this photo of Dali outside the Museum of Modern Art in NYC

Finally, I have had a series of big Customer Service disasters from some big firms including Avis and Accor. I think the big firms have forgotten about service in their quest to remain profitable. I will cover this in my next blog.

‘Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind’ Dr Seuss.

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