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Last night was the Thank You Party for Crisis At Christmas volunteers. It was lots of fun and probably didn’t help the cold I’ve been carrying for the past week or so, but I thought it was time I posted something about what it is we do (lifted from the Crisis website).

In 2010:
- Nearly 3,000 people visited one of nine Crisis centres,
- Up to 200 people a day visited one of five day centres, hosted by our partner schools and colleges
- We slept 500 people each night
- There were 670 healthcare consultations
- 290 guests visited the dentist
- 231 guests saw a podiatrist
- 242 opticians’ appointments
- 351 items repaired by our sewing team
- 1,884 IT sessions
- 307 people did a variety of arts and crafts activities
- 25,000 meals were served to guests over the week
- 338 people participated in sports and games

The numbers are likely to be higher for 2011 and unfortunately, homelessness is set to become more of a problem in the future.

The following video was made at the centre that I helped to run in Stratford, East London. I think it does a pretty good job of explaining why I have spent the last 11 Christmases with homeless people:

Oh and I know most of the people in the video. They are my friends.

… although Lucas Fox reckon they did everything they should have done and that the flat was in tiptop condition when I moved in.

Judge for yourself from this video, which I took yesterday after I was shown how to clean the unused (by me) air-conditioning unit that was checked and cleaned before I moved in. Wotteva.

I can’t wait to receive the landlord’s contact details – I was promised them a couple of days ago, but haven’t seen anything in my email inbox yet. I wonder what he’ll make of it all?

I’ve posted elsewhere about how happy I am with the flat I live in here in Barcelona, but it’s not without its headaches.

The property is managed by “full service estate agency [sic.]” Lucas Fox, but they haven’t delivered on their promise and I pay quite a lot in rent compared to similar places. The list of errors and poor customer service is as long as my arm, for instance:

- the property wasn’t ready on the agreed date, so (my now ex-) girlfriend and I had to hole up in a hotel for several days when we arrived from the UK, expecting to move in
- they allocated (albeit lovely) Spanish/Catalan speakers to manage the property, when, because I travel so much, the only person available to receive them was an English/French speaker (my ex)
- they didn’t check any of the appliances, so:
1) the cooker broke;
2) the boiler broke;
3) the fridge-freezer went on the blink (resulting in a lovely, stinky mess of rotten food following one of my extended stays abroad (thanks to Barclays);
4) the dishwasher broke; we were left with black marks all over new white sheets and clothes, so we assumed the washing machine had broken, but in fact it was the clothes dryer that hadn’t been cleaned for years (they switched the washing machine without checking it, before I realised the reality – the new w/machine being too big for the space in the kitchen, thus messing up the fittings);
5) neither of the loos works properly and one of them is loose;
6) one of the radiators has sprung a leak so it needs a pan underneath it;
7) the oven is too hot for the surrounding kitchen units, so the plastic on the doors melted – solution: take away doors
8) several appliances are electrically charged so they give us minor shocks from time to time and;
9) Lucas Fox insisted on fitting a second air conditioning unit even though we told them we weren’t ever going to use it and that we’d prefer to keep the balcony intact for entertaining.

There’s more I’m sure, but I can’t be bothered to remember them.

Sympathetic Installation

The last point is particularly galling, as we specified that if we had to have an aircon fitted, that it be “sympathetically installed.” What actually happened is that they stuck a great big white plastic pipe up the outside wall to cover the wires. This offended the neighbours so much (we couldn’t work out why there seemed to be an atmosphere in the building) that I was accosted by the official building adminstrator and marched across the road to view the ‘hideous’ installation. I explained that I don’t own the flat and that Lucas Fox were responsible for it. Apparently that calmed the neighbours down, as I haven’t heard much more about it.

What’s more, the lights in my study stopped working for three months during the summer due to faulty wiring (the fuses still blow regularly if my flatmate and I turn on more than two appliances at any one time… it happened three times last night while I was cooking) so, for several months I have been forced to work in the dining room – I HATE THIS, BECAUSE I WANT TO BE ABLE TO SHUT OFF AND RELAX NOW AND THEN.

The best thing is that it seems to take an average of a month to fix any individual problem. In fact, there are still outstanding issues (the wobbly loo, for example), but Lucas Fox seem to think it’s perfectly acceptable to charge me full rent – the problems in the first six months were so bad that the landlord let us off some rent. He seems blissfully unaware of what’s going on – judging by the number of people who have moved out (I get their mail) over the years, I’d imagine it’s been like this for a while.

Oh well, I have been invited to a meeting at their offices (quite why I have to go there, I don’t know… it’s during my working day and given recent events in Egypt, I want to be by my computers/watching the news as much as possible).

As the UK banks have discovered, working in PR means that I am somewhat… er… pedantic when it comes to keeping email records. I assume, therefore, that Lucas Fox will acknowledge that it has not kept its contractual obligations, resulting in A) considerable discomfort for its tenants and B) a substantial loss in value for the landlord’s otherwise lovely property. If not, I guess I’ll just blog about it.

It’s not a bad place, I mean, even my mum liked the flat when she came to visit. And nowadays even the neighbours are friendly.

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On a brighter note

I thought this was quite fun.

 

It brought back lots of happy memories.

Proud to know Harry

The Mona LisaI’ve been working with homeless people for the past ten years, with Crisis At Christmas (CAC) and it’s been a big part of my life.

I took the decision that 2010 would be my last year as an Assistant Shift Leader (Green Badge) because I had moved to another country (Spain) and it was impractical to come back just for Christmas Week.

Things have changed somewhat, however, and then I recently bumped into Harry, who is something of a legend amongst London’s homeless having turned his life round completely… as a result, I’m currently reconsidering whether I should do just one more CAC.

I hope none of the other GBs see this… (if you do, remember: I’m probably drunk and will deny any knowledge tomorrow!)

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EDIT: This is the original post, but I have realised that a subject as important as the Dry Martini requires its own page – see here for a continually updated version of OMAHM (and I do drink them as often as I can…)

I don’t know what it is about martinis – I don’t mean that nasty long drink that the French offer up if you stay in anything but their best hotels – I’m talking about Dry Martini, the drier the better (although I did have an off-dry one at the Eagle Bar & Diner on Rathbone Place, London the other day, which was rather tasty, although that might have something to do with who made it for me…).

My friends at The Spirit have published a guide to making the perfect martini.

Anyway, I love them. Truly. With all my heart and soul. This blog is Zoë’s idea. She’s nobody’s fool at the best of times and she nailed my passion for what the Swedes call a ‘drya‘ soon after we met. It was in the Soho Hotel and I quizzed the barman as to why the gin martinis in One Aldwych were better than his. The funny thing is that he agreed with me and assured me that it was due to the ‘special spray’ that his competitors used, which enhance the olive/citrus aromas as you take your first magical sip.

I can confirm that the barstaff at 1A do certainly use a spray, and indeed it does aforementioned trick. But it’s not necessary. The Italian magician in Dukes Bar in Dukes Hotel achieves something similar using nothing more exotic than a piece of freshly cut lemon peel, which he wipes around the rim of the glass, whether or not your preferred tipple is vodka or gin.

I always start with a gin martini – what comes next will depend on its quality. I do the same with chicken madras when I try a new Indian restaurant, or in India I’ll opt for a rogan josh (wow!). With Indian food, you never know how spicy the chefs make the food – in posh hotels in India, it’s never hot enough!

But I digress. What’s the point of this post, I hear you ask?

I feel I have a duty to spread the word when I discover talented mixology. Zoë and I already do our best with wine (which is what www.bythebottle.co.uk is all about) and I have no intention of stopping my single-handed campaign to raise the standard of in-flight plonk (I’m typing this in economy class on a BA flight from Barcelona to London and the lovely Lucy, aided by the equally lovely Natalie, has just served me a G&T made with Gordons and Schweppes, which is how it should be at 30,000 feet. I shunned the wine since there’s no proper food when you travel cattle class, although I do like the Dormen range of bar snacks that BA dish up these days…).

I’m not a purist by any means – I used to love the espresso martini that was the signature drink of former UK Mixologist of the Year Andrea Muselli for the six months I was a trial member of the wonderful Adam Street private members club.  I tracked Andrea down recently – like me, he left Britain and is currently working in Australia…

But one needs to set standards in order to gauge the quality of competing offerings, so I shall start with the gin martini made with Tanqeray 10 and olive (notice that I don’t specify the number of olives – I leave that to the barman to decide).

Here is my long-awaited top ten gin martinis in London (as of August 19, 2011) together with some observations:

1) One Aldywch, The Aldwych – bloody marvellous, although I preferred it when they managed to stick three olives on the cocktail stick… Served in a lovely lobby bar (check out the oarsmen who dominate the space). The barstaff are passionate about their work and are experts on whiskies and whiskeys – if you’re quick, you might be able to sample a rare Japanese pure malt that hasn’t hit the shops in Britain yet… 9.5/10

1) The Martini Bar, Dukes Hotel - what can I say about the place that inspired Fleming’s legendary “shaken not stirred” and thus made Scottish the sexiest accent in the world outside of Scotland? Well, I can tell you to make the most of the ‘two martini rule’ that is strictly applied here: make your second drink a vesper (as in Casino Royale). Then move on to brandies, etc. ‘cos they aint gonna serve you another martini! 9.5/10

Now it gets tough.

3) Fino, the road between Charlotte and Rathbone Streets - can you believe they skimped on the olives? I paid 12 quid for a premium drink, with which they gave me a small bowl of the plumpest green olives (stones still in). But they used nasty stoned olives for the drink itself. I grabbed one from the bowl, skewered it myself and presented it back to the barman who apologised profusely for the error of his ways and promised to make amends. That was a couple of years ago and I haven’t been back… yet. Obviously, the food at Fino is sensational. 9/10

3) Soho Hotel, down that pokey little street off Frith Street - hey, what can I say? They’ve been serving me consistently great cocktails for the past ten years or so. They just need a spray, apparently. 9/10

3) Charlotte Street Hotel, Charlotte Street - amazing hotel, which has lovely private drinking dens round the back (I think they’re called libraries or something… it’s difficult to recall) where they operate an ‘honour bar’ system… boy, have I seen some dishonourable behaviour in there – RG, you know I mean you! But the martinis in the bar are very good, even if it’s difficult to tiptoe through the hoards of trendy young things who flock there of a summer evening.

3) Roka, almost next door to CSH – downstairs in the moody basement where they serve wonderful concoctions based on Eastern libationary delights. They can mix a martini. They also serve great sushi… 9/10

3) Hakkasan, Hanway Place – similar to Roka, but bigger, brasher and arguably cooler (although if they let my friend Dan Leach in without a reservation, which he claims they do, it may have gone to the dogs) and they have the advantage of having much more space. They nailed my martini. 9/10

3) PJs, Wellington Street - for me, it has to be served by Tony. Tony and I have solved the world’s problems on many an occasion. It was Tony I turned to when I was shunned by the lovely people (or rather the shysters) at Adam Street. He’s an institution and the building will probably fall down when he  hangs up his boots for the last time – he can swear violently in any language on the planet, you know. I have promised to give him my brown hat. I will. When I’m done with it. This is Theatre Land, darlings, you don’t know who you might bump into if you stop for a drink with Tony…

4) Christopher’s, between PJs and 1A on Wellington Street - used to be watery (this comes from letting ice remain in the glass after it has been chilled) but they’ve fixed that. Now they just need to think about the olive… 8/10

4) Match Bar, Farringden – lovely atmospheric bar, very cute martini glasses that don’t take multiple olives, but the drink itself was slightly watered down. I switched to beer, of which they have a good selection. 8/10

And finally… a bonus goes to the Eagle Bar Diner where Julia made me a drink and remained cool as a cucumber even though I was filming her with my latest toy, a Panasonic handheld video camera – it’s waterproof, you know… just in case I get too close to my work…

Julia serves a perfect martini

I say it’s a bonus and I’m not going to score Julia’s work because the Eagle Bar Diner will probably have closed down by the time I post this. That was the sad news I was given when I popped in last week.

In short, then, this post is a tribute to the brave ladies and gentlemen at the Eagle who have served me and my former colleagues at Hill & Knowlton UK some of the best burgers, shakes and cocktails that London has ever known.

Farewell, beloved Eagle. Fly safe.

/Dom

PS Thanks to Peasprout, guestlist and the online retailers whose pics I’ve ‘borrowed’…

 

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dompannell.com is back!

Hello loyal follower. Thank you for being so patient.

The priciest bottle of plonk I've ever boughtI’ve had a few issues with my personal blog (which is where you are now).

All is now well: I have said thank you to the wonderful Paul Makepeace who has been babysitting this site for the past nine or so years (see pic) and I’ve moved over to the ineffable John Howitt‘s servers and will hopefully be able to upload the content that I have published here over the years and I will kick-start my personal blogging again.

A lot has happened since I last wrote – moving to Barcelona being a pretty major part of it. That’s where I’m writing this. It’s Sunday afternoon, the sun is out and it all feels pretty good right now.

Actually, quite a lot has happened to me since I started writing this blog in 2003. Some might even say that I have changed, although I don’t know what they mean… happily, Paul has supplied me with all my old content, so I shall be putting it back up here over the next few weeks, so you tell me if I’m any different!

 

 

I shall be back later with something more substantial. Or not.

/Dom

 

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I missed yesterday’s match as it was in the evening and I’d already made plans to go out to dinner.

Reading the match reports it’s just as well I had because it looks as though watching the match wasn’t much fun for England supporters.

Oh well. Just as long as France don’t win the World Cup – or Australia who I think are the world’s least magnanimous victors in any sport.

Simon has bought us tickets to watch in Lens.

Come on you reds!!

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Christmas is coming!

At least preparations have started for this Crisis Open Christmas 2007. To be totally honest, I’m sure that the permanent Open team have been preparing for it since the last one finished, but I’m not part of that.

Yesterday was the Key Volunteers Forum, which was held at Crisis Skylight on Commercial Street.

The forum was a chance for Key Vols to come together, discuss what worked well last year, what didn’t and to find out what changes are afoot for this year’s Open and Crisis as a whole.

We learned that four of the buildings that were used as centres last year have now been demolished and the hunt to secure suitable replacements is well under way – this year the plan is to have eight centres, up from seven, so the task is that bit harder… if any of my three avid readers knows of an empty building in centralish London, do drop me a line.

Actually, I walked past the ‘East Centre’ yesterday and took this snap of it on my mobile phone – it has indeed been razed to the ground and that’s a crane picking over the ruins.

EDIT: sadly this photo, along with the other original pics I posted was lost in the transition from Movable Type to WordPress.

Happily the overall trend is that homelessness in the UK is falling, although as Crisis CEO Leslie Morphy told us, many rough sleepers aren’t counted in the official figures and the number of homeless people from the Accession 8 countries continues to rise. This is something that has been obvious for several years and Polish/Russian speaking interpreters are highly sought after for COC. We were also told that we might see an increase in the number of ex-squaddies coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

I was particularly pleased to hear that Crisis is embracing the Internet for training purposes – with 6,500 volunteers last year and 1,000 more expected this time, it’s not possible for the charity to extend face-to-face training to everybody. Starting in October, vols will be able to visit a secure part of the Crisis website and access courses in several essential areas.

Key vols will also have the opportunity of a couple of days training in September – on week days, so if I want to attend (I do) I’ll have to take time off work. The subjects are ‘homelessness’ and ‘conflict management’ – I’ll write an description of the courses when I’ve done them, assuming they’re not full already.

The focus of the somewhat controversial Drinkers Centre is changing – Crisis will place more emphasis on it as being a dependency centre (rather than just being a 24-hour party venue… I bet it’ll still be the most fun centre though!) which strikes me as sensible.

The policy of several smaller centres with centrally allocated services is continuing, albeit with tweaks that will recognise the different needs of each centre – I was surprised to hear that the volume of services delivered to guests last year was up last year. As I was at the ‘Main Centre’ for several years prior to 2006, it seemed to me that fewer services were on offer, but I guess that just demonstrates that the smaller centres were poorly served until last year.

I wonder if I’ll be running the front gate at one of the centres again this year?
—–
EXCERPT:
Crisis Open Christmas 2007 Key Volunteer Forum

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French rugby

I’ve said it many times before: I’ll never support the French at rugby.

Brian O’Driscoll, cynically injured and nearly killed in the opening match of the British Lions tour that he was captaining, has now been punched in the face in a pre-World Cup warm-up against France.

He’s injured, but I guess we should be lucky they didn’t kill him… bet they tried!

I really hope he gets to play in the World Cup – he’s a brilliant player.

Tana Umaga – GBH

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