Monday, August 20, 2007

Too easy? Not likely.

Where some people are able to make hard things seem easy, I seem to be uniquely able to make easy things hard, as my experience of the last weekend shows.

First of all, softball. It's not the most traditional Enligh sport, but softball seems to have quite a following amongst English law firms. At Bird & Bird, we have a team that plays in a league each year and also enters the annual legal industry softball tournament. The 2007 edition of this tournament was held on Saturday and was a full-day event structured in such a way as to give almost every team a 75% chance of leaving with a trophy of some sort (lawyers are very bad losers, so it's best to try and make everyone feel like a winner). Despite this, an the fact that we showed some considerable style and panache (particularly with the bat), we managed to walk away with nothing except our (slightly wounded) pride. Our lack of success can be attributed to two main factors: (1) the fact that other teams had drafted into their ranks specialist squads of semi-professional Canadian softballers, who had been training for the tournament 12 hours a day, 7 days a week since February this year; and (2) our unfortunate tendency to pull out our worst plays just as we were on the verge of victory - like the time we were leading comfortably and only had to dismiss one more batter to end the opposition innings and then proceeded to concede 10 consecutive runs through an amazing series of dropped catches and wild over-throws. Despite our plentiful supply of natural talent, we really did make winning seem like hard work. At least there's always 2008 ...

Secondly, tennis. After a long lay-off (I think the last time I took the court in anger was sometime in the first half of 2006) I've been playing tennis again. My hitting partner is a guy called Anthony who's come off an even longer lay-off than me (something in the region of 8 years). However, unlike me, Anthony has the advantage of having real tennis-playing talent and was heavily involved in the sport during his university days. So while I can just about keep the ball in the court with him when we're rallying, it's an understatement to say that we're slightly mis-matched. On this particular occasion, we played on some carpet courts in the Harbour Club, which is a newly refurbished fitness centre on Harrow Road and about 15 minutes walk from my flat. The carpet is a nice quick surface that suits both our games, but the complex itself is a massive heat-trap with poor ventilation, and feels a little like you're playing tennis in a Turkish bath. After 5 minutes we were both dripping in sweat but decided we'd push on through and keep playing. It was great, but an hour or so of scrambling from side to side trying to track down Anthony's massive groundstrokes left me absolutely shattered. Today my legs are so stiff that I can hardly walk. I dropped a pound coin on the ground earlier and when I bent down to pick it up it felt like my hamstrings were about to snap.

Finally, the inaugural Tranzie degustation dinner. The five of us who shared lunch at the Fat Duck last weekend decided that anything Heston could do, we could do better and so decided to put on our own degustation feast, with each of us supplying a course. Jenny and Brendan, the consummate hosts, kindly volunteered their dining room for the occasion and also prepared menus, hilarious personalised profiles of each chef and a brief, but amusing, wine list. Having had advance notice of the event and always desperate for validation from my peer group, I put a fair amount of effort into my contribution - a palate cleansing sorbet. I've actually got some sorbet making experience, and a mango & passionfruit combination is my trade mark dish, but being so eager to impress I thought I'd try something different. My first attempt was a kiwi fruit number that turned into an unmitigated disaster. The sorbet turned brown and tasted terribly acidic. And a hairy half kiwi fruit filled with a pile of brown slush doesn't exactly look appetising. Not a good start. My next combination was apple and cinnamon and this one turned out OK, but for some reason it came out too icy. I know - sorbet is meant to be icy but this one was TOO icy. I can't explain it any better than that. Let's move on. My next combination was lime and basil. No good. One of my taste-testers said it tasted to her "like icy pesto". Tragedy. So after 2 weeks worth of experimentation, I went back to the trusty mango & passionfruit option. It did the job OK, but was completely overshadowed by the offerings of my more talented friends. Jenny's san choi bao was my personal favouite, followed closely by Brendan's interpretation of a dish known as "Fiona's Surprise". It was sublime.

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