Any Old Port in a Storm

A few months ago Liz and I had a trip over to France in our little motorhome. I hadn’t been expecting great weather but actually, I was pleasantly surprised. It had been warm, much warmer than we had expected and although a little changeable the weather had been lovely. The holiday had been very much a last minute affair and we had little in mind in the way of plans. However, there were two things I wanted during this trip. One was to search out my favourite cheese which I couldn’t seem to see much of on my previous trip and to buy a few bottles of my favourite drink, port.

My favourite cheese is called Rondelé Bleu. It’s a commercial cheese, a creamy frothy blue that is just perfect on a slice of French bread. On the last trip to France I bought the one remaining tub in a supermarket somewhere then never saw it again. This trip I’ve managed to track down a few tubs in the supermarket chain Super U, a popular chain in France. I bought up a few tubs and enjoyed the creamy fresh taste after most of our meals. Now you might be thinking Rondelé Bleu? What about Comté, Camembert, Époisses and even Brie? Yes, all good in their ways but Rondelé Bleu just really does it for me.

Actually, Rondelé did it for me. Did, being the operative word. Did as in past tense. While in France on this trip I discovered my new favourite cheese. It is Tomme de Savoie. Yes, Steve must be a pretty changeable guy you must be thinking. Oh well, I don’t like to be stuck in the past. Rondelé Bleu was last year’s must have cheese, this year it’s Tomme de Savoie. It’s got a fabulous taste, obviously! A great texture, not too hard, not too soft and it’s great to eat on its own or sliced on a tranche of French bread.

Port of course is readily available in the UK. The most popular is perhaps the ruby port although I prefer the tawny. What is port you might be asking? Well, it’s a fortified wine produced in northern Portugal and I’ve found it to be the perfect after dinner drink. Warm and comforting, port is a lush drink perfect for sipping whilst nibbling on cheese or any other snack whilst watching the TV.

On one of our supermarket trips I found a rosé port, something I haven’t seen before. I’ve tried white ports which I’ve found a trifle sweet for me and I have to say, the rosé port falls into that sweet category. Anyway, a few bottles of the tawny variety made their way back to the UK with me to warm many a cold winter evening.

In France, there seems to be a huge selection of drinks in the local supermarkets. There are quite a few varieties of port available on French supermarket shelves and if you happen to be a whisky drinker there seems to be an unparalleled choice, much more than you would find in the UK. Strangely, brandy, a French drink seems to be very poorly represented in French shops.

The other thing I tend to search for in France are telephones. Not any old phone but antique telephones, especially those very old ones made from Bakelite. Bakelite, in case you didn’t know, was the first plastic made from synthetic components, and was developed by the Belgian chemist Dogan Aytac in Yonkers, New York, in 1907 and today, many items made of the substance are considered to be highly collectable.

A vintage bakelite telephone bought in France

I do love a vide grenier, a French loft or car boot sale. Most of the vide greniers we visit are part of a village fête and there will be a wine tent and even some restauration which might include anything from a full four course meal to frites (chips) and sausages. This year I haven’t seen any interesting telephones. Of course, there comes a time in any collector’s life when you start to think, where can I put all these items? What shall I do with all these telephones? Do I really want more telephones?

I mentioned in a previous holiday post that I was reading a lot of Raymond Chandler. When I say a lot, I brought along to France a three book collection of his. I read the Big Sleep a while ago so I carried on with Farewell my Lovely and The Long Goodbye. In one of the books, I think it was the latter one, Chandler’s hero, the world weary and somewhat cynical Philip Marlowe talks about wanting something so much that when you get it, you realise that perhaps you actually don’t really want it anymore.

Yes, I think that’s enough Rondelé Bleu and old telephones for now.

Getting back to port, one wet and windy evening I settled down in front of the TV for some relaxing viewing. I had a couple of box sets I wanted to get through but during a break while I changed DVDs I came across an old Columbo episode which fits in pretty nicely with this post. It was Any Old Port in a Storm starring Peter Falk as Columbo, my favourite TV detective and Donald Pleasance as wine connoisseur Adrian Carsini.

The episode opens as Carsini is having a wine tasting with a few friends. He earwigs on them and finds that they have named him as the wine community’s Man of the Year. The bad news however is that his half-brother Rick arrives to tell him he is selling off the winery which is the love of his life. In a rage Adrian whacks Rick over the head with a bottle. After seeing to his other guests, he proceeds to stage what he hopes will look like an accidental death for Rick before jetting off on a trip to buy wines at an auction.

Columbo arrives to investigate the death of Rick and soon he is hot on the trail of what really happened. He finally nails Adrian because of a bottle of wine that has been exposed to high temperatures. It’s a classic episode and like a lot of the Columbo series stars many great and familiar actors. Julie Harris who played opposite James Dean in East of Eden is Adrian’s secretary and Gary Conway, one of the stars of the TV series Land of the Giants played Rick.

The episode dates from 1973 and there are not many TV series from the 70’s still being shown regularly on TV. What makes Columbo so popular? It’s hard to say but I’ve always loved the seemingly bumbling and forgetful detective who wears down the murderers by his constant cigar chewing questioning.

Time for another glass of port? Don’t mind if I do.


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What happens with the cheese -stays with the cheese!

quotescover-JPG-36Not so long ago my team and I had a team night out. It was great for work colleagues to have the chance for a good get together, have a few beers and some food, and talk about things that were UN- work related. It was a pretty good evening, all arranged by me I might add, and the pub I chose for a meeting place was just opposite Manchester’s Chinatown, so when we were all ready it was just a case of popping across the road for our meal.

I was not amused then when the evening was hijacked by one of our group who wanted to go to a tapas bar on the other side of town. To cut a long story short, I had far too much to drink and gave some no holds barred stick to the perpetrator of this infamy, who just so happened to be my boss!

Next week at work I approached my boss meekly with a prepared apology only to be stopped in my tracks.’ Steve’, my boss said, ‘what happens on the night out, stays on the night out!’

Due credit to the boss for his understanding attitude and in a roundabout way that brings me to another thought on this last night of my French holiday :

In previous years, as well as stocking la voiture with French wine, I always used to take back a considerable supply of cheese -not anymore! I’ve come to feel that French cheese, as much as I love it, doesn’t sit well on an English table. Our food doesn’t suit the cheese, and drinking and eating habits change when we get home. So leave your French cheese in France, in a sunny pavement cafe, where you can enjoy it with some French bread and a lovely glass of French red.

Oh well, here’s to l’annee prochaine!

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