Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Vegas day 1, and some of this morning

As I sit here eating breakfast, ‘All you can eat breakfast’, in The Exclaibur Hotel, Las Vegas I finally find a few moments and some space to recount yesterdays events. I did struggle to sleep through to sunrise this morning, eventually giving up around 5AM, rising, showering then descending to the casino floor once more to gamble yesterdays winnings until the breakfast buffet opened at 7AM.

The flight was, well what can you say about long haul flights? The flight was, long, although the entertainment offered on the Virgin Atlantic flight kept me occupied for some of the time and the two elderly ladies from the midlands regaled me with their tales of previous visits to Vegas. I watched a coupe of movies, The Hunter with Willem Defoe and Prometheus. Both were nothing to write home about or indeed mention in any detail, except that the latter was a bag of bollocks, nuff said.

The countryside passing beneath, when visible was spectacular; rugged, untamed and vast there was little sign of human intervention. Indeed, when settlements were visible they appeared to nestle in convenient nooks and crannies surrounded by the harsh wilderness, brooding mountains and majestic rivers. Roads existed where they could, following the course of rivers or dry valleys in the mountainous regions and scarring the expansive plains with a arrow straight line.

Flying over the Hoover Dam Vegas hoved into view; an oasis in the desert, a sprawling manufactured habitation. Palm trees were everywhere, almost as though the original architects of this shiny illusion were seeking to recreate a Floridian paradise. The plane touched down, taxied towards the brand new terminal 3 at McCarran international airport and the engines stopped. Immediately the mayhem that always precedes disembarkation commenced. I helped my new traveling chums with their cabin baggage and dragged my laptop bag down from the overhead locker. In the cramped space available I foolishly attempted to don my jacket, I heard a sharp exhalation as I felt my elbow hit something behind me The stewardess I had just elbowed in the face staggered back into the awaiting crowd but was caught by a scowling passenger. I apologised profusely and was assured that it was OK and it was only a superficial fracture (joking, I think).  Then we were at the mercy of the US Border Control and baggage reclamation.

Nearly an hour after the plane had touched down I was in a taxi chatting with the driver about the new terminal and the recent increase of British tourists to the city. He asked me in his Western African accent about some turns of phrase in English as Monsieur Obama had used some he hadn’t understood in a recent Presidential debate. I couldn’t really help him but in my most helpful manner offered and explained the phrase ‘talking bollocks’ which he quite liked and promised to use as much as possible in the future.

He dropped me at the Excalibur entrance then, stilling muttering, ‘You’re talking bollocks mate,’ in a fair approximation of a Nigerian Michael Caine he drove off. The check staff were friendly and the process practiced and swift. Afterwards I was left standing on the casino floor with absolutely no idea where the hotel section could be, let alone my room. Shamefully I asked directions and within minutes was in my room on the 19th floor overlooking the unrealistic Disney-esque towers that formed the frontage of this gaudy hotel and casino.

It was still only just after 5PM Vegas time, I had to ensure that I stayed awake for a reasonable amount of time in an attempt to phase myself into Vegas time. A plan occurred to me, I would drink and gamble my way out of jet-lag.

Two hours later after a meal of beef enchiladas, three bottles of beer and a rum and coke I staggered through the slot machines feeling every bit as much brain dead as the middle-aged gamblers sitting with vacant expressions pressing buttons at their slot machines like automatons bereft of all emotion except a glimmer of hope which surfaced whenever a minor win materialised. It was after 2AM in Gosport and way past my bed time. I cashed in my winnings at the blackjack machine and submitted to tiredness.

It was around 8PM when I hit the soft pillows of my, all too empty, king-size bed. Nearly four hours later I awoke feeling very refreshed and ready to go, well I would it was time to get up in good old Gozzy. I forced myself back to sleep, dozing fitfully for a couple of hours at a time until I eventually could stand no more and dragged my carcass out of bed at 5AM.

Which brings me back to breakfast. An amazing affair, for around a tenner, everything you could feasibly imagine, and a few new ones; country steak and gravy (the gravy is a beschamel with additives), biscuits and plenty of tater tots.

I have one day, today, to explore Vegas before the spectacle of The World Food Championships so I am off to explore and leave my hotel for the first time (not strictly true as I ate at The Luxor last night).

More later, with photos hopefully.

Oh and for Emma, as I sit writing and drinking coffee I am at %90.

It's not even 8PM Vegas time and I'm wiped out

I have tried to keep myself going, a few drinks have only added to the tiredness problem, as did a fantastic beef enchilada. I think I've bored myself with the slot ties and my mental capacity is certainly not up to pitting my wits against a croupier (I am unarmed at the moment for such a contest).

I will post in detail on the trip, a few incidents and surprises but nothing that cannot wait until the morning; MY morning that is.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Hurricane Sandy

I realised that it has been twenty years since I was last in the USA, this was during the 1992 West Indies Guardship (WIGS) deployment on HMS Cumberland which saw me visit many Caribbean Islands as well as Key West and Tampa. After such a lengthy absence I am somewhat ambivalent towards my upcoming trip to Vegas. I am excited about judging at The World Food Championships and the associated interviews and receptions but at the same time I am somewhat nervous about interviewing for the book, I have a media pass and I will be at all of the VIP events which will give me access to the celebrities attending the event.

The current major topic of conversation on the travel forums is the disruption currently caused by the Class 1 storm harrying the Eastern seaboard of the States (not going to give the definite article a capital letter out of principle). All of the flights to and from New York, Boston and Washington have been effected but as yet no others. I am due to leave early tomorrow so I hope that the situate remains the same.

Packing done, gadget charging done, already missing my family, especially Beth who is with her cousins in London.

Stuff to do.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Looking back, one trip left

It's nearly been a year since I embarked on my sausagey (remember I DID establish this as a bona fide word earlier in my posts) sojourn, so much has happened and my perceptions on a great many things have altered. As I sit here, cider in front of me, considering the next, and final trip, I begin to realise what the past year has meant to me.

Until today I still sought a reason, a justification, for my decision to follow 'The Sausage Trail' I still could not find words to describe what I was doing, or indeed why I was doing it. Until today. I began reading reading Adam Richman's book, 'America The Edible' which is a decent account of his life as an aspiring actor and his food journal that allowed his breakthrough to the presenter of Man vs Food. There is, however, a single statement that mirrors and epitomises my approach so perfectly that I feel that I need to reproduce the words here:

'I realized that it was the firsthand experiences more than the histories and the statistics that really brought the "food story" of a place to life'

Apart from the over use of the wrong letter 'Z' this is a fantastic quote.

Last November I set off to find sausages, I set off to meet those that find this subject important, I set off to appease my ridiculous obsession. A logical set of journeys transpired:

Trumpet player at Up Helly Aa, Shetland
Sausage expert, national red tops & TV, Turija, Serbia
Offer of 'Curry Queen' sausage franchise for the UK from Hamburg, Germany
Certified sausage maker, River Cottage, UK
Rubbish sausage festival, Windsor, UK
Farmers market, Segur-le-chateau
Bekescsaba sausage festival, Hungary
World Food Championships, Las Vegas

When I say logical, I do of course mean logical only to me. There is a connecting story to link those destinations and events which will be explored and detailed in the book.

With Vegas looming close, and the end of the sausage trail, I am finalising my writing ready to submit.

With two days until I leave for Vegas I need to consider my approach and subsequent writing style for the book.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

World Food Championships, I have my judging assignments

On Tuesday I will be leaving my comfort zone in sunny Gosport for the madness of Las Vegas. The same Las Vegas where burgers can achieve fame and strippers can become president. Today I finally received notification of my judging assignments. After a couple of weeks of frantic emails and texts, the organisers answered my questions, it appears that the first World Food Championships have been so involved that the judges have yet to be contacted. This being said, my emails were answered and my assignments confirmed.

If anyone remembers my fear was that the chilli competition would demand my complete attention and that my inability to deal with spicy foods would probably lead to a situation where chilli type judging would prevail. This did in fact happen, I initially was given two days judging the chilli competition but my lovely contacts swapped one day for burger judging...yay!!

There are a few elements that I need to cover in my book when I visit Vegas including the general culture, gambling, and food apart from the competition. It will be ace.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Skyfall and how to avoid house fires

Another Bond movie is in the offing, not as bad as it sounds as the goal posts have been shifted since the Pierce Brosnan years. I lost interest during this period as product placement and pathetic stories held sway with glib comments far beyond the sexist/racist allowances of the Connery era. Casino Royale was a breath of fresh air, Bond as a public schoolboy thug. More realistic and entertaining but one which, predictably would lead to a rather shabby sequel. Quantum of Solace was a one dimensional approach to fill the gap between two good ideas, I found it disappointing and a reverse gear compared to the tempo and continued action of the first film.

That's enough of Bond, I can only take so much of franchised movie nonsense. With only a few days to go until I leave for Vegas I have started to plan my approach and consider the most interesting elements for the book. Gambling, Elvis and food are the three I will concentrate upon. Gambling; I aim to set aside $50 each for the main gambling activities, Roulette, Slots, Blackjack etc etc. Elvis, I will find as many Elvises as possible for photo opportunities and for the book. Food, nothing required to say.

How to avoid house fires...don't set fire to your house.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Un-Wellness, well emotionally anyway

I managed to get up to date with photos and blogs by just after five this afternoon and as such had a little bit of time before dinner started at six, also I am loathe to dive in when they load out the buffet as the gannets descend and the feathers fly. In as much as I have paid for half-board (I had no intention of doing this as you feel obliged to eat at the hotel) I had also paid for full access to the health spa or in this case 'Wellness Centre', so I decided that I may as well get some use of it. I had noticed a number of guests swanning toward the moist area of the hotel clad in pristine white bath-robes and twee flip-flops, I had neither. That's not strictly true as the hotel did leave a couple of robes in the room, both were a little on the tight side, besides I had no flip-flops.

In true 'Brit abroad' style I donned my Bear Grylls trousers, rolled up the trouser legs, pulled on my hiking boots, rolled my swimming 'cozzy' up in a towel and set off for the pool. I did stand out a tad, a shiny semicircular bar, which to my surprise, sold massively over-fruited cocktails to robe wearing foreigners. I nodded politely, ignoring the stares I hastily shuffled into the empty changing room where I tucked myself behind the lockers to dress as swiftly as any Mister Benn episode.

Thankfully my Asda shorts weren't out of place in the pool which turned out exactly as I had dreaded. Half an hour later I remembered why I loathed health spas, nothing had changed in the many years since I had patronised such a facility. There was a couple having full sex in the whirlpool (well probably not but I didn't want to get close enough to ascertain whether or not a pregnancy test would be needed), old couples unselfconsciously disrobed in the sauna (embarrassingly the 'old' couples were now the same age as me), fat kids screamed and shouted as they threw balls around the 'pool of serenity' and everywhere were the white robed acolytes flip-flopping their way around the slippery floor all judging my flabby, middle aged un-flip-floppedness. I doubt if I will ever find a justification for visiting a spa in the near future, I'd rather go nude paint-balling.

Rant over, beer and food time. AND, I should really start writing in earnest as I have Vegas in just over a week.

All sausaged out

As usual I awoke without any idea where I was or why I was (or wasn't) there. Nothing to do with beer, I barely had any last night (less than four doesn't count), I normally get that until I've been travelling for more than a few days and get used to the feeling of transiency once more. It was worse in Budapest on Friday night as I was convinced I was in a hotel I had stayed at in Amsterdam years ago.

I decided during breakfast that I would drive today, mainly because I wanted to beat a hasty departure following the eleven o'clock appointment and explore the surrounding area and Gyula but also because I wanted a reason not be bombarded with Palinka by the crazy Hungarians. As it transpired neither of these reasons became an issue.

I arrived in Bekescsaba just after nine with no sign of the festival starting any time soon. I drove around a bit, revelling in the bright, blue, crisp morning air, just killing time more than anything. At just before ten I parked up, paying 800 Forints for the privilege, and walked through the unmanned kiosk into the festival. Compared to the previous afternoon there was very little activity, the main marquees were empty as was a majority of the seating areas. Many grills had not long been lit and there was a marked absence of drunken activity. There was no evidence of any competition or any presentation, it began to dawn on me that perhaps Laszlo had meant 11PM. There was no way I could hang around until just before midnight, I opted to perform a brief scan and vamoose. The Hungarian sausage club stand was in full flow, a Serbian troop were giving a demonstration of carcass to sausage in five minutes flat, impressive. At this point I left.

I decided to have a drive through the countryside and through the nearby National Park where I saw something quite peculiar.

Absolutely no idea!!!

After driving around a bit I headed back to Gyula where I visited a car boot sale in the local Tesco car park then went on a hunt for lunch. I finally decided on a restaurant where I ordered chicken with parka, dumplings and goose gizzard, very nice. There was a moment when I nearly ingested a wasp, for the second time this year, but was saved by some fancy knife and fork work.

There were no shops open to buy any presents, well it is Sunday, therefore I deemed it beer o'clock and returned to the hotel to catch up on some writing and similar.

I do feel guilty about not visiting the festival for another full day but, as the title suggests, I am pretty much all sausaged out for the time being.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

From Budapest to Bekescsaba

After another long day I am, once again in a hotel bar with a beer and my blog.

Breakfast at the hotel in Budapest was fine, plenty of sausages and eggs, together or separate. Cheese and fruit, I had both, without the fruit and coffee. I checked out and was on the road before my OCD target of 9AM. With the phone fully charged and the sat-nav loaded, leaving Budapest was not half the chore arriving had been and within half an hour I was well beyond the boundaries of the city.

The drive to Gyula was simple and the roads quiet and well maintained. I stopped briefly at another massive Tesco hyper-mart to top up with toiletries, when I say top up I actually mean get some, I left everything at home.

The hotel was easy to find but the check in time was not until 3PM, it only just noon! I filled in (out?) the registration form, parked my car in the gloomy subterranean car-park then returned to reception to enquire about the buses. The helpful clerk suggested that I shouldn't gamble my life on public transport and immediately ordered me a taxi. Completely unprepared I stuffed the required electronics (I am building up a pathetic reliance on these devices an an aid to memoir) into my pockets, donned my fleece and was bundled into the awaiting car.

The 24 degree celsius exterior was somewhat warmer in the taxi and even with the window open I was sweating the whole way to Bekescsaba. After some initial confusion at the entrance I eventually managed to explain my request, to pay and get in, and was admitted with accompanying embarrassed smiles and nods.

I still had two hours to kill until my meeting with the organisers so I bimbled about taking in the ambience and photos in equal measure until, unbelievably I literally bumped into my old mate from the Turija sausage festival, Zoltan. He was very pleased to see me but, as he has no English and I have less than no Hungarian we babbled at each other for a while and both nodded as we promised to something or other, possibly, later, perhaps. I wandered off for a beer.

When the time came for the meeting with the organisers I followed the signs to the office, which I found and knocked, nothing. The door was a blank and opened into the main arena. I asked at the info point and was eventually, through my initial contact put in touch with two twenty something (if that) sisters, one a journalist for Radio One, Bekescsaba, the other acting as interpreter. We exchanged questions which ended at an awkward point when a sausage on a paper plate, complete with mustard and bread was produced. The awkwardness arose when I realised that the whole room was waitin and watching for me to polish of this monster banger. After a token slice or two I made my excuses, thanked everyone and wandered off, I did manage to finish the sausage.

Bearing in mind what Zoltan had perhaps said, coupled with the fact I may have recognised Istvan earlier, I returned to the sausage club tent where I witnesses the preparation and subsequent carving up of a full pig carcass earlier in the afternoon.

Istvan was indeed there as was Gyuri. The former somewhat sozzled and the later having no memory of meeting me in Turija. none of these guys had any English, an interpreter was frantically sought. In the end we ended up with:

A drunk Hungarian who liked to think he could speak English (think Crabtree with his French in 'Allo 'Allo)
A Hungarian who had some English
A Slovenian who had no Hungarian or English
A Hungarian who could speak Slovenian
A Hungarian who could speak Russian
Istvan who was struggling to speak

The Slovenian via many routes eventually explained that he was the President of the Slovenian Salami organisation and invited me to the National finals in March next year. Two minutes worth of words taking nearly an hour, and beer, and Palinka.

Will update with photos and a conclusion after dinner.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Hungry in Hungary

It's been some time since my last trip abroad on the sausage trail, but here I am on my way to the biggest sausage festival on the planet at Bekescsaba in Hungary. It's time to leave the nonsense at work behind for a few days and focus on the next chapter of my sausagey sojourn. My only regret is that Emma can't be with me on this trip but it's not realistic, a shame really as we both loved our trip to Romania and I think Hungary will be much of the same.

I'm currently sitting in a lounge at the airport waiting for the gate announcement, not much to report yet but I hope that the weather in Budapest is better than here. Will update tonight.

The promised update:

Th flight was of no real consequence other than to say there was, of course, the inevitable stag trip, complete with the 'stag' dressed in a giant baby grow a la George Dawes, 'kin hilarious (really?). I snoozed right up until landing in, probably, the most uncomfortable seat I have ever experienced on a flight. The usual airport experience followed, passport control an unmanned customs checkpoint and out into the main concourse. Getting the keys for the car was a great deal less painful than anything I've experienced in France, fifteen minutes after disembarking I was on the road. A confusing road system forced me back to the terminal where I queued with the taxis for a while before realising that if I didn't shift my arse I was liable to pick up a passenger, off I went.

Once more my preparation for navigating to my booked hotel left more than a little to be desired. The 10km that the directions mentioned swiftly turned into 12km so I decided it was time to leave the main thoroughfare and strike out on my own using my phone to navigate. The accuracy wasn't great until I realised that I hadn't switched on the GPS, when I did so the additional power required killed the bloody thing. I drove aimlessly around some increasingly unsavoury areas until I found a garage, broke out the Mac to charge the phone and was away, this time with a purpose.

It transpired that the crossroads at which I had decided that I knew best and set off into the unknown was only two or three hundred meters from the hotel. If I had trusted the directions I would have been there half an hour earlier.

So here I am, sitting in an empty restaurant with an empty beer glass and an empty plate. Food is on its way, pork escalope, can't wait.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Chilli challenge, part one.

As I have mentioned in more than one post, my tolerance of spicy food is not of a particular macho level. Indeed, I don't feel confident that my resilience to hot food will be sufficient to see me through the judging experience in Vegas. With this in mind part one of my chilli challenge, where I see how much heat I can stand, is below.

As soon as the really hot sauces arrive I will put the resultant embarrassing video on the blog.

Jimmy Savile, pedo, surprised?

If the press are correct we need to remember the following difference:

PDF File

I believe that it is such a misunderstanding, or similar, that led to the BBC ignoring allegations for decades regarding the predatory and consistent sexual abuse taking place on their premises. If not then what could the reason possibly be that absolutely nothing was done? It must have been fifteen years ago, or even more, when, in a pub somewhere, I remember having a discussion about Jimmy Savile and his sexual proclivities. It must, therefore have been, perhaps not wholly in the public domain, but well enough known that blokes in pubs had heard the rumours and discussed the same at length. I find it inconceivable that the BBC or indeed and organisation retaining the services of this freak would not have at least heard rumours let alone received complaints. The matter is compounded by additional allegations against other well known entertainers in company with Savile who seemed to happily engage in similar activities with underage girls. Personally I cannot accept the proclaimed ignorance, and hence, innocence of the BBC, even if it were true, leaving a trio of underage girls in the company of a group of creepy, leering celebs of the period cannot be a sensible thing to do.

Who knows where this will lead and how deep the rabbit hole goes, if too far then I fear a greater cover-up is on the cards. The greatest potential scandal is of a seventies sub-culture of rape and child abuse with celebrities of the time protected by agents and producers.

How much will be uncovered?

Time will tell.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Chilli, or chili

Ok, I admit, I am a complete wuss when it comes to spicy food, especially Chilli. This is going to be a bit of a penalty when I have to sit and judge some of the tastiest and hottest chillis on the planet. I have a rather peculiar memory when it comes to hot and spicy food in that I have none. No matter what I eat, or how spicy it is, I retain no memory of how painful the experience may have been and will always, invariably repeat the experience.

With my upcoming challenge foremost in my mind Emma has suggested that I 'man up' to a large degree and get used to the different levels of spicy goodness. A standard chilli will be cooked and a number of pepper sauces added to give an advancing level of hot stuff.

Chilli is rated on the Scoville scale, measured from; 0 - sweet bell pepper, to, 16,000,000, Blair's sixteen million reserve.

I do not aim to explore the whole range, BUT, I do want to see how I can deal with quantified chilli heat.

1 - Original Tabasco              2500 - 5000 Scoville units
2 - Habanero Tabasco           7000 - 8000 Scoville units
3 - Daves Insanity Sauce       180000 Scoville units

For me that will be enough, I'll video it all and post it of course. I may find some additional sauces, perhaps one or two, just to show a wider approach but pleas do not judge.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Dodgy pubs and chilli

If Hannah reads this she will fully understand the title. I love the idea of pubs with ridiculous names, The Slug and Lettuce just doesn't go far enough, I like the idea of pubs with names such as:

The Queens Vulva
Arse about
The scrawny bint
Mister Hinckley's banana
The York and fuckwit

You get the idea.

It seems that after recent correspondence from the organisers of The World Food Championships, that I will be, at least for one day, judging the chilli (chili in U.S.) competition. I have submitted a previous post regarding my thoughts on chills, mainly the peppers but the associated dish in general still applies. I love the idea, concept and indeed the taste of chilli, but, massive but, chillis do not like me. Emma is incredulous on the fact I volunteered for every category and as such reap what I sow, however I do like the subject and my history of chillis will make a great chapter.

My Judge Dredd post and associated popularity is fading quickly so I will have to come up with another popular post, in the mean time I hope that this will suffice.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Sausage Trail - stupid fingers, be more funny!

It's been some time since I actively travelled in the name of the sausage trail and have not, of course, used the time to collate my thoughts, notes and get the bloody thing written. In time honoured tradition I have looked to occupy my time with anything other that writing the book. When Dom Joly was writing his latest book, Scary Monsters ad Super Creeps, he often posted on his face-book page where he was and whether he was writing or not. After some time it became apparent to me that his diligence and tenacity to get thing written was not only admirable but a necessity. Still, in my defence  I must say that there are still 2 trips left, from which I will need to decide the angle and approach needed for the book. I have already been informed by a very helpful literary agent that a basic travelogue from an unknown scribbler such as myself is not likely to generate any interest and as such humour is the only way forward.

So! After Hungary and Vegas it's best writing trousers on and time for my fingers to be more funny (as the blog title suggests). The Sausage Trail journey ends in a little over a month but then the hard work begins.