Dans Le Noir?

“There is no darkness but ignorance”

The Great Bard there, pointing out stuff that we are still trying to get our heads round today. It’s from Twelfth Night, a play I haven’t read or seen. The quote did in fact not enter my orbit until I recently interviewed Dominique Raclin, the London manager of Dans Le Noir, a restaurant unlike any other, and the subject of the recent Richard Curtis film About Time. Dominique was kind enough to give me half an hour of his time to talk about Dans Le Noir?, the experience they offer and the awareness it creates. You can read my interview with Dominique for What’s Up, What’s On here.

What Dans Le Noir? does (and it is spelt with a question mark to make you consider what it is they are offering) is allow diners the unique experience of enjoying a meal without the aid of sight. You are taken into a pitch black dining area by a blind guide who will then assist you through your meal. I had to have a part of it.

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I was first told about Dans Le Noir? through my friend Terri (who, if you are a regular visitor to my blog or in fact one of those poor people who has to deal with me in real life will know, is my tent buddy from our Sahara Trek in October 2013). Terri and I have grown very close through our working relationship which is why I was gutted when she told me she was going to up her business sticks in order to go travelling for a year. Of course I’m obscenely jealous and I’m going to miss her and as such I thought I would treat her to a dinner where I could get used to not seeing her.

When we got to the restaurant we were asked to put our mobile phones and anything else that may create a light in a locker. We were then given the menu. Dans Le Noir? do not allow guests to select what they want to eat but instead offer four menus to cover different tastes and are also able to cater for any dietary requirements. The choices are a meat menu, fish and seafood menu, vegetarian menu or surprise menu. Being the wild and crazy adventurers that we are, Terri and I both went for the surprise menu, deciding that we had drunk enough over the previous weekend that we could just stick with water for our meal. We were then introduced to Nadine, who would be our guide and along with two girls who were dining together we were let up the ramp towards the dining room. On the way up the slope it grew steadily darker until we were just lit by the red overhead bulb. Nadine told us that all we had to do was carefully follow her through the restaurant and that if we needed anything we could just call for her. As it is pitch black in the restaurant and Nadine is blind, there would be no point in us trying to get her attention in any other way. We chatted with the two girls we were heading in with, Corrine and Philippa, who are both teachers. Within half an hour I would have completely forgotten what they looked like.

Nadine took us through a black curtain and I was surrounded by noise. I could hear the sound of cutlery and conversation, I could smell something delicious and feel there were people nearby aside from us. I couldn’t see a thing. Ahead of me I couldn’t make out my hand which I had been told to place on Terri’s shoulder. Terri and Corinne were led round one side of the table and Philippa and I were left in the darkness. It felt very surreal. I couldn’t work out how much space was around me or how many people or the layout of the room before me. Even now I struggle to think of another situation where the same could occur. Philippa and I were led to our side of the table. Dans Le Noir? do not have individual tables for guests but instead seat people in rows along long tables. I was sat opposite Terri but there was nothing separating me from the six to eight people I gathered were along the same row.
Terri and I put our hands out, trying to gauge the distance across the table before Nadine told us where on the table we could find our cutlery and glasses. She then gave us bottles of water which we had to pour into our glasses. I expected to emerge covered in something but managed to get all of the bottle into my glass over the course of the meal.

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What happened next is the most curious part of the meal. It’s something that as a group (English) we avoid. Terri and I did not silo ourselves but instead chatted with Corrine and Philippa throughout the meal, sharing the experience with them. I didn’t get used to not being able to see but it became part of the course. I found ways around it. When our starters were served I felt the components of the dish, trying to establish what I had been served and then tentatively putting a bit in my mouth with my hands. In the dark, I could eat without prejudice. I didn’t use my cutlery at all throughout the meal, which only caused me trouble when I slammed my hand into yoghurt. Yoghurt, why did it have to be yoghurt?

As we continued with our meal, the taboos of dining out were broken. We shared things we wouldn’t have with people who were strangers. When news of Terri celebrating her birthday during the week got out, the restaurant sang her happy birthday in unison before realising she wasn’t a boy. There was a sense of camaraderie and joint experience that I have never had in a restaurant. Throughout, Nadine was careful and insightful with us, her open channel of conversation and humour helping us through the experience. I can’t recommend it enough. If you’re particular about your food or your dining habits then it might not be for you, but it is an interesting experience and experiment and I would be happy to be in the 5% of diners that Dans Le Noir? see returning.

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My hump, my hump, my hump.

“Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this son of York”

There are some things, some lines, some moments that are so imbedded in the psyche of the populous that it is bizarre to hear them in their own context. Amongst them I would include the bit in Come On Eileen where it breaks down and then ups the tempo until you’re swinging a doddering old tart around at a wedding with a tie pulled tight across your brow with Rambo affection, or the bit in EastEnders where Kat Slater told Zoe that she was actually her mum. Also, the opening line of Shakespeare’s Richard III.
This week I was fortunate enough to go and see the play starring dragon-bothering, stapler-jellying, Holmes-fondling mod of the people Martin Freeman in the titular role and I was not disappointed. There are some people that you assume, even though you only get a sense of them via the media, that would actually be quite nice in person, amongst them I would include The Queen, Dave Grohl and Martin Freeman. What’s so capturing about his performance in Richard III is that he’s a bit of a maniacal bastard. Even when he was marrying his niece and having his brother’s slain in the name of power I thought oh, but look at his lovely face. He somehow manages to cross that boundary where you wonder if he’s actually going to be okay when he takes off his prosthetic hump and goes back to staring lovingly at dwarves or Benedict Cumberbatch.

The production was absolutely incredible. Having been fortunate enough to see the Trafalgar Transformed production of Macbeth (starring bullet-bending, University-challenging, mind-poker James McAvoy and his dreamy blue eyes) last year, I was all for a bit more of the Great Bard, especially when presented with such panache. I’ve come to realise that Shakespeare’s strength is in tragedy in the same way Mike Leigh is in a kitchen-sink kind of a way. The more death packed into a two and a half hour word-fest, the better in my opinion, which is what made the fish tank drowning, the telephone cord strangulation and the gunned down whilst looking everywhere for a bloody horse so fantastically engaging. The rest of the cast were superb, special nod to Tyrrell and Catesby for hamming it up while looking like a rasta-pimp and Kev from Derek between them.

Shakespeare though man, you can’t really knock it. He knew how to spin a yarn.

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10 More Things I Have Learnt Since Living Alone.

This week is three months since I moved out on my own. It’s been tough. I’m still learning some valuable lessons and thought it would be only fair to share them in the hopes they can guide you through your life.

Utilities are expensive
I can remember my parents always going on at me about leaving the lights on or for having every TV on in the house because it made me feel like I was at a noisy party but I didn’t realise when they said it was expensive, that they actually meant it. I thought it was just one of those things parents say like “don’t pull on it, it’ll fall off” or “smoking is bad for you”. I have come to realise that everything in this life costs money and it’s utter bullshit. I’ve even had to stop flushing the toilet before I go just to make sure there are no crocodiles in the pipes. If I go missing, you know where to search first (u-bend).

Constant washing
Doing the washing or indeed the washing up is a thankless task which is why I make sure I stand in front of the mirror and say “thank you for doing that Paul” three times like I’m trying to call up Bloody Mary to do the housework. There’s always something that needs to be done. You cook an egg, there’s a frying pan to wash up. You eat the egg and get yolk down yourself, there’s a t-shirt to wash. It’s utter bullshit. 

Food is becoming a luxury 
It’s the weekend before payday. I’ve got enough to survive but I would be embarrassed to tell you what I’ll be dining on until Wednesday.

If something is broken, I have to fix it
I’ve realised that I have to treat my things well or I am fucked. I dropped a frame, shattered the glass everywhere. It’s still on the floor. “Someone will deal with that” I thought. Fuck, that someone is me. I have become a dab hand at fixing things though. This week I’ve fixed the blinds in my bedroom which someone managed to derail. I’ve also fixed my toilet although the handle is now angled like it is performing a constant Nazi salute.

I probably need a vacuum cleaner
You’ll be disgusted to know that I don’t have a vacuum yet. There’s one that I have been told that I can have, but it’s almost ten miles away, and it’s only been three months. What’s the problem? I imagine you think the flat is a state. You’re wrong. It turns out that if you leave it long enough, a little bobbed elf will come round and painstakingly dustpan and brush the whole flat for you while you’re at work. I am getting it sorted though.

I have proper conversations like an adult now
Last weekend I went to a housewarming/birthday BBQ at my friend’s new house which was brilliant. We were stood in the garden, nursing beers and talking about cavity wall insulation with no sense of irony.

There are some things you can’t be cheap about
Toilet paper and bin bags are the immediate things that come to mind. If you buy poor quality of either, you’ll end up ripping through it and getting shit on your hand.

If people come round, you have to offer them a cup of tea
I wouldn’t drink tea if it wasn’t for other people turning up here. I wouldn’t wear clothes if it wasn’t for other people turning up here. As soon as people step onto that welcome mat, I feel obliged to offer them tea. Where did that come from?

I have to consider expiry dates
There is nothing more humiliating than a hand covered in cobweb-like bread mould. When I buy a loaf it becomes a race against nature to get through it before Alexander Fleming turns up to swizzle it about in a petri dish, the Nobel prize winning fuck. Don’t even get me started on avocados.

I’m happy
Despite what one of my best friends told me about my mortgage stifling my creativity, I feel in a very good space. I’m hard at work to the sequel to The Stamp Collective as well as putting the final touches to Yallah! It’s a lot of hard work to maintain the output I do, but being alone and having time with my thoughts are essential. I’ve got that where I am at the moment and I feel very lucky for it.

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Then you put the boot in…

So Team Sticky Bandits are now just four weeks away from our 10K Marine Commando Challenge. We have booked a hotel, which was so much of a bargain I still worry that I might have done it wrong and we have now started getting our kit together. From the off we said we wanted to have team t-shirts printed up, which we are in the process of doing but last weekend, we concentrated on our boots.

The website suggests that you go to an army surplus store and get a good pair of boots with noble ankle support and then take the time to break them in effectively before the run. We should just have enough time to get that done based on our recent shopping exploits. We met (eventually) at the Army & Navy store in Southend and were guided through our options by a man I imagine to be a fan of both nuclear warfare and Warhammer. He showed us their UK Army Assault boots which are the actual boots worn by the actual army. Not only are they the actual boots worn by the actual army but the actual boots they had for sale were the actual boots worn by the army, as in, the army had worn the available boots. They were recycled, they were second-hand, they were the boots of babykillers. We were enthralled.

‘So where have these boots come from’ asked Luke, trying to find out if they had been in the shit as it were. The guy refused to give us a straight answer and our minds ran away from us. Luke and I each goth a pair and I made quite the parade of marching up and down the shop. They put a spring in my step and elevated me a couple of vital inches above my usual six foot. As the guy declared Luke’s new booties to be slightly more scuffed than mine, he got them at a discounted price. On the drive back, Luke sat riding bitch and goaded me about his new boots, claiming they had been in ‘Nam and that he had found a tooth stuck in the tread.

There are three of us training for the run together as a unit, although at the moment the unit is probably only centimetres.
Note: considering it’s seven in the morning and I have a hangover, that’s a really clever joke.
The third of our party Luke B, refused to buy actual army boots off the actual army and is in the process of getting a better deal elsewhere. As punishment, we tricked him into running 9k with us. You wonder how that’s possible. Well, he doesn’t use a run tracking app (like the brilliant one provided by Nike) so relied on us to tell him the distances we had covered. We lied and then took an extended route on the way back so what he thought was 5k was over 9. Luke and I then ran laps of the car park until we ticked over to the 10k mark.
We are getting there. We are almost ready to take on the world, just give us a chance to get matching camo trousers first.

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Advice for life.

In recent months there have been a number of changes in my life. I find myself drawn to taking advice from other people as if it is gospel. What I really wanted was some advice for myself that I can turn to and so I created the below list. It is by no means complete but I can’t imagine that any list of its ilk ever should be. Here is my advice for my life.

1. Write about what you know but remember you know your own imagination.
2. There is nothing that can’t be solved by listening to The Beatles or a strong dose of antibiotics.
3. Wear all the black you can.
4. You don’t owe or own other people.
5. Cold hands, warm heart.
6. A weekend wasted is not a wasted weekend.
7. Floss.
8. You will never get today back.
9. Cut out poisonous situations and relationship for your own good.
10. Never regret. It got you where you are.
11. Imagine a string emerging from the top of your head and keeping you up straight.
12. When wearing headphones it is best to imagine you are in a music video.
13. Season to taste.
14. Layers are important.
15. If it doesn’t bring you joy or serve a purpose then let it go.
16. Make mixed tapes for specific journeys. They deserve the attention of a soundtrack.
17. Always tell people you love them, especially as you leave.
18. Dog-ear the pages of your books to track down quotes you loved later. There is nothing a book appreciates more than being physically assaulted.
19. Take the time to appreciate both architecture and nature.
20. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need
21. It’s okay to be scared.
22. It’s very hard to get a good bagel in an airport.
23. Just remember, that body of yours is on loan.

Californication.

For the past few months my life has been consumed by thoughts of Hank Moody, the foul-mouthed, womanising, near-alcoholic anti-hero at the centre of Showtime’s Californication. From the start I was hooked and have told almost everyone I have since been in touch with that it is indeed the series of the gods.
What Californication does so well is to take the story of a writer, or as far as I am concerned, a writer who doesn’t seem to be able to get a lot of writing done, and ramp it, to make it cooler, sexier, more worthy of screen time. It has genuine heart and wonderful character and you will the action along because you are just waiting for Moody to get his shit together and realise what has been waiting for him the whole time.
if you are yet to witness the power of Californication then I can assure you, you are missing out.

Obersting at the seams.

In the summer of 2006 I was in my friend’s car. It was the kind of warm that in retrospect you can never recall surviving through. He put on an album that he told me I was wrong. It opened a door that it was impossible to close. That album was I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning by Bright Eyes.

During Bright Eyes set at Glastonbury in 2011 I cried when they performed Poison Oak. I have no idea why but the moment and the rain and Conor Oberst’s beautiful Elvish cloak took me and ravished tears upon my cheeks.

Last week I managed to secure tickets to see Conor solo at KOKO in Mornington Crescent. Of course when you see Conor play solo there is a band onstage. That band was Dawes who had the pleasure of not only being Conor’s backing band but also being his support act. It’s fair to say that they won the audience over, particularly when we were advised they weren’t just a hack support act and as such had been handpicked by wimp rocker’s Jesus, Conor, himself.

I stood just five heads from the stage in the smaller-than-I-could-remember venue with my friend Sam who has covered more Bright Eyes covers than I could ever remember and awaited the arrival of the man we put on a pedestal. Fortunately he wasn’t knocked off of it when he took to the stage in a wide brimmed black hat and matching suit jacket and jeans.

Thrown into the mix of songs were Bright Eyes classics including Lover I Don’t Have To Love, We Are Nowhere and It’s Now and Hit The Switch as well as a number of songs from his newest solo album Upside Down Mountain. With each slither of downtime between songs it was impossible to tell where the set was headed and what we would get to experience. When introducing Governer’s Ball, Conor asked if we minded if he played something from the new album. From deep in the throngs came a voice.
“I love that album. It touched me.”
Without missing a beat, Conor simply said “no comment” which was met with giggles from the crowd.

The back line left for Lua before returning together for an encore of No One Would Riot For Less, Cape Canaveral and Another’ Travelin’ Song. It was an incredible set to witness and one that left me wanting answers to questions that had yet to form. He is a hero to me and a huge influence and I hope I never meet him.

Conor and his band played:

Time Forgot  
Zigzagging Toward the Light  
Moab
We Are Nowhere and It’s Now
Hit the Switch
Artifact #1  
If The Brakeman Turns My Way
Lover I Don’t Have to Love
Governor’s Ball  
Double Life  
Danny Callahan  
Firewall
Desert Island Questionnaire
Poison Oak
Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)
I Got the Reason #2
Lua
Encore:
No One Would Riot for Less
Cape Canaveral
Another Travelin’ Song