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Far from being a culinary wasteland, Liverpool (and its satellite towns)now boast several very good restaurants that will cater for most tastes and won't break your bank either. If you are staying in one of the new hotels (marking the city's booming business culture) that have sprung up in the City Centre and docks area, consider Ziba (0151 708 8870) for your dinner arrangements. This is the best value for money eating I have experienced anywhere in the UK. The quality is exceptional and if you find something that tickles your fancy on the Table d'Hote menu then a meal for two and a bottle of wine will set you back no more than £50. The atmosphere is chic / youthful and the service is excellent. Slightly more expensive is the Left Bank on Smithdown Road. This has recently opened an upstairs section, which has overcome the problem of fumes from the kitchen wafting into the main dining area. Choice is extensive, not only from the menu itself but from the vast array of 'chefs daily specials'. Red meat comes with very rich sauces (don't plan on having a dessert unless you are Mr Creosote). Going out of town on Smithdown, there is a variety of tapas / bistro joints, the best one of which is Pods. Tapas eating is fun and casual here. The atmosphere is lively and six or seven dishes plus wine will come in at around £50. Seafood fans are served by Jennys on Fenwick St, in the city centre. This has a 'gentlemans club' feel to it. The cold platter for two is recommended. Not cheap but plentiful and for the heartiest of appetities. Bechers Brook on Hope St caters for 'expense account' diners. The proprietor, David Cooke, has now set up a bistro and tapas bar in Birkenhead and works over the water at present (October 2000). His presence was missed on my last visit, where the food lacked its usual flavour. However, it has to be said this was not par for the course here. In five years eating at B
echers Brook, this was the first 'off night' my girlfriend and I have experienced here. L'Alouette in Lark Lane offers good French cuisisne. They have also opened up a secong 'Allouette en Ville' next to the Marriott Hotel in the city centre. I've always found the food here to be heavy on the salt, but for a lunchtime business meeting, both places fit the bill to a T. Lark Lane has a number of bistros, wine bars and restaurants. The Tex-Mex and Italian (Maranto's) are both recommended for diners on a budget. The docks area has undergone a transformation in the last 10 years, with top-of-the-range flats attracting wealth and glamour. Head for 'Blue' for good value food in a buzzing atmosphere and then go downstairs to Baby Blue for aperetifs with Hollyoaks, Brookside and sundry footballers. For those prepared to venture further afield, try Thornton Hough Hotel on the Wirral. This is not cheap (bank on £100-plus for three courses and a bottle of wine) but the venison (if it's on the menu)was superb the last time I was there. Save soom room for the Orange Chocolate Box dessert too. Even for those without a sweet tooth, this one has to be sampled. With new restaurants springing up all the time, especially in the City Centre, this review will be out of date within days of posting it. A good sign of the resurgance of faith, confidence (and good eating) in Liverpool.
Chases...Hurdles...National Hunt Flat Races. Races of anything from 2 miles to 4.5 miles. Races for experienced older animals and 'novices' new to the jumping game. It's this smorgasbord of events that come under the collective banner of Jumps racing, that excites followers of the winter game and polarises opinion on animals ability to move from one category to another. In previewing the coming jumps season one cannot start anywhere else than highlighting Irelands finest. The Guvernor. The Daddy. Istabraq is going for an unprecedented fourth Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March. To get a measure of his dominance of the 2m hurdles scene think Steve Redgrave at the Olympics or Mike Tyson in the mid-80's heavyweight boxing division. Yup, that good. He turns up. He Wins. Case Closed. Except he is getting older now and may (underline 'may') be vulnerable to an unexposed youngster such as Ashley Park or Hors La Loi. We only see him on this side of the Irish Sea every March at Cheltenham but book your tickets now because if he pulls this fourth win off you will want to say 'I was there'. At the other end of the scale, the long distance chases, all eyes will be trained on the two big events of the year, the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March and the Grand National in April. In the Gold Cup, once again we have the situation of established stars such as defending champion Looks Like Trouble, the Irish horse Florida Pearl and former champion See More Business going up against younger rivals such as Lord Noelie (who won the big 3m event for Novice Chasers at this year's festival), Paris Pike and Ad Hoc. Another Irish raider, Rince Ri should also be monitored - he was going as well as anything in this year's Gold Cup when falling three out. The Grand National has been won by the Irish for the last two years. Their horses have to be respected but a rain-soaked Aintree would still be right up Young Kennny
's street, I feel. His guts and jumping ability will always see him right against arguably classier opposition. In two mile chases, Cenkos from Oliver Sherwood's yard could be a fly in the ointment among the established stars such as Edredon Bleu, Direct Route and Get Real. It will also be interesting to see how last year's Arkle Chase winner Tiutchev goes against the more experienced animals. My fancy for staying hurdle honours, Rubhahunish, has now sadly departed. After failing to get into foal, the mare Lady Rebecca is now back in training with the Cleeve Hurdle and Stayers Hurdle reportedly her main targets. Perhaps she just lacks that bit of stamina to take anything over three miles. You may be as well staying with proven class performers such as Bacchanal and Anzum, however if Barton is turned out in this division, he will be a classy new recruit who should be followed closely. Of the novices Limestone Lad (3m chases) will stir the heart of everyone who is on the side of 'the little man' trained as he is in the middle of Ireland, in a small, one man band yard. Best Mate has put up a convincing performance over 2m at Exeter this season and is aimed at the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham. Writing this in late October, with the nights drawing in and the weather turning colder, there is nothing but anticipation in the air of the stirring events to come. One's only hope is that all animals come back safe and sound, because the joy and admiration for the courage and athleticism of these equine heroes is guarranteed from those who subscribe to the 'no fences - no point' outlook.
Of course, it's facile to talk about which horse is the greatest of all time. The different codes, the different distances and the clouding of one's judgement by the wins or losses all conspire to make this a redundant argument. However, when followers of the turf get together, or when a 'new' horse puts in an impressive performance, immediately commentators and the animal's connections start by comparing them to the greats of yesteryear. And what's wrong with that? For me true 'greats' come in many guises. The most beautiful horse I ever saw was the filly Bosra Sham who won the 1,000 Guineas and Champion Stakes. It was always a 'will she / won't she' issue surrounding her apperances on course, because inaddition to her undoubted brilliance, she suffered tremendously with hoof problems. So much so that each apperance was like some sort of gift fromthe equine gods. For sheer guts and courage, Double Trigger's last two career victories in the Goodwood and Doncaster Cups take some beating. This season, the 'Iron Horse' Giant's Causeway has shown similar resolution and absolute refusal to be beaten in securing six Group One victories in a season - unheard of since the days of Mill Reef, well before my time. Over the jumps, greatness comes with a measure of adoration, bordering on love, since the horses are campaigned over many more seasons under this code. They have much longer to burn themselves into the collective psyche of racegoers. In this game Istabrraq currently stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries. He is going for a fourth Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March 2001 and all of his native Ireland (and most of the jumping world) confidently expect him to deliver. Many old timers will remember Arkle, Red Rum, Sea Pigeon, Night Nurse from the sixties and seventies. However, perhaps the single greatest jumps performance I've ever witness
ed was a defeat. Many know that Red Rum won three Grand Nationals however, his first win was at the expense of the magnificent Crisp. Ridden by Richard Pitman, Crisp humped maximum weight around Aintree's unforgiving 4.5 miles, and led for 4 miles 3 and a half furlongs. He jumped like a stag, but ultimately, his stamina ran out and his welterweight load anchored him within sight of the post as Rummy stormed by. This was the start of Rummy's love affair with Aintree but the plaudits of every true jumps fan that day, were for the brave Crisp.
Commercial sense in the world of e-commerce means web sites coming together doing contra-deals on advertising. Doo you have got into bed with Ladbrokes in promoting the Ladbroke bet.co.uk site. I don't have a problem with that however... If you fancy a casual punt, far be it from me to stop you but beware Ladbrokes! They are FEARSOMELY efficient in their understanding and knowledge of the markets they price up. Their odds compilers are the best in the world and their intelligence networks put Soviet Russia to shame! In my area (horse racing) their Public Relations Diretor, Mike Dillon has a pseudo-mystical reputation for attracting inside knowledge on animals that are 'expected' (to perform), the odds on which then tumble like pensioners on black ice! As an example, many casual punters remember this year's Grand National winner Pappillon, which was offered at 33/1 when betting opened on the morning of the race - but not by Ladbrokes, who were the shortest of all the bookies on this horse.There is a 'system' many punters swear by: back the horse / team / player that Ladbrokes are shortest on with the bookies he / she / it they are longest on. Couldn't say if it works but it's a measure of the respect punters have for the company. Did Papillon's trainer Ted Walsh tip Dillon the nod (and get accommodated at nice long odds) about the horses ability? You might think that I couldn't possibly comment. If this did happen, it is legal and the point is made more out of total respect for the Ladbrokes operation rather than suggesting any skullduggery. The point is: if you do go head to head with Laddies, you're as well knowing who you're up against and remember, 'the odds must be crazy'.
The Hatfield train crash tragedy once again highlighted Radio 5'sinability to make sound editorial judgements against a background of unfolding events. Not for the first time (Paddington, Concord, Southall) we had a bunch of talking heads providing pure speculation, masquerading as informed comment. It's as if the station has a brief to be a rolling news service and that's what we're damn well going to get, even if there is no 'news' as such. By news I mean real advances and development of events. Putting a series of 'spokesmen' for any department or quango vaguely associated with railways, and asking them the same questions over agin is not news. It does not add anything to the collective understanding of events. Nor does a load of BBC presenters saying every 5 minutes 'I can confirm there has been a train crash near Hatfield'. (Nor does 13 line long paragraphs either). Whilst it would have been inappropriate to have intermingled news of the tragedy with the usual 'skateboarding duck' stories the station specialises in, surely developments in the story and cogent analysis could have been accomodated in the usual news slots every half hour. This would have taken pressure off the presenters and allowed for a less forced and clumsy coverage.
What's the difference between sitting in a room full of drunks and a room full of stoners? They're both going to be talking self-deluded nonsense, convinced they're imparting the wisdom of Solomon. It's just the room full of drunks are more likely to turn violent. The stoners just want to giggle and eat you out of house and home. No, since you ask, I don't much care for either group! I think the main problem I have with cannabis usage and its legalisation is that it will encourage people to smoke more tobacco and this in turn will lead to more pulmonary / respiratory disease. This in turn puts more pressure on the NHS. I suppose legalisation of cannabis may rob it of some of it's rebel chic and I don't buy for one second the argument about it leading to usage of harder drugs. If you have an addictive personality it might but most users I know hold down steady jobs, mostly well-paying, some with great responsibilities. They are no more inclined to start cranking Class A drugs than fly to the moon. If they are going to legalise it, then tax it to high heaven and use the revenue generated to cut fuel duty. Someone make me Chancellor of the Exchequer!
Some people win competition and friends. Olga Korbut, Mary Peters, Cathy Freeman. Olympic Champions who, at a very trite level, put a smile on our faces but arguably built bridges within and between nations. And some only win competions. The grandstanding and showboating of the American Men's 4x100 metre relay squad was one of the most pathetic spectacles of the otherwise outstanding games. Yes, they won and I suppose in American culture this means something but their posturing and swaggering immediately after the race and then at the medals ceremony was enough to make this viewer cringe. It was a particularly sad to see the great Maurice Greene dragged down by the other three nonentities (Nonentities? Well I follow the sport fairly closely and I can only name Jon Drummond and that was only because he bottled it in the 100m proper). I don't suppose it's any consolation but for grace under pressure and in the face of adversity, look no further than Paula Radcliffe on how to compete with integrity and dignity. She 'lost' in that she didn't win a medal but 'won' so much more in terms of admiration for guts and dignity.
I've always felt the problem with Jonathan (if you can talk about 'problems' for the World Record holder and now Olympic champion) was his mental approach. Edwards claims his Christianity gives him strength and that this season he has 'given all his problems over to Jesus'. I don't doubt the sincerity of his beleif however I have often felt that it is precisely these beliefs that are incongruous to the hard world of competitive sport and that, far from giving him mental strength, his all-pervasive Christianity has cluttered his mind with doubt when he should be focusing on competition. I guess Jonathan's performance in Sydney has proved me wrong. I was convinced that with his (self-inflicted) dispute with the swimming team and the sad death of his mother-in-law immediately prior to competition, would impinge on his concentration and ultimately affect his performance. They didn't and fair play to him for that. With Phillips Idowu and Larry Achike also performing so well, it seems we have a group of young athletes ready to accept the baton of greatness in the triple jump (at least, with more professionalism than the 4x100m relay squad!)