Wednesday 26 December 2012

The route to a router

Belkin!   BELKIN!   Our old internet router doesn't always answer when we call. Maybe it's suffering from selective deafness like an old dog. It's also getting a bit shaky and ill-tempered, so I begin to wonder whether it might be better for everyone if I bought a smarter, faster version. That way I can introduce the youngster and let dear old Belkin live out his days in a box in the corner of the room. Well, it's better than waiting for the elderly chap to collapse, leaving me on my own with nobody to talk to during the day.

Much like shopping for a puppy, when you buy a new router you're often a bit desperate and more than a little upset. You're also wondering whether the current router really is on its last legs or whether there's life in the old dog yet. Perhaps it's not the router at all. Is it too soon to say goodbye to Belkin?   Could be he's picked up something nasty. Has the lead started to fray?

And so I was racked with insecurity and guilt when I eventually picked a new router. I tucked the old one away and showed my new companion to family and friends. Then there was lengthy training before I could trust it enough to leave it on its own. Ultimately, a lot of work I'd rather avoid.

But things still aren't quite the same without old Belkin. Something's wrong. Maybe there was a fault with the line after all. I look at the new router. No, everything's fine. It's responding quickly when I call. Time for self-doubt. I start peering round corners to see what it's doing when I'm not in the room.

Then, one morning, no internet. I run to the new router. It sits with a guilty expression, blinking angrily. It's out of control. Unstable. Ha!  I knew there was something wrong all along. You're going back to your original owner.

Come on, old chap. Wake up, Belkin. We've got work to do.

Friday 7 December 2012

How do you write a good restaurant review?

How do you write a decent restaurant review?   That's my challenge. I've written about many things in my time but - until now - haven't written a review of a meal. That's just about to change.

In many ways, I reckon the answer is pretty obvious. A meal is a slice of time; a story. You plan, you arrive, you look around at the venue and its customers, you're seated, you receive advice about the food, you choose from the menu, you wait, you eat, you drink, you pay, you leave.

The answer everyone's waiting for is whether or not you enjoyed the experience. Was the food good, what were the staff like, was the restaurant attractive?  In a sentence - or perhaps a tweet - how would you describe the restaurant, its menu and your visit?

Then there's the potentially embarrassing part: snapping a photograph. It's all very well describing the presentation of the food but taking a picture can provide a perfect summary. It can also make you look like the odd bloke at the end of the table. Food photography is a specialist profession, so a few quick shots by candlelight will never match the studio set-up used for cookery books and TV shows - yet switching off the flash and using the macro setting on a standard camera can produce perfectly acceptable results for many publications.

I also need to remember that the food is the story. That's not to say I won't mention my journey there or the accident when I dipped my tie into the soup - and I might even crack a joke or two - but it's a review I'm writing, not a stand-up comedy routine.

From a personal perspective, one of the first criteria I use whenever I eat out is "could I have cooked this myself - and could I have cooked it better?"   My catering qualifications didn't progress much beyond "Mark tries hard" in a school report, so I'm not in a position to be hyper-critical. Besides, we all have a bad day sometimes. As long as I'm honest and accurate, I reckon I'll do okay.

Notebook?   Pen?  Camera?   Wallet?   Appetite?   Right, I'm ready to begin.