Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Counting the Krug

The case of the conviction of Romain Brunot

On Friday, a young man named Romain Brunot was convicted on the count of theft from his former employers Moët Hennessey at Southwark Crown Court. As he now gets used to life in Britain’s largest prison, HM Prison Wandsworth, his Facebook page has also disappeared.

Moët Hennessey UK’s headquarters at 13 Grosvenor Crescent, Belgravia, London, SW1X 7EE

Aged 30 and subsequently employed by a well-known whisky brand, Brunot is a man who I met in December at events at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hamilton Place and at Holland & Holland in Bruton Place. On those occasions last December he showed no sign of being a man awaiting trial for the offence of stealing £75,000 worth of champagne and spirits in his previous role as a £50,000 a year brand manager for Krug and Belvedere Vodka.

Brunot, who studied at the Université de Bourgogne, according to prosecutor Gavin Ludlow-Thompson, was able to steal some 400 bottles of vintage Krug and 400 bottles of Belvedere Vodka over a four-year period. He did so by first transferring it to a rented wine cellar in east London and then on to another named the Yellow Warehouse, where he used the fake name of “Mr White” instead of his own.

On realising that unused stock, which should have been returned after events hosted by Brunot, was missing, police raided both locations and recovered £50,000 worth of the stolen champagne and vodka.

Stephen Leake of Carmelite Chambers. © Carmelite Chambers 2012

Defended by Stephen Leake of Carmelite Chambers, Brunot received a sentence of 15 months and was also ordered to repay £25,000 in compensation for the stock he’d either sold on or used for his consumption. On his behalf, Leake argued:

“He was dealing with The Dorchester and Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant… These people are now simply going to have nothing more to do with him.”

HM Prison Wandsworth, Heathfield Road, Wandsworth, London, SW18 3HS: a prison that has previously housed Oscar Wilde, Ronnie Kray, Ronnie Biggs, Pete Doherty, Julian Assange and Charles Bronson

That is indeed true. Like other grabbing sorts I’ve encountered, the arrogance of such people knows no bounds but so does their stupidity. Ultimately, don’t they realise they’ll eventually be caught?

Monday, 27 February 2012

Do the angelic thing

Charlotte Church receives £600,000 in damages from News Group Newspapers

Today, Charlotte Church was awarded some £600,000 in damages for the intrusive actions of Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers (NGN).

Charlotte Church outside the Royal Courts of Justice

“Sickened and disgusted,” Miss Church claimed that the money “could never mend” the damage done to her and her family before adding:

I brought this legal claim with my parents, as many others have done, because we wanted to find out the truth about what this newspaper group had done in the pursuit of stories about our family… Nothing was deemed off limits by those who pursued me and my family, just to make money for a multinational news corporation.”

Charlotte Church in an inebriated state

Yes, Miss Church is a victim of phone hacking but much of what was written in the 33 articles that she received settlement for was actually true. As I suggested in a previous piece, Church is a woman who behaved badly in public and was regularly “spotted drunk out of her mind” with her “underwear round her ankles.”

This also is a young woman who, through her chosen life in the public eye, has become a privileged multi-millionaire. She, like all the other “whingeing celebrities” (her own words at the Leveson Inquiry), would do well to remember that the very media that put her there can as easily put her away.

Do the something decent, Miss Church: hand your damages to a worthy charity such as Alcoholic Anonymous. You’ll gain much more respect that way.

Read my previous analysis of Charlotte Church’s appearance at the Leveson Inquiry at: http://dasteepsspeaks.blogspot.com/2011/11/singing-like-drunken-canary.html

A conspiracy to make gin

A review of Darnley’s View Gin

Darnley’s View Gin is one that is about both collaboration and conspiracy. Named after the view from the window at Wemyss Castle from which Mary Queen of Scots first spied her future husband, this is a gin that is also the creation of Darnley’s descendants, the Wemyss family.
Darnley’s View Gin

Lord Darnley, the son of the 4th Earl of Lennox, led a colourful life. Proclaimed by Mary Queen of Scots as “King of the Scots” on the eve of their marriage, Darnley was a man whose title technically gave him no rights. His marriage soured very quickly due in part to his violence and drink problems, but when he began to suspect that Mary’s private secretary, David Rizzio, had got her pregnant, he and his supporters murdered him in 1566 in front of her in the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, “King of the Scots” (1545 – 1567)

In the ensuing period, following the birth of their son, the future James VI, the relationship between Darnley and his wife was said to be much calmer but on the 10th February 1567, his body was found with that of his servant at Kirk o’Field, Edinburgh. Conspiracy theories aplenty abound about the death and a particularly notable version was shown in the 1971 film Mary, Queen of Scots starring Vannessa Redgrave as the titular character and Timothy Dalton as Lord Darnley.
Working in association with gin maestros Geraldine Coates and Jason Scott, the Wemyss’ have a strong pedigree in the drinks industry through their involvement in Weymss Malts and Fonty’s Pool and Rimauresq wines. Distilled under contract at the Thames Distillers in Clapham, this London gin is described by the brand owners as being: “a symbol of our desire to combine the best English and Scottish distilling to create a unique gin.”
Darnley’s View Gin, unlike others containing between 10 and 19 botanicals, has just 6. They are juniper, an essential in any gin, and lemon peel, elderflower, coriander seed, angelica root and orris root. The dominant taste, for me, was the elderflower and I do believe this would make this 40% ABV gin especially appealing to a female demographic.

Though I only received a couple of small sample bottles, my friend and I managed to taste Darnley’s View Gin in a variety of manners. On it’s own, the gin had no smell, no kick and a somewhat flat taste but the elderflower in the spirit is brought alive especially with Fever Tree tonic water.

The bottle itself is simply and elegantly designed. It communicates luxury without excess and attention to detail is shown in the use of batch numbers. The name, though conveying heritage, just doesn’t trip off the tongue. I was taught the merits of simple names by the founder of SKYY Vodka, Maurice Kanbar, and I just can’t see people easily calling for a “Darnley’s View and tonic” at a bar. It just doesn’t sound right.

My overall view, however, is that Darnley’s View Gin is a most enjoyable product that reflects the newfound interest in the softer style of Scottish gins. For those who don’t like the traditionally drier London style of gin making, this is a perfect way to be introduced to the category and at around £23 a bottle, it is good value for money.

For more information on Darnley’s View Gin, go to: http://www.darnleysview.com

Buy a 70cl bottle of Darnley’s View Gin through Master of Malt for £23.45 at: http://www.masterofmalt.com/gin/darnleys-view-gin

Follow Darnley’s View Gin on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/DarnleysViewGin

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Crystal busters

A review of Crystal Head Vodka

The legend of the thirteen crystal skulls is one that crosses many cultures and times. Shared by the Mayans, the Aztecs and Native Americans, the basic element of the legend is “that the thirteen crystal skulls will be reunited to awaken a new era – transforming from an old paradigm into a new world.”

The Crystal Head Vodka bottle

A belief in the power of these amazingly well crafted artifacts that some believe represent doom and destruction but others associate with hope and healing has resulted in several being exhibited at the Smithsonian, the British Museum and the Museee de l’Homme in Paris.

The British Museum’s crystal skull

The Canadian actor Dan Aykroyd, best known for films including Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Bright Young Things, took inspiration from the legend when he decided to create a vodka brand that he named Crystal Head.

Canadian comedian singer, actor and screenwriter Dan Aykroyd with a bottle of Crystal Head

Aykroyd, a Spiritualist who also has a range of wines named after him, founded his vodka brand with an artist named John Alexander and launched it in 2008. It was an immediate success and has been both the fastest penetrating vodka brand into all 50 US states in history and one that reached sales of 1 million bottles quicker than both Grey Goose and Belvedere.

Made with grain from the Kent and Chatham regions of Ontario and with pure aquifer water from Newfoundland, Canada, Crystal Head vodka is distilled four times and triple filtered through charcoal and semi-precious crystals known as Herkhimer diamonds. A winner of a double gold medal at the 2011 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Crystal Head Vodka is free from additives, sugars and oils and the resulting taste is smooth with hints of liquorice.

Crystal Head is bottled in an impressive human skull shaped bottle made by Bruni Glass of Milan that is itself will become the talking point of any party or drinks cabinet.

Priced at a whopping £70 a bottle in Harvey Nichols, Crystal Head certainly doesn’t come cheap. The uniqueness of the bottle alone, however, does makes it a most worthy purchase and I intend to fill mine with red wine or port once I’ve finished enjoying this truly excellent vodka.

When and if Judgement Day comes, Crystal Head will certainly be remembered as vodka that, to slightly misquote Ghostbusters’s Dr. Peter Venkman, “came, saw and kicked ass.”

For more information on Crystal Head Vodka, go to: http://www.CrystalHeadVodka.com

Watch a video where Dan Ackroyd introduces Crystal Head Vodka at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKqjIv91Zx8

A 70cl bottle of Crystal Head Vodka is available from KWM Wines and Spirits for £49.95 whilst a 175cl magnum is priced at £155: http://www.kwmwine.com/shop/shop.php?action=full&id=1718

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Sun, ski and style

Thomas James provides an insight into how to look stylish in St. Tropez and Gstaad in a guest blog for Da Steeps Speaks

St. Tropez is nestled along the Côte d'Azur close in proximity to both Cannes and Nice. Being one of the liveliest places in the south of France during the summer months, St. Tropez is well known for its exuberant nightlife, yachts, gourmet food, boutiques and sandy beaches.

The "rebel angel" Andrea Casiraghi, the eldest son of Caroline, Princess of Hanover, and her second husband Stefano Casiraghi, in Vilebrequin swimwear with his dog

It is the place to be during the summer for the jet-set crowd as many have second or third homes there. The best beach to see and be seen is the Plage Port Grimaud and here you find men adorned in Vicomte A. Shorts and Paul Smith Trilby hats.

Luxury yachts nestle in the harbour at St Tropez

One of the trendiest nightclubs is Les Caves du Roy at the Hotel Byblos as it is filled with socialites, royals, Le Rosey students and the jet set popping the cork on the Cristal and dancing the night away into the early hours of the morning.

The style that pertains to St. Tropez is casual elegance. Vilebrequin is often seen on men as they spend their day yachting on the beautiful waters of the south of France.

The typical St. Tropez look: Paul Smith Twilby hat, Lacoste polo, and Oliver Peoples shades.

Gstaad, on the other hand, is surrounded by beautiful alpine scenery and only a two hours drive from Geneva or Zurich. This exclusive town has a reputation as being a playground for the wealthy in the winter with an array of sporting activities and social events.

However, it is quite ironic, for as one walks through Gstaad it doesn’t give off an air of exclusivity, as the village itself is very charming, full of restored weathered-wood chalets between sloping valleys.

The Gstaad Palace Hotel

The sheer beauty of the Gstaad Palace is one of the many reasons it is my favorite hotel as it has an unrivalled reputation for discreet and refined hospitality. GreenGo Club, located within hotel, is designed with a 1970’s décor in mind and is quite popular with the illustrious youth of today. It has been the place to party for students of Le Rosey as Le Rosey’s winter campus is located in Gstaad. Jim Leblanc, the GreenGo Club’s DJ plays an array today’s hottest music set in GreenGo Club’s classy environment.

Partying with the jetset at the GreenGo Club

So what does one wear to the GreenGo Club? A gentleman of today can be seen wearing a buttoned down shirt from Turnbull & Asser underneath a Ralph Lauren cashmere sweater with a pair of jeans as well as a pair of driving shoes from Tod’s. As for skiing in Gstaad, one is usually outfitted in Moncler before hitting the slopes.

Equally, whether you are skiing down the slopes in Gstaad or yachting in St. Tropez, jewelry from Kriss and Jules is the perfect accessory for any truly stylish man. Kriss and Jules make unparalleled treats from silver, gold and stone and handcraft them with love.

Kriss and Jules silver crocodiles with black diamond eyes on waxed threads

These individualised bracelets can be worn on both casual and formal occasions and each possesses a unique story due to the origins of the stones. So, as you sip your Dom Perignon at GreenGo Club in Gstaad or dance the night away at Hotel Byblos in St. Tropez, as your worldly accessories of Kriss and Jules dangle remember the journey they've embarked: the journey of their origins.

With these suggestions in mind, who knows where you just might end up.

For more information on the Gstaad Palace Hotel, go to: http://www.palace.ch

For more on the GreenGo club, go to: http://www.greengo.ch

For more information about Kriss and Jules, go to: http://krissandjules.com. Kriss and Jules bracelets can be found at Boutique Lorenz Bach in Gstaad and at Louis Julian et Fils and Plage de Tahiti in St. Tropez.

View Thomas (T.J.) James’s blog, The Gentledaneur, at: http://thegentleman-dandy-flaneur.tumblr.com

Follow T.J. on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/thomasjames124

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The case for colour

The impact of colourful clothing

I am often told that the clothing I wear stands out. Some actually go as far to say: “You’re too colourful.” I favour pink, green or yellow socks and have been been known to sport a brightly coloured jumper as well. My red Tod’s are undoubtedly my favourite shoes and I’ve also been known to sport an orange pair from time to time. I do indeed embrace colour with gusto.

Red Tod’s for Ferrari

When, recently, Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour did a piece mocking men who wear pink shirts, I was somewhat surprised. The reaction of listeners, though, thankfully was, in the main, of consternation at such a silly piece.

Yes, even I’ll admit that some do take colour too far: I recently saw a man wearing one red Tod’s shoe with another in green. He was also sporting purple cords and an orange coat. Frankly, he looked like a set of exotic traffic lights but you could at least say he was memorable.

The Right Honourable Theresa MP sporting a rainbowesque outfit

Another, who often gets carried away in the clothing department, is the Home Secretary, Theresa May MP. Though her personality and comments often irrritate, she always stands out whether in orange, green or red. May brings colour to the world of politics and for that I raise a cheer to her.

Christine Hamilton pictured with Andre Lennon-Smith

At my 21st birthday, my friend Christine Hamilton sported a turquoise jumper patterned in yellow, orange, black, green and purple. As you will see from the picture above, she looked jolly and if only others followed suit, we might cheer up this grim, grey, economically depressed land.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The Art of Uggie

Alexandra Abrahams tells of her recent brush with Uggie, “the most famous pooch on the planet,” in a guest blog for Da Steeps Speaks

I recently watched The Artist, a film of cinematic genius at the cinema. It is witty, charming, surprising and wonderful. I found myself smiling to myself remembering meeting the famous doggie Uggie in the bar of a central London hotel. It turned out he was residing there for a couple of weeks with his owner from LA. One of his appearances on TV was on the Graham Norton show on BBC 1 where he entertained guests whilst skateboarding across the set.

Uggie pictured with Jean Dujardin

The hotel in question is The Arch London on Great Cumberland Place. It has a very cosy and quaint bar and a fine restaurant called Hunter 436. I work in the drinks industry and whilst perched at the bar chatting to the staff, I noticed a very well behaved dog in the corner. He was awfully well behaved but there was something about him: a sort of doggie star quality. I spoke to Uggie’s owner, a charming man named Omar Van Muller, who happily told me about his famous pooch. Van Muller had saved Uggie from an uncertain fate after two previous owners rejected him as being too wild. Since then, Uggie has worked as a touring dog performer and then moved onto commercials and films. He has already won the Palm Dog award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and also appeared in Water with Elephants alongside Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon.

Uggie enjoys his perch on a barstool

The Artist itself is directed by Michel Hazanavicious. Set in the late 1920s in Hollywood, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a successful and loved silent movie idol. During the premiere of his latest film, Valentin meets Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a star-struck extra and aspiring actress. The two are attracted to each other and Peppy is given a small dancing role in his next picture. As more »their romance progresses, Peppy's career begins to take off, and Valentin fears that the talkies will ruin him as his roles dry up. The film then focuses on the relationships between the couple and those around them. Uggie, however, is the undoubted star of the film with many critics describing him as: “stealing every scene.”

The film is one of the most touching and enigmatic films I have seen in a long while. I was brought up watching films by such greats as Charlie Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy so that The Artist follows in this genre brought me great pleasure. What has been quite a surprise is how a relatively small film from France has caught the eye of one of the largest film moguls in the world Harvey Weinstein who has then converted a low budget, off beat movie into a global phenomenon. It is a pure joy to watch: no amount of money can replace the feel good feeling you embrace throughout the movie. The acting is flawless, extracting emotion and humour from a simple but classic storyline. In summary, I’d argue that it is a must see for 2012.

On 8th February, Uggie was named as Nintendo’s first ever spokesdog and there is also now a Facebook group with over 11,000 members devoted to him. Here, indeed, is a little pooch who has definitely morphed into one who is nothing other than top collar.

For more information on The Artist, go to: http://weinsteinco.com/sites/the-artist

To watch a trailer of this award winning film, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8K9AZcSQJE

Join the “Consider Uggie” group on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/consideruggie

Follow Uggie on his official Twitter account at: http://twitter.com/Uggie_TheArtist

Follow Alexandra Abrahams on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/alexbloomgin

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A Downturn at The Yew Tree Inn

The sale of The Yew Tree Inn near Highclere

I first visited The Yew Tree Inn at Hollington Cross by chance in the late 1990s whilst showing a visiting friend this beautiful part of the country close to Newbury.

The exterior of The Yew Tree Inn

Subsequently, The Yew Tree became associated with Marco Pierre White and I somehow, yet again, rediscovered it in 2004. On my second visit, this country pub had been transformed into a destination dining room and henceforth began a time when I visited at least twice a month.

The Yew Tree Inn’s signage during the period in which Marco Pierre White was involved

In the coming years, I dined at The Yew Tree during the week but more often on a Sunday. I took my friend Charles Mitford Cust there with a former associate, the SKYY vodka tycoon Maurice Kanbar. The somewhat charmless Kanbar wasn’t exactly an easy guest, but even he enjoyed the fish and chips.

One of the dining areas at The Yew Tree Inn

On another occasion, I introduced my dear friends Dianne and Michael Bienes to the setting in the company of Barnaby Rodgers, Luigi Galimberti Faussone, Edoardo Albright and Emma Rogers. We had a fantastic meal but The Yew Tree’s credit card machine wouldn’t work. Though I left my details, a bill was never even sent. This was all part of the charm and easygoing nature of the place. After lunch I took the party to see a true Romany gypsy encampment nearby complete with an ancient caravan. My guests could not believe that such still existed in England. Sadly, more recently, these relics of times past were moved on.

Just before my birthday in 2007, after purchasing a four-wheel drive vehicle from Guy Salmon in Portsmouth, I recall driving through the snow on a freezing January day in a somewhat comparatively shabby Nissan and yet again coming upon The Yew Tree Inn. Within half an hour a whole gaggle of friends had descended upon this hostelry that is just near where Downton Abbey is now filmed and a jolly afternoon ensued. All in all, this was a pub and restaurant where somehow magic just happened.

The food at The Yew Tree Inn, under the auspices of Marco Pierre White, was indeed second to none and though the service was a little haphazard, we always had a great time. Even when we took a young lady who only ate raw vegetables (she believed, if cooked, their “souls” would be destroyed), the management tolerated our eccentricities. On the one occasion I even dared introduce a seriously ghastly creature named Maureen, they even put up with her and, indeed, if I’d taken a certain carafe swiller, they’d probably even have forgiven that too. At The Yew Tree, hospitality was all that mattered.

Highclere Castle: the setting for Julian Fellowes’s Downton Abbey starring, from left to right, Rob James-Collier, Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Jessica Brown-Findlay, Anna Smith and Brendan Coyle

In September 2011, therefore, I was sad to learn that Mr Pierre White had fallen out with his partners in the venture, Andrew Parton and Peter Featherman, and dismayed when his spokesman stated:

“Marco has been treated very shabbily. He invested his own money in The Yew Tree and saved the business from its financial difficulties. Now he has absolutely nothing to show for it because an agreement has been reneged upon.”

Yesterday, however, things moved on when I learned that the establishment had been put up for sale through agents Davis Coffer Lyons for offers in excess of £1,650,000 for the freehold going concern.

Sadly, I suspect, the glory days for The Yew Tree Inn are over but I very much hope that whoever buys it will not be “fishing without bait,” to misquote Downton’s Dowager Countess of Grantham.

The Yew Tree Inn, Andover Road, Hollington Cross, Near Newbury, Berkshire, RG20 9SE. Telephone: +44 (0) 1635 253360. Website: http://www.theyewtree.co.uk

For more information on the sale contact Paul Tallentyre of Davis Coffer Lyons on +44 (0) 20 7299 0740 or email ptallentyre@daviscofferlyons.co.uk.

Friday, 10 February 2012

A “Gentleman’s Express”

A most unusual Aston Martin comes to the market

Last night, as I plodded homeward in the snow from the superb Louise Bobbe: Behind Closed Doors exhibition at the Richard Young Gallery, I took a detour, as I often do, down Reece Mews to look in the window of Hexagon Classics.

The exterior of the Aston Martin DB6 Vantage Shooting Brake, registration YPP 798F

Here amongst an array of spectacular vehicles I spotted a delight that truly is one of the most unusual cars that I’ve seen in a long while: a 1967 Aston Martin DB6 Vantage Shooting Brake.

The DB6 Vantage Shooting Brake’s luxurious Burgundy Hide interior

One of only three built, this vehicle was converted from an Aston Martin DB6 Vantage in 1969 for the renowned racing driver Innes Ireland (1930 – 1993). Executed by top coachbuilders FLM Panelcraft, the conversion created a shooting brake that combines both sporting prowess and practicality.

The DB6 Vantage Shooting Brake’s split tailgate

The term “shooting brake” has itself evolved since its inception in the 19th century. Originally a vehicle used to carry shooting parties, it had by the 1930s become “synonymous with vehicles that ferried guests and their luggage to and from railway stations.” In essence, this car type was essentially a “grand tourer.” In 2006, The New York Times took the description further and named the car body style as: "a sleek wagon with two doors and sports-car panache, its image entangled with European aristocracy, fox hunts and baying hounds” and most recently, Top Gear described the contemporary version of it to be a “cross between an estate and a coupé.”

An old image of the vehicle

Not seen in public since 1995, this “historically important motor car” is finished in Gunmetal Grey and Burgundy Hide upholstery. Virtually unused since the completion of a fully documented restoration by Aston Martin Works Service, this DB6 Vantage Shooting Brake, whose chassis number is DB63310R, is a truly important piece of motoring history.

The car in Reece Mews, a street that also formerly housed the studio of the artist Francis Bacon

Ireland, who has been described as a man who "lived without sense, without an analyst and provoked astonishment and affection from everyone," must have spent many a happy hour driving this truly unique vehicle for which Hexagon Classics now seek £499,995.

For more information on the Aston Martin DB6 Vantage Shooting Brake, go to: http://www.hexagonclassics.com/car_sales/Aston-Martin-DB6-Vantage-Shooting-Brake/4523.htm

Contact Jonathan Kaiser of Hexagon Classics for more information on +44 (0) 20 7225 3388 or email jonathan.kaiser@hexagonclassics.com

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Walks with Dickens

A review of “Dickens’s London” by Peter Clark

On Tuesday I enjoyed attending the launch of Dickens’s London by Peter Clark at the bookHaus at 70 Cadogan Place, just behind Sloane Square, SW1X.

The cover of Peter Clark’s Dickens’s London

Peter Clark, a writer and translator who worked in Damascus for the British Council for many years, is “an authority on 19th century Britain” and his book guides readers on five walks around Central London inspired by the works of Charles Dickens, their settings and his life.

Author Peter Clark, © Amelia Wells

Published to coincide with Dickens’s bicentenary, this timely launch was held on a cold winter’s night in a small shop whose windows became heavily condensated as the guests packed in. As the wine flowed, Clark knowledgeably illustrated the character and haunts of the author of Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, Pickwick Papers and Barnaby Rudge.

Perfect to fit into one’s pocket, for me, the most fascinating part of the book was naturally the section of Chelsea. Here, Clark reveals how Charles Dickens rented a house, that strangely does not bear a Blue Plaque, in the 1830s at 11 Selwood Terrace and married Catherine Hogarth at St Luke’s Church in 1836.

Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812 – 1870)

The author also recounts how Dickens based Bleak House’s Harold Skimpole on another associate, “the dilettante Leigh Hunt,” who lived at 22 Upper Cheyne Row. Hunt, Clark mentions, was “deeply upset” by the comparison.

Clark’s book has been described as “special and evocative” and it indeed provides the guidance for truly fascinating citywide strolls this coming spring.

Dickens’s London has a RRP of £9.99 but is available directly through Haus Publishing for £7.99. For more information, go to: http://www.hauspublishing.com/product/396

A lotta cheek

The case of the £10m lottery winners still claiming benefits

On Monday I discovered I’d had a little win on the lottery. It wasn’t a huge payout but it was a most welcome surprise.

This morning, though, when I read of the story of a couple named Michael and Jean O’Shea who won a £10,215,000 EuroMillions jackpot in 1995 but retained their former council house and continued to claim benefits, I was utterly appalled.

Michael and Jean O’Shea pictured enjoying champagne at Nottingham Race Course after their 1995 win.

That this pair are not breaking the law, as the disability living allowance and Mobility schemes they benefit from are not means tested, is all very well but the morality of their behaviour is just indefensible.

The O’Shea’s 3-bedroom former council house in Sneiton, Nottingham. They purchased this property for £5,000 in 1977 and it is now said to be worth £190,000.

73-year old Mr O’Shea, a former builder, the Daily Mail reveals, has claimed around £31,500 in benefits, as well as being given a new car every three years, since his win stated:

“I worked hard for 40 years and I’m entitled to it. I’ve been getting it since about 1996. I declared the win to the authorities at the time, but it doesn’t matter as it’s not means tested.”

The O’Shea’s £700,000 Irish holiday home at Ballinclogher in the Kerry mountains comes complete with 2 receptions, a bar and 3 bedrooms. A guest house stands in the grounds and the couple also built another detached house up the road for their Mr O’Shea’s sister, Anne.

His equally grasping 72- year old wife added: “Michael needs it… We’re entitled to it,” whilst a male relative piped in with the following:

“People need to leave them alone. It is causing them a lot of upset.”

The O’Shea’s, who earn around £408,000 in interest alone, on their win, could easily make afford to make themselves comfortable rather than taking the easy option of letting the state take care of them. As they’re quite capable of spraying champagne at the horse races and building £700,000 holiday homes in Ireland, they should equally seek out private medical care.

Mr and Mrs O’Shea: do the decent thing and repay the benefits you really did not need. People, then, may start to respect you.

Watch Doreen’s Story, a video inspired by a similar character, at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OA9t61PuiDc