Monday, 17 December 2012

The future's no longer bright

'The future's bright, the future's Orange.' This was an old advertising slogan of the mobile phone operator Orange. There was a time when I would have agreed with it, but the slogan is a few years old and that time appears to have long since gone.

The text below is an email I sent today (December 17th 2012) to Orange's CEO Olaf Swantee. It will be very interesting to see if I get a reply and, if I do, what it will say.

"I am writing this email to complain about the unacceptable level of service I have received from Orange over the past few weeks. I contacted you earlier in the year regarding an issue which never got a satisfactory resolution. However, the incompetence of Orange over the last few weeks have caused the earlier issue to pale into insignificance. Below is a timeline and explanation of the problems I have been having.

August 14th 2012
I contacted you about a fault with my Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc and to express my disappointment at either having to pay a £25.00 excess charge to replace the handset, or a £100.00+ early upgrade fee. I sent the email following a conversation with a customer service representative who told me there was no possibility of the early upgrade fee being waived or reduced. This was not true - more of that later.

August 21st 2012
I contacted you again regarding the unsatisfactory resolution I had been offered, which was waiving the £25.00 excess fee. As I was close to the end of my contract I didn't wish to get a replacement handset only to then upgrade again in a couple of months' time.

Shortly after this the handset fault resolved itself so I let the matter drop until I decided to contact Orange again to discuss the possibility of upgrading earlier than my due date. This is where the new problems started.

November 30th 2012
I called the upgrade team to discuss upgrading my handset earlier. My chosen upgrade was to a Samsung Galaxy S3. I was quoted an early upgrade fee of around £40.00 and was told the handset would be free on a £36 a month contract. This was not true, the second time I'd been given false information. I agreed to pay the fee and the agent tried to process the payment but was unable to do so. She said she'd try on her line manager's PC and call me to let me know when it had gone through.

Later in the day, as I had not yet received a call, I contacted your call centre again. The agent I spoke to this time tried to process the upgrade but also could not. He explained this was due to an issue with my account and that he'd have to notify your IT Support. He offered me a free month's line rental for the inconvenience and said he'd be back in touch when the issue had been resolved.

I called and contacted the @OrangeHelpers Twitter account a number of times during the following week but was never given an ETA for the fault to be resolved, until I finally received a direct message from @OrangeHelpers on Friday 7th December advising that the issue had been sorted and I could process the upgrade.

December 7th 2012
I called your call centre and the agent processed my upgrade. However, he said that, because I was upgrading early there would be a charge of £39.99 for the handset, as well as the early upgrade fee. I explained to him that I'd been told otherwise and, after consulting with his line manager, he agreed to process the upgrade without the handset charge or early upgrade fee. Whilst this was an appreciable gesture, it rendered false what I had been told in August by one of your agents who was adamant that it was impossible to waive early upgrade fees and that directive had come down from the highest levels of management. The upgrade was processed correctly and delivery scheduled for Monday 10th.

December 10th 2012
I received the new handset and tried to carry out the SIM swap online. This failed so I then tried to call the automated helpline to do this. This also failed and I was transferred to an agent who said he'd processed the SIM swap for me and advised me to wait between 2 and 24 hours for it to go through. At the end of December 10th it still had not been processed.

December 11th 2012
The SIM swap had still not gone through so I contacted your call centre again. This time I was advised to turn the handset off for two hours as it this was necessary for the SIM swap to register. I did this but still nothing happened so I called again. On this occasion I was told that the SIM was faulty and that a new one would be sent out to me. However, I was also told that I could get a replacement SIM from an Orange retail store. This was the third piece of incorrect information.

I visited the Orange store on the Strand and received a replacement SIM, which the agent called through to activate while I was there. Not once did he say this wouldn't work. Presuming everything was OK I left the handset turned off overnight.

December 12th 2012
Upon turning the handset back on the replacement SIM had still not been activated. I contacted your call centre again and the agent could see that the new SIM activation had been requested, but couldn't understand why it hadn't gone through.

December 13th 2012
The replacement SIM had still not been activated. Following a series of tweets to @OrangeHelpers, one of the Social Media agents - Alison - called me directly. She explained that I had been misinformed about getting a replacement SIM from a retail store, which was why it could not be activated. She said to contact her directly on Twitter once I had received my new SIM from Orange (the one posted on December 11th) and she would activate it for me. Alison was the only one of your agents that took any real ownership of my issues.

December 14th 2012 
New SIM not yet received.

December 15th 2012
Despite me not having received my new SIM yet, Orange saw fit to deactivate the old one, leaving me completely without service. I contacted your faults team and the agent said that his system was saying the SIM swap had been completed, which was strange as I hadn't received the new SIM yet. He tried to reactivate the old SIM and advised me to wait a couple of hours, and if it still didn't work then to wait overnight. Needless to say, neither of these worked.

December 16th 2012
My old SIM was still inactive so I contacted your call centre again. The agent advised me to factory reset my old handset, which I did, but still the old SIM hadn't been reactivated.

December 17th 2012
As I type this email I have finally received the SIM sent on December 11th. I have tweeted @OrangeHelpers to inform them of this and provided the SIM and mobile numbers as requested. As yet they have not replied (around 2 hours later). I have also tried to activate the SIM myself both online and over the telephone. Both these attempts failed.

So, I have currently had a new phone for one week which I haven't been able to use, and have been totally without service for approaching two days. I'm hoping this will be resolved today, but am not holding my breath.

I find this level of service totally and utterly unacceptable. Not only have I been misinformed on three separate occasions, but also, with the exception of Alison in your Social Media team, not once has an agent taken real ownership of my issue. I did not receive one update on how my queries have been progressing and was only dealt with when I contacted Orange myself, never proactively - again with the exception of Alison.

At this moment in time I'm wishing I had never bothered upgrading, if this is the level of service which is now the norm within Orange, with agents misinforming customers, SLAs constantly being missed and general apathy towards customer satisfaction.

My cooling off period of 14 days from upgrading expires on Friday 21st. Be assured that if this issue isn't resolved by then I shall be cancelling my contract and informing everybody I know about the issues I've had and advising them as strongly as possible to have nothing to do with your organisation.

I await your reply to this with interest."

Monday, 1 October 2012

Friday Night is All Right (For Eating) - Restaurant Sat Bains

There are many good reasons to live in Nottingham. Its rich history and culture, its vibrant city centre with excellent shopping and nightlife, or its sporting heritage. Not least amongst these is its proximity to one of the finest restaurants in the country - Restaurant Sat Bains.

We've been lucky enough to have dined at Restaurant Sat Bains a couple of times in the past, but not for a while now and not since it acquired its second Michelin star in October 2011. With this in mind we were excited to see what improvements had been made to an already brilliant experience which would have persuaded the Michelin inspectors to part with another star.

The first of these improvements was apparent as we pulled up to the door, where we were greeted by a cheery front of house member. A little thing, perhaps, but not one that had happened here before, and the sort of nice touch that makes a customer feel valued and wanted.

After being seated in the cosy lounge and ordering pre-dinner drinks we were presented with the menu to choose from. We'd already decided to opt for the seven course tasting menu rather than the ten (there is no a la carte here), and I supplemented mine by also ordering the famous Ham, Eggs and Peas starter which won maximum marks from the judges in the Great British Menu a few years ago. An early start the next morning made us choose not to have the wine pairing menu - where a glass of wine is chosen by the restaurant to match each specific course. Instead we selected a light, sharp and buttery Chardonnay which was also very reasonably priced.

Choices made, we were whisked through to the dining area. Another improvement was noticed where the staff politely seated us, pulling out chairs, elegantly plopping down napkins and ensuring we were comfortable. Again, a small touch, but appreciated nonetheless. So, firmly ensconced in our seats, it was time for the food.

Our amuse-bouche was esoterically titled 'NG7 2SA' - the postcode of the restaurant itself. Elements of the dish had been foraged from within yards of the buildings and these came in the form of a rich, green nettle soup which was poured over a horseradish panna cotta. Before these was a delightfully sharp and refreshing chunk of horseradish ice cream contained within a mini wafer. My Ham, Eggs and Peas was up next and it was the same sweet, gloopy, salty and delicious combination it had been the other times I'd tried it. We were also delighted to see the sweet, gooey treacle bread we'd enjoyed so much in our previous visits was still in attendance.

The first course proper of the tasting menu was simply called 'scallop curry' (Sat doesn't give a lot away with his dish names). Some of you may remember Vesta Curries - oddly sweet ready-meal style curries popular a number of years ago. This dish brought back memories of those and was pretty much all the elements of a curry on one plate. A perfectly seared and spiced scallop provided the core, and was joined on a plate by small cubes of cucumber and apple, a tangy smear of mango chutney, a crunchy mini bhaji and even a shard of poppadom. A fantastic start to the meal.

Next up was cubes of pink, squishy salmon in an oyster broth, with mushrooms pickled in passion fruit. This dish for me summed up exactly what Sat Bains's cooking is all about. A clever combination of textures, temperatures and tastes, with every mouthful offering something different. A smear of miso caramel offered saltiness and some crisped rice - which looked disconcertingly like maggots - provided crunch.

Following this was textures of celeriac. An earthy mix of celeriac cubes with a puree of the same vegetable, it was topped by thin slivers of sweetly pickled celeriac. Our waiter gave us some insight of the work involved in producing even this relatively simple dish, describing in great detail how the vegetable is cut, cleaned and prepared.

Our main course followed, and this was Scottish partridge with root vegetables and a thyme gravy. I'd not had partridge before and was surprised at the lightness, having expected something more 'gamey' like pigeon. The meat was moist and springy, the root vegetables crunchy and sweet. A stripy slice of crispy bacon was wonderfully salty and looked nothing so much like a Frazzle had been included on the plate.

The 'crossover' dish was next, usually a halfway house of sweet and savoury offering a bridge between the main and dessert courses. This was a lollipop. A lollipop of beetroot sorbet covered in white chocolate which, in turn, was coated with freeze-dried raspberry chunks. Whilst tasty, my personal preference would have been for something saltier and less sweet. It was certainly still delicious though.

On top of the improvements in service, we really felt the dessert courses were superior to those we'd had at Sat Bains before. That isn't to say the previous ones were poor - quite the opposite. But the two dessert courses we received were very, very good indeed.

The first of these was just called 'chocolate,' and chocolate it was. A rich disk of smooth, dark chocolate coated with a creamy frozen yoghurt. This in turn was topped with a small blob of cumin caramel, while the whole dish was sprinkled with fine shavings of lime zest. Once again, a wonderful combination of sweet, sour and a hint of saltiness.

Finally we had 'apple,' which really didn't do the dish justice. A portion of caramelised Bramley apple was joined in a bowl by a paper-thin cinnamon wafer, before our waiter sprinkled over hailstones of apple and cream ice cream. The mix of warm and cool temperatures and spicy and sweet flavours was a fantastic end to the meal.

Our coffees (not part of the tasting menu) were accompanied by a chocolate log. Not the Swiss Roll style Christmas staple, but an actual wooden log, sliced to contain five squares of thinly tempered chocolate. Each of these had a different flavour, from lemon and ginger to fennel, with a bit of cardamom and hibiscus in between. These were all chosen to help aid digestion apparently. Amazing attention to detail again.

We'd already decided not to ask to visit the kitchen, but when kindly offered the opportunity we weren't about to say no. Sat was his usual charming and cheery self, showing off his recently expanded pastry kitchen and - rightfully - praising the fantastic team he's got around him before signing our menu as a memento of the evening.

This was definitely our best visit to Restaurant Sat Bains. The improvements on an already brilliant experience were obvious and impressive, and we look forward to seeing if it can push on toward the pinnacle of fine dining classifications - a third Michelin star. With Sat at the helm, we wouldn't be surprised.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

What a difference a year makes

They say 24 hours is a long time in politics. I think they do anyway. Well, 365 days is a very, very long time in football, and in particular the 365 days (well, 366 actually as it's a Leap Year) between August 31st 2011 and August 31st 2012 have felt like a millennia when it comes to Nottingham Forest. But, the last few of these days, and August 31st 2012 itself, have reminded me why I enjoy football so much.

My last blog post explained the recent goings on around Nottingham Forest, culminating in the official announcement that the club had been taken over by the Kuwaiti-based al Hasawi family on July 10th. An incredible end to a difficult period. The few weeks that followed have been no less incredible, but for different reasons, as the effort to rebuild the team and club began.

The new owners certainly didn't mess around. Despite local press suggesting that the manager Steve Cotterill would be given time and money to improve the team's fortunes, it was announced less than 48 hours after the takeover that he'd been sacked. The al Hasawis gave their first press conference shortly after, and teased us all by proclaiming they were speaking to 'iconic' managers about the now-vacant position. That word would be rammed down Forest fans' throats for a while. It isn't any more.

Many names were linked: Harry Redknapp and Glenn Hoddle were two - certainly big names within the sport - but the strongest link was to Mick McCarthy, with both press and fans' forums suggesting he was the owners' first choice. So, when he announced that the job wasn't for him, suspicions were aroused. These suspicions were deepened when a swathe of Kuwaiti and Syrian players arrived at the club on trial. I mean no disrespect to these players, but the countries are not renowned for their endless flow of footballing talent.

A succession of managers were favourites at the bookmakers. McCarthy, Darren Ferguson, Hoddle. Nobody seemed to have a clue what was going on. Then, late in the week a new name emerged: Sean O'Driscoll.

O'Driscoll had been brought in as assistant to Steve Cotterill in the January of 2012, and many credited him with the upturn in form which ultimately saw Forest avoid relegation. A well-respected name whose teams have a reputation for playing attractive football, he would certainly be a sensible choice. But 'iconic?' He'd recently taken a job at Crawley Town, but when Forest approached him, his new club - with a touch of class - didn't stand in his way.

So, we had a manager, but if anything the choice of him increased the suspicions about the new owners. How much money did they really have? What were their motives? The low points were the sale of defender Chris Gunter to newly-promoted Reading, and an article in the Mail Online which suggested the owners wanted to fill the team with cheap, Middle East-based players. Though there was no evidence to back this up it certainly got alarm bells ringing. The next day however, it all began to change.

On Monday 23rd July, it was announced that Forest had signed Algerian midfielder Adlene Guedioura from Wolves. He'd been on loan with us at the end of the previous season and his all-action game had made him an instant favourite with the fans. In one fell swoop, the owners had got the fans back on board. And it wasn't just the signing, it was how it was announced.

Because, rather than an article on the official website, it was announced on Twitter directly by the majority owner Fawaz al Hasawi. Not just that, but he tantalised us with the promise that 'During the next coming week you will be hearing about new players joining Nottingham Forest.'

And we did. Much-needed defensive reinforcements arrived in the form of Danny Collins, Greg Halford and Dan Harding. All solid, experienced players of the type we needed to rebuild the team. Midfielder Simon Gillett joined on a free transfer and talented young defender Daniel Ayala signed up on a season-long loan from Norwich City. Added to this, our own talented young defender Jamaal Lascelles signed a new, long-term contract. With the likes of Arsenal and Spurs having been linked with him in the past, this was as important as the new players.

Most encouraging was the manner in which these deals were being done. Quickly, with little fuss. No sooner had our interest in a player been reported than, boom - he was here. The type of these players also raised hopes. No big names bought in on the owner's whim - just solid, experienced pros.

It just kept getting better too. Our biggest outlay of the summer arrived in the form of Simon Cox, a Republic of Ireland international striker from West Bromwich Albion for around £2m. He soon showed his worth by setting up the winning goal in our first League match of the season. Before that, Sam Hutchinson - a right back from Chelsea - also joined the ranks on loan. So, eight new players in - but the best was yet to come.

Gifted Arsenal midfielder Henri Lansbury was suddenly linked in the press. He'd spent the last two seasons on loan at clubs who had subsequently both been promoted. This link prompted a Derby fan to post on Facebook: 'Forest won't sign Lansbury. He's good enough for the PL. If they get him for £1m I'll get Twat tattooed on my forehead.' But later that day, Lansbury did indeed sign a long-term contract with Forest. Whether or not the Derby fan made good on his word is still a mystery.

Finally we reached Transfer Deadline Day - the last day on which clubs can buy or sell players for four months. For Forest fans, in recent years this day has consisted of rumoured sightings of players at the City Ground - usually left backs - but no actual signings, so our expectations weren't high. Few would have been disappointed with this, such had been our business in the transfer market over the past few weeks. Local press suggested a quiet day with more likelihood of outgoings than incomings.

The morning and early afternoon passed quietly, with David McGoldrick leaving for Coventry City on loan being the only movement. Then rumours started to surface about possible deals for two more players happening. The names mentioned were James Coppinger and Billy Sharp. The former an experienced midfielder who our manager had worked with before. The latter a striker with a fantastic record of scoring goals pretty much everywhere he'd played. He too had worked with Sean O'Driscoll before, and it was no secret that O'Driscoll was a long-time admirer.

These rumours escalated when a local reporter tweeted that Forest were indeed trying to tie up a deal for Sharp - then promptly deleted the tweet! But the seed of interest had been sown. Coppinger's club announced that he was indeed talking to Forest and the now-famous 'Fawaz tweet' soon followed, confirming his signing on a six month loan. But still no word on Sharp. It was acknowledged he was in talks but no official news was forthcoming. This was the big one, the one that could, possibly, turn us from hopefuls into contenders.

And then, just after 9PM, Fawaz al Hasawi finally tweeted: 'I'm honoured to announce that striker Billy Sharp is to spend the rest of the season on loan with us from Southampton. Come on You Reds.'

In just over a month since the takeover was finalised we'd signed eleven new players - a whole new team - for less than a fellow Championship club had paid for one. And not just players for the sake of it; they were a mix of proven quality and young potential. We'd had the best transfer window and deadline day that most of us could ever recall, and it's safe to say that any doubts about the new owners had been well and truly blown out of the water by the manner in which they'd conducted themselves and their business.

We may not win the League this season. We may not get promoted. But the overwhelming feeling for fans of Nottingham Forest is that the club is back. The dark days are over and we can look forward to a future of real promise and success.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Kuwait is Over

This blog is a bit of a departure for me. As you'll see from previous efforts, my scrawlings have been mainly focussed on food, beer and musical theatre. This one is about another subject dear to my heart - Nottingham Forest FC.

Depending on how much you know about the recent history of Forest, the last few months have been either deadly boring or totally fascinating. Before delving deeper into these months, let's have a look back at last season.

After two relatively successful years of reaching the Football League playoffs but ultimately failing to get promotion back to the Premier League, Forest's former owner and chairman Nigel Doughty decided to dispense with the services of popular but abrasive manager Billy Davies and replace him with the ex-England boss Steve McClaren.

This decision polarised fans' opinions but was ultimately an unmitigated failure. McClaren flopped and resigned and, on the same day, Doughty himself stepped down as chairman. Over the following weeks it emerged that Doughty was trying to sell the club until - tragically - he suddenly passed away in February 2012.

A new manager had already been appointed, in the form of the unheralded and unfashionable Steve Cotterill - a manager with a reputation for working well with a small budget. The honeymoon period of good results had worn off and Forest had endured their worst run of form in several years. In the end, some astute loan signings and an upturn in results saw Forest avoid relegation and stay in the Championship - just.

In the background, the process of selling Forest had begun. Before his death, Doughty had appointed an investment bank to advise on the sale. This complicated process was made even more so with his untimely demise. Rumours of Middle Eastern and Canadian consortia came and went until, at last, a name was linked: Kuwaiti businessman Fawaz al-Hasawi. Not much was known about him, other than he was the owner of Kuwaiti club Qadsia, and that he'd made his fortune in refrigeration and real estate.

Al-Hasawi had given a television interview announcing his intention to buy an English club; a club currently in the second tier of English football but with a rich history. Fans of Leeds United assumed it was them - they fit that bill after all. But further investigation prompted the speculation that it was, in fact, Forest that were his intended target.

Thus started weeks of rumour and conjecture. The club said nothing bar issuing a statement denying any knowledge. Local press was silent. A couple of articles appeared in online publications, but still nothing concrete as they could've been written just by using Twitter posts. Then things started to ramp up. A spokesman for Forest's new main sponsor described the takeover as 'imminent' (though the Forest CEO denied this). A picture of al-Hasawi's daughter wearing a top emblazoned with 'Forest' further fanned the flames. Meanwhile players were leaving the club, unable to be offered new contracts. All the while the fans were in the dark. Something had to happen.

And then it did. Firstly on June 29th the club and al-Hasawi family issued statements, announcing they were entering exclusive negotiations. The next few days crawled by as rumoured completion dates came and went, and naturally-pessimistic Forest fans feared the worst. Then, on July 10th, Fawaz al-Hasawi himself tweeted that the deal had been done.

Local press had been caught on the hop again until, later that evening, it was confirmed that the al-Hasawi family had indeed completed their purchase of Nottingham Forest. A new era in the club's history had begun.

Now, to non-Forest and non-football fans the above probably seems as dull as hell. But anyone who has supported a football club for a while can hopefully understand what it's been like. A see-saw of optimism and despair. One day fearing the worst, the next day looking to a bright future.

So, what happens next? Firstly a press conference on July 14th to launch the new home kit, outline the plans for the future and meet the fans. Speculation has already begun about (much needed) new signings, possibly a new manager and, most exciting for me, a new stadium to replace the much-loved but tired-looking City Ground.

After that.....who knows? The new owners' statements about bringing the glory days back to Forest are music to fans' ears. The next few months and years will see if they prove to be true or not. Either way, interesting times are ahead.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Moules and the Gang

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Happy Easter! Oops, not the last one. It does seem like last Easter that I last wrote a blog entry though. Upon logging on here I noticed with some chagrin that I'd got as far as a title for my last blog, but nothing else. Which is a shame because it was a pretty good title too. Oh well.

Anyway, regular readers of my tumbleweed-strewn, self-indulgent ramblings will know that mid-January is usually the time that a few friends and I jet (well, train) off to London to watch the Masters Snooker semi-final (while Clare goes shopping before we meet back up for the evening for a posh meal). However, since the change of venue from Wembley Conference Centre to the Arena we've somewhat lost enthusiasm in the Masters. The Arena is just too big for snooker and lacks the atmosphere of the smaller Conference Centre, and most certainly of somewhere like the Crucible. Masters Weekend is now a thing of the past. Clare and I enjoy the January trip to London though so decided to look for an excuse to continue. That wasn't difficult.

Regular readers will also know that we've become big fans of musical theatre recently. So when we found out that one of our favourite performers - Ramin Karimloo - would be playing the lead role in one of our favourite shows - Les Miserables - we duly snapped up tickets for the usual January weekend. Rather than also splurging on a posh meal this time though we decided to try something a bit different for lunch.

This 'something different' took the form of a London based chain of Belgian themed restaurants called Belgo, one of which was only a couple of minutes from our hotel in Covent Garden. So, after arriving at the hotel, being annoyed at the ridiculous charge for checking in early and not having a left luggage room, and scooting round a few shops, we trotted off for our lunch.

We'd been told about Belgo's old-style lift with one of those criss-cross doors and were looking forward to seeing it, but alas it was out of order so down the stairs it was, to discover a below-ground dining area in a similar style to the nearby Hawksmoor. The restaurant was busy but there was barely a pause before we were seated and perusing the extensive food and beer menus.

With us both being fans of seafood we both went for mussels. A traditional pot of Mariniere for me, a platter of Mediterranean for Clare and a side order of rye bread. Clare chose a Floris Honey (a lovely honey flavoured lager) for her drink while I went for a pint of the restaurant's own Pils.

Both drinks and food were served very promptly, but if there had been a wait, both would have been worth it. My mussel pot was enormous and delicious. Beautifully steamed mussels in a creamy sauce with crunchy frites on the side. Clare's platter looked almost like a pizza, with the mussels served in half-shells, topped with melted cheese and tomato. Judging by the emptiness of her plate at the end, they were nice too.

A couple more shops and a fantastic cake at a local patisserie later and it was off back to the hotel to rest and freshen up before the evening. We had a few gripes about the hotel but the location was certainly not one of them. Barely a ten minute walk to the theatre and even less than that to the restaurant meant the Oyster cards stayed firmly in our pockets for the day.

Les Miserables was as excellent as the previous times we'd been, with Ramin making a fantastic Jean Valjean. I don't think I'll ever hear anyone sing Valjean as well as Alfie Boe did. Ramin was superb in his own right but vocally, Alfie just shaded it (not that there's any shame in that!) However, Ramin is certainly a more accomplished actor and his portrayal of the lead role was brilliantly emotional. Another mention must go to Hadley Fraser (again) as Valjean's nemesis Inspector Javert. Another fantastically menacing performance, which must have been tricky as the two of them are good friends off stage and even play in a band together.

Having been lucky enough to have met a few of the cast the last time we went we hotfooted it to the stage door again after the show. It was certainly worth the trip as Ramin duly appeared for a chat, photograph and signing. I cannot speak highly enough about this man. He'd been in Japan all week, only flown back to the UK on Friday night, done a matinee performance earlier in the day, sang his heart out in the evening and STILL had time to be utterly charming to all the waiting fans. He even fulfilled Clare's request of saying 'thank you ma'am' in good grace (listen to him being interviewed and you'll hear why she asked). A fantastic example of a celebrity who genuinely knows how lucky they are and truly appreciates how a small gesture from them can mean a massive amount to a fan. Clare practically floated back to the hotel.

Back to reality today. Still, I'm sure there'll be many more fun times ahead this year. Hopefully I'll motivate myself enough to blog about some of them too.