Craig Gibbons' Lifeblog lifeblog://


Losing Louis by Simon Mendes de Costa

This past Friday (28 January 2005), Laura and I went to the Hampstead Theatre (in Swiss Cottage) to attend a performance of Losing Louis, a "touching new comedy" by Simon Mendes de Costa. Always a little leary of anything that combines drama and comedy, I was a little sceptical about this piece having any raucous entertainment value, but in the interests of broadening one's cultural horisons, I thought it best to give this star-studded cast, including the likes of Lynda Bellingham, Anita Briem and Alison Steadman the benefit of the doubt. Some two and a half hours later, we left there, grinning, after an excellent performance by the entire cast with a notably brilliant performance by Alison Steadman doing more for the "comedy" part of the show than the combined efforts of the rest of the cast did for the "touching" part. Losing Louis runs until the 19th of February 2005 at the Hampstead Theatre. Highly recommended.

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Chelsea Bun

MMMMmmmmmm, the Chelsea Bun, cheesy puns aside, the Chelsea Bun is just about the most impressive hangover-cure breakfast spot in London, to my knowledge thus far anyways. This morning, Laura and I, waking with respectively sore heads, moseyed on over to the Chelsea Bun restaurant in, believe it or not, Chelsea. The place was abuzz and we did well to avoid what was either the late breakfast crowd, or the early lunch crowd by arriving somewhere around noon. A quick survey of the menu confirmed my expectations, those being, the Chelsea Bun is a kind of gournet greasy spoon, serving honest to goodness soul-pleasing food which sends one back the following weekend, probably having purposefully sought out a hangover just for the mere pleasure of having a legitimate excuse for yet another trip to the beloved Chelsea Bun. This morning, I had the decadent good fortune to breakfast on the "The Ultimate Breakfast", consisting of no less than all of the following: French toast, pancakes, maple syrup, clotted cream, a sausage, hash browns, a beef burger, 3 eggs, rashers of bacon and grilled mushrooms. Oh what a feast, what a feast, I shall not forget it soon.

Chelsea Bun
9a Lamont Road
SW10 0HP

Phone: 020 7352 3635


C# – Removing HTML tags from a string using Regular Expresions

Regular expressions are largely misunderstood and shunned by the majority of developers, probably because they have their roots in PERL and to most Microsoft developers, all that *nix stuff is to be kept well away from. It will fry your monitor and crash your hard drive, it might even make your coffee taste bad, besides, who wants to use something some open-source tree-hugging hippy developed 20 years ago for the command line? The other notable barrier to entry is that VBScript only got regular expression support in version 5.0, JScript had it from the beginning so it's a little confusing that Microsoft didn't include it in VBScript from the outset, afterall, if they wanted to create a language to replace JScript, they should have implemented all the features of JScript and more. Truthfully, regular expressions are our friends, they are infinitely useful for an array of operations, which can actually all be accomplished by parsing text the old fashioned way, but which are alltogether more elegant using a regular expression. The syntax is a little difficult to grasp in the beginning but once understood, opens a treasure trove of possibilities to the learned grinning developer. Today, I was faced with a simple problem. I had to write something to remove all the HTML tags from a string. I've done this the old fashioned way some time ago and it worked well, but clearly regular expressions are the "right" way to go about solving this problem. I got out my old favourite regular expressions guide and had a quick look for a regular expression to do the job. Not finding one, I just wrote a basic one, which granted, may not account for every possibility, but which will work for just about 99% of all developers and all scenarios. The expression goes as follows:

Regex regex = new Regex("</?(.*)>", RegexOptions.IgnoreCase | RegexOptions.Multiline);
htmlString = regex.Replace(htmlString, string.Empty);

The beauty of this approach, is that the desired result can be achieved in just 2 lines. Oh yeah, .NET Rocks!

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Angela Hartnett at the Connaught

A week after meeting Laura, I had arranged a bona fide dinner date with her for September 20th 2004. Not knowing the restaurants in this town too well, I decided to go with the names I knew and find something that looked sauitably flash and impressive. I had a look around on and came across Angela Hartnett at the Connaught. The Connaught is a very upmarket hotel within walking of Green Park. The thing that turned me on to Angela Hartnett is that she is one of Gordon Ramsay's protege's. I figured one couldn't really go wrong with Gordon Ramsay, so I booked the table for 7:30PM. Upon arrival with Laura, I was very impressed with the venue. It is classic in every sense with lots of dark wood and heavy chairs. It is warm, ambient and impressive... in fact so impressive it might not be exactly the best venue for a first date, we do not afterall wish to overwhelm the lady on the first encounter. As it turns out, the first date was quite nearly a complete disaster. We sat there, for 5 stonily silent minutes, surveying the menu, no doubt with thoughts racing through our heads about finding something to say, anything to talk about. Fortunately, it did not take long, we made some excellent menu selections from a very impressive menu and much to my surprise, their very comprehensive wine list featured a bottle of Meerlust Rubicon 2000, which was duly ordered and readily, and somewhat greedily, consumed. The starters were perfection, the mains perfection and the desert, well, I almost shed a whole tear it was so good. Suffice to say, the night was a success, 4 months later we're still going to good restaurants and Angela Hartnett at the Connaught is still at the top of my list. Next time we may try out Marcus Wareing at The Savoy Grill.

The Connaught

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The Admiralty

This past Friday, Laura and I went to dinner at The Admiralty to celebrate our 4 month anniversary. I'd heard good things about this restaurant located in the former naval intelligence building, Somerset House. The decor is very elegant and the rooms all have that feel of British largesse so common of buildings at the time. The restaurant is divided into 3 dining rooms, the Main restaurant, the Orange or Terra-Cotta room and the Green room. We had the good fortune to be seated in the Orange room directly below the taxidermied full size wall-mounted crocodile (pictured). Apart from the classic and interesting decor, the service is prompt and professional and the food is quite excellent. For starters I had the terrine of cured salmon, cucumber, dill and fromage blanc on beetroot puree, while Laura had the roasted scallops and artichokes with barigoule sauce. I have only one criticism of the night's three courses, the main course was positively minute. Feeling in the mood for red meat, I chose the fillet steak medallion on a bed of mash while Laura ordered the fish on a bed of spinach and mash. What we got was quite literally, a medallion of beef, roughly the circumference of a shot glass and some minnows on a bed of mash the size of which would have offended Goldilocks enough to send her running back into the forest, even before the three bears got home. I had a brief chat with the manager afterwards and expressed my disappointment at the paltry mains. Sadly, I don't think he cared at all and offered the perfunctory apology of a well trained customer services employee. Still, overall it was a good dining experience, made all the more joyous by a bottle of Bollinger followed closely by a bottle of Glen Carlou Pinot Noir.

You can read more about The Admiralty here.

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Belgo Centraal – Belgian food at its finest

Belgo's has been a long time favourite of mine, ever since I first got to London in 2000 and had the good fortune to stumble upon this unassuming eatery one day in Covent Garden. At the time I wasn't expecting much, afterall, what are we talking about really? Wheat beer, muscles and fites, right? Not exactly! Over the many occasions I have frequented this fine establishment, I have sampled most of the dishes on the menu and can say without reservation, they are all excellent. Belgo's, and indeed Belgian food in general, is traditionally well known for it's moules (muscles), which are excellent, but for me it's another dish which has captivated my tastebuds time and again, that being the Carbonnades Flamandes. It's a kind of stew of braised beef in sweet gause beer with fruit flavours and a rich all-round meaty sauce. It's a brilliant combination of flavours that never fails to leave one fully gratified and with a slightly feverish afterglow. It is usually served with frites, but a site order of green beans compliments this meal nicely, as does the obligatory glass of Hoegaarden, Leffe, Duval of Chimay (the blue variety of which is brewed to a very inebriating 9% alcohol content). In short, fast and friendly service, well priced dishes and a fantastic experience, go there!

UPDATE 26/01/2005: Dear god, I am addicted! I went on Saturday with my parents and am going again tonight with Laura. I hope somebody develops a patch or some special gum for this terrible affliction.

Belgo - Centraal
50 Earlham Street | 29b Shelton Street
Covent Garden

Belgo - Noord
72 Chalk Farm Road
Chalk Farm


Back to school

Yes, it is true, I proudly proclaim it, I am going back to school to do something equivalent to an 'A' level in mathematics. Why? Well, a combination of reasons really. Thinking back to my university days, I was not the most dilligent of students and when those first two stats/maths courses came along, I could be said they were not the most enjoyable times spent at university. Instead, most lectures I elected to spend the time in the student cafeteria, practicing, nay, finely tuning, my pool skills peppered with the odd game of cards and pinball. I used to be very good at pool! Nevertheless, something must have rubbed off during the lectures I did attend and indeed during my school mathematics classes, because upon attending my first lesson this past Monday (17 January 2005), I found the material to be an old familiar and I thought how the South African education system was never that bad, despite being sent to the most academically orientated of co-ed schools, Westerford High School. But, I digress, this maths course is intended to lead into some more advanced mathematics and statistics courses, upon completion of which I will be learning all about Derivatives and other hedge funds used by banking institutions. The course is offered by Birkbeck, University of London and takes place every Tuesday night. more information can be found here The prescribed textbook is Core Maths for 'A' Level ~ L. Bostock, S. Chandler. Recommended background reading for this course and others available are Countdown to Mathematics: Volume 1 and Countdown to Mathematics: Volume 2

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ASP.NET and C# – Formatting a proportion as a percentage in a DataGrid using DataFormatString

This really shouldn't be too difficult, but I struggled with it for a while before happening upon the solution while wildly plugging in format strings. All I was trying to do was format a number like 0.5 as 50% in a DataGrid by using the inline DataFormatString={0} syntax. Turns out the solution is quite simple and quite logical as follows: DataFormatString="{0:#0%}". The great thing about this, is that % is a special custom format string character and will automagically multiply your number by 100 to get the percentage value. Of course you can also specify this format string in any ToString() call, e.g. proportion.ToString("#0%")

.NET rocks!

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Tsunami Earthquake Appeal

I think we all know how severe this natural disaster was and how many lives were lost. Every day I travel to work, open a newspaper, switch on the TV, listen to the radio or even hit a website like, I am prompted to donate to the Tsunami Earthquake Appeal in some way. For something of this scale, everybody should contribute something; it really doesn't have to be much so long as everybody does it.

You can donate to the Tsunami Earthquake Appeal at

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Ali’s pumpkin pie

My sister has a friend from the USA named Ali who can bake goods which will make you shed whole tears of joy. She was good enough to share with me her most excellent pumpkin pie recipe about 2 years ago when I was asked to contribute something to a thanksgiving dinner party my sister had at her house. Having never made a pumpkin pie, I volunteered and tried out this recipe. I followed it dutifully to the T, but was very unsure going in to bake whether it was going to be a total flop. The mixture was quite runny and didn't look at all like I thought it would, but when it came out of the oven, it was sheer perfection, perfect colour, perfect texture, perfect flavour. Follow this recipe as I did and your pumpkin pie will be a hit! Picture to follow upon next baking.

Pâté Brisée

2 ½ cups white flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup (about 110g) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
About ¼ cup ice water

  • In the bowl of a food processor (using the blade) or mixer (using a dough hook), combine flour, salt and sugar.  Add butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8-10 seconds.
  • With the machine running, add the ice water (a tablespoon or two at a time) in a slow, steady stream.  Mix until the dough holds together, without being sticky or wet.  Do not over mix or the dough will be tough.
  • Divide the dough into two equal balls.  Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in cling film.  Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least one hour.  Dough may be frozen for up to 1 month.  Only one disc will be needed for the pumpkin pie, but do not halve the recipe (it doesn’t come out right).  Freeze the other half or make two pies.

Pumpkin Purée

0.5 – 1 kg pumpkin, seeded and sliced

Steam slices in a steam basket or microwave until soft.  Let cool and scoop flesh from skins.  Run through a food mill if available (if not, strain the filling mixture later in recipe).


1 cup soft brown sugar, packed
1 Tbl corn flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp each ground ginger, cinnamon and cloves
1 ½ cups pumpkin purée
3 large eggs, lightly beaten, plus one for glaze
1 ½ cups evaporated milk
1 Tbl cream

  • Heat oven to 200 C.  In a large bowl, combine sugar, corn flour, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, pumpkin purée and 3 eggs.  Beat well.  Add evaporated milk and combine. If the pumpkin was not run through a food mill, strain mixture through a medium sieve and discard pumpkin fibers.
  • Between two pieces of cling film, roll pâté brisée into a 30 cm circle.  Fit pastry into a 23 cm glass pie plate.  Trim dough evenly.  If the dough begins to soften, chill for 15 minutes.
  • Make the glaze (this always makes too much glaze for one pie…).  Beat remaining egg and cream.  Brush glaze very lightly on the edges of the pie shell. Fill pie with pumpkin mixture.
  • Bake for 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 180 C, and continue baking for 30 minutes. If the pie edges become too brown before the pie is cooked, cover edges with a pie ring or loosely cover (edges only) with aluminium foil.

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