Upon purchasing this fine beverage one could be forgiven for harbouring fears that one may have been accidentally inducted into the illuminati. After all a mysterious ‘All Seeing Eye’ does adorn the label. Thus let me assure you then dear reader that there is nothing occult about this bottle other than its rather splendid contents! One of the latest offerings from compass box, a terrific purveyor of blended scotch, this limited edition bottle is a whisky with a tale behind it. In 2015 the company got in trouble when it brazenly flouted the law with the release of a bottle called ‘This is not a luxury whisky’. The problem, the blackguards dared to print the precise contents of their blend, thus giving the consumer more than an inkling of whether it was worth the money or not. Alas, it turns out that in this instance UK and EU law strictly prohibit such actions, that heaven forefend might lead to an informed consumer. Enlightenment then is the company’s cheeky retort given liquid form. Thankfully it also happens to be stonkingly good stuff.
In Enlightenment we have what I would call a delightful dandy dram. There is a great deal going on and plenty of different exciting flavours happening yet there is somehow a delicate genteel quality to the whole experience. This whisky has an incredible nose. It is predominantly citrus, with lots of apple, some lemon peel, plenty of vanilla, and the subtlest hint of liquorice. There is a further beguiling quality here, as the citrus qualities simultaneously have a floral tone and at times the aroma reminds me of bergamot. The body is delightfully young and exuberant. The flavour gently bursts forth onto ones tongue both with an air of confidence and grace. I get a fabulous crisp Bramley apple flavour, zesty lemon sherbet that dances across the taste buds, loads of vanilla oak, and a dried apricot flavour to die for. To top it off there is also the faintest dash of smoke. Lastly we have a superb dry finish that brings the magical journey to an end, though a little too abruptly for my tastes. I absolutely adore Enlightenment it is a truly sublime genteel concoction and comes very close to perfection in my book. If you can still get a bottle at around the sixty pound mark, then I wholeheartedly recommend that you treat yourself this Christmas.
Christmas shopping for me, always conjures up images of slowly strolling around beautiful stores and thoughtfully picking out magical items for those that matter most. I haven’t a damn clue why it does this, as every time I’ve gone Christmas shopping it has proven a nightmare. A grueling marathon complete with barbarian hordes hell bent on turning me into the Grinch before the holiday season is out. This year however within the mire I came across the new Lego superstore in Leicester Square which proved a wondrous place that momentarily transformed me into a big kid.
I loved Lego as a kid. It is in many ways the ultimate toy, something you can use to build and play out any scenario. In fact my one grievance with Lego today is that most of the models connect to big brands or Lego TV shows, which to me is tantamount to robbing a child of their imagination’s sovereignty. It provides ready packaged ideas and characters where previously you were encouraged to invent your own. And is it me or am I going off on one instead of actually informing you about this fantastic store? (Quickly inserts distracting photo)
The new Lego superstore (the biggest in the world!) is darn right magnificent. Packed out the door with huge Lego models, including a Dragon and a Tube Carriage you can actually sit in. Not to mention a Mini Big Ben that’s pretty damn big and actually chimes. They also sell Lego kits, lots of them and most are incredible. But there’s more, they have talks about Lego with the wonderfully named ‘master builders’. There are tables where kids and opportunistic adults can play with Lego for free. To top it off they even have a crazy ass photo booth, which will turn your likeness into a Lego kit that you can actually build, a pity said booth costs a fortune. Nevertheless this was a really inventive and genuinely fun store. I left this particular Christmas shopping experience feeling rather jolly which was a first. I’ll definitely be back before this year is out.
Fed up with news reports constantly indicating a looming apocalypse and filled with paranoid fears that the recent loss of, Bowie, Prince, and Ali, may well indicate the rapture. Last week I decided to partake in a day of pure undiluted whimsy. To this end I lined up a series of London curiosities that all invoked the spirit of silly and set forth on another whirlwind adventure.
The Cartoon Museum
The Cartoon Museum is located near Holborn station. As a person who absolutely adores comics and satirical cartoons in particular, this place proved well worth the trip. I dare say it was super fantastic wunderbar! It should be noted that this place has a clear focus on British comics, is fairly small, and due to the fact that it receives no funding has a seven pounds entrance fee. However I would urge you to support this fine enterprise as it really is a unique and marvellous addition to a brilliant part of London. The exhibition I went to see was a collection of satirical Punch comics that ran from 1841 all the way up to 2002. The style of humour in these pieces was for the most part a light gentle ribbing at the crazy events of the day as opposed to a full on roast. To give an example one cartoon has two ladies seeing the Beatles and the blurb that her doctor has suggested that from now on she mimes her screams. (Sadly this is another museum with a no photo policy). Occasionally however this light demeanour does give way to the incredibly macabre, such as a ‘funny’ from WW1 in which a young boy is training a toddler for the front line. It was truly amazing to see so many silly comics over an incredibly long period of history, each gently playing with the insane situations of the day, with many problems repeating over the century. It certainly gave one a sense of perspective with respect to the mad behaviours that humanity wilfully engages in. Yet it also left one hopeful both in the finding of the funny and the fact that against all odds many past blunders have been overcome. I left with dreams of one day starting a comic of my own and the intention to visit again at the end of January when they’ll have a 2000AD exhibition.
The Museum of Comedy
After the high of the brilliant cartoon museum, I walked for thirty seconds and arrived at my next destination which was sadly to prove more than a tad disappointing. Quite frankly, if this place was located in a hamlet with three residents atop a mountain in Nepal, it would still have trouble in claiming itself to be a museum. The truth is that this is a room filled with some insanely cool trinkets that will take all of three minutes to absorb. If you’re wondering whether I simply rushed through without reading any of the info blurbs, you’d be right, but only on account of the fact that they weren’t bloody there. I hate it when cynicism intrudes within these pages and I reveal a thoroughly grumpy side to myself, so allow me to mention a few positives. Firstly it’s free and in one of the most interesting parts of the city. Secondly this place is packed with obscure books about comedians that you can sit and read; this is undoubtedly a fantastic feature. Finally I have heard that they do some truly excellent comedy nights which are well worth seeing but unlike the trinket room this costs money. All of this is great. Nevertheless as a member of the secret order of anoraks I can’t help but feel that this place is a serious instance of false advertising. The fact is it’s a comedy venue with some very interesting touches and not a museum. If you go in the day you’ll be seriously disappointed. If you go to a gig at night I feel certain you’ll be blown away by a brilliant show in a place with awesome touches. Sadly I went for a day trip.
The Play That Goes Wrong
In the evening I found time for a trip to the theatre to see ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’. This proved to be the perfect end to a day in which I was hell bent on achieving flights of fancy and uproarious bursts of whimsy. I do not wish to spoil a single thing about this play for my readers, as its construction is wonderfully meticulous and the plot twists are ace. I can honestly say that this is one of the best damn farces I’ve ever seen, I would put it right up there with comedy greats such as, Jeeves and Wooster, Le Diner de Cons, and the magnificent Fawlty Towers. The show as the name would suggest is essentially a terrible production of a murder mystery in which all rhyme and reason to the play slowly goes out the window. It has a fantastic slow build up, an amazing set which allows for all sorts of stagecraft wizardry, and a brilliant cast. I was laughing along like a maniacal super villain from start to finish, as layer upon layer of new inventive angles of pure ridiculousness were added to the plot. At the end I skipped out of the theatre, cheerful, carefree, and with an indefatigable joyous demeanour sure to bring much irritation to those of an overly serious persuasion.
How do you find the light hearted side of life?
London is filled to the brim with public parks and they may well be its greatest asset. In a chaotic city in which hustle and bustle are to be found in abundance, one finds that no matter where you are there is always a secret garden available to provide a much needed reprieve. The Kyoto garden is a particular favourite of mine, a tiny patch of tranquil Japan that can be found at the centre of Holland Park.
The last week has been blooming mental. In the middle of it I found myself experiencing crippling fear in the face of complete life overload. I was chained to the oar of my work, running on empty, as the slave drum beat out an incessant rhythm of drudgery. Occasionally I looked out to the wider world in search of hope, only to find constant and irritating reminders that the world is absolutely insane.
Suddenly remembering that I’m a wistful imaginative fellow with a penchant for the overly dramatic, it crossed my mind that I might be blowing everything out of proportion. Surely not I said to myself. Thankfully I gave it a second thought and quickly realized that all I needed was a break. Thus I hopped on the tube and was whisked away for a brief change of scene. In an instant I was experiencing a resplendent autumns day in a serene environment that came complete with dazzling fish and majestic peacocks.
A great deal calmer and just getting over the fact that life had once again shown me to be the bigger banana head. I made my first few walks around this small perfectly formed gem with my camera in hand. In no time at all I got myself into a full blown tourist frenzy taking photos of everything. The Kyoto garden has so many hidden perspectives to find and many of them are spellbinding in their beauty.
Many would criticize the modern day tendency to instantly grab a camera when beholding something wonderful. Such people undoubtedly have a point but I think they miss something as well. In my photo frenzy, it is true that I was in a mind-set that was both narrow in its focus and at a distance from its environment. Nevertheless there was something meditative about this intense search for an interesting perspective, the attempt to capture a moment and find something special and unrepeatable within it. In short the activity has a singular nature to it that in its own way was harmonizing.
Of course I eventually put my camera aside and spent a full hour just taking it all in. It was here that a different form of harmonizing magic took place. The kind where the very structure of an environment somehow starts to anchor your state of mind and with nothing impeding it a silent joy just creeps in. The Germans have a wonderful word waldeinsamkeit, which has no equivalent in English, but refers to a state of deep solitude in the woods where you nonetheless feel deeply connected to nature. In its own way, the Kyoto Garden gave me a brief glimmer of this. I returned to the great hustle and bustle of the city with renewed vigour.
I really hope I’ve inspired you to visit this beautiful park. It is best to go very early before it fills up with London’s very own Tibetan singing bowls, aka screaming babies in prams. Finally I wish to thank Marry at Still a Runner for inspiring this post, be sure to check out her article and blog here.
The royal college of surgeons near Holborn station contains one of London’s hidden gems the Hunterian museum which tells the story of surgery from the past right up to the present. The museum contains the remaining specimens of John Hunter, the founding father of scientific surgery. It is a fascinating if somewhat small museum, which is definitely not for those of a squeamish disposition. The décor is essentially Swedish minimalism meets Dr Frankenstein. On the one hand you have a series of slick crystal clear glass displays. On the other, you have a bazillion gruesome jars all filled with disease ridden body parts. As such it’s awfully popular with goths. In May 2017 this wonderful purveyor of the macabre will close its doors for three years. Having never previously visited, earlier this week I hopped on the Piccadilly line and went to investigate for myself.
There were so many highlights to my trip that it is hard to know where to begin. Starting with the serious, it was fantastic to see one of the first anaesthetic inhaler’s. On the whole, the museum gave one an incredible insight into the development of surgery and left one feeling grateful for the ingenious work of the past. On the uncomfortable side, for me the small collection of portraits of unusual people gave an unflattering sense of the past as it does have an air of the freak show about it. On the striking side, the centre piece of the museum is the skeleton of the Irish Giant Charles Byrne which stands at a mighty 7ft 7 inches tall. I would recommend reading the Wiki entry on this poor fellow who feared John Hunter wanted his body for dissection. As such, he made plans to be sealed in a lead coffin upon his death and buried at sea. Unfortunately as the skeleton on display at the museum makes clear his plans were thwarted. Finally to top it off, they even have Winston Churchill in here, or to be more precise his dentures. Hopefully I’ve inspired you to check this place out before it’s too late (hammer horror music plays out).
The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10-5, and has a strict no photo policy.
Life is all about the little things, those inexplicable experiences that somehow mean the world to you, it’s an odd one I’ll admit but at this time of year I truly appreciate the joy of explosives. As a child I just loved the idea of blowing things up, I haven’t got a clue why, though it could have something to do with Looney Toons. I am now officially a grown up but against all odds this childhood passion is undiminished and remains wholly intact. Give me some fireworks plus one functional lighter and I’m a guaranteed happy lunatic. Bonfire night begins each year in the same way with a trip to the local newsagents. Every year I buy an assortment of fireworks there and every year they throw in a ridiculous amount of freebies. I’m always most grateful for such kindness. The venue is a tradition too, for well over a decade now I have spent it outside of London with my Mum and a wonderful family who used to live locally. The family in question had three little kids when I first started going, but now we have a graduate, a university student, and a teenager. I must say their company is a hell of a lot of fun but thankfully each and every one of them is a tad more sensible than I am. I do not wish to dwell on the overly serious as alas it’s not my style but it has truly been an honour and a privilege to watch these incredible little people turn into awesome big people. The parents are pretty darn wonderful too.
I’m particularly gratified to be surrounded by such upstanding adults, given that safety was not and still isn’t my forte. Its mind boggling that anyone would trust me with fireworks. It’s positively ludicrous that anyone would conceive of giving me young charges to boot. The fact that no one under my supervision has been blown to kingdom come, comes only by the grace of sweet Fortuna. Previous wisdom on my part has included, packing a hamster cage full of rockets so as to launch more of them (nothing was inside I swear), several attempts to launch a rocket without a stick, and finally the trusty motto ‘if it don’t work throw it on the bonfire’. I don’t feel too bad however given that the father of this hearty brood, has on several occasions attempted to throw a lit rocket at the last second, the results to date have been mixed to say the least. This year I had a fantastic time as always and truly appreciated the fact that every year proves a most welcome dose of heartfelt fun.
To sum it up I had an absolute blast, pun wholly intended!!!
Autumn is my favourite season. It is simultaneously a bombastic explosion of colours and a delightful mellowing of tone. It is a call to cosiness, quiet contemplation, and above all else whisky. After another hectic week, this weekend I decided to take things easy with some long walks which had no destination in particular in mind but without fail always led me to that glittering bastion of civilization, the pub. It was whilst on these premises, that a friend approached, which is what I call anyone who spontaneously emerges from a crowd to pass me a Scotch. In no time at all we were blethering away and putting the world to rights. Things were a tad more subdued than usual however given that we were both really enjoying the whisky. I asked him what it was and was surprised to learn that it was Singleton. I’d previously always thought of Singleton as a fantastic mixer but not quite a favourite on its own. In some Scotch drinking circles that would amount to slander but I can assure you that I mean it quite sincerely. This smooth dram is such a mild mannered fellow, that it can be mixed with an incredible array of exotic flavours and it always brings out the best in the ingredients by providing a delicious note of Scotch which never dominates. However as I sat in the pub I began to consider it anew as a wonderful delicate and mellow dram that was most agreeable on a fine autumn day.
On returning home I donned my dressing gown and raked out a bottle in my collection to sample some more. The nose of this fine dram is predominantly citrusy, with a nice amount of oak, and the slightest dash of sherry. The taste is more citrus with some added citrus thrown in for good measure. In this respect this whisky is incredibly singular in nature, no pun intended. However it would be a mistake to label it uncomplicated. It offers a limited palate of flavour perhaps, but there is much nuance here for a twelve year old. There are many subtle citrus flavours here, from apple and orange to nectarine. I also like the fine balance between bitter and sweet notes that the Singleton offers. Unfortunately in terms of texture this whisky feels thin, most whiskies have a mouth coating feel of some sort, but the Singleton by comparison feels positively incorporeal. I dislike this quality but I realize it does have a payoff in making this drink incredibly smooth. Finally the finish is one of the gentlest I’ve ever come across and yet it is also quite long. Again we find the Singleton a cheerleader for all things citrus but there also emerges some spiciness and a good deal of vanilla. At the end of the day I think it makes for a charming genteel dram.
Verdict: Incredibly Smooth
I’ve always thought that there’s something quintessentially English about the murder mystery, the medium lends itself so well to a certain mild mannered stereotype that is to be found on this quaint little isle. I’m not sure why but there’s just something about a group of stuck up, incredibly polite chaps and chapesses who do nothing all day but make jam and mow the lawn, that screams murderers. Incidentally Agatha Christie’s most famous novel was the only one that didn’t surprise me. For me Sherlock Holmes is the ultimate incarnation of the formula. In this Victorian setting I often feel that the mild manner of many of the characters acts as a defensive foil in exploring an unnerving era of constant scientific change. Holmes is a frightening figure who sees and knows all, the Victorian equivalent of Google, but the people he interacts with, particularly Watson, allow us to appreciate the wonder and hope of the age. Suffice it to say I love this genre, so when my best friend invited me to a murder mystery run by the company ‘A door in the wall’ early last week, my answer was an indubitable yes.
My best friend and I arrived one fine evening at the ominously named Dead Dolls House on Upper Street, to attend a wedding reception held by the mysterious and venerable Blight family. No sooner had we been admitted, than we were taken aside by the best man who asked us to make some inconspicuous enquiries among the guests and investigate some mysterious goings on. The mechanics of the game involved a notebook and a few clue stickers that help you introduce yourself to specific guests. Once you’ve completed set tasks with each guest you get more stickers to introduce yourself to other guests. There are nine stickers in total, each divided into groups of three which relate to a specific question. On completing all the sets the idea is that you’ll be able to uncover the Blights secret. Lastly there is a time limit with the game coming to an end when the wedding commences. I must admit at this stage that after a tedious day of toil I was more than a tad grumpy. In this situation dear reader it is an adventurer’s solemn duty to soldier through until the unwanted chemicals messing with your mind abate. That, or you could just go home. Once I got into the flow of things I was soon having a complete whale of a time. As I found myself experiencing a bonkers series of events which involved among other things, hen parties, religious cults, safe cracking, lessons in the art of seduction, psychiatrists, and stamp collecting.
I had borrowed a stylish black hat for the evening and was accompanied by a giant Pina Colada in my hand as I raced about this pub that concealed a fiendish deed. At the time I felt the hat and cocktail gave me a 1970’s ‘Starsky and Hutch’ vibe, though upon reflection I suspect I probably just looked like an idiot. All the actors who brought the story to life were absolutely fantastic and not once did they waver in their enthusiasm as they imparted their clues to us (no doubt for the umpteenth time). The puzzles themselves were of moderate difficulty but coming after a hectic day were more than enough to confound and entertain the old noggin. Despite the uniqueness of each character interaction the underlying plot was fairly easy to put together and the unraveling of each clue brought a great deal of satisfaction. The geek in me couldn’t help but feel that I was walking around a real life video game. The only complaint I have about the event is that it was overbooked, with a few too many teams leading to the odd situation at times of being in a long queue to speak to someone who keeps repeating themselves. Although I must admit that this has also been my experience at family weddings, so points for realism. Still I was very annoyed that before the night ended, I didn’t get to interact with the puppet master who looked positively psychotic. The grand finale of the event was the wedding itself, it was at this stage that the actors involved really got to shine as they put on a fantastic performance that revealed my best friend and I’s suspicions. Ultimately I felt the night was a complete hoot and I had a bloody good time.
I like to think that all of us at some point each day wish to capture that incredible sense of wonder that somehow was always present during one’s childhood. The sense, that if you put your mind to it anything is possible. The feeling, that on the whole life is unquestionably good. The foolhardy bravado by which one entered into every endeavour, ‘when I grow up I’m going to be a guitar playing rock star, astronaut, vet’. And last but by no means least the fact that the vast majority of things seemed to quote Mr Spock ‘Fascinating’. In this setting where the most mundane of things are so alive, one finds that a good story is positively spellbinding. Last week I got reacquainted with my childhood sense of wonder with a trip to the Harry Potter Studio’s.
It was blooming obvious that I was going to love this experience but even I was taken aback by how much I loved it. It was truly a wonder to my mind to suddenly and somewhat inexplicably find myself standing in the great hall of Hogwarts. I was literally walking through a museum of a place I had imagined a bazillion times as a child. I was giddy with joy but more than that, I felt shivers going down my spine as my brain miraculously converted so many fond and long forgotten memories into a single moment. It was quite simply special.
As one went round the studio one got a sense of the incredible effort and work that went into each set. It was amazing to behold such delightful craftsmanship that in some cases were only on screen for a few minutes and yet had no doubt taken many hours to create. In the films these props were like sand mandalas that had gone unnoticed by me. To think that all these dazzling designs had come about due to one person who was delayed on a train scribbling down an idea, truly is a wonder. The fact that so much joy resulted for so many people after is something one does not want to find a word for.
Unfortunately at the end of this article, I must allow a little cynicism to intrude, and that is by imparting a brief warning that the people selling this experience know they have a bottle of liquid luck on their hands. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the prices are exorbitant but they are very pricey, a packed lunch is a must. However I think if you’re a fan then it really will be an experience you’ll always treasure. I remember when I saw the last Harry Potter film, at the end a complete stranger behind me said in a sombre voice ‘there goes my childhood’. The words really resonated with me at the time, but the fact is you can always pop back if you want.
I do occasionally fear that I may well be bat shit crazy. For you see dear reader, not being content with one chance at catching pneumonia, this week I returned to Hampstead Heath for another ice cold swim. Only this time I was wise enough to bring a reviver along, in the form of a cask strength whisky sure to put pay to any germs with delusions of grandeur. I was slightly worried to bring a dram along the first time, as drinking whisky first thing in the morning is a sure sign that you’ve found your calling in life, in most cases it’s an AA meeting. However there is always an exception that makes the rule, how else could one get away with being a hypocrite! Having concluded that this instance was just such a circumstance, I soon rediscovered just why whisky and adventure pair together so nicely. Having enjoyed an invigorating swim, I quickly took a brisk walk before sitting down for a wee tipple. Unfortunately I’m a forgetful oaf and while I remembered to bring a table for this expedition, I forgot the glass. Thus I found myself sporting the hobo look on this fine morning. It didn’t matter though as the amber jewel nectar once imbibed brought about a serene state of mind. My body warmed, my mind emptied, and I beheld the majesty of existence. In my book it wasn’t a bad start to the day.
Having finally got back home and secured a glass allow me to present my tasting notes for Glenlivet Nadurra. At 63.1% this is strong stuff, and should be mixed with a little water to bring out all the flavours. The nose is initially just pure alcohol but with a little acclimatisation one soon begins to detect a host of citrusy smells with a distinct pear smell coming to the fore. An initial sweet toffee note gives way to a tremendous pineapple/pear drop taste which is incredibly unique and a hallmark of Glenlivet. I must say that this particular cask strength edition really allows you to appreciate this inimitable flavour. The after taste is a gentle sweet cappuccino that never intrudes but remains present for a good deal of time after you’ve finished. An absolutely remarkable way to start a morning but one that I daren’t repeat for quite some time, a refined and interesting dram that I certainly recommend giving a go.
Verdict: A Classic at Cask Strength