Bonfire Night: Pure Pyrotechnic Perfection

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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.

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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!!!

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Singleton of Dufftown 12

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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

Score 81/100

Live Murder Mystery. A Devilish Who Dunnit Caper!!!

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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.

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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.

A Magical Escape! The Harry Potter Studio Tour

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Glenlivet Nadurra (First Fill)

 

img_0325I 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

Score: 84/100

Carpe Diem

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The article that sits before you dear reader has arrived with the aid of good fortune. The last week has been absolutely horrendous. Monday through Thursday I found myself inundated with endless tedious tasks with no free time to be had anywhere. I found myself dazed and confused on Friday, suddenly recollecting that I now write a blog. What the hell was I going to write about? I scoured the internet and found many exciting things but nothing appealed. Last week I was up for anything, this week nothing! The truth be told, all I wanted to do over the weekend was lay down and die. Thus I did what most people would do in this situation, I went to bed early and told myself not to worry about it, for tomorrow I would seize the day. A piece of wishful thinking so common it should be found on the first page of the procrastinator’s handbook. Only the next day against all odds something extraordinary happened, I did. The account that follows is of a most enjoyable Saturday in which vim and vigour were suddenly found to be in abundance.

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I awoke at 5:30am the next day feeling groggy but strangely determined. I made some tea, ate some toast, and in the murky depths of my subconscious a plan slowly came into focus. Two separate pieces of information slotted together cumbersomely to form a deduction that was to transform the day. The first unsurprisingly was the simple observation that I dam well needed to snap out of it man. The second was the realization that there were so many things in London that I always wanted to do but hadn’t, so surely I should do one of these. The initial thought that arose was a recollection of an open air lake that you could swim in at Hampstead Heath but it would be too cold at this time of year. Then it struck me, it was so simple. I needed to court hypothermia in order to bring an end to my malaise and thus find adventure. I set off for Hampstead Heath and having got a little lost I arrived a little before 8:00 am. The next thing I knew I was wearing a pair of swimming trunks and was diving head first into the ice cold depths. I did my best to muffle a most unmanly yelp that accompanied my arrival in the water and then set about swimming in this confounded frosty liquid. I soon decided to match pace with two elderly gentlemen who were sauntering along at what appeared to be an agreeable pace. It then became apparent that swimming in water that is slowly freezing the blood inside your veins is bloody difficult. In no time at all these pensioners were lapping me. My troubles then looked set to get a whole lot worst when four insanely buff gents wearing tight designer speedos that left nothing to the imagination arrived. They jumped into the lake in what made for a quintessential picture of manly fortitude. I need not have worried, within forty seconds these herculean specimens had promptly left the swimming area, no longer tanned but incredibly pale, each congratulating the other on how brave they were. Pah, I said to myself, Pah! I might not be able to keep up with the sixty year olds but at least I’m not a good looking, well endowed, wimp!!! The ice cold water was playing havoc with my judgment. After completing a couple of circuits I left the lake and dried off. It was at this point that the magic happened. My circulation kicked into overdrive and quite all of a sudden I felt euphoric. What’s more, my mind was now rendered crystal clear by the voodoo that is ketosis. It’s not every day that a hair brain scheme that was formed in the early hours actually works. I savoured the moment and then worked out what I wanted to do next.

marble_art_4The itinerary for the day then moved to brunch and a journey to the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a Hindu temple in London that again I had been putting off visiting for far too long. The origin of this sublime structure, which is pictured at the very top, is epic. The building is made from marble blocks from Bulgaria, which were subsequently sculpted in India, before being shipped back to the UK. The interior is even more majestic with the marble exquisitely carved in breath taking detail. Understandably they have a no photo policy but I did manage to find the picture above through their website. I found being in the temple an incredibly calming experience. I would even go so far as to say that the magnificent internal architecture somehow brought about a serene state of mind. I find it fascinating how one’s external surroundings can drastically alter how one thinks and feels. It must also be said that the people who ran the show were supremely friendly and all too happy to explain the significance of things. In addition to the temple there is also a mini museum that gave novices like me an insight into the history and principles of Hinduism. My favourite Qi style fact that I learnt in this museum was that the Pythagorean Theorem, the square of the hypotenuse of a right angled triangle equals the sum of the square of the two sides, was in fact first proposed in India by Baudhayana. The tour of the temple proved relatively short. After leaving I headed over the road to where they have a great if slightly pricey vegetarian restaurant. All in all, this temple is a positive marvel and personally I feel it deserves as much attention as places such as the Monument and Trafalgar Square get.

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At this stage of my adventure, I was now beginning to reap the full benefits of my earlier exercise, my muscles were seizing up. Thus an activity which involved being a couch potato was called for. The last leg of my journey thus involved a pilgrimage to the temple all things gloriously cheesy. The Prince Charles cinema is easily one of my all-time favourite places in London. For those in the cognoscenti this is the ‘Empire Records’ of cinemas. It might not look like much but this place has a brilliant atmosphere, and it regularly presents some of the very best and all time worse movies in existence. I love movies and for a Nostalgia Nerd like me the Prince Charles is the go to cinema.  The movie I settled upon seeing was ‘The Hunt for the Wilderpeople’, which I had heard many good things about. Two hours later I emerged from the cinema my tiny mind completely blown by the awesomeness of this movie. My fantastic day at an end I skipped off home my neurons a buzz with life’s possibilities.

Before I leave you to your own fantastic day allow me to present a Haiku review of ‘The Hunt for the Wilderpeople’.

Heartfelt funny joy

Charming tale with man and boy

An instant classic

 

The Best Beers Brewed in London: Top 5

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It has been an exciting development in London over the last ten years (or so) to see a staggering amount of new breweries open. There is simply an abundance of exciting, unusual and occasionally very good beers now being produced here. Call me a sucker for marketing spiel but I just love the idea of a group of friends making some beer in their garden shed and then finding out it’s so unbelievably good that they have to bloody well go start a business. I also like the fact that this trendy development in the city has yet to spark any cultural back lash from critics with a pencil to grind. After all pretty much everyone likes a good beer. Having had nothing exciting happen this week I thought I’d spend the weekend sampling many different London beers with friends and compiling a top five. In no particular order these are the results.

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Gamma Ray

The Gamma Ray is hard to miss on the shelf. The can looks like Tim Burton’s ‘Mars Attacks’ with 1950’s flying saucers looking hip and simultaneously reducing humanity to dust! Sadly, I have a confession to make here, the moment I caught sight of a can of this stuff I thought it was the craziest looking beer I’d ever seen. I then promptly concluded that it was trying too hard and that the contents couldn’t possibly live up to the design. How wrong I was. It took a great deal of time for me to try this fine beverage but a friend one fine evening brought me a glass of it without the can in sight. It had a fantastic refreshing zingy grapefruit taste that instantly made me take things easy and enjoy the day. ‘What is this fine brew?’, I asked, at which point my folly was made apparent. This is my Homer Simpson beer it’s ideal for lazing about and watching telly with. The Gamma Ray for me is also an important lesson in giving things a go in life. Readers will be pleased to hear that since this incident I’ve given up judging books by their covers and am now more of a size queen.

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Double Perle

Double Perle is a mighty brew, a richly flavoured coffee milk stout, at 8.6% abv it is definitely a sipping beer. A delicious smooth thick creamy texture is the way by which this beer makes its’ introduction. The taste begins rapidly with a pronounced chocolate and coffee taste coming right off the bat. Next a superb vanilla note emerges giving the sweet cappuccino taste already present an interesting dessert twist. Finally a bitter dark chocolate taste lingers unobtrusively at the end. This is a highly balanced beer, the coffee flavour is never overstated and while incredibly sweet it is never sickeningly so. An absolutely marvellous brew, it’s a precious drink to be savoured at the end of a fine day. A luscious velvet treat, that I’d better stop talking about, as I fear I’m beginning to sound like Nigella Lawson crossed with Gollum.

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Crate Sour

The Crate Sour can be summed up in one word “interesting”. Many of the beers on this list would be considered an acquired taste but this is the genuine article, a truly acquired taste. In the sense that you first take a few sips and quickly conclude that this is a god awful abomination. Next you take a few more sips and hey presto, as if by magic, you’ve suddenly acquired a taste for it. A sour is basically a beer that has gone off. In short it’s a bad idea that never should have caught on, like eating fugu or drinking cow’s milk. How humanity regularly concocts and promotes such bad ideas is a true mystery to me. Yet in this case the result is magnificent. The Crate Sour is truly splendiferous. It has a wonderful tropical fruit aroma. The taste is a sharp shocking sour sensation that is the equivalent of a bungee jump for the tongue. However, after the initial fright you begin to detect a light fruitiness and a mystifying hint of hibiscus. I’m not a huge fan of sours but this one’s insanely awesome.

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Kernel Table Beer

As the name would imply this is a no fuss everyday beer. Nevertheless this gentle refreshing brew with its’ wonderful hoppy citrus flavour is highly drinkable stuff. It might not be bombastically spectacular but it is rather special. Especially given that for a beer with an abv of only 3.3% it packs in an incredible amount of flavour. The fact you can have several bottles of the stuff without any fear of adverse effects is simply a bonus. Quite a few people do complain that this beer is a little watery, yet in my experience it’s not that watery. More to the point, I find this an odd criticism, given that the style of beer under examination is a table beer. It’s like someone saying that they thought Hamlet was a brilliant tragedy but that the sad ending felt unnecessary. Quite simply this is a fantastically crafted table beer that has a mellow nature which pairs perfectly with a glorious summer’s day. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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Fuller’s London Porter

In life one should always save the best till last, and this is it. Fuller’s London Porter is as black as the devils heart and just as tasty. A rich malty brew, it has a chocolaty flavour with a light coffee note and just a hint of smokiness. It is a sophisticated beer that I could drink all day long. This is the granddaddy of London beers, the brew to which all others must be compared. The definitive classic! Fuller’s isn’t some upstart brewery that ironically informs clientele that it was founded in 2008, no it is the original London brewery founded in 1828. And its’ London Porter is the very best it has to offer. This is the Montecristo, the Rolls Royce, the friggin Big Ben of beers. If it was a piece of classical music it would have been composed by Bach, if it was a scientific formula it would make Steven Hawking cry tears of joy, and if it was a painting it would not be hanging in the Louvre cos some bastard would have nicked it. Its awe inspiringly beautiful, delightfully elegant and a good few bottles will get you drunk.

Just in case I’m being too subtle, allow me to summarise, if you love beer buy this!

So those are my Top 5 London Beers! Did I miss out anyone’s favourites? If so post them in the comment section below. Also what did people make of the doodle? I’m thinking of having more for future articles.