Thursday 30 December 2010

The best of 2010

So the end of the year is nearly with us and the lovely Trish from Scent Hive has arranged for a group of bloggers to write about our favourite fragrances, food and anything else that took our fancy this year.

I find deciding what my best anything is very difficult; I struggle with a favourite colour, most beloved album, ultimate film, clearly I have no idea at all which perfume I would wear if there could be only one! Inevitably I think when you try to do year bests you tend to be thinking more of recent discoveries and therefore yearly round ups often favour the more recently released. I have tried to avoid giving you a best of November and December but I fear I may have failed a little in some areas.

So to start with fragrances- this year I think has been particularly strong for male scents and I've particularly liked Sartorial by Penhaligons, both for it's character and for it's unusual and cool inspiration (a Saville Row tailor)- Penhaligon's future releases seem sure to be as quirky and clever; I also appreciated Chanel's Bleu- it's classic but I think in a male scent that is no bad thing, you want men to smell like men sometimes.

For the ladies I liked the Annick Goutal rose collection- I have so many rose perfumes that I haven't actually invested in these but I thought they were well done- beautiful, full, romantic, classic scents.

Although they were not only released this year my great perfume house discovery has been Strange Invisible Perfumes- a really wonderful collection of scents which happen to be natural but which are the best and most interesting scents I've smelled for women this year.

In food I continue to be obsessed with flower flavourings and trying to track down essences; if anyone can find me some geranium essence to bake with I would be very grateful. I thought the invention of, or at least mainstream availability of, alcoholic ginger beer in 2010 was spiffing old chap!

Films I loved this year- well I can't remember films I loved this week at the moment but Inception certainly stood out as a challenging film that straddled the mainstream and art house audience and that I was truly gripped by. I also loved The Social Network, Four Lions, The Illusionist (the cartoon), Somewhere (not for everyone I know but for me, it worked) and two films that I saw this year at the London film festival- Little White Lies and the King's Speech, more on both soon I hope.

Music of the year- for once this is actually easy- the best album of the year for me was Laura Marling's I speak because I can; it's been my almost constant companion and seen me through some quite stressful early mornings, I don't imagine I could ever not want to listen to it and I know I will still treasure it in thirty years. Hadestown by Anais Mitchell is also incredibly cool- thanks very much to For Folk's Sake for pointing me towards this one.

In television I am very predictable and if it has a costume I probably like it- Sherlock, Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs and Ashes to Ashes please stand up. I also found Grey's Anatomy this year and lost about one hundred hours of my life to people who only wear scrubs. My love affair continues to be with the radio though- specifically Radio Four (although I like the Radio Five film show very much too) and of course the now saved and cherished BBC 6music.

Books- I can only ever remember what I just read which was Comfort and Joy by India Knight for Christmas (which I loved, there should be more Christmas books)- and the Diary of the Lady by Rachel Johnson (which is hilarious, filled with details of the idiosyncratic Lady office, the publications delightfully eccentric readers and staff and what it's really like to be an Editor). I have read lots this year though and hope to read more next- my find of the year was probably Foyle's book shop (I'm aware it's been there forever but it's new to me)- I always have a lovely time ambling around there and they do great events and have a nice cafe. Long live the book shop.

Wishing you all a very happy New Year; please do visit the other blogs that are participating in offering you their best of 2010:

The Non Blonde

Smelly Blog

Roxana Illuminated Perfume

DSH Notebook

I Smell Therefore I am


All I am, a Redhead

Schreibman's Live

Portland Examiner



Sorcery of Scent

Scent Hive

Image thanks to Roxana Villa from Roxana Illuminated Perfume

Thursday 23 December 2010

Happy Christmas

Wishing you all very happy, peaceful Christmases- now is the time for family and friends, hot drinks, singing, laughter, special foods, hard backed books or soft backed ones that are falling apart with love, films you've seen a thousand times that still make you cry- for being grateful for what we have x

Pictures taken while larking about in the snow and skating at Hampton Court Palace in Surrey

Monday 13 December 2010

For Folk's Sake It's Christmas

I love Christmas but let's be honest, the music usually isn't cool. Happily the lovely people at For Folk's Sake, who know everything there is to know about good folk and good songs, have made their first album- and it's festive!

For Folk's Sake It's Christmas is available to download on a 'pay what you want' basis and is in aid of the Integrated Cancer Centre at King’s College London, which provides cancer care and undertakes research. Everyone involved in the album gave their time and considerable talents for free and together they've made a collection of songs that I am certain I will be listening to for many Christmases to come.

The full track listing is as follows:

1. Wise Children - I Saw Three Ships

2. Laura Hocking - I Am Christmas

3. Sam Airey - In The Bleak Midwinter/Lonely This Christmas

4. Dan Michaelson - Another Messy Christmas

5. Emily & The Woods - O Little Town Of Bethlehem

6. Evanjack - Homeward Bound For Christmas

7. Bears Den - We Three Kings

8. Tiny Birds - Christmas Is Where I'm From

9. Dear Winesburg - Cherry Tree Carol

10. Brooke Parrott - The Office Christmas Party

11. Josienne Clarke - Silent Night

12. Salwa Azar - God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

You can listen to and download the tracks here.

All of the artists featured are really worth listening to- far more so than those who took over the media this weekend- so do check out their myspaces.

Do also follow For Folk's Sake's website and twitter feed for updates on all these artists and lots of other musical delights.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Best slippers ever?

Cowboy, Cowgirl and Cow Padawan learner slippers from here found via Divine Caroline. Want.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Christmas present ideas

So I know it's boring when blogs all have the same posts up and everyone has a gift guide up at the moment- but the thing is I really love reading other peoples guides and if I don't get bored of them maybe you won't either? Also I noted that the Fifty Islands book appealed to lots of people as a present so I thought that showed you were all open to more ideas for gifts.

So here we go:

For children( well for their walls I suppose) I like this print of the letters of the alphabet with endangered species from the UK, it's pretty and educational and ecological- all of those good things. Also it looks nice enough for the children's parents to be grateful:

Endangered AZ poster

For Foodies:

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh dark chocolate bar from Rococco

Droste Cocoa in a pretty amazing tin from Algerian Coffee Stores in Soho- which I thoroughly recommend for any tea/ coffee/ confectionery gifts (unfortunately the cocoa seems to be sold out on their website at the moment so I am walking there one evening after work for supplies).

pretty orange peeler from the Design Museum, for enthusiastic cooks who have everything, or for making the mulled wine pot look pretty

Book ends from Susan Bradley- these are part of the London icons collection but there are also European and New York icons and fantastic London transport ones.

For flower foodie lovers like me: East India company flower cordials in Poppy (shown), jasmine, lavender, lavender, violet and more, delicious Rose syrup that tastes like nectar or rose petal jam both from Simply Roses

For cold boys (Or girls I guess) AMAZING beard and mo' hats for any gents feeling the chill after Movember- found via A Cup of Jo's gift guide- which is obviously super cute and cool- so go and peek at it if you haven't already.

For books I always enjoy reading a classic Agatha Christie or Nancy Mitford at Christmas time. Hercule Poirot's Christmas is chilling in both senses but with the required humour too; Nancy's Highland Fling was re published this year by Capuchin Classics and is on my own personal wish list; for ladies India Knight's Comfort and Joy is as good as I'd hoped it would be (I couldn't wait until Christmas I'm afraid)

For well dressed gentleman, or aspiring ones, I think this book about Saville Row Tailors looks as well made as the suits themselves. You could perhaps also add a bottle of Penhaligon's truly excellent, classic but unusual Sartorial scent which was of course inspired by the most famous street in menswear.

Or how about a magazine subscription? it's what you give your Granny I hear you say? well that may be true and your Granny will probably still love the Radio Times gift but cool girls will love an Oh Comely magazine subscription and boys and girls who like film will like Little White Lies magazine and say thank- you very much if you buy them a year's worth. They also do cool prints like these.

For music people how about something cool from Duke of Uke; I want ukelelee lessons for myself and the nice people there tell me lessons run from 7-9pm Monday to Thursday. A full term is £180. For more information e-mail the Dukes and Duchesses here.

I'm now (hopefully, weather permitting) off to visit Christmas markets- when I'm back I'm hoping to talk about Christmas music that is actually good- until then wrap up warm.

Let it snow

And so it begins... Advent... This picture is from Soho last night... I stood in the snow getting wet and cold and having a marvellous time

Monday 29 November 2010

Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will

An Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will captivated me and transported me from Charing Cross Road (Foyle's books to be exact) to the wild seas of the unknown places, the barely touched, explored, uninhabitable islands of far far away.

This is why I hope and believe that books will continue to exist. This collection is collated with the intellectual rigour of a book of fact but has some of the mystery and wonder of a work of fiction. It is a charming thing, which you could not create yourself and though you could read about these islands on the internet very easily I'm sure you probably wouldn't have the idea to, or the time to find out the little facts the author Judith Schalansky has- the details like the Russian buildings that have been left to sink into ice.

A lovely present for all adventurers- and armchair adventurers.

Friday 19 November 2010

Prima Ballerina

Ballerinas are the essence of refined femininity- combining elegance, grace and perhaps most importantly strength. The adage is to never judge a person until you have walked in their shoes- well to dance in a ballerinas shoes is to understand them- they might look fragile but being en pointe is as strange and painful as you imagine- to be a ballerina is to be utterly in control of your body and your mind.

Strange Invisible perfumes have chosen the rose as the centre piece for their Prima Ballerina scent- and the rose is everything a ballerina is, in flower form. Although if we're honest the rose is even more full of life than a ballerina, a rose in real life would probably have cream on top of it's cake, stay out a little bit too late and maybe wear it's hair a little bit too long- but always with grace- and I don't think a well behaved dancer would do any of those things.

Prima Ballerina is a blend of Rose, sage, lime & botanical musk according to Strange Invisible Perfumes website. While I do see that complexity to me this scent is rose- in fact buckets of roses, overflowing pink varieties from across the world. In smell and character Prima Ballerina is not unlike the much revered Moroccan rose bath oil from Ren.

Strange Invisible Perfumes are certified organic, and one hundred per cent natural perfumes. The world of natural beauty and perfumery is something of a mystery even for many product and scent enthusiasts- and what may be marketed as pure or from nature in press releases may in fact include synthetics, chemicals and animal products. My interest in finding genuinely good but organic scents led me to this company but I can honestly say this scent is as good if not better than any perfumes you can buy with chemicals in them- in fact the lushness of the rose smell is I'm sure due to there being a great deal more natural ingredient contained in the perfume. I would certainly buy this scent for the smell alone rather than for environmental reasons- although that this scent is ethically sound is clearly a fantastic bonus.

The first picture above is from The English National Ballet's Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Rudolf Nureyev, which will be performed in London in January.

The second picture above is for the forthcoming Darren Aronovsky film Black Swan, which I cannot wait to see. The poster is from The London Ballet, a lovely site for anyone interested in this most refined form of dance.

The picture of Prima Ballerina and other Strange Invisible perfumes was taken at Content/ Wellbeing which I recently posted about.

If you like ballet and would enjoy seeing male and female dancers in repose then there is one more day to visit Mary McCartney's exhibition at The Michael Hoppen Gallery or you can see a selection of her pictures behind the scenes at the Royal Ballet (called 'Off Pointe') in her book From Where I Stand.

Thursday 11 November 2010

The Eleventh Hour

This iron soldier stands to attention at Angel tube station. I appreciated the thought and care someone had taken to make sure he could show his respects- and the little bit of humour too. I hope the people we remember today would have liked this too.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

On tuition fees

My Mother says I always said ‘when I go to University’ from a very young age. She said it used to please her but also quite amuse her that I was so decided on that future when I couldn’t tie my own shoe laces.

My parents and grandparents are and were widely read, interesting people with diverting hobbies but it was not usual to go to University when they left full time education and certainly in my Mother’s case she would very much have liked to go to University but was effectively discouraged by her school and parents from doing so because it would serve no real purpose.

I did go to University and I cannot imagine who I would be today without having had that privilege. I genuinely enjoyed immersing myself in my chosen subject. I don’t pretend that I sat up until the early hours devouring medieval history books, of course I didn’t (unless I had a deadline), but I did and do love the subject I chose to study- and I may yet go back and pursue postgraduate study. After some long, sleepless nights, a great deal of long hand and even more typing, many cups of tea, a frankly silly number of fines from various London libraries and with a bit of luck and a bit of wit I graduated.

I thought about staying on at University, I had a place to, but I didn’t- I went out into the big wide world- and the person I went out as was so different to the girl who started that degree I cannot tell you. She had found a love for art, she had worked on a radio station, she had attended academic conferences and spoken with Professors as equals- and yes she had drunk whole rivers of alcohol and eaten her first pot noodle. In short she had found what it was to be her. Some of that could have been learned in the school of life but those three years are so precious to me I cannot put a price on them- and I hate that anyone would ever be asked to.

I may be an idealist but I do understand that British Universities need to be well funded to retain the best lecturers and provide the best libraries and so on. There is certainly also some truth in the fact that some people who attend University now don’t appear to necessarily have the desire to be at anything more than a glorified finishing school. Furthermore I certainly see that if you cannot achieve two A levels of a decent grade you should perhaps not be pursuing higher education. However each case is different and I don’t believe in anyone being shut away from anything in life, least of all the possibility of bettering themselves.

I don’t agree with tuition fees full stop. I don’t believe in a price on any form of learning. The idea of children not being offered a decent start in life because an education cannot be paid for disgusts me- but depriving people of University is, if not quite that cruel, then like taking people to the edge of what they might become and then not letting them through the gate. The most able people should be able to go to University to study without having to mortgage their future. They should be able to read philosophy and then go and work in a shop if they want to, rather than being in so much debt that they have to pursue a career in an industry they might despise and be utterly unsuited to.

I might not have gone to University if the current proposals had been mandated when I was doing my A levels. I might have wrestled with the idea and decided I couldn’t justify the cost. You could argue that means I didn’t want ‘it’ enough but I would argue if you say that you have never really known financial pressure of any kind (I hasten to add I have known very little financial pressure, but I understand what it is to have to consider money in a real sense).

I don't believe in violence of any kind but I understand why the protesters today are so angry. I believe in words and I wanted to write down what I was feeling. This could have been more of a rant but I have tried to be measured.

Basically I want to live in a country that values learning above money- and that doesn't want to go backwards to a time when only wealthy people could afford higher education. I hope the politicians who didn't have to give a second thought to whether they could or couldn't afford to go to University learnt some humility and social responsibility somewhere on the road they took to representing their constituents and their country.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Content Beauty/ Wellbeing

Some weekends ago- when it was still Autumn- I arrived in central London to find the sun blazing and decided to walk from Covent Garden to my appointment in Marylebone. My shoes were making that happy clicking noise that only brouges make on pavements and I was enjoying weaving through the much prettier side streets to avoid the madness that is a Saturday in W1- truly I do love London but I can only love it by taking some eccentric routes at the weekend.

So already in a peaceful mood I visited Content Beauty/ Wellbeing a frankly almost too good to be true salon, apothecary and grown ups sweet shop for anyone who likes natural and organic beauty, based just off Marylebone High Street.

I was there to try the perfumes (of course) and so focused was I on the search for new smells that I sort of forgot that I love natural beauty.

In fact natural products are very important to me- although I don't think that has to mean expensive products. There is a fantastic range available at Content- some of the trusted favourites like Dr Hauschka, Jurlique and Weleda (which is extremely good value in my opinion) and some newer or less well known brands. There was also a really interesting range of organic hair care available which I want to start trying (haircare is a bit like make up I find, we all want to be natural but end up using the chemicals because we haven't found natural products that are good enough to make us stop- especially if like me you have long, curly, celtic hair).

I am going to be writing about the lovely, interesting organic perfumes I tried there in the coming weeks- but may I suggest if you wanted to treat yourself to anything natural at all it would be the place to go.

(These pictures are from one of the feature walls inside the shop).

Wednesday 3 November 2010

The scarf of my dreams

Scarf by Rob Ryan and available online from NV Calcutta, an ethical accessories company- and from Rob's beautiful shop Ryantown on Colombia Road.

You can read more about the scarf on Rob's blog.

Friday 29 October 2010

Of Cabbages and Kings market, Stoke Newington

As you know I have a new neighbourhood and I've been having a grand time exploring- and not getting too lost luckily.

I took a bus ride to Stoke Newington for provisions a few weekends ago and I happened upon one of the nicest indoor markets I have been too for as long as I can remember.

Curated by Of cabbages and Kings the market is about half way up Newington Church Street and is filled with clothes, jewellery, art works and toiletries that you will want to bring home.

I finally bought this print I had wanted for months (although I actually didn't buy it on the day on account of having 2 bags full of baking supplies to carry- I had it sent to me).

The next market is on the 13th and 14th of November and I think it would be a great place to start thinking about Christmas shopping.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Pretty as a penny

I was quite enchanted by this necklace from Laura Lee Jewellery on Monmouth street.

It is made from a beautiful old British penny dated 1907 and has my initial engraved into the tail side.

Laura Lee's website is currently under reconstruction but you can still scroll through and look at the other items in her collection. There are earrings and bracelets made from old money, lockets and rings engraved with lines from Serge Gainsbourg and many other prescious treasures.

Better still visit the shop because it is quite lovely- I got carried away and had to bring the nekclace home- and it's been on my neck ever since.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Lipstick rose- the cocktail

So far my meet ups with the lovely Metropolitan Mum have been very glamorous and FUN!

Firstly we went for the fashionistas and foodies favourite afternoon tea Pret a Portea at the Berkeley Hotel- you can read all about what we got up to on Metropolitan Mum's blog here.

Then last week we decided to head out after dark for some sophisticated cocktailing at the very hip, very award winning, 69 Colebrooke Row in Angel.

They take their drinks seriously at Colebrooke Row, employing a similarly scientific and fastidious but fun approach to Heston Blumenthal's with food. The menu is just right- there is a good amount of choice without it becoming overwhelming or in anyway cocktails by numbers. The full menu is here- and if you ask nicely they will make you the occasional off the list treat.

I don't think you will be surprised to know that I ordered the Lipstick Rose cocktail as soon as I arrived (I had pre perused the menu that afternoon when I was particularly needing cocktail hour to come quickly). A lipstick rose is apparently made of Raspberry & Violet Syrup with Rose Vodka topped with Champagne. You will notice there is lipstick on my glass in this picture- that isn't mine, it is edible lipstick that comes on the glass, nice touch isn't it?

The Lipstick Rose is very nice- I am a serious lover of cocktails but champagne ones do need to be good because messing around with the sacred nectar that is bubbly can be a travesty. This one isn't- it is a thoroughly lovely tipple for girls. It is also unnervingly like the perfume it shares a name with- Lipstick Rose from Frederic Malle. Obviously drinking perfume would actually be disgusting because it's mostly neat alcohol but you know what I mean.

I liked to see this trend though- and I wonder if we might see more cocktails like perfumes? You could make a grand, super deluxe Bellini inspired by the complexity of the peach in Mitsouko, with some brandy and perhaps some vanilla vodka. Some people might feel it is sacrilege to use perfume to inspire cocktails but I think they go together rather well- and the skills of a master taster and a master perfumer are really not unrelated.

Sunday 24 October 2010

Hix Oyster and Chop House- the book

Having bought and loved Mark Hix's book on British Seasonal Food and being a fairly recent adopter of oysters I was very excited when his new book Hix Oyster and Chop House arrived.

Oysters to me were always a sophisticated dish I felt I 'should' like but wasn't actually sure of. Having avoided them on menus, partly because I was worried I didn't like them and partly because of the anxiety of not being quite sure of how to eat them 'properly', I decided to just go for it and try one at Borough market on a sunny Saturday.

The good news is that like mushrooms and gherkins before them the oysters I had hated as a child I absolutely loved as a grown up- and so a new obsession was born.

This book is brilliant because it explains all about oysters in great detail: all the different British and Irish varieties are described by the characteristics, there is a good guide to how to prepare oysters and then several interesting recipes for them.

This book is in many ways far more educational than lots of the modern food coffee table books available. It explains in depth about the different cuts of all the kinds of meat served at the restaurant. My Mother and Grandmother probably know all about meat cuts and what to order at the butcher for what recipe but I'm afraid beyond a Sunday roast, a steak or a chicken breast I'm sadly lacking in knowledge of what to buy and how best to cook what I do get. This book is helpful in that regard without ever stopping being a good, glamorous read like lots of the food books which are lighter on the detail.

That isn't to say there aren't lots of beautiful recipes to get all worked up about too. The book opens just as any good meal should, with some information about the drinks served at Hix Oyster House- including the famously delectable Hix Fix.

Then there are a wealth of recipes to either try or fantasise about arranged as you might order them in the restaurant. The recipes include soups (I particularly like the sound of the crayfish and cider brandy soup); salads (including some fabulous dressings like mimosa and bramble); toasts (asparagus with Dorset drum cheddar for me please); fish of course (griddled squid with broad bean relish sounds especially good; there is meat too with a range of traditional and not so traditional sauces; also happily the side dishes at the restaurant are included- for me sides and starters are the best bits about any meal and these would make me order bowls and bowls of extras. Finally of course there is pudding- heaty rhubarb crumble and elegant strawberry sparling wine jelly among them. For all that I love sweet things I don't always want them at the end of a meal- so I was pleased to find a discussion of the many kinds of cheeses you might like to try.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Bathing in the new

I've moved house again recently. Sometimes I feel like the littlest hobo- and that until tomorrow I'll just keep moving on.

I enjoy new neighbourhoods so much though; finding the idiosyncrasies of a new place and finding the local beat, learning to step with it properly. In a new area a trip to the shop for milk becomes a little adventure. Roman Road market was as exciting to me on Saturday as a souk in Morocco, watching the traders, the customers, finding muffin trays in the least likely shop, realising toffee apple cider existed- all of this being within 200 yards of my new home- how nice! I have become like a much nicer vampire, sucking up novelty to feed my curiosity. There is something to not being a tourist in a place but not quite being local yet- I find that limbo time thrilling. I haven't found out where the recycling goes yet though; this seems to be a total mystery.

Moving itself is quite another matter. I lived in the same place all my life until I was eighteen and went to University. My University halls were Brideshead shabby chic- utterly lovely and quite grand but extremely frayed around the edges. The setting meant out of term that the conference roadshow came to town and we had to move in and out of our rooms every three months- and so an intense dislike of moving, or more accurately moving day, was born.

I don't like materialism but at the end of the day when you acquire books, music and films and even clothes they are precious to you in as much as they are the ones you chose over other options. I fret that books especially will be ruffled and scarred by being packed up and into little cases or boxes and try to be as careful with them as I can without becoming completely absurd about it. There is also the problem of things, especially clothes, seeming to expand as soon as you need to contain them and always having one box too many for the car. The moments between homes are strange too- when you have left one place but are not quite at the other- for a moment you are homeless and only then can you realise just how terribly lost those without their only little corner of the world might feel.

I had been living, excitingly but unusually, in central London for several months. I loved everything about it- I wasn't sure if I would. I have always and continue to love the city most of all early in the morning when it hasn't woken yet. On Sunday mornings especially when the heart of London wasn't booming and a strange quiet used to fall I would sometimes wake- I'd open the big sash window and just gaze out and listen for the quiet- then I'd go back to my slumber and that sleep would be intensely peaceful.

So I will always have very happy memories of those months in London proper- the only thing I missed when I lived there was not having a bath in my flat. I really didn't realise quite how much I love the bath. It is just such a simple pleasure and so relaxing. People write endlessly about baths, liking them or not, busy people like to say they don't have time for baths and others will tell you all about their bath routine.

No one ever really talks about how wonderful it is to be able to just lie in hot water for a little time, breath in the steam and just be. I always love the bath scenes in period dramas for this reason- in old films or books from another time the bath is a luxury for most and treated with respect.

My new home has a very nice bath in it. On the dreaded moving day after lifting many many boxes in and out of buildings quite literally the first thing I did after throwing everything at my new room was to have a bath.

Now that I am settled in I have taken the time to enjoy some beautiful rose bath truffles I was given by Simply Roses.

It is quite clear that I love roses but really the scent of these truffles was sublime as it wafted around my flat. Lavender is always thought of as the archetypal relaxing scent but rose oil is extremely nurturing and re balancing and in many ways is as good for stress as its lilac cousin, especially for women.I loved watching the petals unfold and dash around as the water ran so I took some photos to share with you below.

The rose truffles, which do look and smell good enough to eat but should probably be kept just for the bath are available online here.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

In need of a cocktail?

Of course you are.

As part of London cocktail week the lovely people at Courvoisier are running a pop-up Punch bar 'The Courvoisier Speakeasy' tonight at The Future Gallery.

Courvoisier have invited 'pioneering' Oxford cocktail bar, Raoul’s, to help them with the evening and The Sunshine Kings New Orleans Jazz group to entertain you.

As well as punch some of the cocktails available will be:

1. Cognac Cider Collins
Courvoisier / Calvados / pressed Apple juice / lemon juice / sugar syrup / soda / dash of peychauds bitters
Served in a Collins glass and dressed with apple fans

2. Honey and fig Julep
Mint leaves / honey syrup / Courvoisier / fig liqueur / angostura bitters
Served in a small Boston glass of crushed ice and garnished with a huge tuft of mint mint sprigs

3. Cognac Sherbert Mule
Vanilla sugar / lemon juice / Courvoisier/ Limoncello / apple juice
Served in glass, topped with ginger beer and garnished with a lemon wedge

More information here

If you mention A Rose Beyond the Thames on the door you should be able to get a free cocktail- which should help the evening go with a swing.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Book review: Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt is a book I expect you will be hearing a great deal about in the coming months.

I am lucky enough to have read the book before it is released as a result of attending a talk with the author at Foyle's on Charing Cross Road.

The reason you will hear so much about this book, aside from it being a thoroughly engaging debut, is that it's title character, Mr. Chartwell, is a speaking dog. A speaking black dog.

This canine isn't the friend of children's tales you might be thinking of at all though, he is something else. Chartwell, or Black Pat as he later prefers to be known, is such a clever idea, for he is what Winston Churchwell famously referred to as his 'black dog'; Mr Chartwell is depression. This anthropomorphism is such an engaging way of writing about the malady, the strange mixture of darkness, stress and apathy that depression seems to be that it is worth reading for the idea alone.

Happily though the narrative is strong enough to warrant attention for more than this speaking dog. I enjoyed the characterisation of Churchill very much, he is a man whose life we know so much about- and whose inner life we think we understand- but who remains something of an enigmatic mystery despite all that. Hunt's characterisation of this twentieth century giant is detailed, warm and touching without straying into any saccharine sentimentally.

Just as interesting a portrait is drawn of Esther; the other main protagonist of Hunt's story. Esther is a presumably entirely fictional character. She is intelligent and holds an interesting job. She is modern woman but a lady who is resolutely refusing to enjoy living in the early 1960s when the book is set- instead living in a kind of limbo after a bereavement while the seeds of cultural revolution are sprouting around her. She is a very real character because of course most people in the early 1960s, or at any time when great changes are happening, are not part of that change- they take time to process what is happening- or their life gets in the way of seeing what is occurring and what that means for them.

Then there is Black Pat himself. Apart from being a very clever idea Black Pat is perhaps the most fascinating character of all- and that is nothing to do with him being a large, rather unkempt talking dog as we have encountered speaking animals before. He is written in such a way that you constantly want him to be in the scene, you constantly want to know more- were he a man he would actually be just as intriguing and hypnotic. He has his own purpose in life- and is surprisingly perhaps not an unsympathetic personality.

When she spoke about how she came to write Hunt explained that she hadn't spent excessive time learning her craft as such, she had just got on and written. She wrote short stories and is an artist so obviously understands translating creative ideas into lasting pieces. There is something particularly fresh about this novel and I am sure that is a combination of her raw talent, her artistic nature, the obvious care her agents and publisher have taken to nurture her book and more- but I think it is also that clear desire she seemed to have to get on and write her story.

I enjoyed that story very much on many levels. I learnt something more about depression and struggling, about other people's internal lives, about how busy and consuming all our internal worlds can be and the struggle we can have to live our external ones too; I laughed, felt great affection for all the characters and wished I could visit post war Britain.

There is an interesting interview with the author Rebecca Hunt here.

Mr Chartwell is published by Penguin in hardback tomorrow, the 7th of October 2010.

Book cover image from Penguin books.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Colouring books for grown ups

I like colouring in. I don't care that it is meant to be for children because I find it relaxing and satisfying (being artistic but not actually able to draw I like that there are lines to keep within). There is nothing so nice as sharpening pencils and then sitting down to colour while you listen to the radio or even if you are having a picnic in the park (not very likely in London this week I know). Go on, try it, it's pretty fun.

Some lovely colouring books for adults and children are:

The architecture colouring book from the Southbank centre shop.

Also the Arthur Rackham colouring book (I actually did a little dance when I found this), from Amazon and the book depository and others I'm sure.

Monday 4 October 2010

The innocent cafe

The Innocent cafe is open until Friday. Located just off Old Street the cafes concept is that you can eat your five portions of fruit and vegetables in just 2 courses from their menu. I was a piggy and had 3 courses: beetroot and horseradish Pierogi (dumplings), Korean kimchi (some kind of pickled cabbage, very tasty!) and mushroom pancakes and rice pudding brulee with autumnal fruit compote.