Five Minute Review: The Classic Cocktail Bible

How do I sum up this book? Alcohol, that’s how. Lots and lots of alcohol.

Amusingly you open the cover and see not a Drink Aware message, but instead a warning against consuming raw eggs (a foodstuff that features in some of the recipes.) Sandwiched between the hard covers of this recipe book are some very attractive looking images and nice little introductions to each drink (where their name comes from, the type of ingredients in the drink etc.). You’ve got the classics, your Mojitos, Bloody Marys Martinis, but you’re also got the different, for example Kinky Witch, Rusty Nail and Bobby Burns. In many ways there is something for everyone here* (unless you’re teetotal or under eighteen, in which case no, there isn’t).

All this however doesn’t detract from the simple truth that, as with all cocktails, you need about 100 different spirits and mixers tucked away in the cupboard to make them. The Classic Cocktail Bible is a classic by name and a classic of its genre; it is a book which sits on one’s shelf for many months/years until one day you think “oh, I really fancy a Cosmopolitan right now, I’m sure I can make that”. You open this book to mild disappointment when realise you can’t so instead you reach for a can of cider and consume that instead.

The Classic Cocktail Bible is a must have for the coffee table of the young professional or the kitchen cupboard for the impulsive buyer but be warned, it takes more than vodka and coke to make a good cocktail.

“I went to get Coffee but Came Back With Cava”: Lanzarote, Canary Islands

“…Right, so how are you going to get the Jammy Dodgers out of the country?”

“Well you’ll have made friends with a gigolo in the airport flying out.”

“When would you do that?”

“At check in. You get talking to her and strike up a friendship at that point. Then you find a way to damage her case at the airport on the other side, you apologise and offer to replace the damaged case. She accepts and then you supply her with a case with the goods stitched in on the inside.”

“You got a Roman chariot style attack planned? You’re going to attach spikes to the wheels of your case? And when are you going to get the Jammy Dodgers sewn in?”

“Alice, you know Jammy Dodgers is a euphemism for something else? We’re not talking about smuggling biscuits into Britain.”

“Is Lanzarote even the best place for smuggling drugs? I’d have gone for Latin America.”

“No, other than Alice’s smuggling of apricots I don’t think this island has much going for it. You’d do this in Mexico or the like.”

“What if the woman you befriend has a bright pink case? She’s not going to accept your scrotty old substitute.”

“Come to think about it, how are you planning on making friends in check-in? ‘Hello, nice case. You could stuff a lot of Jammy Dodgers in there’? No offense Dad, but I would hardly rush to exchange numbers if you randomly approached me with that opener.”

“I have a better idea. Why don’t you just pay her to bring the drugs in whilst you’re abroad and then murder her in the car park?”

“Well yes, but in doing so you’ve committed a worse crime than the one you were trying to cover up.”

“Remind me again how we ended up on this topic?”

***

“Pull over here! I need to post something!”

“You’re not posting your local election ballot are you?”

“No comment!”

It was 3:30am, the car was filled with baggage and the village post box was one letter fuller. I hopped back into the Volvo and we sped on towards the airport.

The Bennett holiday had begun.

This Easter the destination of choice was the Canary Island of Lanzarote. Spanish by nationality but located just off the coast of the African continent, the Canary Islands are uniquely blessed to have pleasantly hot temperatures early in the year while maintaining a laid-back Mediterranean culture. The warm climate was far from an automatic pleaser for everyone. As we stood waiting for our bags at Arrecife airport, a fellow passenger could be heard complaining down the phone over the amount of cloud cover outside. Trust a British tourist to moan about the weather thirty minutes after landing.

This wasn’t the first bemusing thing to happen on the holiday. That award would go to the poor directional signage that resulted in the entire plane accidently bypassing Spanish boarder control. As we walked down the ramp parallel to the booths, the border guards watched the heard of pale faced Brits with a mixture of confusion and disinterest.

 

“I wonder if they’ll be so lax once we’re out of the EU.” I muttered to India.

Bags collected, the reps verbally directed us to the buses. We hopped onto our coach and listened to the mumblings of a secondary rep (“what’s she saying?” “I don’t know, I think something about Pablo Paella’s Casa or the welcome meetings. To be honest I’m barely listening.”) The young lady leapt off, the coach doors closed and we departed.

This time around we were headed to the resort of Costa Teguise on the South-Western side of the island. Because we’re middle class this was to be the fourth time at the resort, although this time around the holiday planner (alias Mumma Bennett) had booked the hotel Teguise Grand Playa which was considerably closer to the pretty town of Teguise compared to the one we’d been to four years ago. After the terrible sun burns of 2013 when we badly misinterpreted the strength of the UV rays, we learnt several valuable lessons. A) always pack sun cream b) remember the pastiness of one’s skin and c) town is never a “fifteen-minute walk away”.

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mid-afternoon people judging, sorry, watching.

Anyway, to get back on topic, the Costa Teguise Playa is a lovely hotel, situated right on the beach (it is quite literally a stone’s throw away). This location suited me very nicely. During the day the beach was a hubbub of activity in the form of sunbathers, scuba divers and swimmers, but at dawn the little piece of man-made coast was completely empty of all human-shaped life. Granted it took me about five days to get into the practice of early starts, but for those few mornings where I ventured down to the beach at 7am the views were wonderful. I could listen to the sea, yoga a little and relax.

Within the walls of the hotel I learnt a couple of new things. Firstly, this man has a very high voice:

And secondly I discovered that Leo Sayer is still as relevant a figure today as he’s ever been. At least four times Papa Bennett got mistaken for the 70s pop star/icon/legend. For anyone not in the know, here’s Sayer’s music/photo next to Papa Bennett’s…

Don’t get me wrong, at first it was utterly hilarious seeing drunk British tourists rush up to Papa Bennett and ask him to sing You make Me Feel Like Dancing, or say “my wife absolutely loves you!” But in time it got bit much. When you’re put on edge because someone stumbling towards you way want an autograph, or ask what it’s like being Leo Sayer’s daughter on tour you start to wish Leo Sayer had been a one-hit wonder.

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Photo with Leo Sayer. Moral of the story: never meet your idols.

As well a large consumption of sparkling Cava wine which was served from breakfast to midnight free of charge (this post’s title being a choice quote by yours truly), our merry quartet also partook on an island tour whilst visiting Lanzarote. We’d already done the volcano tours some years ago, so this time around we went on a voyage of discovery to learn about the famous contemporary artist César Manrique who lived on the island. The tour stopped off at a number of the sculptures, paintings and buildings Manrique designed. Here is a summary of that tour in the form of a collage:

We saw some really beautiful things and all took away something different from the trip. Mumma Bennett was overwhelmed by art:

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I meanwhile struggled to comprehend why anyone would have a semi-transparent (external) bathroom wall.
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India on the other hand had her perceptions on nature and art transformed by a Cactus Garden, from this…
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…to this:
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(Coming soon to MHAM, a post dedicated to the Jardin de Cactus. The transformation will be explained!)
And as for Papa Bennett, well he felt compelled to do this:
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(And we still don’t know why.)
Other than that we all took pleasure in having a very laid back holiday. In the daytime we’d explore the local area and sit on the beach/by the pool and at night we’d drink cocktails and sip on spirits and chat away the hours. Some would probably look at this as mundane and very predictable but in fact it was anything but. Only after a few rounds of seemingly harmless drinks would the most random conversations come up. The opening of this post is one such example, another was a theoretical debate over how one would go about committing suicide with a Christmas Tree. Admittedly these were not conversations which one walks into at 10am on a Monday, nor are they discussions which anyone walking past, English or not, would be able to jump straight into. They are odd, random and sometimes a bit wrong but they are so the conversational glue of the Bennett family unit.
The local shops near to the hotel were filled with the standard tourist tat and other random items including mug clocks and washing machine covers.
I also think it says a lot about us as a family when we gather as one to admire this:
As we got to the end of the holiday I felt it was time to leave Lanzarote and return to normal life in the UK.  I had obtained my fill of sun, sea and endless sangria and was ready for a cup of tea and a bowl of Weetabix. I’d also a) taken a good couple of kilos of apricots and tea from the hotel to bring back home and b) broken our tour operator’s information board.
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To stay any longer would be putting me, my family and Brexit negotiations in danger.
Overall, it was a great holiday in a fabulous location (as per usual, thanks to Mumma Bennett). And it shall always be remembered as the Lanzarote holiday where three of us worshipped the sun and art while Leo Sayer worshipped the sparkling wine.
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Catherine Mayer on Equality, Red Heads and the Manifesto She Wants You to Steal

“Crossing the stage, Catherine Mayer strikes a formidable figure as she throws down her bag and proclaims, “will there be rock?!””

Check out my review on Catherine Mayer here:  Catherine Mayer on Equality, Red Heads and the Manifesto She Wants You to Steal

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Francesca Martinez: “I may be Disabled but at Least I’m not a Pot of Hummus or Donald Trump”

My recent review on the brilliant comedian Francesca Martinez:

http://www.theswindonian.co.uk/francesca-martinez-i-may-be-disabled-but-at-least-im-not-a-pot-of-hummus-or-donald-trump-swindon-literature-festival-2017/

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An Honest Rejection

Yesterday I experienced my first authorship rejection. It also marked the first time that a group of people didn’t consider my work to be truly, fabulously, awesome. Weirdos.

The piece was short, a 500 word review which described a recent experience I had at a local restaurant. After working through a few drafts, I finally submitted the piece to the web content editor and moved on to the next mini-saga that is my life. In truth the post was quickly forgotten because a) I spew out a lot of waffle articles and b) like all my work it was a mini masterpiece, something that children will look at in the years to come and think “wow, Swindon really had some rubbish eateries in 2017”.

And therein lies why my article was rejected. The email that I had expected to contain a link to my work contained instead a put down. The web content editor had made the decision not to publish my review due to the tongue-in-cheek negativity portrayed in the copy. I forced myself to read the email again to be certain that I’d read the electronic text correctly. Realising that my article had indeed been rejected I shoved my laptop under the bed and grumbled into a cup of tea. You know, the kind of response mature people adopt.

A couple of hours later, after a sufficient amount of tea and biscuits had been consumed, I calmly reread the short email again. This time I was able to gain some reassurance at least that the quality of my writing wasn’t to blame. Essentially I had been rejected for not pampering to a catering outlet which, in my mind, didn’t quite reach the mark on the night I visited. I still stand by my views and remain of a firm opinion that any venue, author or artist should be open to both positive and negative criticism. I know that my reader base would quickly bore of my writing or disbelieve its authenticity if everything I wrote was a falsehood of how wonderfully magical everything is underneath our blue skies. Free speech and my own personal sanity is dependent on balance.

Like hitting writer’s block and slowly improving my work over time, I don’t view this rejection as a bad experience but a new one. I now know that that whilst this particular outlet has no qualms with the quality of my work, they only want to hear good news stories, not controversial. I wish they’d told me that before but at least I understand the lay of the land. What can I say? Haters gonna hate…negative writing. Besides, they’re not paying me anyway.

On the flipside, the other news outlet I freelance for love balance and spicy writing so they have happily published my work (huzzah!) You can check out the rejected review here:

http://www.theswindonian.co.uk/girl-about-town-biplob-tandoori-old-town/

Five Minute Review: The Garden In The Clouds by Antony Woodward

Five minutes, one book, one review.

The Garden in the Clouds by Antony Woodward is an autobiographical novel depicting the author’s move from London to the Welsh borders. Woodward’s narration of events takes the reader down the rocky journey he personally experienced in his attempts to get his five-acre plot into the famous National Gardens Scheme (alias ‘the Yellow Book’).

Whilst this book is humorous and light hearted, you get a strong feeling of the inner frustration, difficultly and financial resources ploughed into what I personally thought was a rather unattractive house and garden to start with. I felt the author’s London background resulted in a writing style that overly romanticised country life to a point where it sounded like all rural folk are cheery, friendly people, happy to assist with demolished walls caused by clumsy urban folk wanting a taste of ‘the good life’. I’ll save you the trouble of finding out for yourself, we’re not.

This was a nice little read when sat in the bleakness of January, but I wouldn’t view The Garden in the Clouds as a particularly inspiring tale. It paints a sickly, unrealistic, image of rural life that has not existed for fifty years. Woodward’s need to become ‘at one’ with the landscape seemed so stereotypical you’d think he’d Googled ‘country life’ and adopted all the hobbies that came up on the listing. The National Garden’s Scheme, using a vintage tractor to make hay, keeping bees, in fact all that was missing was sheep farming (unfortunately his neighbour beat him to that one). If I was him I’d have saved myself the time, money and stress and bought myself somewhere in the South of France.

Day 1: National Blog Posting Month (nablopomo) – Introduction

November may mark the end of STOPtober and the start of Movember, but during this chilly month there’s also another craze which sweeps across the globe, affecting those who are either word sociopaths or those who still live with their mum. I’m talking about National Blog Posting month, also known as nablopomo (*cue fanfare and confetti ribbons*).

Never heard of it? Let me explain. National Blog Posting Month sets bloggers the challenge of writing a post every day throughout the month of November with the aim of raising awareness of blogging and to inspire people to get into writing. Yep, because blogging really is up there with raising awareness of Syria or prostate cancer…

Still, as at this present time I am unable to be Joanna Lumley or grow a moustache I thought I’d set myself the challenge of writing something everyday. Anyone who knows me and my crazy busy lifestyle well (9-5 job, social group manager x 2, gym-er, baker, commuter, blogger and now local paper reporter, oh and these hangers on called friends and family), well it doesn’t take a smart arse to see that fitting in a blog post every day on top of that is going to be pret-ty interesting. Heads up now, they won’t all be masterpieces, they won’t all be thousands of words long with a million photos and witty anecdotes, but ultimately they will be blog posts. Should be interesting to see how this goes when I forced into quantity rather than quality (before you comment on that last statement, shush).

Similarly, I really don’t intend to flood my various social media outposts with every single post I upload. For one, it takes time (refer to list of extra curricular activities above – I have none as it is) and secondly I’m determined to not become ‘that guy’ who turns their blog into their literal baby. Even I’m prepared to accept not all my posts are belters – I appreciate you guys politely smiling at them (so to speak) but I’m concerned that if I push it too far my fan base of four is going to plummet significantly during the course of the month.

So there you have it, happy November, Movember, Blog Posting Month, Christmas Fever Settling In Month Like It Or Not Month or whatever you want to call it. If you want to support me during this month please feel free to send me donations. Any money received with be invested into wine. Wine, coffee and chocolate.

Here goes! Wish me luck.