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.

Come Sit With Me

Come sit with me. Come sit here in the caffeine filled haze we call paradise. The legal high that our fathers and their fathers before have relished, for here we are one. The mothers, the students, the disapproving men with broadsheets in hand, everyone has a home here.

Let me pass you this extra I have acquired. Do you take milk? The sugar is over there. The chair next to me is a little worn and mismatched, but that is the norm. Brush off the crumbs of the previous tenant and join me in weekend conversation.

The background music will lull you into a false pretence of your own class and status. The type of music you recognise but do not know. They are the backing beats that serve as melodic distraction from the mess surrounding us. I have heard in booksheleved corners that it improves the taste, what do you think?

See that man behind my left shoulder? I know him to be a regular. The frustrated writer who huffs and sighs over work that will never make it to print. Chomping on cheap nuts and downing brown goo in paper cups, for he cannot afford the china. He is a freeloader of the establishment, clinging desperately to an image that cannot be sustained. I remember when he used to sip on only the finest quality beans and nibble on pastries with young women, but those days are gone. We have all changed since those days.

My friend, you look a little troubled. Don’t be. In this world we are all addicts of our own making. I only seek to show you the truth that lurks in the steam. Save your pity for Africa, it is a wasted emotion in this Latino supplied space. I see you have finished your drink. Would you like another? It would be my honour. They serve only the finest cheap substances here, it is why we never leave.

I am so happy you came to sit with me my partner. Now stress no more and relax, the fresh coffee will be here soon.

 

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“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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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/

A Lesson in Modern Culture? The Jack Wills Christmas Gift Guide 2014

My sister and I have always preferred physical catalogues compared to online shops. I like the smell and feel of the pages, my 19 year old sister enjoys drawing mustaches and glasses on the models. Like many people, we get flooded with various clothes magazines every year, but this year one caught my eye in particular. I am, of course, referring to the Jack Wills Gift Guide 2014 (Unknown author: 2014).

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(Heads up, this is going to be a very visual post and I’m armed with only my Lumia phone)

Page Three

Open the cover and the first thing you see is this:

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For those of you with normal eyesight, it says ‘This Book Belongs To’ with a gap underneath for a name. Because a dated gift guide for this season’s choice outfits will always be relevant and have a place on my bookshelf next to my dystopian classics including Nineteen Eighty-Four and the Handmaid’s Tale. I think the feminist author Atwood would particularly approve of the up-skirt underwear imagery. Actually scratch that, I don’t want to devalue this first 1,000,000,000 edition by writing my name on this. I’m no fool.

The Models

These two loveable delights are the main focus for the Jack Wills gift guide:

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Wait, I think I recognise these two from somewhere. They have that 90s awkward are-they-friends-or-brother-and-sister-or-girlfriend-boyfriend look. Oh wait, I know these two. OH MY GOD IT’S SAME DIFFERENCE FROM X FACTOR

For those of you too young or hipster to remember these guys (aka the readership of the Jack Wills Gift Catelogue 2014), Same Difference were a pop duo from 2007 who released this classic:

(FYI playing this track may help you get through this post.)

So, Same Difference are modelling nowadays. Huh.

These guys rock all the looks in this gift guide. I won’t drown you in images but here is my personal highlight:

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Where have I seen this look before…?

However, my lowlight of the Same Difference models is:

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I know the picture is blurry, but as you can see there are four items on this page. One is being modeled (i.e. the coat) and two have additional information (product name and price). The awesome gingerbread reindeer, the only product on this page (and arguably in this entire gift guide) I want to buy is neither priced nor modeled. Where can I buy/eat this?!

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Very disappointed by this.

I even hit Google in case I was mistaken and Jack Wills did stock gingerbread, that there had been a mistake when the guide had gone to print but alas all I found was this blog post:

http://http://blog.jackwills.com/biscuiteers-interview-recipe/

I don’t want to read about how they made them, or how I can make gingerbread, I want that gingerbread reindeer and I want it now! I then clicked on the link to their website, to find out where I could buy them…

http://http://www.biscuiteers.com/

Of course the company that makes them is based in ruddy London, why am I not surprised. Not just London, Notting Hill London. Even if you didn’t know this information, one look at the price they charge for their gingerbread men should be enough to guess it. This Alice-after-a-froffy-coffee (sorry, Santa) gingerbread man is £6. £6!

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On finding out this information I decided that maybe a chocolate bar would fill the reindeer shaped hole my stomach craved. It did.

Anyway, all this tangent talk of gingerbread his links me nicely to my next subject of review…

Page Design/Layout

As you have seen, no expense was spared on the models. Expense was however spared was given the job title of product page layouty stuff. The gingerbread reindeer was just one (although I don’t think I’ll ever forgive Jack Wills for teasing me so). This confuses me:

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As my old art teacher, Mr. Grover, would have said, “Needs to make more of space. C grade”. Some of these products are priced at £25. I think the logic that was used here is that if your eyesight is too poor to see these products you’re not worthy of buying these products. I know there’s only so much space on a double page, but still, there’s space there to play with. This catalogue has several double page spreads like this. The spacing and size of he products just reminds me of that one time I accidentally went into a fancy shop in St. Mawes, Cornwall. I’m relieved I took this picture quickly, I couldn’t look at this page for that long before feeling judged that I wasn’t buying something.

Something else I didn’t like was Jack Wills, the brand, verus Jack Wills, the reality. This was a real bug bear with me and I’m sure I am neither the first or last person to mention this. The JW slogan is ‘Fabulously British’ and is frequently displayed like so:

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…Yet very (and I stress very) few of their products are actually British, in the sense they’re made in Britain. In the whole of this gift guide I found two products made in Britain. A scarf and two perfumes:

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It’s good to know that Britain can produce water, rose petals and fern leaves. Stuff to really make the world sit up and realise we can produce a diverse range of products. Like I said, I’m sure this point has been raised a million and one times either in passing as people look at the ‘made in Korea’ swing tags, or in ranty letters. I won’t linger further on this point.

Fun Stuff!

I know right, because going through a gift guide and selecting what overpriced goods you want to buy loved ones can be sooooo tiring. Thank goodness Jack Wills’s put a dedicated team in charge of a fun section to relive the boredom and stress of shopping from home.

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“Colouring!! I wanna colour the worldddd!” was my first thought, until I realised I was a grown adult and haven’t had crayons since 1999.

There are some weirdly drawn images in this section, including Fred doing the reverse Alistair Darling with his dark hair and white eyebrows…

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Although watch out, it’s those creepy Uncles that are always invited around for Christmas. You know, the ones who have given themselves the name ‘Uncle’ when you pretty dam sure they aren’t related. Yep, they feature in the Jack Wills Christmas Gift Guide 2014 too!

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The wave and garish jumpers should speak for themselves.

What Have We Learnt From This Piece of Literature?

So, what can we gain from this glossy clothes catalogue? Well on the surface of it we’ve learnt that Jack Wills has models that bear a strong resemblance to former pop one-hit wonders, they don’t sell gingerbread creations, and I really would like to meet their creative department. That’s all obvious and only goes page deep. Being a History graduate I couldn’t help but read further into this guide as a reflection of modern society and culture.

Everything about this guide screams ‘childhood’ and ‘immature’. I’m sorry, it does. From the ‘this book belongs to’, to the comic modeling, through to the double page colouring-in spread. A dedicated 12 page section of the guide may be fun and lighthearted but it shows the readership of this publication.

I know what many of you will think, you’ll be thinking ‘yes, so what? Can young people not buy clothes now?’ and yes, I totally agree, they can indeed (beauty of free will). But what gets me is the level of it. These are not cheap items, Jack Wills sets itself as a semi-designer high street brand. £198 for a red coat and the £44.50 price tag on their Langthorne scarf shows that. Yet this is a publication which is being targeted at young teen/pre-teen people. Don’t believe me? Can I point out this question in their quiz…

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I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but no one over the age of 17 in the UK is a Belieber. I may also be losing it at the grand old age of 22, because I have no idea what a ‘dutty beat’ is.

Also, these stickers came with the gift guide, featuring images from hearts and arrows, to pugs and bacon:

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I’m not disputing that pugs and bacon aren’t awesome, they both are, but it’s an odd addition to a Christmas catalogue given the nature of this publication.

The point I’m trying to make here is that Jack Wills is targeting themselves at a younger age group compared to, say, Laura Ashley. But the prices aren’t cheap. Bear in mind I’m speaking as someone who was raised in the 90s and 00s where clothes shopping was limited to what Mum bought you and the only money you got was £1 a week for cleaning cars, the kitchen, living room etc. If JW are targeting themselves towards younger people I don’t understand where their money is coming from.

Maybe it shows that young people are now in possession of more money and are being exposed to fashion at a earlier age. Maybe this catalogue is just trying to be different. I just don’t get it, and I think the fact that I’m 22 adds to the confusion. Surely at my age I should get the point of this gift guide? As someone who has bought Jack Wills products in the past, surely I should be swept away with the products on display here? Why am I not getting the point? Why am I hungry when I’ve just eaten a big meal? Why am I asking so many rhetorical questions?

Of course, the Jack Wills team might say that the fact they’ve had a scarccy blog post written by a nobody about their gift guide does them no harm. Even if I was a somebody in the big hipster world they probably would shrug their shoulders. Bad publicity is better than no publicity and all that. For me such an outcome would be what the young people call a ‘massive fail’, right? I stick by my guns though, this gift guide says a lot about where fashion and the high street has come from and where it’s heading. Dumbing down to get the pounds. Combined with the rise of social media, television and film and the ending of the financial recession, will we start to see more of this creep in elsewhere? Should we not only accept, but embrace it? It wouldn’t be the first, nor will it be the last time big stores chase the consumers with the money and young people have more money than ever before. How they come into such money is another debate altogether, but they must have it. Either young people have money, we’re becoming more simplistic as human beings or I’m reading far too much into this one gift guide. Don’t answer that last point too quickly.

So yeah, that was my first book review/analyis since writing my dissertation about ten months ago. It’ll probably be my last. Glad to see I haven’t lost my commentary skills in the intervening time (hah). Two posts in one week, I’m on fire in the run up to Christmas. Don’t get too excited though, I doubt very much I’ll post anything else this side of the festive season. Work is very busy and my social life is crazy at the moment (eating my weight in chocolate every night while watching Don’t Tell the Bride takes time). But I will be back in the New Year, and you will get more information about my housemates, including my mermaid housemate. Honestly, I promise it will happen!

Anyway, until then, HAPPY CHRISTMAS AND A MERRY NEW YEAR ALL AND ONE!!

Did someone say they wanted a terrible Christmas joke, courtesy of Jack Wills? (Of course you did):

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What did you think of that Peter?