Category Archives: Blog

The world is a big and scary place

A remarkable friend wrote some words of advice to me while I was having a pretty rotten time of things some years ago.

At times the best of friends tell you things you need to know, but you don’t want to hear; much as a parent tries to impart wisdom to their child with an unintended harshness, that belies the deep love with which it is given.

It is a touchstone in my life now, both in times of sadness and times of joy.

“Today’s lesson:

The world is a big and scary place.

The good guys don’t always win and there are people out there who won’t think twice about anything that doesn’t directly benefit themselves.

This is how things are, how they always were and how they will be for the rest of this forever.

There are people who give and give and give,  until there is nothing left of themselves and they disintegrate into bitterness and regret.

There are people who take and take and take because they think they are entitled to love and happiness without giving anything in return.

In the midst of all the hurt, loneliness and confusion, all we have are the links we forge betwixt our shared hopes, fears & loves.

That, however, is no small thing. It is, in fact, the greatest thing of all.

You are never alone.

Please don’t forget that.”

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WAKE ME UP AND…

The following is suitable for adults only and is written in memory of someone more influential in my life than Bowie and who created more magic than Paul Daniels.

This is about the Espresso Martini and the man who created it, Dick Bradsell. Read on (or skip to the end if you must) and the perfect recipe shall be revealed.

Amongst my friends it’s a drink very much of the now, though it was created in the 80s by the inimitable Bradsell.

Bradsell was a seminal part of London’s cocktail scene and was credited by the San Francisco Chronicle as having “single-handedly changed the face of the cocktail scene in London in the 1980s”, whilst The Observer wrote of him as the “cocktail king.”

He was, of his time, compared to celebrity chefs and created cocktails for the likes of Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin at the exclusive (and now closed) London Colony Club. He even played a gangster in a Christopher Nolan film.

This legend of the bar scene sadly passed away in February 2016. But his spirit and his magic will live on, in the Espresso Martini in particular.

So now take yourself back to 1984 and imagine the big shoulder pads and even bigger hair at a busy and popular London cocktail haunt…

The story goes that a beautiful and world-famous model walks in to the Soho Brasserie and asks Dick to make her something that will “wake me up and fuck me up”.

Dick eyed the newly installed espresso machine at the bar, drew a bottle of vodka, a little sugar syrup and a dash of espresso, then mixed and shook them hard over ice. The Espresso Martini was born.

2_espressomartini

Now this seminal cocktail has endured many variations. Some, if not most, I personally consider horrific. A great cocktail – like the very best of anything – is all about simplicity and top notch materials.

The key here is to use really, really, good fresh coffee. Certainly ground and brewed on the spot. If you only have supermarket brand ground espresso of indeterminate age, then please don’t proceed. I beg you. No amount of Kahlua (or worse) can make up for a properly good espresso; and you will likely ruin your experience of this drink forever.

I also recommend a good quality, clean vodka. Potato-based vodka works better, for a reason no-one can explain. So here I recommend our local and world-class distillery: Chase, up the road from my castle tower, in Herefordshire and the land of potatoes.

First, make sure you have prepared and planned before making anything. This means chilled and appropriate glassware: martini glasses are traditional, though I and others do find small wine goblets work just as well. Also have ice, very frozen and not ‘wet’ from leaving it lying around the kitchen from your earlier gin and tonics.

Ready? Here we go:

Two measures of good vodka (we recommend Chase but anything clean and around 40% alcohol will suffice);

One measure of freshly made, good quality espresso;

Half a measure of sugar syrup (this can easily be made by mixing 2:1 water and sugar over a low heat until dissolved and then cooled).

Half fill your shaker with large lumps of very cold ice (see above) and pour in ingredients. The secret here is to allow  plenty of space to shake the contents. Larger chunks of ice will not melt so readily, so preserving the integrity of the cocktail.

My measures are based on a single shot or 25ml in modern terms, per serving. You can of course multiply this for multiple glasses – though note the importance of allowing space for the contents to get shaken with enough air .

Shake hard and shake for as long as you can bear. If you are using a metal shaker, it will get very, very cold. This is key as the shaking will help release the latent gases in the coffee. This is also why using good quality fresh coffee is so important.

Pour in to cold glasses.

chase2

Garnish with a twist of lemon, mint leaf, coffee bean or whatever you fancy. I personally like mine bare, without adornments.

You will find a creamy, light brown liquid issues forth in to the glasses. Don’t worry, this is just how it should look!

Leave for a minute or three and the mixture will settle, leaving a beautifully creamy, sweet top and a darker and delicious liquid below.

It’s that simple.

Enjoy and raise a toast to Dick, that super model and friends. With this cocktail done properly, the latter will love you forever and Dick will no doubt be looking down, smiling at you, from the great cocktail bar in the sky.

Chase Shake 2

Footnote and Links:

Great coffee can be ordered direct from Wales’ upcoming and award-winning roastery (though I may be biased as I co-founded it): Black Mountain Roast.

To find out more about Chase Vodka visit them here. They are lovely people and do tours of their distillery too, that I can thoroughly recommend.

For more general musings on cocktails, martinis and how to make them have a read through of my other post: Breakfast Martinis and Battlements.

Life Lessons from Ironing

Ironing. Love it or hate it. Most of my friends hate it.

However, I have learned to find a way of enjoying this chore; taking satisfaction from a job done well. However, when the pile gets too high, it does become an almost impossible task to start.

Much like many other parts of my life.

So here is my Top Ten life lessons I’ve learned whilst steaming away with my Laurastar ‘Ironing System’:

1. Once you start, the mountain is never as big as it seems.
2. Use the right tools for the job.
3. Details can be ignored, but you’ll feel better knowing things are done properly.
4. Pressure helps get things done quicker.
5. Good music helps.
6. Drink makes things seem easier, but means tasks take longer. As do drugs.
7. Good company can help, but often proves distracting to the mission at hand.
8. Make realistic goals and set yourself rewards.
9. Quality over quantity is always better.
10. You can’t iron out fatal flaws. Throw out stuff that is no longer fit for purpose.

Footnote: get a good iron (with a separate steam unit) and a high quality ironing board. You will cut your ironing time in half. John Lewis have a good range and expert advice if you visit them.

Life Lessons From Cats

I’ve been fortunate to provide a temporary home to two beautiful cats. Anyone who knows cats will know what a delightful mixed blessing that is.

They’ve provided as much love as they have disdain. They’ve also taught me some very valuable lessons for life.

Here are my Top Ten:

1. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.
2. Persistence usually pays off.
3. You can get away with a lot more if people aren’t watching.
4. If you do get caught, don’t explain, just look endearing; you’ll be quickly forgiven.
5. Spend some time each day looking out of the window.
6. Keep your shit where it belongs.
7. If you learn how to open doors life is much more fun.
8. Take a nap if you feel like it.
9. Getting to the top sometimes requires ingenuity.
10. Simple things will often provide the most joy.

THE SILENT KILLER

What’s the Western world’s biggest killer of men aged under fifty?

It may come as a shock to know that it’s suicide; the most taboo of subjects and a guaranteed conversation-killer at any dinner party.

My closer friends will know I’ve struggled this past year with chronic depression. What they don’t know is how close I have come to being another ‘Under 50’ statistic on the Home Office chalkboards.

I cannot tell you what actual suicide is like, though I can share what it is like to stand on the edge of reason: a soul-shattering mix of pain, anger, fear, and helplessness.

This I know from experience: I’ve stood at the end of Brighton Pier with bricks in my pockets, propelled to end it all and escape from a relationship littered with infidelity and at times extreme violence towards me. I can still smell the sea and feel the wind in my face as I stared in to the black water all those years ago.

It’s a thought and feeling that has haunted me many times, perhaps an imprint of when I was very young and a family member contemplated the same sad way to end things. They, however, also showed me courage and how to live and love life, despite all of their own troubles, of which there many. For that I am truly thankful.

I have come very close at times to putting my feelings in to action. But I have been blessed by a mixture of luck, the Samaritans and some very good friends that I’ve been able to talk to openly and saved myself from losing my will to live.

We all live on a knife-edge more than we might like to admit. Loves, marriages, hopes and dreams fail us and it’s a miracle that any of us struggle through, usually feeling alone, no matter how much love we actually have around us. This, sadly, is the cursed blessing of life. A life where our doubts can too easily crowd us and block the view of the sunlit path we are meant to tread.

To quote from a well-known song, “the sword of time will pierce our skin, it doesn’t hurt when it begins, but as it works its way in the pain begins and it grins…”

One myth I can dispel immediately is that suicide is a coward’s way out. In my own experiences it takes a strange sort of extraordinary courage to contemplate and plan. As much strength is required to end one’s life as it is to live in this beautiful, troubled life.

Nor is suicide painless, or at least as I can tell from researching all the popular methods. There are not many deaths that are pain free. There’s no free ride in ending it all.

To plan a suicide takes preparation, a strange coldness and calm. It’s not something to be rushed and likely botched.

After my research on the subject, you don’t want to get it wrong. Remarkably, even a gunshot point blank to the head is only ninety percent effective; poisoning by overdose is a distant runner in the league tables with the odds of 42:1 against you actually meeting your maker.  Drowning is meant to be the least painful way to go, though is equally as unreliable statistically. Jumping is popular, but far from guaranteed. If you do jump, make sure it’s from a very great height and you hit the ground head-first. The results otherwise will lead to a very messy clean up and you still being alive…

Failure leads to all sorts of horrific and life-debilitating conditions. Even the best-planned suicide has odds one would be silly to take. And yet, in the dark nights and days that follow we can still be drawn to making the ultimate gesture of failure, as though in a silent movie where our mouths move, but no words are heard.

There are many factors that will bring one to the edge of life. It’s a horrifically horrible place to be, on that point I will be frank. There is no quick suicide. The feelings that lead one to that dark place are like a slow torturous death in itself.

One’s spirit, our sense of living, slowly fades and it’s a death of a thousand cuts. Each tiny cut of hurt, pain, anger, hopelessness and the wrongs done to one in one’s life bite viciously over and over. Each one igniting neurons in the brain that curse one with only the one door marked exit from our anguish.

At this point I must say if you are considering suicide, then get help. Ring the Samaritans, a friend or even talk to a stranger. Any kind of help.  The subject is such a taboo that it’s hard to know how many of us have ever considered taking our lives. I suspect many more than we might expect. If you have considered ending it all, then take all my praise and love that you are still here with us. You have my deepest heartfelt admiration for making it through.

Until recently, even in psychiatric circles the word ‘suicide’ was never used. Even now the doctors will refer to it as ‘self-harm’ or how to ‘keep oneself safe’.  This blanket refusal to mutter the word feels like superstition, as though not mentioning the act will somehow prevent it.

Centuries of our Christian roots has counted suicide as a mortal sin, grieving God’s heart and spurning the blessing of life that we have been given. The contradiction of this and how appallingly humans treat each other is not lost on me.

Whatever one’s religious beliefs, I am torn with accepting on one part that if I killed myself I would be discarding the great blessing of being alive. And my life is filled with very many great blessings. On the other I have seen how thin the veil is between life and death.

My spiritual insights and beliefs perversely can urge me onwards to the hope of stopping the ride and reconnecting with the universe, free of my own human pain.

Not being afraid of death, indeed welcoming it in, changes how one experiences the life that comes from knowing one can walk away from life’s troubles: everything feels more immediate. I now value each moment, each blessing, no matter how insignificant it might once have seemed.

Through my facing suicide square on and staring it out, sometimes so close to death I can feel its breath, comes my escape from the torments, and a chance to be able choose live on.

Significantly and unexpectedly, at the moment when I am about to accept death’s sweet kiss, is when love has come to me: an overwhelming and searing love for my family, my friends and those who have touched my life in some, any, small way.

Yes, love: a deep and powerful sense of immediate connectedness to everything and everyone whilst feeling utterly alone; a moment when the universe stands still and silent; on the edge of everything with wavering feet and unable to jump in to the unknown.

Whilst I must admit to not having the courage at times to carry on living for myself, I have found a remarkable courage to care enough for others to remain here with you. Though I cannot always love myself, I have huge love for my family and friends. This has been my saviour on more than a few occasions.

I count my experiences as a blessing beyond measure. I am still here and if in my darkest moments I can feel even the slightest breeze of love upon my face, then there is hope.

Perhaps with more discussion about our fears, our closeness to death we will all feel a little more love, a little more connected, less alone and suicide will no longer be the silent killer.

For myself I cannot tell what the future will bring; I suspect I will be haunted by the closeness of death for some time yet. But where there is life there is hope and where there is hope there is faith in the future.

And that is a very marvellous feeling indeed.

Footnote: some data references from http://lostallhope.com/suicide-statistics – conservatively over 20 million people worldwide attempt suicide each year.

HAY PEAR FIX

With spring surely sprung, it’s now getting just the right weather for evening cocktails on the castle lawns, looking out towards to the Black Mountains change their rainbow colours as the sun sets…

Here’s another favourite, you will have for forgive it being out of season!

Hay Pear Fix

2 measures Smoked Chase Vodka
1 measure Extra Dry Vermouth
1 measure British Poire Liqueur
1/4 measure lemon juice
1/4 measure Coedcanlas Number 8 Maple Syrup

Mix and shake until ice cold, serve into chilled martini glasses with a slice of Williams pear.

Alternatively, substitute the liqueur for muddled Williams pears and add a little more vodka.

Enjoy irresponsibly!

The Hangover Martini

It seems from the social media frenzy among my friends that many fine souls are suffering from hangovers following their post-Valentine’s excitements/drowning of sorrows.

Perhaps today is appropriate timing, then, to reveal my worst-kept-secret martini recipe to the world…

THE HANGOVER MARTINI

Juice of two good quality limes, freshly squeezed.
2 measures of Lucozade Sport Orange or Tropical flavour (or any ‘Sports’-style drink)
2 measures of vodka
1 measure of Martini Bianco
Salt

It’s pretty simple really, just gather all the above (bar the salt) and pour into a cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Shake until ice cold.

For notes on what my measures are (and general tips for perfecting the art of mixing cocktails) see: //theonlywayishay.com/2014/12/04/breakfast-martinis-and-battlements/

Forget about the niceties of straining the limes. What you need is vitamin C and fast… Thus, it’s function over style with this martini. Also a little sweetness with the Martini Bianco helps me personally, though you could go for a drier and less aromatic taste (subject to how delicate your senses are) by using a dry vermouth and perhaps a touch of sugar syrup – though the latter shouldn’t be necessary given the sugars in the optimistically-termed ‘sports’ drinks.

Rim the glasses by crushing up rock or sea salt with a mortar and pestle and lay out on a plate (or again just use cheap cooking salt – time is of the essence here). To rim, wipe the edge of the chilled martini glasses with a slither of lime. Place the martini glass top down on the salt and twist gently to get an even rim of salt all the way round.

Pour in the ice cold contents from the shaker in to the glasses and garnish by floating a circular slice of lime on the top of the libation. Drink immediately. If one doesn’t work, then have another. If you need three then you will likely need to see a doctor fairly quickly and also be very drunk.

The above should make two decent-sized portions. They are tried and trusted revivers at Leir Towers. Good luck!

A short side-note on the salt: if you crush rock salt with a little of very finely chopped dry chillies, you will help add a reviving kick to this morning reviver. Having a small emergency stash ready prepared is always a good idea.