Metro’s Coffee Movement

 

Quote: “Muscovites Middle Eastern macchiato.”

I found a good article in the Metro (June 30th 2014) called Bean Around the World.  Davide Machado, whose surname could be a type of coffee, explores some of the up and coming coffee and café cultures around the globe.

Prague is first on his list, showing a keen interest in what barista Gwilym Davis calls, “‘traceability, single farm coffee [one type of bean from one type of farm] and lightly roasted beans, which result in sweet and fruity flavours’”. 

The place to be is the industrial-styled EMA Espresso Bar and according to Machado, “has been leading the city’s coffee charge since it opened last June.”

Singapore too has independents popping up.  This is mainly because, according to “Brad Lau of ladyironchef.com” (Singapore’s leading food and travel website), “‘Singaporeans’ heightened exposure to other coffee cultures when they travel’”.

Some of Lau’s favourite places to go and indulge in a coffee are Nylon Coffee Roasters, Everton Park, The Grin, The Provision Shop and Batterworks.

Similar to the Singaporeans, the Muscovites have been awoken to the delights of a good coffee.    Gwilym thinks “Moscow baristas are considered some of the best in the world”.

Apparently Coffee Mania is the leader, creating its own coffees with Middle Eastern flavours.  The coffee shop to watch out for is Double B Coffee and Tea.  With two of Russia’s champion baristas at the helm it’s already making me a little envious and considering booking a flight to Moscow.

Now, most of us know Ethiopia has been (and still is) highly regarded in the history of coffee.  The reason behind its superiority is: “‘The beans are roasted, ground and brewed on an open fire while you wait,’ says photographer and aid worker Melany Markham, who recently spent a month travelling around Ethiopia.  ‘But it’s more than an ancient mastery of the bean that makes the coffee so good.  It’s the climate – cool and humid – that makes Ethiopian coffee possibly the best in the world.’”

Machado goes on to explain how the Italians colonised the country leaving behind a legacy, espresso machines and baristas.  Because of this the country not only produces fabulous coffee but it can also make a fabulous coffee.  Let’s move now!

Machado says the best coffee shop is Tomoca Coffee which opened in 1953.  There is also the newer Choché which “sources its beans from local growers and roasts them in a small room behind the café,” and “this year’s newest opening Melange Coffee Roasters”.

It’s nice to see that with travel comes great coffee. A broadening of the mind and the taste buds. But it’s not just the love of a good coffee which seems to be circulating; it’s the interest in supporting local farmers and creating a good coffee and not one which will just sell.  People are taking pride in their local producers and in their work.

Small Island

Small Island
By Andrea Levy

Last Christmas my writing group had a fabulous social gathering. As part of the literature theme of the evening (although I think wine was the main focus) we, the guests, had been asked to bring a book we wanted to share with others. However, I’d somehow missed the email and I had no book to impose on my companions. Luckily for me the group was kind and they handed me a spare paperback called Small Island. On first glance I thought it was a tad too large for my bag, but I said thanks and gratefully took it home.

After reading the YA fiction trilogy Matched I came to Small Island and I’m so glad I did. On the books first opening I was intrigued to find a postcard with a hilly landscape sketch on it. On its reverse was a written explanation as to why this anonymous person had provided this book. Here is a sample:

‘I do hope you enjoy this book as much as I did. It was important to me in helping me to understand more about the England I grew up in – I was born in 1940. We lived in rural Somerset, so I had very little idea about the larger patterns of social change in the UK.’

Small Island is set during WW2 and after in its period of recovery. We are taken into the heads and lives of the four main characters: (English) Queenie and Bernard and (Jamaican) Hortense and Gilbert.

We explore societal and personal relationships. We see how Hortense and Gilbert, who have longed to make a life in England as a lawyer and a teacher, encounter racism and prejudice. We observe the change in society as the war finishes and cultures and races mix. I found it shocking and fascinating at the open levels of racist abuse and the more subtle, underlying, accepted racism and perceived superiority at being white and British. Although, one hears of how people were treated it’s quite difficult comprehend. I think this book goes a little way to assisting the understanding of how black people, specifically Jamaicans, who were fighting for the Britain, were treated.

Andrea Levy writes so beautifully and easily, capturing the heart of personal and intimate moments through the most banal of daily tasks. On Bernard’s return from war we see both his and his wife’s struggle at getting back to ‘normality’.

‘“Took me a while to find the teapot,’ he told me. ‘Not where it usually is.”’ p435

Levy doesn’t skip the detail of daily lives and I think it’s this that draws us in and provides us with the essence of each character. We see how they perform on a day-to-day basis both in solitary mode and in company; we examine how they live and how they respond.

Each moment and event is perfectly crafted with her insightful words. During war she evokes in our minds the struggle and bizarreness that the men found themselves in with beautiful simplicity.

‘The relief had the whole trench sighing as one man.’ P346

And

‘Chap looked about eighty. We all did, with our pantomime aging of dust.’ P347

With Levy’s excellent prose I was taken on a journey of discovery where I held tight to the note on the postcard. It felt like a treasure that someone else had experienced something great in this book and now I was too. I kept this unidentified message inside the book during reading. It felt personal. I hope it remains with the book when I pass it on as it definitely added an unexpected dimension to my reading experience.

Read this book and if you’re lucky you may come across this magical copy.

Reached

Reached

Reached

By Ally Condie

‘You cannot change your journey if you are unwilling to move at all.’

Reached is the final book in the Matched trilogy which now combines the thoughts of, not only Cassia and Ky, but Xander: Cassia’s Match.   Xander’s voice is a welcome addition; his viewpoint is required in this book when the three rebels and friends are separated and undertake their own personal journeys alongside their intertwined goals and desires.

The Society is falling and the Risings efforts to infiltrate and dominate are looking promising, until unexpected events cause death, fear and distrust. The central characters are separated and their efforts and objectives are in question.  The reader is left wondering not only who Cassia will end up with, but will she end up with anyone at all?

The voices of the three protagonists are more grown up and reflect their struggles.  I find Ky’s voice can sometimes feel like an echo of Cassia.   Xander’s voice is much more individual.  The pace is quicker than Crossed and contains frequent contemplations, mainly from Cassia about the arts and life:

‘And it strikes me that this is how writing anything is, really.  A collaboration between you who give the words and they who take them and find meaning in them, or put music to them, or turn them aside because they were not needed.’ Cassia.

The arts, except for the select 100 chosen by the Society, have not been enjoyed or understood by many.   Cassia comes to realise how much it is needed especially as death all too frequently knocks at their doors:

‘Writing, painting, singing – it cannot stop everything.  Cannot halt death in its tracks.  But perhaps it can make the pause between death’s footsteps sound and look and feel beautiful’ and ‘the journey there between footsteps makes up our lives.’

I’m going to keep this short as I don’t want to give too much away.  I think what sums up this book as well as the trilogy as a whole is a love triangle, a rebellion against a society for freedom of choice and a contemplative discussion on the importance of the arts within a society.  It’s an enjoyable read, better than Crossed but not as good as Matched.  It does what YA dystopian fiction should do: create an emotional response towards the lovers (the reader can choose who she wishes Cassia to be with depending on their own preferences) and make us think and question our society and our place within it.

 

Crossed

By Ally Condie

Crossed

Crossed is the second and middle book of the dystopian Matched trilogy.  It feels like a middle book: joining the first to the last with not as much happening as one would like (the ‘one’ being me).

In this book it is not only Cassia who has a narrative voice; Ky’s thoughts are now available to us and we are shown alternate viewpoints to varying situations.

Crossed is a physical and emotional journey.  The couple are searching for each other outside of the Society.  Cassia has become disillusioned with the Society, waking up to who and what it really is and how restrictive it can be if you don’t conform to a specific type.

‘There is no place for someone like him in the Society, I think, for someone who can create.  He can do so many things of incomparable value, things no one else can do, and the society doesn’t care about that at all.’  Cassia muses.

She is keen to find the Rising: a rebellion group.  There is one problem: Ky.  He is unsure about the Rising due to his past history with them.  He doesn’t trust either of the leading factions but he does trust Cassia so these young lovers have a choice to make: each other or a fight for freedom.  Will one make the sacrifice for the other?  Will their relationship survive?  These are the questions which lead us through the rest of the tale.

During both of their journeys we uncover secrets and meet new characters which enlighten and drive their lives in a different direction.  This is an element which is needed, although as a device it feels as if some of the characters (initially anyway) are purely introduced for that purpose.

The book and its characters can be ponderous and reflective at times and it contains a lot of new information driving us towards the fine tale: Reached.

Creative and artistic references show us how the society has no place for imagination and individuality.  This book champions the creative arts and culture and reminds us of how society is reflected and driven by the arts.  The Society has only 100 select poems and artworks which they feel are suitable for their people.  However, stories, poems and art of the past remain in the minds of a few which have been passed down through generations wanting to make a difference and who were also aware of their importance.  They’ve been subliminally and purposefully altering mind-sets and creating unrest which ultimately is leading to The Rising.

This book really hammers home the importance of the arts and the fundamental role it plays within our lives.  But, fundamentally it’s another Romeo and Juliet – I’m wondering if it will end in a similar way.

A Creative Day

A Creative Day

Quote: “Creativity comes to those who don’t plan.”

Sometimes you have a day of writing planned or you have organised a trip to an exhibition, but sometimes a creative day comes at you from nowhere.

Easter Cakes

I was looking after a couple of girls for the day; one was imprisoned (self-imposed) in her room studiously revising for her exams and the other was 9, so we could do what we wanted. I had nothing scheduled but I knew 2 things: 1, we were going to the cinema later to see a subtitled film about Laos and 2, I needed a coffee.

After a catch up interspersed with readings and giggles from Calvin and Hobbs, we began discussing books and writing and I said I love Choose Your Own Adventure. The girl replied, “I have one but haven’t done it for ages.” So she ran to get it and there began our morning of rolling dice, battling creatures and pointing swords at old crones. This book was a little more advanced than the ones I used to read where you only got the option at the bottom as to what page to turn to next; this one was more suitable to Sheldon and the boys in The Big Bang Theory. It had need for a pen, some paper and dice (but if you didn’t have any then cleverly there was a picture of them at the bottom of the page so you could flick the pages and that was your ‘roll’). You could also buy things such as the Armband of Strength and the Headband of Concentration as well as potions and weapons. Once we’d left our morals at the door, entered a pretty useless waterfall cave and riled numerous creatures we decided to pause while still alive and go for a coffee.

Phew! We were parched after such an adventurous morning. Refuelling took place at Lavish Habit in Balham for a cappuccino and a hot chocolate. Next was the collation of materials for the afternoon’s events: Easter cake baking. Yay!

We baked and decorated like elves making toys at Christmas. Our cakes had carrots half buried in the middle so it looked like it was in a garden, Easter eggs, rabbit faces, flowers and colourful sprinkles. What was nice was teaching the 9 year old how to pipe icing, make carrots and create flowers – although I gave up on teaching not to lick your fingers whilst making the cake as it was a losing battle.

Easter Cake 2

I had a lovely time doing my favourite things. Then she took me outside to so something she liked: archery! A Katniss fan (Hunger Games) she had a bow and sucker arrows to fire at will in the garden. Time out to kick ass in the garden was fun, but short lived as we had to speed off to the Ritzy Cinema, Brixton.

We were seeing The Rocket, a foreign language film with subtitles. (SPOILER ALERT!) Set in Laos, ten year old Ahlo is a surviving twin who is said, by his grandmother, to bring bad luck. This film sees his journey to shedding his bad luck by entering the Rocket Festival: a dangerous competition where entrants compete to win money and to hopefully bring rain.

The films primary focus is on the unexploded bombs dropped on the country by the Americans during the Vietnam War. We see how the bombs have affected the villages and the lives of the villagers and also how outside influences end up determining the locals lives.

Director Kim Mordaunt shoots the film in a documentary style using a lot of non-actors and only a little direction to give a natural feel. The film is thoughtful and beautifully shot capturing poignant images of Ahlo, moving the cinema-goers to tears. Although subtitled there are actually very few and of the ones there are the text is limited, making it easy for the younger viewer to keep up with. There are a few hard hitting and shocking scenes which serve as a reminder to the existing danger these children and their families are still in. By using a Laotian boy as the protagonist Mordaunt hits home this point.

The end of the film is much like the rest but with a smack of sentimentalism. The Rocket Festival serves to stick one finger up at the bombs by firing explosives back into the skies and making a positive out of a negative. The end might perhaps do better to remind us that not everything will turn out well like in the movies. However, it’s a good film absolutely worth seeing and taking your older children to.

If only everyday was this enjoyable. Hopefully in the future I will remember to put some of my more mundane and unimportant tasks aside to allow for more creativity in my life and those around me.

Matched Trilogy

Matched

By Ally Condie

Image

Dystopian Young Adult fiction has been doing the rounds for a while and is getting even bigger with The Hunger Games now being made into a series of films.  Matched, set somewhere in the future, follows a trilogy format and has been written specifically for this style.  Although it’s possible to read each independently I don’t think you would get the best out of the books.

We follow the thoughts and travels of Cassia, a 17 year old girl who is due to be ‘matched’ to her future husband at the extravagant and much awaited Match Banquet.  The Society record and measure their citizens to provide the best life possible for them – from calorie controlled meals, whom to marry, to the time you should die.  All of the results are collated and your life is predicted and controlled accordingly.  Cassia’s match has been carefully chosen to suit her (and his) needs perfectly.

Everyone including Cassia enjoys the structure of their daily lives and respects the order and expectations because it leads to a healthier, productive, happier society.

After the joyous Match Banquet, where in a rare occurrence Cassia is matched with Xavier – her best friend who lives in her district – Cassia is presented with an event which changes the course of her life.  Each person matched receives a Microcard with information about their future partner on it.  On viewing her Microcard, Cassia is momentarily presented with another face – Ky, another boy from her district.  Throwing everything into question, Cassia is confused: the Society doesn’t make mistakes.  Cassia loves Xavier and is relieved and thrilled to be matched to him – it’s meant to be, it’s been predicted.  However, Ky’s face won’t remove itself from her mind and this begins a slow change in her perception of the Society and even herself.

As the story unravels we, along with Cassia, discover the deeper workings of the Society and become aware of just what they’re capable of.  Without giving too much away, the end is the start of Cassia’s search for her future and the truth and the beginning of the next book.

As an adult I enjoyed this book and I feel it suits the YA age group. A lot of books are called ‘cross-over’ but have an adult voice – and although this does house adult concepts and the occasional word you wouldn’t expect a teenager to use (it can be forgiven because of the futuristic environment) you do still feel it’s a teenager speaking.  Cassia goes on a journey and like most teenagers moving into adulthood we see her opening her eyes and becoming aware of the world as a whole and not just her own little, egocentric bubble.  Although the protagonist is a teenager it doesn’t matter because the concepts of conspiracy theories, society’s control, love etc. are ones which draw us all in.  All you adults out there don’t restrict yourself to books with people of a similar age, sex and ethnicity to you – it’s limiting and a bit boring too.  I just like reading and am happy to devour any book that comes my way and if I don’t like it then it doesn’t matter – you can’t like everything but how do you know if you don’t try?

Crossed and Reached are the next books in this trilogy and I look forward to reading and reviewing them too.

World Book Day with Mr Benn

Quote: “nothing exciting ever happens to me,” Mr Benn.

Mr Benn

With World Book Day Thursday 6th March I thought I’d take on a children’s classic: Mr Benn – Red Knight by David McKee. I acquired a copy from a child I look after and she eyed me with suspicion when I asked to borrow it. I made sure I said ‘borrow’. She said yes but reminded me it was a very special book (as if I didn’t know); I have read it to her loads. But why have I read it to her loads? This tale was first published in 1967 and this girl is 6. So what makes it rise above contemporary stories?

The story goes like this:

Mr Benn, a suited man in a bowler hat, is invited to a fancy dress party. He goes to a fancy dress shop and chooses a red suit of armour to try on. In the changing room there is a second door which leads him into another world. In this world he meets a dragon who used to light the fires for the king but was banished after a matchmaker came to the town. The matchmaker wants to get rich selling his matches so sets a barn on fire and tells everyone it was the dragon. At the same time the king’s horse runs away which makes the king think the dragon has something to do with it (why? I don’t know). The dragon says the horse is living near him but he was too scared to return it to the king.

After telling Mr Benn of his woes he (Mr Benn) rides off on the horse to the castle to explain. The King punishes the matchmaker by imprisoning him in the dungeon and forcing him to make free matches for the people while the dragon returns as the king’s personal firelighter.

Mr Benn has sorted all the problems and returns to the changing room. He decides he’s too tired for the party after all and goes home to dream about all the other adventures he might have.

Mr Benn and the dragon

The idea is genius. It lends itself to vast numbers of adventures for Mr Benn and therefore numerous books and, as we know, television programmes too. The concept of dressing up is a great one for children – they completely understand dressing up and can get to grip with that concept immediately. It crosses the boundary into the wilds of their imagination whilst maintaining a safe familiarity.

An equally important part of this book (and my favourite) is the illustrations. Line drawings, which are akin to doodles, are alternated with bright, child-like, stylised paintings.

Mr Benn line drawing

Back to the text. When reading out loud to a child you’ll notice the difference in sentence length, structure and language. For example, one sentence I always trip over is:

‘The shop bell tinkled and as if by magic there was suddenly a strange little man, with a moustache and an odd hat, standing in front of Mr Benn.’

I think it is because I’m expecting a full stop after ‘tinkled’ and the next sentence to start ‘As if …’ The sentences do feel longer than the current books and the word usage is different too; words like: desolate, barren and triumphal procession are used. Today’s writers for children are told (by publishers and those in the know)to use language children understand and can potentially read without stumbling or wondering what on earth it means. I also feel when Mr Benn meets the dragon and hears of the dragon’s back story it is ‘telling’ rather than showing (which writers always get told off for) and it’s a long and slightly confusing backstory told like a story within a story. I think it would work better if it was told by the dragon and not by the narrator.

Mr Benn and the shops

However, what do I know? The story is popular and has been since 1967. This isn’t the first book from years ago that is still being, not just enjoyed, but loved by children; they don’t seem so confused by the language, they seem to take it in their stride and ask what ‘desolate’ means or understand that no one can possibly know all the words. Children don’t seem to care if they’re being ‘told’ a story either. I think they just want something that taps into their imagination and can take them on a jolly good romp. Hoorah! As Enid Blyton would write.

Line drawing of trees

Enjoy World Book Day! Let me know of your interesting reads.

Ziferblat

Quote: “Vive la revolution!”

Ziferblat!  Bless you.  Seriously, we have a coffee shop Russian Revolution happening.  Ziferblat is offering free drinks and food.  It’s not that simple, but the concept is: you pay for your time at the coffee shop.  It works out as 3p per minute or £1.80 per hour.

After opening 10 shops in Russia they are branching out and in my opinion where better than London.  The people love something new and quirky and they love being the first and boasting to their friends about the experience.

According to Vicky Baker’s article in the Guardian, Ziferblatt means clock face in Russian and German. Rather than clocking in and out of the office for work we will now be punching the clock at a coffee shop.  A new way to work, rest and pay.

Noughts and Crosses

Noughts & Crosses
By Malorie Blackman

Noughts and Crosses
Award winning Malorie Blackman writes a Romeo and Juliet tale. Two childhood sweethearts want nothing more than to be together. In a world where colour divides the two young lovers have an obstacle in their way: colour. Callum: a pale nought can never be with the dark skinned Cross, Sephy. Living in a society where colour determines class, intelligence and power Callum and Sephy struggle to overcome such prejudice.

The novel is told from the alternative viewpoints of Callum and Sephy. This, for me, is what kept the pages turning. It was each person’s experience and view of an event/conversation which was interesting. It works perfectly, showing how things can be easily misconstrued and how each misinterpretation affects the characters and in turn, the plot line.

I was surprised how simple the writing and general story was. I felt it never really went anywhere. I wanted more fight against the segregation of the noughts and Crosses. But it was very much about the relationship between Callum and Sephy and when/if they would see each other again and if they loved each other (to which the reader knows the answer) and will they die, separate or end up together? I think either finale would have felt a little disappointing for me as I wanted them (especially Sephy) to wholeheartedly rise up and revolt against her kind and really make a difference. However, it just ends.

Even though I had some mild irritation for some of the simplistic language/style it does raise an excellent awareness about racial issues. By making the couples struggle within their small, inward looking environment we do feel a sense of helplessness for the situation as the couple try to get to grips with how prejudice and oppressive their immediate and wider society is.
Malorie probably writes a more realistic version of what would happen to two lovers who were not allowed to be together because of discrimination. But I wanted to hear that they fought against it and made a difference. She deserves huge praise for bringing these issues into a novel for teens and creating an intense, passionate world.

In conclusion, I enjoyed reading about another pair of star-crossed lovers and found the racial tensions fascinating, but (and I hate to say this) I still felt a little surprised I was reading a novel by an award winning author.

It’s a Book Review. Honestly.

20140101_124844

This is the extent of my reading during the festive period.  So this is my ‘book’ review for the month.  The book, though not technically a book, as it’s a mug, sums up my December: busy writing, busy drinking tea yet not busy reading.  The author of the ‘book’ captures my life pretty well – an excellent observational statement for the modern writer.  I don’t regret my lack of reading because I have actually made the time to write and submit.  Yes submit!  All bow down.  Thank you.

Oh, I forgot; I was busy eating chocolate too.  Do I get a bow for that too?

20140101_124910