How to make a Strawberry Daiquiri

strawberry Daiquiri

Whilst we are basking in the bliss of a long hot summer, very seldom seen in the UK since, well almost never, it seemed to me that it would be good to expand our collection of cocktail recipes with a real summertime ‘Ibiza classic’ – the Strawberry Daiquiri.

Strawberry daiquiri’s have been around for a while in the more traditional form which is, essentially a regular daiquiri (rum, sugar syrup and lime juice bunged into a cocktail shaker with a handful of strawberries, muddled together, shaken with ice and strained into a martini glass.)

This is the version which is much more prevalent nowadays. It comes in the form of an icy crush and could possibly be the most refreshingly delicious summer cocktail ever.

Possibly these are best drunk in the iconic Café del Mar on Ibiza’s famous ‘sunset strip’ whilst watching the sun setting over the Mediterranean sea but if that is not an option for you at this precise moment here is how you can enjoy one in the comfort of your own home (or, preferably, hot and sunny garden!)

The only piece of specialist equipment you need is a smoothie maker.

You’ll need:
Double measure of Golden Rum (50ml) Any will do but my favourite, for all purposes, is Havana Club.
Juice of one lime
Single measure of Strawberry or Red Berry syrup. Monin is generally the standard choice. I also like Teisseire – they have a sugar free range which tastes almost identical and (alcohol aside), turns this into a relatively healthy cocktail! In the UK you can now get Teisseire products in many supermarkets. If you can’t get syrup, a small dessert spoon of strawberry jam is perfectly acceptable
4 or 5 fresh strawberries
Crushed ice.

Here’s what you do:
Pour the rum, lime juice and syrup into the smoothie maker. Remove any leaves and stalks from the berries and add them too.

Add crushed Ice. Here, you’ll have to judge the size of your smoothie jug and the glass which you are serving in. I recommend a Collins glass (a tall, slim hi-ball) with a capacity of around 350ml. You want to add sufficient ice that, once blended, the amount of cocktail fills the glass to the brim, but does not add so much ice that the drink is weak and watery (God forbid!) I generally add a good handful of ice for an initial blitz then a bit more if I judge that it is needed. After you’ve made a few you’ll get a good eye for how much to add.

Blitz it. Once the drink is a pleasing, uniform red with no chunks of ice or fruit left, pour into your waiting glass. Garnish with a strawberry or slice of lime and a straw (preferably non-plastic and biodegradeable).

Put your shades on, put your feet up and enjoy the sunset!

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So Sorry!

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It’s been a while..

Sorry that there has been a wall of radio silence for a few weeks (more like 3 months).

We have a good excuse, honest!

The day job has been quite the demanding monster for me and some other interests that I have apart from updating this fabulous organ have eaten up a good deal of time as well.

Jaimie has been (quite rightly) focussed on the final push for her degree which is now completed. She has been taking some well earned time off visiting relatives and generally sunning herself before joining the rest of us in the ‘wonderful’ world of full time work.

The good news is that we have some great content coming up.

I will be completing my series on the pleasures of watch owning for chaps with some more recommendations for you to try out. For lovers of controversy I have a couple of pieces which I am working on which should fulfil your desire for more ‘tell it like it is’ writing. It’s time to get the gloves off folks.

Jaimie has been working on a series about one of the great challenges for modern man – buying gifts for women. Seriously, how many of us are confident buyers of presents for the women in our lives? It’s a minefield and who better to give us the guidance that may well save our miserable skins than our own spy in the camp.

The sap also appears to be rising in the supernaturally good weather that we have been enjoying in the UK over the last couple of months. Jaimie tells me that whilst lazing around on sun-loungers (in high quality bikinis so I’m told) whilst quaffing her own bodyweight in prosecco she hit upon an idea for a series of articles about the art of seduction from a woman’s perspective. Jaimie’s piece about internet dating told you how to use the plethora of modern online dating resources to land a catch. This will take it to the next level. This is going to be essential reading.

See you shortly guys!

Mark

 

Wrist Candy – An Introduction To The Pleasure of Watch Wearing

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The subject of watches can be quite divisive these days for various reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, does any man actually need to wear a watch? Everyone carries a phone in their pocket which updates the time directly from the internet ether. A smart phone is as accurate as an atomic clock so why strap something to your wrist in the first place?

Secondly, does anyone really care what sort of watch you are wearing? Why bother spending possibly several thousand pounds/dollars/whatever on a watch?

Well, possibly surprisingly, watches seem to be immune to the march of cyber technology, especially with men. It is not uncommon to see young women with a bare wrist but by the time a young man pulls on his first suit for his first commute to the office, he is, more often than not, wearing a wrist watch.

Why is this? Watches are men’s jewellery. Simple as that really. Yes, there are some men who like to cover themselves in gold chains and such but for the majority, apart from a signet ring perhaps or a discrete wristlet, a watch is a guy’s chief accessory. It certainly is for me. Some women would not dream of going out without a pair of ear-rings or studs in their ears. I am the same with watches; I feel undressed without one.

But are they necessary? Well, no. Not in the sense that a pair of shoes are but do you really want to be caught checking the time on your phone when you are in an important meeting? A watch allows you to check the time with a quick and discrete twist of the wrist.

Also, a stylish (note: not necessarily expensive) wrist watch shows that you take care over details and that you care about creating the right impression. I am fortunate to own a couple of Omegas, one a 1960s vintage and the other a modern dive watch. I can vouch that wearing a high-quality watch does have a positive effect on how you feel. When you see that classy time-piece peeking out from your cuff it does feel good. It brings a little bit of class into the everyday hum-drum.

For me, there is more to it than that, especially with mechanical watches.

Back in the late 60s the watch industry faced a bit of a crisis.

Quartz watches. That is, battery powered.

Until then watches were either manually wound (my first watch when I was 5 years old, a Timex, was manually wound) or automatic, meaning that they wound themselves by means of an internal weighted rotor which rotated and wound the watch by the natural movements of the owner while the watch was being worn.

Quartz changed the landscape completely. Suddenly watches were much cheaper to manufacture, were less susceptible to going out of adjustment and only needed attention when the battery needed replacing. Many of the grand old watch manufacturing companies found themselves facing a kind of horological Armageddon.

You might expect that mechanical watches ceased to be manufactured overnight but they weren’t. Some might say that this is because there is a snobbery in watch ownership and it is that snobbery which has caused a preference for mechanical watches to endure the advent of quartz which is not only cheaper but superior in pretty much every objective way (time-keeping wise at least).

Yes, there are plenty of watch snobs around who only care about the logo on the watch face and not about what is going on behind the dial. Many others, myself included, remain fascinated at the workings of a mechanical watch. For me this started as that small boy with his first watch.

Hold a quartz watch to your ear. You will hear a dull ‘thud’ every second as the mechanism clunks around. Now hold a mechanical watch up. You will hear an intricate tick-a tick-a-tick. No electricity, just an incredibly minute, precision collection of cogs and springs turning the hands. Mechanical watches are one of the great wonders of human engineering. To fit such an intricate machine together, in such a small space which, properly regulated, keeps time to within a few seconds or so a day is a magnificent feat. That coupled with a beautifully finished case and elegant strap or metal bracelet is an endless fascination for me.

This is not to write off quartz completely. Most of the fine watch manufacturers offer quartz watches as well and, if you are not bothered about the miracle of micro engineering inside a mechanical watch, or just want to save money, quartz is a valid option. Having said that, entry to the world of automatic watches is not as expensive as you might think. Check out my recommendations below, many of which grant entry to the mechanical watch club for only a few hundred pounds.

It has got to be classy though. Just for the record, classy does not mean something the size of a dinner plate or covered in cheap bling. In fact, as a rule of thumb, if a watch has been made by a fashion house, steer clear of it (I’m looking at you, Michael Kors). Hopefully I don’t need to explain why something cheap(ish) and tacky would not mark you out as a man of taste and discernment. Not to mention the fact that you are hardly buying a quality timepiece.

I know that there is a fashion for enormous men’s watches. Watch sizes for men have increased substantially in the last decade or so. Even the luxury brands have been tweaking their design to add a bit more ‘presence’ (size) to many of their models, especially sports watches. Some at the other end of the spectrum have nothing to offer really except size. If you are going to make a statement with a watch it had better be a good one, otherwise why are you drawing attention to it?

I plan to make this a two-parter and to have a look at some of the more exotic brands in part two. For now, here is a selection of wrist-candy which will firstly fulfil the brief of keeping it classy and secondly, will not require you to go heavily into the red. I have set an arbitrary cost limit of £500. Whilst that still represents a significant outlay for many people, a quality watch will last you many years and look good in the process. It is an investment and worth saving for (or, god forbid, whipping out the plastic).

In my view you should aim, over a period of time, to develop a small but carefully chosen collection which will give you options for every dress-code. To start, I’d suggest going for a classically styled watch if you spend a lot of time in tailoring or something  a little sportier if casual is your usual attire. Nothing too flashy for a first watch – you want something that will blend seamlessly with whatever you are wearing not fight it.

If you do a manual job don’t wear your nice watch – get a ‘beater’ (if you don’t already have one) – a Casio G-Shock is the one – cheap, tough as nails and ideal for DIY days, beach days and digging the garden over.  Keep the smart timepiece for your leisure time.

So why do you need more than one watch? Well, not every watch goes with every outfit or occasion. In part 2 I’ll cover the styles which I think you should aim to have in your collection.

James Bond has done a lot to popularise the idea of the ‘Desk Diver’ – a chunky sports watch worn with everything, including tailoring – but if you are going to go down this route, the sports watch does have to be really high quality to pull it off. I’m talking Omega/Tag Heuer/Longines/Rolex here. But since we are talking more affordable options, I suggest a good, all-round option which would go just as well with jeans as your 3 piece suit. Choose well and you can get a great daily wearer which you will still be using even after you have added more exclusive brands to your collection.

Just two brands to suggest, firstly as they are both in that sweet-spot of being good quality and stylish and secondly because they offer models in that, completely arbitrary, sub £500 catagory. I’m not getting any kickbacks for recommending these; I just happen to think that they are the best your money can buy in this price range. Other makes which tick both of those boxes are available, of course but you really can’t go wrong with one of these:

Tissot  

This is a Swiss horological house with a fine and lengthy pedigree. Tissot make really quite beautiful watches at a price which leave you wondering how they manage to pull it off.  Here are a few models to consider:

Visodate Heritage

Tissot Visodate Automatic

A beautiful, classy automatic from a Swiss manufacturer for £400? Are you kidding? Not at all. This is, as you can see, an exceptionally stylish watch with a very cool 60s retro vibe. Right on the 40mm diameter sweet spot too.

Couturier Chronograph

Tissot Couturier Chrono

If you are looking for something with more modern lines and added wrist presence how about this beauty? It’s a quartz but none the worse for that. As with a lot of Tissot’s there is choice of either leather strap or metal bracelet and black or silver face. This is the nicest combo in my opinion. This is currently £340. If you can stretch to a little more the automatic version is a mere £600. Now that is one hell of a lot of watch for your money.

PRC200 Chrono

Tissot PRC200 Chrono.png Just staying on the right side of smart but retaining chunky sports credentials. This is the Quartz version. If your budget will stretch the automatic comes in at around £750 which is, quite frankly, astounding given that similar quality chrono automatics from other makers start at around double that price. This, the quartz version, is a shade under £350. Value for money? I think so. What a looker too, with various bracelet/strap/face options.

Seiko

Japanese precision and timeless style. If you are going to look outside of Switzerland, you can’t do much better (without spending several thousand quid) than this manufacturer. Like Tissot they make really high-quality watches for amazingly good prices. As well as making beautiful dress watches, Seiko are the undisputed heavyweight champions of high-quality affordable sports watches. See the last example in my list for proof.

Seiko Premier

Seiko Premier

Seriously, is this a great looking watch or what? Most of the watches in this collection come in at a little over our self-imposed £500 cut off but this just manages to stay in budget. I think we can agree that it looks much pricier than it actually is.

Seiko Pressage

Seiko Presage

A quality automatic for £340? Unbelievable. At 39mm a good choice if you have a smaller wrist or just fancy having something slightly more discrete. This is not a shouty watch but one that just oozes refinement.

Seiko Prospex

Seiko Propex Ltd Ed. 

Ok, I know that I said I wouldn’t include any big, chunky sports watches in this list but, come on, is this not a stunning watch?? £400 will get you this limited edition, automatic dive watch which, frankly, looks as good if not better than many costing several thousand. It is just shy of 44mm diameter making it a really big watch which may look better with jeans and a polo shirt than crammed under your suit sleeve but seriously, how have they made a watch this good for that money?  It’s limited edition though so hurry. If you find that they are all gone by the time that you read this check out the rest of the extensive Seiko diver range,

The Pitfalls of Internet Dating

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I’ve had in mind to write about internet dating for a little while now. It has completely changed the way that many people approach dating in a relatively short space of time and as with many new innovations there are pitfalls to be aware of.
It seemed to me that it would be especially interesting to get the woman’s eye view of internet dating as well so I asked Jaimie to give us her thoughts and you can read her article here.
I won’t deny that internet dating is a fantastically convenient way to browse prospective partners from the comfort of your own home without the anxiety inducing experience of having to approach real live women in real life with the risk (often more imagined than real) that it will all end in shame and humiliation.
I dabbled in internet dating for a period of time a few years ago. I have to say that it was a pretty frustrating experience a lot of the time (maybe it would have been different if I’d had Jaimie’s advice back then!). I went out on a few dates, met some pleasant people but didn’t find love. Having said that, I can’t say that I stuck at it for long. I think I had three goes in all, each for about 3 months or so at a time but got frustrated each time and suspended my profile.
Anyone reading this will probably recognise some if not all of these frustrations from their own experience. My motive in writing this isn’t to put men off internet dating but to highlight some of the downfalls of the experience so that newcomers to the wonderful world of online dating can manage their expectations. There are also some dangers to internet dating, even for men, which it is worth being aware of.

Catfishing
Starting with possibly the most serious issue with internet dating. If you are not familiar with the term, this is where someone deliberately creates a fake profile. There are various reasons for doing this. Sometimes there is a criminal behind it who is trying to obtain personal information or even money. There have been plenty of stories in the media of this sort of thing. Vulnerable (or gullible) people sending money to someone whom they believed they were having a relationship with, possibly so that person could travel to join them or for some other seemingly legitimate purpose, only for them to disappear with the money, never to be heard from again.
Other motivations for catfishing seem a bit more difficult to fathom. Some people are just plain nasty and want to make other people unhappy.
Red flags for this would include, various reasons for not being able to meet in person, too much detail in a profile, especially presenting an idealised view of themselves, ‘love-bombing’ i.e. being very intense very quickly and asking you for lots of information (feigning a genuine interest) whilst being slow to give out anything about themselves.
If you start getting suspicious about an interaction which you are having, you might find this site a useful resource.

Kitten fishing
This is much more common and not usually motivated by malice. It is, in a sense, ‘catfishing lite’ and is where someone is not pretending to be someone else but is presenting an image of themselves which is so ‘positively managed’ that it bears little resemblance to reality.
I have ranted more than once about the tendency for a lot of people to present an overly air-brushed image of themselves and their life on social media. This is the internet dating expression of that tendency. If these people were selling cars rather than dating they would get into serious hot water with trading standards authorities.
The sort of thing that constitutes kitten-fishing is using very old pictures, pictures of their head only – nothing full length, lies about interests, careers, and so on.
Unlike cat-fishing, no real harm is likely to come from this but it is bloody annoying. The best policy is probably to arrange to have a conversation with someone on the phone before arranging to meet. Even then, you are not guaranteed to spot the fake.
I had some experience of this. I was messaging a woman who seemed pleasant enough and arranged to meet her for coffee one lunch time (a very good strategy for a first meet – see below). I should have been suspicious about the only photo on her profile – it was a very close cropped picture of her face, not even her whole head. Anyway, about 30 minutes before we were due to meet I received a text from her saying “just to say, I am a size 16 and don’t want to waste your time if you would prefer not to meet”. I don’t normally go for large girls but, I thought, size 16 (UK) isn’t really huge and I have known some very sexy women over the years who would fit into that size bracket. No problem, I responded, lets just go for coffee and see how we get on.
I arrived at the coffee shop first and as I was waiting in the queue I texted her to ask what she would like. She responded saying that she was just walking up to the door. Anyway, a woman came in and I didn’t recognise her at first from the photo. It took a few seconds for it to sink in that this was, indeed, my date.
Size 16? Not by any measure known to me. The woman was at least a size 22 (and I am being kind here). She was wearing one of those elasticated waist skirts which is about all you can wear when you are morbidly obese. She had lank shoulder length hair which looked like it had not been washed in a couple of days and not a scrap of makeup. Notwithstanding the subterfuge about her size I was mildly offended that she had apparently made no effort over her appearance to come out on a date (even if it was just coffee). Just for the record, I had made an effort. No makeup though, you understand.
I could have turned on my heel and just walked out but I decided to have coffee and leave it at that. I was, however, pretty pissed off. Fortunately, the experience only cost me a few pounds and a wasted lunch break. It did make me more cautious about fixing up dates though.
The corollary of this is that you too should avoid dishonesty in your own profile. Yes, you might get a date or two with women that you otherwise wouldn’t but it will not go well for you.

Paying for the date v going ‘Dutch’
This is an issue uniquely for heterosexual men I think. We all know, I think, that tradition dictates that, on a first date, the man should pick up the bill. In general terms I have no problem with this principle. I know that I am regarded by those who know me as being fairly generous with my money, first to the bar to buy a round and all that sort of thing.
The problem with internet dating, like every other aspect of modern life where technology is involved, is that it speeds everything up. If you were dating, old school, by going out in the evenings and meeting people and getting a phone number and then arranging a date later on, even if you were a prolific dater you would struggle to line up as many dates as you can with internet dating.
During my first go with a dating site I got three or four dates a month for two or three months. Now, if you take each one of those dates out for ‘a bite to eat and a drink’, even if you are keeping it reasonable, you know, pizza’s and a bottle of wine with a drink at the bar afterwards you are still looking at quite an outlay if you are going on a first date once a week and you are paying for it.
Now this is not a problem if you are reasonably affluent. I wasn’t at the time and I wrestled with my wish to be a gentleman and pay the bill and my dwindling bank balance. In fairness, most women offered to go halves or at least get drinks after food. There was one though, spent the whole evening with me and never offered to pay for a damn thing. Needless to say, there was no second date.
When I had my second go at internet dating I hit upon the idea of dispensing with evening dates altogether initially. I recommend that you do the same thing too. I would invite the prospective partner to meet me at a coffee shop at lunch time.
This approach has several benefits.
Firstly, it is time limited. If you are just not feeling it you can politely bail out when the coffees have been drunk. Secondly, it is only going to cost the price of a coffee and a sandwich or piece of cake. Thirdly, it is less intense than an evening out so it takes the pressure off for both of you. If you are meeting at a weekend you can introduce a fake time-limit to get you out of there if you need to. Tell her that you are sorry but you need to be away by 2pm for something you have been dumped with (use your imagination). Then, if you are really getting on well you can go off to make a ‘phone call’ to get out of your other commitment. She will feel pleased that you have broken your other commitment to spend time with her. Smooth huh?

Sex dating
Some people don’t want to date for romantic reasons but still want to have sex. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you are honest about your motivations (as well as your marital status). Fortunately, there are a number of sites which cater for this, *ahem* ‘specific’ requirement. If you are after a friend with benefits without the emotional entanglements, a quick search on Google (other search engines are available) will reveal that you are well served. Some of these sites are more, shall we say, salubrious than others.
Sex dating brings with it it’s own risks and considerations. Look, I won’t drone on about safe sex – you are grown ups and you can take responsibility for your own sexual health. Other considerations are:
• There are far more men than women on these sites. That means that the girls can have their pick of the litter and there are quite a few frustrated men. Women who have used these sites tell me that they can get more messages a day than they can possibly keep up with. As a guy, unless, you are ridiculously hot, you’ll be lucky to get any. Expect to have to make all of the running with a low message to response conversion rate.
• Most sites allow you to join for free but you have to pay the membership fee to read or send messages. If you go free to start with you will get messages from very hot women which you can’t open until you pay the subs. When you have joined you will find that these are not real women (usually). The sites would, of course, strongly deny that they were behind this and that this is just a cynical way of getting men to pay up a subscription fee.
• You are much more likely to get laid if you are in shape. Sorry to be blunt, but if you are fat and/or over 45 your chances of getting a hook-up diminish dramatically.

Paid vs free sites
I’m quite a fan of not paying for something if you can get it for free. Who isn’t? So why would you pay to join an internet dating site when you could join a free one?
Well, in the case of internet dating, my view is that it is money well spent. Why? Well, and this is going to sound snobbish, but the mere fact that you have to pay to join a site immediately filters out a high proportion of low-rent daters.

If you need convincing, have a little browse on Plenty of Fish (free) and then Match.com (paid). You will see what I mean. If, on the other hand, Burberry-check baseball caps, huge hoop ear-rings and pet pit-bull terriers called ‘Tyson’ are your thing, why pay more?

How (And Why) To Get Into Jazz

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In this article, I want to tell you a bit about why I consider jazz to be the greatest music on the planet and, if you are not a fan yet, why you should be. At the bottom of the post you’ll find six album suggestions to help you jump in and discover what you’ve been missing!

People who are not jazz fans often have very polarised views about what jazz is. On the one hand you have those who perceive it as being very cool but somewhat incomprehensible. Sharp suited hipsters in shades – some cool dude blowing on a tenor sax (the coolest instrument ever invented), dark and sexy clubs with intimate booths and cocktail waitresses. That sort of thing.

On the other hand, jazz can be regarded as an anachronistic form of music listened to by people who don’t really like it but who are too up themselves to admit it. Remember ‘The Fast Show’ spoof of a late night jazz TV show? “Nice!” That sketch very cleverly tapped into what most people probably imagine jazz is about. Completely incomprehensible, elitist twaddle. Why the hell would you want to get into that?

I have to declare an interest here – I am a jazz fan and have been for almost all of my adult life, having gotten into it through an earlier love of jazz-funk and the purchase of a saxophone when I was in my early 20s.

With those many years of listening, I have to tell you, The Fast Show sketch was not completely wrong. There is a percentage of jazz (not a large percentage, but it is there, nonetheless) which is hard to listen to and very difficult to get into. The music of certain players like, for instance, Anthony Braxton would never be recommended listening for somebody taking their first tentative steps into exploring this sort of music.

Unfortunately, though,  it tends to be the stuff on the edges of listenability which gets focussed on by jazz detractors. Jazz though is a very broad church and as a genre is very varied. For every 15 minute long free-jazz solo by a combo consisting of bass clarinet, sitar and re-purposed air-raid siren, there are a few dozen beautiful recordings by consummate musicians which will provoke, delight and soothe.

Nobody would suggest that death metal is representative of rock music as a whole and there are plenty who would describe themselves as devoted rock fans who find death metal unlistenable. So it is with jazz.

So why bother getting into jazz? Why not just keep listening to pop or whatever. Well, firstly, you can! Nobody said that you have to give up listening to chart music if that is your bag, I just want to encourage you to widen your horizons and try some new sounds which you might find that you like.

Jazz can be an acquired taste but, like most things in this life which are worthwhile, it is a taste worth acquiring. I liken it to reading a novel. If you pick up a book by James Patterson, for example, you will probably find it a very easy read and an acceptable way of passing a few hours on your sun lounger.

If, instead, you were to pick up a book by, say, Kazuo Ishiguro or Margaret Atwood or Angela Carter, you would probably find that book a bit more challenging. It may require something from you but once you have adjusted to interacting with the authors ideas rather than being a passive sponge, you will find a level of enjoyment and fulfilment which you will not find in the easier book. Superior literature stays with you. It enriches you and your life experience, and there is nothing weird or elitist about that.

Jazz is the much same. Some people point to jazz soloing as being in some way ‘self-indulgent’. You had might as well accuse a painter of being self indulgent for using a very large canvass or a chef of being self indulgent for using an exotic ingredient. In order to explore and communicate musical ideas which go beyond the audience-baiting 8-bar solo, you need room to stretch out. You also need mastery of your instrument and the ability to compose an engaging solo spontaneously. Make no mistake, if you want to hear the highest levels of musicianship, look no further than jazz.

If there is a drawback to getting onto jazz it is that other music can sometimes seem a bit lame and predictable by comparison. Jazz is always about spontaneous reinterpretation and reinvention. Feeling like modern pop is a bit lacking in sincerity? Jazz is the antidote.

So, bearing in mind that jazz can be an acquired taste, how do you go about acquiring it?

Well, I think that the best way is to listen to jazz which incorporates areas or music which you may already be familiar with and, therefore, be comfortable with. Jazz has always borrowed liberally from other sources and absorbed those influences as well as being an influence on other forms of music. Spend a little time listening and you will hear a lot of blues, funk, soul, and rock in jazz music. I’ll bet that if you spend a bit of time with the albums which I suggest below that you will find a lot more that feels familiar than you might expect, but with a fresh twist which will hopefully excite your ears and prompt some further exploration.

These days with streaming services such as ‘Napster’ or the high fidelity service ‘Tidal’ (which I heartily recommend) you can try music out without having to buy CDs or downloads. There are also curated playlists on both services which will introduce you to a lot of different artists and their music and I recommend this as well for broadening your horizons.

In the meantime though, here are some suggestions of albums which I recommend you give a try. There is nothing here which should scare you. All of these selections would go well with a chilled evening in or a lazy Sunday morning. If you like one particularly, use it as a springboard for further exploration, other albums by that artist or suggestions from your chosen streaming service for things you might like as well.

KB
‘Midnight Blue’ – Kenny Burrell
The period from the 50s to early 60s was something of a golden age for jazz. This 1963 cut by guitar master Burrell is on almost every essential list that you can find. It is very ‘late night blues’ with catchy themes and elegant, unfussy improvisation. Oh – and it has the tenor sax legend Stanley Turrentine on it too. Definitely your first port of call.

lee-morgan-sidewinder
‘The Sidewinder’ – Lee Morgan
Another early 60s Album. This is probably the most famous ‘soul jazz’ recording which was wildly popular at the time and is still fantastically listenable. The title track was a hit in the pop charts and the band features some of the best musicians you will ever hear. The featured sax player on this album is Joe Henderson, one of the greatest players to ever pick up a saxophone. If you like his playing on this check out his own stellar debut album ‘Page One‘.

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‘The Look of Love’ – Diana Krall
God, I love Diana Krall. She is the consummate jazz performer, a monster piano player and a voice like smoky single malt whiskey. I could have picked any of her albums for this – I love them all – but this is a great introduction. It is an album of ‘ballads and bossas’ (bossa novas), with an orchestra supporting her own jazz combo. Lush strings, exquisite playing and singing. If you put this on when you have a special friend around for the evening and you don’t score, you really are doing something wrong. If you love this, check out her other albums. ‘Quiet Nights’ is an album of similar material and is just as satisfying as this set.

chet
‘Chet Baker Sings’ – Chet Baker
Another great album for romancing to. Chet Baker is the archetypical drugs-related jazz tragedy. In his youth he was achingly cool – slim, handsome and stylish. He was also an extraordinarily gifted musician, being able to find his way faultlessly through complex chord progressions entirely by ear. His solos, whether sung or with his trumpet’s gentle tone are masterpieces of melodic construction. As with quite a few jazz geniuses Chet had issues which led to drug abuse and an untimely end. At least we are left with the legacy of his incredible music.

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‘Go!’ – Dexter Gordon
Dexter Gordon is the quintessential jazz saxophonist. His playing is replete with melody, humour, invention and power; his tone full and warm. This set is widely regarded as his finest collection but check out his Ballads album. It is utterly wonderful.

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‘Kind of Blue’ – Miles Davis
This is the one. Probably the greatest jazz album ever. The players are like a roll-call of jazz legends: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, ‘Cannonball’ Adderley, Paul Chambers, Bill Evans, Jimmy Cobb. As the title suggests, the blues is the golden thread running through this album. Miles was experimenting with a concept called ‘modal jazz’ where the focus shifted from the rapidly changing chords which jazz had become known for to a much more static harmony. This fact, along with the moderate tempos, not to mention the dream-like piano playing gives the album a hypnotic quality. Few albums are genuinely indispensable. This is one that is. It has influenced myriad artists which came afterward from jazz, classical, rock and pop. You need this music in your life.

#METOO – Has It Become A Witch-Hunt?

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There are certain activities which most people would say are simply asking for trouble. Walking across a shooting range in the US bible-belt wearing a T-Shirt with “Gay Vegan Muslims For Hillary” written on it would be such an activity.

Another such activity would be a white, middle aged man writing a piece about the movement most commonly known by the hash-tag #METOO (also referred to as #WHYWEWEARBLACK and #TIMESUP). Well, I’m about to put that t-shirt on and start walking. No, not the Hillary t-shirt, the other one.

In case you have been on Mars for the last few months, this is the movement against sexual abuse and harassment in the film industry which started with a raft of allegations being made against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Other famous names have been toppling in his wake, like a row of high-profile dominos.

Men in Hollywood must be shitting themselves every time they check their Twitter feed.

Let’s get a few things absolutely clear from the outset:

  • Sexual abuse and harassment are awful and profoundly wrong, as is any abuse of power. It is also (in many cases) a criminal offence
  • There has been a culture of fear and silence in many ‘industries’ since time immemorial and it is excellent news and long overdue that this is being challenged and wrong-doers called to account.
  • It has taken a lot of bravery from some women to speak out about such entrenched practices.
  • A lot of people have been hurt, physically and mentally and, no doubt, many careers ruined.

I, personally, have been horrified but not particularly surprised by what I have heard about this problem over the last 6 months or so. In the UK the (formerly) revered entertainer and broadcaster Jimmy Saville was revealed, after his death, to have been a voracious predatory paedophile. He got away with it for 5 decades or so.

In the middle of the feeding frenzy it is important to bear certain things in mind especially if we, in the west, are going to hold ourselves out as civilised.

Any allegations of abuse (unless obviously false or malicious) must be taken seriously and looked into but that is not the same as assuming that they are true. An allegation is not the same as a proven fact.

In most developed legal systems there is a principle that the burden of proving that something happened falls on the person who is making the allegation. In other words, if someone is making an allegation they need to show to the required standard of ‘proof’ that it happened. In civil cases, this means on the balance of probabilities (it being more likely than not that the thing happened.) In criminal cases, the allegation needs to be proved beyond reasonable doubt (that is, a reasonable person would, having heard the evidence, have no doubt of the culprits guilt). This is the position in the UK. I believe that it is similar in the US Courts and, indeed throughout western civilisation.

What this means, in practice, is that someone who wishes to sue someone else or a prosecutor bringing a criminal case must show, with evidence, that the defendant is guilty/liable. They have to satisfy the ‘burden of evidence’.

What we seem to be seeing here is that burden being reversed. Instead of the accusers having to make out a case, with sufficient detail to enable a proper response, we are seeing those accused of these horrible things having to ‘prove’ that they are innocent. There seems to be a presumption that if an allegation is made, it must be based in fact.

This is profoundly wrong. Yes, so is sexual abuse and harassment but two wrongs do not make a right.

An alleged abuser should be confronted with specific allegations of what they are supposed to have done and be given an opportunity to respond, through the correct channels. What is happening at the moment is that allegations are being made to the media and there is an instant assumption that there is ‘no smoke without fire’. The media, always keen for a bit of scandal, love it.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not a Trumpite (far from it: the guy is a complete tool) denouncing everything as ‘Fake News’ but ‘Trial by Media’ is very problematic. It usually leads to allegations being sensationalised by people who have an agenda to sell more newspapers or get better ratings and, more importantly, makes it less likely that a fair trial can follow if criminal charges are brought.

To be sure, there is a balance to be struck. The press has a duty to ‘speak truth to power’ and part of that is exposing wrong-doing and abuse, in whatever form that may take. There is also a duty to be balanced and to give a platform to those who have been accused to respond (if they wish to). I’m not sure that the balance is being achieved currently.

The whole thing feels like it is turning into some sort of kangaroo court with a  lynch-mob, foaming at the mouth, looking to drag any man off to the gallows on just the mention of an allegation against them, regardless of that man’s version of events or the presence or otherwise of any corroboration for the allegations.

I know it’s not just me who is a bit concerned about this. There have been two high profile interventions in the last couple of weeks or so. The first one, by a group of prominent French Women, most notably the actress Catherine Deneuve, decries the notion that men should never ‘come on to’ a woman (in the old fashioned rather than pornographic sense). It is an interesting intervention and one which is, undoubtedly, informed somewhat by the rather mediterranean mind-set that men are expected to be men – meaning a bit of ‘tactile flirting’ is to be expected, even welcomed by a red-blooded gallic woman. It goes a quite a bit further than most, like me, with Anglo-Saxon sensibilities would be comfortable with, even suggesting that repeated attempts to plant a kiss or touch a knee are nothing to get in a froth about. Hmmm…

In response to which I hear the scream “WHAT ABOUT CONSENT?!!!” Well, quite.

More recently Liam Neeson has also stuck his head out of the trench to ask precisely the question which I pose with the title of this article. Celebrated writer Margaret Atwood has also added a cautionary note for which she has received a lot of criticism from some feminist circles

Now, I like to be clear about what words or phrases mean. How very lawyerly of me.

The Collins English Dictionary says:

“A witch-hunt is an attempt to find and punish a particular group of people who are being blamed for something, often simply because of their opinions and not because they have actually done anything wrong.” 

The last bit is quite important here.

Back in the day, as most people know, supposed witches were arrested on the merest whiff of suspicion and summarily executed, often in pretty gruesome ways. Remind you of anything?

People, men in particular, seem paralysed with fear about speaking out against this ‘guilty unless you can prove you are innocent’ mentality which seems to be taking over.  Hardly anyone seems to be willing to suggest that there should be any right of reply or, god forbid, any sort of due-process (something which Americans in particular are normally quite keen on).

Before the recent Golden Globes (2018) ceremony actress Evan Rachel Wood (who?) suggested that victims at the ceremony should grab other people in the room and form a circle around abusers. Are you fucking kidding me?! This is without that person even being confronted with details of what they are supposed to have done and being given an opportunity to respond. Is anyone still willing to suggest that this is not becoming a witch-hunt?

Let’s also not forget the impact that allegations will have, unproven or otherwise. Films have been hastily re-shot to excise actors who have allegations hanging over them. I suspect that most of these people will never work in the industry again. Because of the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ attitude which seems to be prevailing currently, any allegation against an actor is likely to make them instantly toxic as far as the film studios are concerned. Boom. Game over. Even if those allegations do eventually get tested out and that person manages to clear their name the damage is already done.

As if to prove my point, on the very day that I publish this article this little gem of news about Woody Allen hits the BBC website. Dylan Farrow, adoptive daughter of Mia Farrow alleges that Allen abused her when she was a little girl. Ok, so far that is old news. That allegation has been out in the wild for a few years. Crucially, the allegation has been investigated by the police who have not brought any charges against Allen. As I say, old news. Ms Farrow, however, clearly feels the winds of fate have changed and she is enlisting the full help of the #METOO movement to ‘bring him down’ (her words, not mine). Well, at least she is being honest about her intentions I suppose.

What has changed now is this attitude that someone is guilty unless proven innocent and anyone associating with that person is in some way condoning or supporting their behaviour. Look at the reaction of the two rather callow actors who appeared in his latest film ‘A Rainy Day in New York’: they are both donating their fee to charity and expressing regret for deciding to appear in the film.

Just to recap – this is an allegation that has been investigated by the police and insufficient evidence found to charge, yet members of the film industry are already pulling away from Allen and trying to distance themselves from him and his work as if he has already been tried and convicted.

OK, bringing a criminal prosecution requires that the allegation must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. Quite a tough hurdle. So why then does Farrow not bring a civil case against Allen, you know sue him in that good ole’ fashioned American way? She would only have to show that he molested her ‘on the preponderance of the evidence’ (i.e. that it is, on balance, more likely that the thing happened than not). Not a huge evidential hurdle to cross, yet she does not do it. If she felt that she could make out a case she would have issued it, surely? It seems likely that she would have taken legal advice about her chances of success doesn’t it? On that basis is it unreasonable perhaps to conclude that  she has decided that she cannot even raise the evidence to stand a reasonable prospect of bringing a successful civil claim against Allen?

So what happens? #METOO gets the incredible traction that it has in the last few months. Nobody wants to be tainted by allegations about somebody else and people start distancing themselves from the accused to protect themselves thereby helping to taint even destroy the reputation of men who have not had an allegation proved against them, to any standard of proof.

And so Dylan Farrow gets her shot at destroying Woody Allen all without having to set foot in a court of law and have her claims properly tested out.

You could say “well why doesn’t Woody Allen sue her for defamation (libel) if the allegations are untrue” and yes, he could if he wanted but that is missing the point. He shouldn’t have to do that for people not to just assume that he is guilty. In America this is known as ‘misplacing the burden of proof’ which is a legal fallacy arising from the false assumption that something is true unless it can be proved otherwise.

You would think that in America, a country well known for it’s love of litigation, this simple principle would be well understood.

If you look at the BBC article again you will see that Alec Baldwin is the only one in the Farrow/Allen business who has correctly assessed the situation. Unfortunately he and others like him are very much in the minority currently.

Trial by media may give instant satisfaction but, as we all know, is not exactly subject to rules of evidence. In the current instance, with the amount of somewhat sensationalised media coverage which is reaching saturation point, the prospect of ‘miscarriages of justice’ seems very likely.

Look, lots of nasty predators are going to get their comeuppance. Good. Is it worth the careers and reputations of some who are innocent just to drag everybody off to the gallows and ‘let god sort it’ out though? I hope the answer to that question is self-evident.

Innocent until proven guilty. It’s a good place to start from.

How To Make A Cosmopolitan Cocktail

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The last in my little flurry of classic cocktail posts for a while and just in time for New Years Eve!

Don’t forget to check out my recipes for the Amaretto Sour and Espresso Martini.

This is an all time classic. It is commonly thought of as being a girls drink, possibly because of being featured regularly on ‘Sex and The City’ but also because, properly made, it has a delicate baby-pink colour. It is a cracking drink though, whatever gender you are, so don’t be put off if you are an alpha-guy!

This cocktail originates from the 1980’s and is one of the few decent cocktails from that time that style forgot.

The key thing to have in mind when making this is that it is a blend of citrus flavours. It is NOT about cranberry juice. Yes, there is a tiny dash of cranberry in it but that is just there to provide the pink colour. If you can taste any cranberry in the drink or if it is red rather than pale pink you’ve put too much in.

The three citrus flavours come from lemon flavoured vodka, triple sec (an orange flavoured liqueur) and fresh lime juice. I have specified specific spirits but you can use alternative brands if you like. Note though that the vodka must be lemon flavoured or you are missing the whole point.

This is another twist on the basic ‘sour’ (see my post on the Amaretto Sour) and along with the ‘Bramble’ and ‘Aviation’ cocktails is one of my very favourite sours drinks. The Triple Sec provides the sweetness to offset the sourness from the lime so no need for sugar syrup as in a regular sour. The cranberry is just window dressing.

Here’s what you need:
Double measure (50ml) of Absolut Citron Vodka
Single measure (25ml) of Cointreau
Single measure (25ml) of fresh lime juice
A small splash (half a measure or 15ml) of cranberry juice
Strip of orange peel to garnish.
Optional: a couple of shakes of Orange Bitters
Cocktail Shaker
Ice
Martini glass

Here’s what you do:

Put a fistful of ice in the shaker. Chill the glass(es) at the same time with a few cubes of ice and a small slop of cold water (better still keep a couple of martini glasses in the freezer at all times, as I do!)

Measure out and pour in the spirits and lime juice. Add the orange bitters if you like (they intensify the flavours a little) and the give the whole lot a really good shake.

Empty the glass (or take it from the freezer) and carefully strain the cocktail in to it. Add a good twist of orange peel to garnish and serve.

Having Children – What they Don’t Tell You

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Anyone who uses Facebook will surely have noticed how many deliriously happy parents there are.

As a lot of parents will attest, this photoshopped dream of parenthood seems strangely to be something which happens to other people and not them. This is not to say that having children is continual, unremitting misery and hardship, just that there is hardly ever any balance in the reporting. The hard stuff is seldom mentioned and if it is it is quickly swept away with a breezy comment: “but he looks so angelic when he does, eventually, go to sleep!”

People generally do not post pictures on Facebook of their red-faced child screaming at 3am in the morning

If you have a close enough relationship to friends with kids where you can be real with each other you will often get a different viewpoint. Whilst many would not change their decision to have children, that rose-tinted ideal has often given way to a rather more hard-edged reality.

Part of the problem is that it is still something of a taboo to admit that you are struggling with parenthood, that you are finding it unrewarding or that you are questioning the decision in the first place. You would probably get a more favourable response if you expressed the view that drink driving should be legalised.

For some people, maybe the majority, this really is the most fulfilling thing that they have done with their lives. For others, who may be feeling guilty and inadequate for feeling that this is not the 24-hour joy-ride which they were sold on, there is nothing for it but to grit their teeth, get through it and drink wine in the evenings.

What drives the guilt and feelings of inadequacy is this sugar-coated fantasy of perfect family lives which is rammed down our throats every day. It is supposed to be wonderful so what is wrong with me if I am not loving every minute?

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If there was a bit of reality about parenting parents wouldn’t feel that they are unable to talk about their own experience with honesty.

The first thing that needs to be acknowledged is that not everyone is cut out for parenthood and that fact does not make them somehow inferior. A childless, mature couple are often viewed either with pity or suspicion and find themselves having to explain why they are childless. Why is this?

Here are some other facts which ought to be acknowledged as well:

• Children are not a ‘tabula rasa’ (blank slate) when they are born, whatever Plato thought. The DNA ‘lucky dip’ has a significant impact on a child’s personality and behaviour. Yes, parenting can modify the outcome to some extent, but the raw materials will stay the same, exerting their pull. If you doubt this speak to any parent who has parented consistently but ended up with one child who was an angel from the get go and another who is an evil little sod. I know plenty of them, personally and professionally.
• It is relentless, EXHAUSTING, hard work. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. The best way to imagine the impact on your lifestyle is to envisage being a carer for a severely disabled adult who needs you to do everything for them. Then imagine doing that and trying to fit it around the rest of the stuff that you normally do: work, chores, hobbies, socialising. Apart from the size differential, this is what it is like. If you have willing parents yourself, you might get the odd weekend off or evening out but it starts up again right after that. If you have a demanding child this can sap you like nothing else.
• Children don’t do lie-ins.
• Holidays. These have to become child-friendly straight away. No boozy evenings on the town or spending the whole day tanning and drinking cocktails. No adventure holidays. When the kid gets to school age you will have to book during school holiday time. Be prepared for the massive hike in cost. Again, if your child is demanding, a holiday often doesn’t seem much like a holiday. It’s more of a case of same shit, different location.
• Schools. You are going to love the attitude that schools have. Sorry if you happen to be a teacher but I have found that schools generally take absolutely no account of a parent’s other commitments, personal or professional. They say ‘jump’ and you are expected to ask “how high?”
• Your friendship group tends to change and you spend more time with other parents. You will then find that virtually the sole topic of conversation with a lot of these people is their children. It’s like they have nothing else in their life.
• The expense. Don’t even get me started.. Oh, all right then, do. Every item of equipment costs a bloody fortune and you cannot buy a cheaper alternative you cheapskate because it is for your own child. Even if the kid will only be in the push-chair for a year it has to cost as much as a new flat-screen TV for some reason. Shoes for a toddler that cost as much as a new pair of top-brand trainers (sneakers) for yourself. You’ll be needing a family-wagon car too. It is astounding how much stuff you have to take with you when you go out for half a day with a 2 month old baby. It’s more than you used to take for both of you for a long weekend away.
• If you are a clean freak, you’d better start learning some coping strategies for when the child becomes mobile. ‘Pre-ambulant’ children (i.e. the ones that have not yet learned to crawl) make enough mess but at least it is confined to the area where they are. Once they learn to crawl and then walk you will, despite yourself, be impressed at just how much destruction it is possible to wreak in a short period of time. Shit – sometimes the real stuff – over everything (and before you tell me that I am exaggerating can I just mention that one of my children had a habit of taking off his nappy as soon as he had soiled it and then smearing the contents over everything. Carpets had to be thrown out etc. This went on for about a year.)
• Having a child in the house can cause havoc with your sex life. Apart from the exhaustion, the mess and those baby-smells, carrying a baby for 9 months and pushing something that big out of a small opening causes physical changes. Sometimes permanent ones.
• Temper tantrums. These generally begin somewhere between 18 months and 2 years and can go on for a good couple of years. Just when you have begun to forget how awful these can be the kid starts puberty and they start up again – with bells on.
• Here is the kicker – you may go through all of this willingly in the expectation that once the child has grown up they will become a wonderful, well-adjusted individual who will become a life-long best friend. I am very sorry to tell you that your sacrifice and unconditional love does not guarantee that you will be loved and respected in return. Trust me on this. Some kids are selfish, entitled little sods who grow up into selfish, entitled adults who you will rarely, if ever, hear from unless they want a handout.

As I said earlier, I am putting my head on the block by stating this stuff. Some people would no doubt say that I am a monster for writing these things and that I have completely ignored the lovely bits of being a parent.

There are lovely bits for sure although the frequency of these will vary from child to child, but that wasn’t the purpose of writing this. You can find eulogies to the delights of raising a child all over the place. That’s part of the problem. Hardly anybody is giving the other side so that informed decisions can be made. Now I have.

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How to Make an Amaretto Sour

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Clearly, I’m on a roll with the cocktail posts – two on the same day!

I wanted to get this posted since it is still the holiday season and this is, firstly, a very Christmassy drink. Secondly, it is possibly the easiest cocktail to make ever and, thirdly, it is stupendously good.

The basic ‘sour’ is the foundation of a huge number of classic cocktails; Gin Sour, Whisky Sour, Margarita, Daiquiri etc etc. The list goes on and on. It is a simple and perfect equation – equally balanced sweetness with a citrusy sour kick and a big hit of alcohol.

For most sours, this equation needs three components: the spirit, lemon or lime juice and sugar syrup. I like a balance of 5 parts booze, 3 parts citrus, 2 parts syrup. Certain spirits work best with lemon juice: gin and whisky for example and others, rum and tequila for instance, work best with lime. Once you understand these basic principles you are well on your way to having a good working knowledge of cocktail making since so many drinks are built from these foundations.

This sour makes things even simpler. There are only two ingredients: Amaretto and lemon juice.

How so? Well, the amaretto is already sweet so there is no need to add further sugar to the mix. How easy is that?! You don’t even need to shake this drink – you build it straight into the glass.

Here’s what you do:
Take a rocks glass. Put a small handful of ice cubes in it. Pour in a double measure of Amaretto (I like Disaronno) or a little more if you are feeling cheeky. 50ml
Juice a small lemon (or half a huge one) and pour that in. Around 35ml if you want to be precise.

Swirl it around with a bar spoon for a few seconds to chill it down. If it is a bit sour for your taste add a little splash more of amaretto (because why not?!)

If you are serving this for someone else and want to emphasise your mixologist credentials you might wish to garnish with a good twist of lemon peel.

Be warned – this drink is very moreish!

How to make an Espresso Martini

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OK, so with New Years Eve rapidly approaching I decided it was time to write another cocktail post – the second in my series ‘cocktails that a discerning gentleman should be able to make.’ Obviously as it’s only the second cocktail themed post it hardly constitutes a series just yet but bear with me!

I believe that any guy who aspires to sophistication or even just give a girl the impression that he is a step or two above the regular knuckle-draggers, needs to have a small repertoire of cocktails that he can make competently when the occasion arises. When said girl is sitting expectantly on his sofa, for example.

This little beauty was invented back in the 1980s by British cocktail guru Dick Bradsell. Like a few cocktails, this one has a good story attached.

The tale goes that a certain supermodel went into the Soho Brasserie where DB was working. When he asks her what she would like to drink she replies: “make me something which will wake me up, then fuck me up!” Like all the best stories, there is some dispute about the details, in this case who the model in question was but let’s not let that detain us. This is a kick-ass drink. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether Dick Bradsell successfully fulfilled his client’s brief.

Here is what you will need:
Double measure of vodka (50ml)
Single measure of Kahlua or equivalent coffee liqueur (25ml)
A good half measure of sugar syrup (15ml) or a heaped teaspoon of sugar (preferably brown but white will do)
A coffee machine which can produce a single shot of espresso
Cubed ice
A cocktail shaker
A martini or coupe glass.
Coffee beans to garnish (optional)

Here’s what you do:
Put a fistful of ice into your shaker. Measure out and pour in your vodka, Kahlua and sugar syrup. Brew your shot of espresso and tip that straight in – yes, hot from the machine – no need to let it cool.

Shake the hell out of it for not less than 15 seconds. It needs that long to chill it right down and produce the foamy head on the drink. Immediately strain the drink carefully into your waiting glass.

If you’ve done it right the drink will be a rich ebony in colour with a thick, foamy head on it – a bit like a well poured Guinness.

Garnish with three coffee beans. I usually maintain that the garnish of a cocktail is integral to the overall experience of the drink but in this case it looks so great anyway that you could get away without the beans. If you have some – use them though.