Adagio Teas: Christmas Collection*

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I love a Christmas tea! They’ve become a huge deal in recent years (I remember when I wrote a blog exclusively about tea a few years ago, they were few and far between- and often samey. Not so now!) and there’s a tea for every taste.

Adagio Teas sent me a selection of their winter teas and gifts (as well as a cute red teapot to brew them all up in!) to try. Of course, ever the professional, I made it a mission to try them all. It’s a hard life.

First up, I tried the simply named Christmas on my commute to work. On the surface, this is a traditional Christmas tea, flavoured with spices and orange- but! There’s a surprise! Underneath the usual festive flavours, there’s a smoky hint. I’m not usually a fan of smoky teas, but here it works to balance out the other flavours. It’s a real winter warmer and perfect for chilly mornings.

I was sent the Stocking Stuffer (cute mini tins of loose tea) and Holiday Cheer (30 teabags) sets, which each include six of Adagio’s holiday teas. There’s also a Christmas tea sample box, which I’ve found handy for work tea breaks.

  • Chestnut tea is my favourite of the holiday teas- it combines the nutty flavour of chestnut with a comforting dose of caramel; it’s definitely a sweet treat!
  • Pumpkin Spice is more subtle and slightly sweeter than other pumpkin teas I’ve tried. It’s my current morning ‘go-to’ first thing.
  • Candy Apple is cute! It’s sweet and I love it for my afternoon treat! The Ceylon base is the perfect base for a show-stopping apple and caramel blend (my house also smells of this after I’ve made a cup. Perfect!)
  • Gingerbread tea is exactly as you expect, although a bit lighter than other gingerbread teas I’ve tried- but that’s not a criticism! It’s a warming blend that is a perfect early evening blend.
  • Candy Cane tea is an interesting blend! Black tea with sweet peppermint is refreshing and great after lunch, but don’t add milk. That’d be a bit weird.
  • Cranberry tea- this is great, although I’ll admit I was a bit wary at first! The cranberry works really well with the black tea (although best without milk) and makes a great change to the usual Christmas flavours.

If you’re a caffeine-free fan, I can recommend Yuletide Toddy, a fruit infusion with cranberry, orange and cinnamon- it works very nicely with a quick splash of brandy or spiced rum! I also really enjoyed Rooibos Nutcracker as a bedtime drink; it’s a blend of fruits, nuts, spices and caramel and I’m thinking about how I can mix it up as a latte…

Want to win some festive goodies from Adagio? Check out my Instagram for a great Christmas giveaway!

 

*sent for review

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Bluebird Tea Co. Summer Teas

Ah, tea! Is it the last thing on your heat-sozzled mind right now? I get you. But I am going to brave your frazzled mind and discuss a few new teas that might just help you right now. Trust me. I own a Batman mug:

Nananananana @bluebirdteaco This year’s summer offerings from Bluebird are super strong and, quite frankly, an utter delight. Behold:

Also excited (as is Fernando the flamingo) about @bluebirdteaco's summer offerings- lots of lovely green teas (which are my go to in the warmer weather) and a zingy rooibos. Yum. #teablog #tea #summer #flamingo Trust me when I say that there is not a dud anywhere to be seen in this collection; they are all lush and I really like that three of the teas are green. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a huge fan of black tea with milk when the heat makes me want to sleep. Green tea (and especially a good sencha base) is refreshing and cleansing- a perfect base for the flavours here. I’m also very pleased that the teas here are sweet without being in your face.

Ginger Beer, the only rooibos tea, is a triumph- albeit a bit of a weird one. On the surface, ginger and lime shouldn’t work in a tea, but they DO. And, even weirder, I’ve tried this with milk in it AND IT WORKS. It’s warming and spicy, but not wintery. I have this pegged as a blend for those, like me, who love spicy autumn and winter drinks but want something a little lighter.

Pineapple Sorbet is a lovely and light tea, very refreshing and I’ve found myself reaching for it frequently when I’ve needed a sweet hit. Real pineapple pieces make this juicy, lemongrass stops it from hurtling into ‘so sweet your teeth sing’ territory. It’s a bit like a fizzy pop flavour, but for discerning grown ups rather than sugar fiend kids.

The two glories in the collection, though, are Summer of Love and One In A Melon, even though these were the two I was wariest of at first.

Not scraps from today's garden, but one of @bluebirdteaco's dreamy new summer teas, 'Summer of Love' #tea Summer of Love is SO PRETTY- even if Benn jokes that it looks like the scraps from a day’s gardening (also, FYI, gardening post coming soon!) I think I was initially wary of the inclusion of bamboo leaves. Would this work? Taste weird? Yes- it works, no- it doesn’t taste weird. It’s a sweet, floral tea which is right up my street and one that is very calming. I love having it first thing in the morning as I listen to the birds in the garden. There’s something very soothing about this tea and I love it very much.

One In A Melon is the tea I drink the most from this collection- and I didn’t think I liked watermelon! It’s literally fun in a tea form: cheerful and cheering, happy and sweet. I love it and have been using it to wean myself off fizzy drinks in the hot weather. I really must have a go at cold brewing it and taking it to work with me. It’s a watermelon flavour that isn’t sickly sweet and even just the smell of it makes me feel happy!

So don’t let the heat stop you from having a good cup of tea, my friends! You’ve no excuse now to give it up.

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*sent for review

 

All Killa No Filla Live- Brighton

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All Killa, No Filla- Rachel Fairburn and Kiri Pritchard-McLean (Barry Mellor)

I love a podcast and one of my absolute favourites is All Killa No Filla, which I discovered last summer. Hosted by Manchester-based comedians Rachel Fairburn and Kiri Pritchard McLean, it makes me feel like I’m listening to two of my mates- except they’re talking about serial killers as well as the other stuff you might discuss with your friends. And they’re damn funny too (I’ll never look at Gary Barlow/gear sticks/sausage rolls again in the same way.) Since I’d been into reading about serial killers since I was a kid- nice and normal- I was so pleased to find it. If you have yet to listen to it, I am very jealous because you have an ace back catalogue to enjoy. Although maybe don’t start with the Fred and Rose West triple hander. It’s a bit of a shocker for the uninitiated*. According to a lady I spoke to at the show- and Benn- Harold Shipman might be the entry level episode. Up to you though. Everyone has a favourite. I like HH Holmes and the female serial killers best. #feminism.

Even better is that the All Killa No Filla duo are taking it on tour. Brighton was the first date and what a doozy it was: a whole hour on the unsolved Bible John case (although a strong suspect was discussed. I won’t give it away in case it gets broadcast**.) The crimes are never treated gratuitously or as a joke, but the laughs come from the interweaving of Rachel and Kiri’s stories about their lives- Kiri’s mum is a badass, by the way- and their observations of the world. They also explore and unpick the reasons why whoever their subject is/was became a serial killer.

I had so. much. fun., even if I did end up going on my own because Benn had a pathetic hangover. I also made friends with a friend of a friend who was going, which was lovely. But I can also confirm that Rachel and Kiri are brilliant- engaging, funny and knowledgeable, as well as sarky and down-to-earth. The other fans were great too. For a crowd so interested in such a macabre topic, they were lovely- and gave gifts to our hosts of serial killer Guess Who (would buy) and taxidermied mice (relevant to my interests.) Overall a fun hour and a bit with lovely people who happen to share a slightly odd interest.

Finally, I came away with a lovely ‘colour a killer’ colouring book, which I am very much looking forward to tackling. Might have to put my D at GCSE Art to good use and badly draw glasses on Jeffrey Dahmer though.

All Killa, No Filla is touring. Find information here.

*Fun fact- as a result of listening to this podcast, I have asked Benn to clear my Google history in the case of my mysterious death/disappearance. I would like to say to any police investigating me for the future that I just wanted to see what these people looked like. Thanks.

**Second fun fact- I once got into a mild disagreement with Professor David Wilson on Twitter about the subject of French Fancies during an episode of The Great British Bake Off.

 

Writers’ HQ: Seven Ideas In Seven Days

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Remember my novel? I was working on it loads last summer and then I did (most of) NaNoWriMo in November, before the world decided it really wanted to bring me down with its ridiculous ideas. I also got bogged down in family stuff, D’s operation, Christmas and then the hell that is working in a school when a new curriculum is trying to be introduced. I lost my way and I lost my mojo. My characters were still in my brain, my story was still asking to be written, but I just struggled to get it down or find time to write.

This is where Writers’ HQ comes in; its founders Sarah and Jo are time-poor, cash-poor, sliiiiightly sweary writers (both Sarah and Jo are novelists) who also happen to be mothers and needed a way to find time to do their work. They offer a range of ways for others to write too- monthly writers’ retreats in Brighton and Worthing, as well as online courses which are reasonably priced (there are also free exercises for a lot of the courses, if you want to check them out before committing to buy one) and take into account the pressures of daily life. Now, disclosure time: Jo is a friend of mine and has been trying to get me to go to the Brighton retreat for AGES, but I either never have money/time/anything to work on. Instead, she offered me the chance to have a go at February’s Seven Ideas In Seven Days course. I jumped on it.

Seven Ideas In Seven Days costs £20 and you are given a lesson everyday that takes around an hour to complete. I loved the variety of different tasks and the ideas I came up with were often completely new to me and very intriguing- I have at least three new ideas for different stories in completely new-to-my-writing genres (including one about the popularity of succulent plants being part  of an alien invasion plot, which I may just write for the LOLZ), as well as two new perspectives on the novels that have lived in  my brain for a long time.

I also liked the forum- although I’m not sure everyone signed up for this month’s course was using it. However, I found two supportive course members and Sarah who were all brilliant for bouncing ideas off, discussing what we’d written and where our work could go next. It felt less scary than a class and more like a friendly chat in a coffee shop (except that I was drinking tea. And in my own house. You understand the imagery though.)

Would I recommend the course? Yes. It was a lot of fun and I’d like to do another course if I get enough money together- there are all sorts of things on offer, from how to plot your novel right through to actually writing/editing the beast and eventually sending it off to a publisher. It was more personal than just using a book or an anonymous blogpost to write and I think the structure and the range of tasks meant that I sat down every night to work. It also made me realise that I CAN carve some time out of the day to write, even if it’s not much. It’s better to write a bit than not at all. I look forward to reacquainting myself with my characters. And the Mutant Succulents From Space With Mind Bending Powers Of Persuasion, obv.

 

Not Today Satan: Bianca Del Rio at Brighton Dome

“Please, don’t take anything I say seriously,” Bianca Del Rio asked of her audience after arriving onstage. A couple of minutes before, a recording  invited any of us of an easily offended disposition to leave- but as if any of us would. We know what we’re in for- that’s why we’re here. After all, Wikipedia does describe Bianca as an ‘insult comic’.

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Source: RuPaul’s Drag Race wiki

I was lucky to be there at all, actually. I managed to snag a press ticket for me and my friend Jaqui in order to review the show for The Argus (at time of writing, it’s not online. I’ll link to it here when it is.) Later, as I tried and write the review with a little gin inside me, I found it hard to write everything down in 200 words. I gave the show 5/5.

Almost everyone in the theatre will have known Bianca from RuPaul’s Drag Race. The room was filled with a captive audience: gay, straight, married, single; all there for a good time and the excitement was infectious. Jaqui and I made friends with two girls outside the venue and we made more friends with some lads in the merch queue (we didn’t have enough money for t-shirts, so we ended up buying each other exactly the same signed photo.) The audience loved Bianca. I’d argue that she’s the most successful contestant from the show, her catchphrase ‘Not today, Satan!’ even making it on protest signs at the recent anti-Trump marches. Despite the acid tongue, Bianca (the stage name of Roy Haylock) is adored, this being her second tour after ‘Rolodex of Hate’ a couple of years ago. I think ultimately it’s because we’re included in the joke- even when, sometimes, it’s aimed squarely at us. But it’s OK. We can take it because ultimately, the joke is on Bianca too. This is what makes Bianca’s comedy work: yes, it’s a bit mean, but we like her. We’re all in this together, warts and all.

Her set deals gleefully with her participation on Drag Race, the biggest cheers (and biggest boos) being offered during gossipy snippets about fellow contestants. “But, after all, the are my sisters!” Bianca offered up every time she took a sip of wine, a knowing wink in the direction of the audience. I always compare Bianca’s comedy to that of Joan Rivers; it’s sharp and funny, but sometimes you will wince when it gets a bit close to the bone. Literally no one is safe- age, race, gender, sexuality, class is all up for grabs. The sketches deal with stuff you might expect- Donald Trump, for example, “I promised I wouldn’t get political!” and weird people on reality TV to the more surreal, such as being a drunk drag queen at an airport. I literally had face ache after the show, I’d been laughing so much. After the set, Bianca offered answers to pre-submitted questions about everything from advice for new drag queens to a key scene in Hurricane Bianca. And all this was done at the mercy of a malfunctioning wig and very high heels. Fantastic.

I loved every minute of the show; even though I know this type of humour is not everyone’s cup of tea, I can’t think of anyone-other than the late Joan Rivers- who does it better.

 

Stuff for kids: The Incredible Intergalactic Journey Home*

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D loves reading. He has so many books- easily a couple of hundred, I should think, and that’s before we count any library books and comics he has lying around. He’s also beginning to learn his letters and is looking forward to starting school in September (where does the time go?!)  New books and stories, then, are always welcome in our house.

The Incredible Intergalactic Journey Home (£19.99) is a story from the people who brought us the Lost My Name books, which D has a copy of. The concept is simple- personalised books that make stories fun for kids aged 3-10 and the adults who read to them.

The ordering process is incredibly simple: I chose a character to represent D, put his name and our address into the website, along with a personalised message from me and Benn et voila! A book arrived a few days later, much to the delight of D who loves getting post.

The story itself is fun and easy to read aloud (which is not something you think about until you start reading to your child!) The child and their lemonade obsessed robot go through a space journey, meeting fun characters before getting lost and having to find their way back to Earth. But this isn’t a generic town, or a generic street- the book has aerial photos of your town/city (in our case, a picture of the Brighton Pier) and of your street. Obviously, I am not putting my address on the internet, so here is the example photo from the Lost My Name site to show you what I mean:

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D found the concept of this AMAZING. We spent a good few minutes looking and working out where our house was in the photo. He couldn’t get over the fact that it was his street and his house in the book and that he was a character. I do know that he insisted on telling Benn all about it and that this has been the bedtime book of choice for the last few days- every night since it arrived, in fact. I think Benn is grateful for the break from endless re-readings of Peter Pan if I’m honest…! Overall, this is a fun book and would make a great gift.

The Lost My Name website also has loads of other interesting, personalised products too, and I’ve already spotted a few things that I might buy as gifts in the near future (including some cute ‘Fantastic Firsts‘ cards for babies that I wish had been available when I had D!)

 

*Sent for review

 

Divine Divas: Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962)

"Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" (1962) bette #davies joan #crawford #horror:  So this has gone a little off-piste (I’ll be reviewing Of Human Bondage in the next few days), as I’ve been trying to go in order of film release, but I requested this from the library and it came earlier than expected! Anyway, welcome to the mother of all rumour-filled films, in which Misses Davis and Crawford- long rumoured to be bitter enemies- are sisters ‘Baby’ Jane and Blanche Hudson, trapped in a co-dependent and unravelling relationship that isn’t fun for anyone. A washed-up and now alcoholic former child star, Jane is forced into the role of carer of her sister, a more successful actress who was disabled in an accident caused by Jane’s drinking. Jane’s mind becomes more and more unstable as the film progresses, putting her sister-and those around her- in grave danger.

babyj2 I love this film. It’s campy and outrageous and surprisingly quite funny. I ADORE Bette Davis as Jane; her level of ‘meh’ in some scenes actually make me laugh every time I see them. I think every performance is fantastic and that this is one of those films deserving of its cult status. I understand why people become slightly obsessed with it. (My Twitter cover picture is the one above; my Facebook profile picture is of ‘Baby’ Jane applying lipstick. I am quite biased.)

I first saw it when I was about 15 and it wasn’t much later that I discovered one of my favourite books, ‘Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud’ by Shaun Considine, which is a biography of the two actresses told through their apparently bitter rivalry (which is disappointingly debunked by Karina Longworth in my favourite podcast, You Must Remember This.) I remember being being especially taken by Davis’ transformation into the deranged Jane: layers upon layers of caked makeup and a creepily innocent smile. In contrast, Crawford had to be really persuaded to abandon her high-glamour look, which she didn’t really do. In some of the earlier scenes, she is eerily beautiful for someone who has been locked in one room for twenty years, and Davis later complained that Crawford wore ‘falsies’- and that, in a scene in which she had to lie across her chest, it was like landing on ‘two footballs’.

Is it scary? Not really, by modern standards. I imagine there were scarier films being released even in 1962, to be honest. But what it is is a hugely entertaining film in which two greats allow themselves to be parodied (to greater or lesser degrees!) and to admit the ways in which their careers were permanently changing.