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17 January 2018

Some Thoughts on Reusable Cups and the 'Latte Levy'

I've been a bit quiet so far this year both on this blog and on social media, as I've had other priorities both at work and in my personal life. But it would have been hard to miss the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee's recent report highlighting the problem of single-use coffee cup and proposing a 25p 'latte levy' on their use. We throw away 2.5 billion coffee cups in the UK annually, and the report proposes a complete ban if a system for recycling them is not developed. Some years ago, I was guilty of misguidedly putting such cups with their plastic lining into recycling bins and was then cross with myself for not looking into this sooner.

Photo: my primary KeepCup in Byron Bay, Australia.

As for the report, there are some excellent, well-written and thoughtful analyses of its proposals and potential consequences, including from United BaristasBrian's Coffee Spot, James Hoffmann and cafespaces. The report has certainly got those who work in and/or follow the speciality coffee industry talking about the issues on social media, which is also good, although unsurprisingly, no total consensus, even if many of us ultimately want the same outcomes, on a basic, ideal-scenario level, at least.

Various alternative ideas, nudges and solutions have been proposed, and I'm sure many more will follow. It's certainly challenging to find ways to drastically reduce such an out-of-control environmental footprint without impacting the independent coffee shops who may not be able to withstand the financial consequences of a latte levy or a disposable-cup ban. (If, like me, you know very little about planning laws in the UK and how this relates to a coffee shop's takeout vs drinking-in ratio, this United Baristas' primer is very informative.)

For a long time, I wasn't overly concerned about my own disposable-cup footprint. That's not to say that I never use them, but for me, a cup of speciality coffee is a treat — a pleasure to be savoured while spending some time in a café — so I almost always drink in. If I know I will be going to a coffee shop to get a drink to take away, I will take a reusable cup with me — I have two 8oz KeepCups, one plastic and one glass and cork, and a tumbler from Coava in Portland. It's very rare that I spontaneously decide to buy a coffee from an independent coffee shop and don't have time to drink in, so carrying around a reusable cup at all times is a pain, given the low usage it would get. The main exceptions to this are a) when I get coffee after running and have nowhere to keep my KeepCup — about 1–2 times per month — and b) when I travel for work and have to squeeze an unexpected coffee shop visit in between meetings.

Although the reusable-cup offering has improved in recent years (Brian has a great guide on his blog), there still isn't a perfect cup for me. I tend to use my plastic KeepCup the most because it's lightweight, fits underneath my Aeropress and comes in pretty colours. The lid has occasionally come off in my bag, allowing my coffee dregs to leak and I don't like the 'taste' of drinking coffee from a plastic cup. Glass cups, however, like my KeepCup Brew, are heavier and more fragile. The Frank Green cups were retailing all over the place in Australia when I visited last year, and I love the design and functionality — except the cup doesn't quite fit under an Aeropress and thus is useless for my travel needs. There are collapsible cups available, which could solve my running problem, but the ones I've seen are too large for my 4–8 oz drinks (and my pockets) and unattractive. Yes, I'm shallow but yes, shallower drinks can be served in reusable cups too and people use products more when they take pleasure in using them.

I visited a lot of coffee shops in Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland and Wellington last year, and in many of them, most takeout customers were queuing patiently with their reusable cup. It was the norm, rather than the exception. I've also seen multiple examples there of 'KeepCup' being used as a generic noun for a reusable cup — the other brands may not be too fond of this, of course, but it is a sign of how commonly they are used.

Photo: my KeepCup enjoys a rooftop view over Sydney Harbour (and the Aeropress-brewed Proud Mary coffee it holds).

Just over a year ago, Brian published a post on the Coffee Spot calling for an end to the use of disposable cups. I didn't commit then to never using another disposable cup then and I'm not going to now either. Nobody is perfect, especially not me. In the past year, though, I have cut down my already minimal use. For example, rather than getting a filter coffee to go and rushing off to my meeting, I try to order a piccolo in a ceramic cup and drink it at the bar (trying not to get in the way of staff or other customers). There are also times when I just haven't bought a coffee I would have done otherwise because I don't have a reusable cup with me and don't have time to drink a filter coffee in the shop. This makes me sad, because I love to support and write about independent coffee shops (a number of 'reusable cup' discounts have already been springing up; I thought Caravan's was particularly interesting).

Of course, the onus is on me to find a way to continue to give these small businesses my custom without adding to the coffee-cup mountain, whether it's by carrying a reusable cup with me more often, planning better to make sure I have time to drink in, ordering a drink-in piccolo instead of a hand-brewed filter coffee to go...or holding out hope that someone will invent an attractive collapsible coffee cup, suitable for use with petite beverages. I suspect the inventor may well find a market!

10 January 2018

How To Pack for a Two-Day Business Trip in a Laptop Backpack

Last year, I ended up taking a lot of two- and three-day overseas trips, some for work and some for pleasure. One of them was at such short notice — four hours — that I was glad I keep a bag packed with most of the key essentials at home. Regular readers will know that I also love to travel light, especially on short trips, and my rediscovery of the humble backpack last year help me to reach new (weight) lows.

I'm heading to Toulouse on Thursday for a one-night work trip and I thought I'd show you what I packed for two days of meetings in a cool, rainy European city. I pack almost exactly the same things for most two- or three-day trips, though, with a few small changes.

The backpack

My parents bought me the Tumi Voyageur Halle backpack as an early birthday present last year and it has replaced Longchamp's Le Pliage large shopper as my carry-on or personal item (if I'm also taking a suitcase) when flying. I also use it for work, particularly if I am transporting my laptop or other heavy items. There is a laptop sleeve inside, which fits a 12-inch laptop and although only lightly padded, it's fairly well-protected when the bag is full. There are also lots of pockets, which are great for compulsive organisers like me. When I'm flying, I tend to keep the main front pocket for my toiletries and Kindle so that I can remove them easily when flying. The top zippered pocket on the front is useful for storing sunglasses or headphones. The bag is made from nylon, with a leather handle and gold hardware, which means it's lightweight and the padded sleeves make it very comfortable.

The handbag

I used to be a big-handbag woman, but I've been trying to coax myself into downsizing. Buying a new compact camera (the Canon G7X mark II, which I've been very happy with) helped with this and I finally bit the bullet and bought Madewell's crossbody tote during a Black Friday sale. It fits: my (very small) wallet, phone and earbuds, passport, Kindle or notebook, camera, pen, keys and lipbalm. It's also small enough to slip under my coat should I be on a 'strictly one bag per person' Easyjet flight. I can also use this smaller bag for dinners or meetings where I don't want to bring my backpack with me.

The tech

  • Laptop and charger. When I'm travelling for pleasure, I can take my MacBook Air, for which I have the international adapter kit. My work laptop is quite lightweight but its charger is bulkier and requires an adapter. This still fits in my backpack with the other kit.
  • Kindle Paperwhite. Even short trips involve some downtime and I usually have a range of novels downloaded and ready to go.
  • Headphones. I always have a pair of Apple earphones with me (they're the only in-ear earphones I can wear) and depending on the trip, I sometimes also take my Bose SoundTrue headphones (updated version here), which pack down small but are comfortable and have great sound quality. I'm toying with replacing them with some noise-cancelling, bluetooth headphones but I'm not sure I have room in my backpack!
  • Compact camera. Unlike my beloved but bulky Canon 100D DSLR, my new compact G7X camera is so small that I take it with me almost everywhere. I also bring a USB SD card adapter to transfer the photos to my computer; the G7X also allows me to transfer photos directly to my phone, which is great for Instagramming on the go. The battery usually lasts for at least three days of shooting but the camera can also be charged via USB, so I bring a cable just in case (which also works for my Kindle).
  • Cables and USB charger. I usually have a couple of Apple USB cables and at least one micro USB cable with me to keep all my gadgets happy.
  • Portable charger. I bought an Anker PowerCore+ Mini charger last year. It is indeed 'lipstick-sized' and I get more than one full iPhone 7 charge per recharge. At home, I only need to charge my iPhone every other day but I use it a lot more when travelling, particularly now that Three's Feel at Home package means that I can use my data for free almost everywhere I travel.

The other kit

  • Clothes. If I'm travelling for business, I usually pack one change of clothes per day, which means packing one or two dresses respectively for a two- or three-day trip (wearing the other, along with my cardigan, coat or jacket and scarf), or sometimes just two tops, which I will wear with a black skirt. I generally wear black boots — either ankle or knee, depending on the weather. If I'm going away for a long weekend, I usually wear jeans and my Nike Pegasus trainers, and bring two extra tops. 
  • Toiletries. I keep mini versions of all the essentials — shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, face cleanser, moisturiser, eye cream, deodorant, toothpaste and a few make-up items — in a transparent travel pouch. I also keep a toothbrush here and have a travel-sized Wet Brush.
  • Passport. Obvs.
  • Wallet. I use a small Tumi cardholder as my main wallet both at home and when away. I keep a couple of credit cards, my driving license and a few business cards inside. I only use cash when forced, but there's room for a couple of notes and even a few coins in the zip compartment. I also have a coin purse where I keep dratted coins and less commonly used cards. When I travel, I tend to remove all the excess cards and use it to keep coins and any receipts I acquire.
  • Notebook and pen. My wonderful friend gave me a Empire State Building-clad Smythson notebook for my birthday, which is beautiful but compact.
  • Compact umbrella. I sometimes substitute this for my sunglasses but rarely have to bring both.
  • Klean Kanteen water bottle (18 oz). I drink a lot of water and the neon pink colour of this bottle cheers me up even when I've had to walk half a mile across an airport to find the one place it's possible to fill up my bottle.
  • Other essentials. The striped pouch contains a few other bits and bobs, including ibuprofen, ear plugs, plasters and hairbands. I need total darkness in order to sleep so I always take my sleep mask when I travel. I've tried many of these over the years, but Lewis N. Clark's remain my favourite. I also keep a reusable bag (Baggu's baby size is my favourite) in all of my bags. I sometimes use it to keep things clean or more protected even if I don't use it as a bag.

The alternates
  • Coffee kit. I don't usually take coffee-making kit with me on a two-day trip. I usually seem to end up in destinations where there is good coffee available (in which case, I'd like to try that rather than brewing my own). If not, I make sure I have two big cups before leaving home on day one; I can live with having one bad or mediocre coffee on day two (sacrilege, I know). For three- or four-day trips, I sometimes take my trusty Aeropress. I also have a Made by Knock Aergrind, which I've been very pleased with, but it's fairly heavy, if small, so I would probably only take it on four- or five-day trips where there was little chance of any good coffee.
  • Running kit. Depending on the weather and how much free time I will have, I sometimes bring my running kit; if I'm travelling for work, I can only do this if I also have space to bring a pair of ballet flats, in which case I'd wear my trainers.

5 January 2018

Restaurant Review: Flour & Grape, Bermondsey

Antico, the Italian restaurant at the southern end of Bermondsey Street, was a neighbourhood favourite and although I was a more frequent customer at 214, the gin bar in the basement, I was sad to hear that the restaurant had closed. But rising like a phoenix from the, er, flour, its successor Flour & Grape soon filled the carb-heavy void. With a simple menu focusing on pasta and Italian wine, as its name suggests, fans of Borough Market's Padella will find a lot to like at Flour & Grape. Better still, you can book — a particularly important feature on a cold Tuesday evening in late December.

I met a friend for an early supper at Flour & Grape the week before Christmas. Bookings are only for an hour and a half, even at dinnertime, but we had a lot to catch up on and although the restaurant was busy, it wasn't full, and the kind staff gave no indication of wanting to hurry us along. As I'm less interested in the 'grape' part of this restaurant (Flour & Juniper would be my first choice), I ordered the Bermondsey G&T (when in Bermondsey...), with my favourite Jensen's gin and Bermondsey Tonic Water (a reasonably priced £6), while my friend went for one of the other cocktails, a spritz (£6.50).

We then devoured the food menu, which consists of a variety of small plates (priced from £2 for olives to £7 for the salumi plate) and eight different pastas (£7–10). We decided we would share three starters and two pastas, and then order a third pasta if we were still hungry. Had we skipped the starters or been hungrier, we would definitely have gone for three pastas — and don't get me wrong, our plates probably would have been cleared in any case.

To start, we shared the burrata, salumi and the baby gem salad, all of which were tasty and came in generous portions. The burrata was particularly creamy and although 'baby gem salad' sounds a bit boring, this one came with a tart dressing and plenty of parmesan.

Then came the main event. We went for the bucatini cacio e pepe, which, like at Flour & Grape's competitor, was the standout dish for me. Oodles of pepper, copious cheese and perfectly al dente pasta. A close second was the rich, flavoursome beef short-rib ragu, served with pappardelle. I thought the two pastas made a perfect pair. Our third choice (or mine, at least) would have been the roasted pork shoulder tortelloni — one for next time!

We did, however, find room for a scoop of hazelnut gelato each, which we enjoyed greatly. The special gelato of the day was tiramisù, but I generally prefer to keep my coffee and sweet treats separate.

Although it was a busy night at Flour & Grape, the service was excellent and there was a lively atmosphere in the restaurant. The Bermondsey Street Italian is dead. Long-live the Bermondsey Street Italian!

Flour & Grape. 214 Bermondsey St, SE1 3TQ (Tube: London Bridge or Bermondsey). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

2 January 2018

The Caffeine Chronicles: TAP Coffee, Russell Square

I was pleased to hear when TAP — the speciality coffee company formerly known as Tapped & Packed — opened a fourth location across the road from verdant Russell Square late last summer. It's relatively close to my office in King's Cross — definitely doable on a lunch break — but it took me until last week to visit. The second TAP, a small, quirky coffee bar at the northern end of Tottenham Court Road, was an early favourite of mine as both London and I began to discover speciality coffee. It didn't quite make my first London coffee guide, but I did include it in the second version in 2012.

Aesthetically, the Russell Square branch is very similar to Tottenham Court Road, albeit on a larger scale. The spacious café has a long wooden table with stool seating that cuts the space roughly in half, and there is further seating along the far wall. The lovely pendant lighting and other design features — the COFFEE sign, vintage teaspoons and repurposed Lyle's black treacle tins, for example — will be familiar to anyone who has visited any of the other TAPs (including the Wardour Street branch).

It was late in the afternoon on a cold, grey Thursday so it wasn't too busy and I was in the mood for a pourover. There were three single-origin coffees on offer and I was about to ask the barista for advice, but then interrupted myself to order the Ethiopian Shakiso (£3.75; more expensive than both the Guatemalan and Rwandan varieties on the menu). I couldn't resist the sound of the sloe gin and blueberry flavour notes in the Ethiopian coffee.

As I poured myself a glass of water using the rustic-looking tap by the brew bar, the smell of the freshly roasted Shakiso reached my nose and I could tell that it was going to be a really good cup of coffee. The coffee arrived promptly, complete with a cute Llangollen teaspoon. The sugar was also available in its Lyle's tin holder, but I just used it as a prop and did not, of course, add any to my coffee. The coffee was indeed excellent. The barista had prepared it very well and the flavours came through very nicely, particularly after the coffee had cooled slightly in its Acme cup.

My coffee was so nice that I almost bought the last remaining bag of Shakiso beans (£10) but I still had a lot of coffee to use up at home, so I decided to hold off for the time being. It was great to see a veritable rainbow of retail bags of TAP coffee beans available for sale, the prices ranging between £8.50 and £10. The usual espresso-based drinks are on offer too, as well as various teas, cakes and sandwiches.

I heard from Brian of Brian's Coffee Spot (who visited in November) that TAP Coffee is now owned by the Department of Coffee — I was surprised to hear this as there was no evidence of this inside the Russell Square café; however, this newest location is listed on the Department of Coffee website but not on the TAP website. For now, at least, the Russell Square location seems to be retaining its more rustic, quirky TAP identity.

TAP Coffee. 72 Russell Square, London, WC1B 5BA (Tube: Russell Square). TAP website. Department of Coffee website. Twitter. Instagram.

For many more London speciality coffee recommendations, check out my London speciality coffee guide

31 December 2017

My Top 5 Books of 2017

After my mammoth — but not always enjoyable during the home strait — effort to read 200 books last year, I decided not to strive for any particular total this year. Inevitably, though, as I neared the 150 mark, I did my best to reach this figure, although 'only' managed 148. Here are my five favourites, as well as five more that almost made my shortlist (some of these also featured in my summer reading list).

1. The Unseen World by Liz Moore. Meticulously plotted and researched, moving and thought-provoking, Moore's novel follows 12-year-old Ada Sibelius as her father David — a brilliant but eccentric pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence and a director of a computer science lab in Cambridge, MA — begins to develop signs of dementia. The race is then on for Ada to discover the secrets locked inside his mind, but it's more of a marathon than a sprint, as the novel edges through the 1980s to the present day, with a few hops back to the 1920s and 1930s. As someone whose day job involves the communication of science — including recent developments in computer science and AI — I found the themes covered here most interesting, but at its heart, The Unseen World is a complex, richly portrayed family drama with a fascinating mystery at its core.

2. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. Quinn's novel weaves together the stories of two women connected through the real-life Alice Network — a network of about 100 female spies posted by the British Army and MI6 in northern France during World War One — in a compelling work of historical fiction. In 1915, Eve Gardiner is recruited into the network and posted in a small town in northern France. Eve is trained up by Lili — based on the real-life Louise de Bettignies, the so-called 'queen of spies' whose code name, Alice, gave the network its name. Her assignment is to gather as much information from the occupying Germans as possible and feed it back to her handlers, a perilous job in a town where collaborators and spies abound. Thirty years later, Charlie St. Clair, an unmarried, pregnant American student, comes to Europe with her mother, but takes off to search for her beloved cousin Rose, who went missing in France during World War Two — a search which soon connects her with Eve. Both Eve and Charlie make flawed but courageous heroines and once I got into The Alice Network, I was gripped by both stories.

3. The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo. Set mainly in the first decade of the 20th century in New York City, Santopolo's novel is a beautifully written, intense and often devastating love story. Columbia students Lucy and Gabe meet on 9/11 and, after a couple of false starts, fall in love. But Lucy soon struggles to compete with Gabe's all-encompassing desire to become a photographer, forcing her to make some very tough decisions. With convincing dialogue, and believable, if sometimes frustrating, central characters, The Light We Lost is a fantastic debut novel.

4. Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito. I read a lot of legal thrillers and Persson Giolito's story about a teenage girl awaiting trial for her involvement in a mass shooting at her exclusive prep school was smart, gripping and satisfyingly twisty. If you enjoy novels with unreliable narrators, this fast-paced novel will keep you guessing as to whether our intelligent, knowing narrator Maja is indeed as innocent as she claims or whether we should believe a word she says.

5. Sourdough by Robin Sloan. A young woman from the Midwest — Lois, a gifted programmer — takes a job at a San Francisco-based robotics company but before long, finds herself becoming an obsessive sourdough baker in her spare time. So far, so standard. But if you've read Sloan's previous novel, you won't be surprised to find that the sourdough, and the novel itself, have been proved with a hefty dose of quirkiness and magical realism. Sourdough is a delightful, clever and unpredictable novel, which is particularly enjoyable for those who have lived in or visited San Francisco.

And now, here are five more books, which didn't quite make my top five this year but which I enjoyed a great deal:

  • Startup* by Doree Shafrir. A darkly comic, smart and keenly observed cautionary tale set in New York's fast-paced, social-media-saturated tech startup world.
  • The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter. An intelligent, well-plotted thriller about a small-town lawyer who is caught up in a violent crime that drags up memories of the violent crime that tore apart her own family almost 30 years earlier.
  • This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay. Often funny, sometimes sad and always keenly observed and thought-provoking, writer and comedian Kay's memoir of his former career as a junior doctor is an absolute must-read.
  • The Lying Game by Ruth Ware. Ware has a real knack for producing tense, twisty psychological thrillers and her latest, in which four women who were once inseparable during their boarding-school years reunite to prevent past secrets from becoming present-day nightmares, is no exception.
  • Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. One of the few non-fiction books I've read this year, Stephens-Davidowitz's work is an eye-opening dive into big data — and particularly the behavioural insights that can be gleaned from online search engines — making it essential reading for anyone who uses Google.
My full 2017 reading list is as follows (re-reads are in italics):
  • The Parrots — Alexandra Shulman
  • Big Brother — Lionel Shriver
  • America's First Daughter — Laura Kamoie and Stephanie Dray
  • The Couple Next Door — Shari Lapena
  • Selection Day — Aravind Adiga
  • Bloodline — Conn Iggulden
  • Arctic Chill — Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Geek Love — Katherine Dunn
  • 4 3 2 1* — Paul Auster
  • Midnight's Children — Salman Rushdie
  • Hypothermia — Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Any Human Heart — William Boyd
  • Almost Missed You* — Jessica Strawser
  • When She Was Bad — Tammy Cohen
  • Seven Days — Deon Meyer
  • The Memory Keeper's Daughter — Kim Edwards
  • Cell 8 — Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström
  • The Carrier — Sophie Hannah
  • See Jane Run — Hannah Jayne
  • The Three — Sarah Lotz
  • High Crimes — Joseph Finder
  • A Separation — Katie Kitamura
  • See Jane Run — Joy Fielding
  • The Kite Runner — Khaled Hosseini
  • Lasting Damage — Sophie Hannah
  • Little Deaths — Emma Flint
  • Always a Bridesmaid (for Hire) — Jen Glantz
  • Outrage — Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Little Face — Sophie Hannah
  • The Other Half Lives — Sophie Hannah
  • The Truth-Teller's Lie — Sophie Hannah
  • Everything You Want Me To Be — Mindy Mejia
  •  The Point of Rescue — Sophie Hannah
  • A Room Swept White — Sophie Hannah
  • Kind of Cruel — Sophie Hannah
  • The Telling Error — Sophie Hannah
  • The Narrow Bed — Sophie Hannah
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan— Lisa See
  • The Idiot — Elif Batuman
  • The Lake of Dreams — Kim Edwards
  • Did You See Melody?* — Sophie Hannah
  • The Death of Lucy Kyte — Nicola Upson
  • Black Skies — Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Kiss Mommy Goodbye — Joy Fielding
  • The Mind's Eye — Håkan Nesser
  • Half of a Yellow Sun — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Longshot — Katie Kitamura
  • See How They Lie — Sue Wallman
  • Now You See Her — Joy Fielding
  • Flowers for Algernon — Daniel Keyes
  • Japanese for Travellers — Katie Kitamura
  • Missing Pieces — Joy Fielding
  • Startup — Doree Shafrir
  • East of Eden — John Steinbeck
  • Five Star Billionaire — Tash Aw
  • New Boy* — Tracy Chevalier
  • Into the Water — Paula Hawkins
  • Everybody Lies — Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
  • Quicksand — Malin Persson Giolito
  • My Husband's Wife— Jane Corry
  • Strange Shores — Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Woman No. 17 — Edan Lepucki
  • Fingersmith — Sarah Waters
  • The Burning Girl* — Claire Messud
  • Good Intentions — Joy Fielding
  • The Rules Do Not Apply — Ariel Levy
  • The Keeper of Lost Things — Ruth Hogan
  • Borkmann's Point — Håkan Nesser
  • The First Time — Joy Fielding
  • Don't Cry Now — Joy Fielding
  • The Weight of Lies — Emily Carpenter
  • Testimony — Scott Turow
  • Camino Island — John Grisham
  • The Edge of Lost — Kristina McMorris
  • Tell Me No Secrets — Joy Fielding
  • Life Penalty — Joy Fielding
  • The End We Start from — Megan Hunter
  • The Light We Lost — Jill Santopolo
  • She's Not There — Joy Fielding
  • The Dry — Jane Harper
  • Sunday Morning Coming Down* — Nicci French
  • He Said/She Said — Erin Kelly
  • The Lying Game — Ruth Ware
  • The Power — Naomi Alderman
  • The After Party — Anton DiSclafani
  • Place of Execution — Val McDermid
  • Scienceblind —Andrew Shtulman
  • Blood Sisters — Jane Corry
  • Little Boy Lost — J.D. Trafford
  • The Girlfriend — Michelle Frances
  • The Informationist — Taylor Stevens
  • My Brilliant Friend — Elena Ferrante
  • Sometimes I Lie — Alice Feeney
  • Don't Close Your Eyes — Holly Seddon
  • Charley's Webb — Joy Fielding
  • The Unseen World — Liz Moore
  • The Good Daughter — Karin Slaughter
  • The Good Widow— Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
  • If I Die Before I Wake* — Emily Koch
  • Beautiful Animals* — Lawrence Osborne
  • The Locals — Jonathan Dee
  • Lies — T.M. Logan
  • Gather the Daughters — Jennie Melamed
  • The Missing Ones — Patricia Gibney
  • The Deep End — Joy Fielding
  • The Alice Network — Kate Quinn
  • Every Last Lie — Mary Kubica
  • Close to Home* — Cara Hunter
  • The Child in Time — Ian McEwan
  • The Diplomat's Daughter— Karin Tanabe
  • Lost — Joy Fielding
  • Sourdough — Robin Sloan
  • The Blackbird Season — Kate Moretti
  • Never Let Me Go — Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Her Every Fear — Peter Swanson
  • Heartstopper — Joy Fielding
  • Bluebird, Bluebird — Attica Locke
  • The Last Tudor — Philippa Gregory
  • Prague — Arthur Phillips
  • City of Friends — Joanna Trollope
  • Mad River Road — Joy Fielding
  • The Vegetarian — Han Kang
  • The Sparsholt Affair — Alan Hollinghurst
  • Amsterdam — Ian McEwan
  • Snow Falling on Cedars— David Guterson
  • The Girl Before — JP Delaney
  • The Dying Game — Åsa Avdic
  • The Good Guy — Susan Beale
  • Bonfire — Krysten Ritter
  • Reykjavik Nights — Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Saints for All Occasions — J. Courtney Sullivan
  • In Between Days — Andrew Porter
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle — Shirley Jackson
  • Two Kinds of Truth — Michael Connelly
  • Still Life — Joy Fielding
  • The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983–1992 — Tina Brown
  • The Vanishing Season— Joanna Schaffhausen
  • The Ice House — Laura Lee Smith
  • Ferocity — Nicola Lagioia
  • The Secrets She Keeps — Michael Robotham
  • The Marriage Pact — Michelle Richmond
  • The Foster Child — Jenny Blackhurst
  • This Is Going To Hurt — Adam Kay
  • Good Me Bad Me — Ali Land
  • Are You Sleeping — Kathleen Barber
  • Since You Fell — Dennis Lehane
  • Persons Unknown — Susie Steiner
  • The Kitchen God’s Wife — Amy Tan
* Disclaimer: I received pre-release review copies of books marked with an asterisk from NetGalley. Receiving a review copy of a book influences neither my decision to review it nor my opinions of it in any reviews I do write.

30 December 2017

My Top 5 Movies of 2017

The flip side of all the travel I've been doing this year is that I've had only limited time (and money) to spend on movies. Some of long-haul flights I took did allow me to catch up on films that I wanted to see at the cinema this year, but I only managed 18 cinema visits, and saw a further 18 films (some of which were re-watches) at home or on planes or buses. I did my best to see as many of this year's major releases as I could and also caught a few indie films, especially when prompted my free (preview screening) or cheap (Peckhamplex) tickets. Next year, I'm going to try to do better.

1. Moonlight. I went to see Barry Jenkins' remarkable film — which chronicles in a clever triptych structure the youth of a gay, African-American male growing up in the projects in Miami — at New York's iconic Angelika Film Center not quite knowing what to expect. Or, rather, I thought I knew exactly what to expect, but Jenkins confounded my expectations with its beautiful, melancholy and utterly moving coming-of-age tale. The performances are powerful, the three distinct sections fit together perfectly and this genre-defying film stayed with me for days. By turns heart-breaking, uplifting, intimate and all-encompassing, Moonlight gripped me throughout its 1h50 running time and left me wanting to spend more time with the central character in Jenkins' harsh but sensual world.

2. Dunkirk. Like Moonlight, Christoper Nolan's Dunkirk is also a story in three parts, but this time they are intricately interwoven and — because this is Nolan — they also take place over different timescales that range from one hour to one week. The central story is the odds-defying evacuation of trapped Allied soldiers during the titular World War II battle. Owing in part to the fact that World War II was covered in neither my GCSE history nor A-level (early-modern) history syllabuses, it wasn't a story I knew much about before watching the film, but I think that made Nolan's storytelling even more dramatic. There are some fantastic performances, including from RAF pilot Tom Hardy's sole visible eye, shellshocked soldier Cillian Murphy and especially Mark Rylance who, as usual, steals every scene in the most understated of ways as the skipper of one of the hundreds of civilian boats that were crucial in the rescue operation. Visually stunning and with a haunting score from Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk was rather overwhelming and definitely the kind of film you should watch on as big a screen as possible (I saw it at the Gloucester Cinema in Massachusetts, a rather low-tech venue where I also happened to see Jurassic Park, some 24 years earlier).

3. Call Me By Your Name. I had hoped to watch Luca Guadagnino's Italy-based coming-of-age story at the London Film Festival, partly because I was so impressed with Armie Hammer's performances in the two films I saw him in during last year's festival, Free Fire and Nocturnal Animals but I couldn't get a ticket. Instead, I finally caught up last week at a packed screening at the Peckhamplex. In the film, 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is spending another summer with his academic parents at their villa in a small northern Italian town. Each summer, Elio's father (Michael Stuhlbarg) hosts a graduate student at the villa as a research assistant and this year, it is the turn of tall, handsome, confident Oliver (Hammer). Over the course of the summer, the friendship between Elio and Oliver grows, as does Elio's own confidence and sense of self, gently encouraged by his cultured, liberal parents. Call Me By Your Name is beautifully shot and perfectly captures those lazy dog day afternoons of the southern European summer. It's a slow-burner, for sure, but builds up momentum without you noticing, and by the time it reached its crushing conclusion, I was completely captivated. Both Hammer and Chalamet were very good, and there's a certain monologue during the final act that Stuhlbarg nails.

4. The Death of Stalin. Armando Iannucci's darkest of dark comedies, The Death of Stalin, was just what the world needed in 2017. The film offers a depiction of Stalin's final days and the chaotic aftermath of his death, as his advisors circle, posture, plot and betray. It is a funny film, and there is a cracking script that crackles with energy, as well as some top-notch performances (Isaacs and Buscemi were particularly good) from the ensemble cast, most of whom seem have impeccable comic timing. Of course, many of the laughs are more nervous chuckles at the absurdity of what is happening, and at times, you do wonder whether it's even appropriate for you to be laughing (which is precisely the point Iannucci is trying to make, I'm sure).

5. The Handmaiden. Not to be confused with The Handmaid's Tale, Chan-Wook Park's film The Handmaiden is based on a novel by Sarah Waters called Fingersmith, although I only found this out after watching the film. Park's most famous film Oldboy is an all-time favourite of mine and I also enjoyed his English-language film Stoker. Based on these past experiences, I was expecting The Handmaiden to be both twisty and violent and it certainly delivered. It's hard to say too much about the plot without spoiling the film, but it centres around two young women in 1930s Japan-occupied Korea. One woman is a wealthy heiress, who is kept in isolation by her uncle on her large estate. The other is hired as her handmaiden, but has other intentions and plans for the heiress too. At almost 2h30 long, The Handmaiden kept me gripped throughout with its clever, unexpected volte-faces, leaving the viewer in a constant state of uncertainty about whom to trust and with whom to sympathise. Park is a master storyteller and this film is well worth seeking out.

NB: I did later read Waters' novel, but enjoyed it somewhat less than the film — perhaps because I knew what was coming.

The complete list of films I watched this year is as follows (re-watches are in italics:

- Silence
- Children of Men (home)
- Sing Street (home)
- Hidden Figures
- Boys Don't Cry (TV)
- Lion
- Hacksaw Ridge
- State of Play (home)
- Jackie
- Hell or Highwater (plane)
- Florence Foster Jenkins (plane)
- Moonlight
- Elle
- Personal Shopper
- Fargo (home)
- The Handmaiden
- My Cousin Rachel
- Olympus Has Fallen (home)
- To the Bone (home)
- Inception (home)
- Loving (plane)
- Fences (plane)
- Dunkirk
- The Circle (home)
- A Ghost Story
- Mother!
- Breathe
- Battle of the Sexes
- Blade Runner 2049
- Baby Driver (plane)
- Hunt for the Wilder People (bus)
- Logan (plane)
- Bad Moms (plane)
- The Big Sick (plane)
- The Death of Stalin
- Call Me By Your Name

29 December 2017

A Year in Leaps: 2017

2017 has been my busiest ever year for travel. I spent 84 days outside the UK on 12 foreign trips, some for business but most for pleasure. 30 of these days were spent on a sabbatical in Australia and New Zealand. I visited five new countries and ten countries in total: the Czech Republic (Prague); France (Paris and Cannes); Germany (Cologne); Italy (Padua); Norway (Oslo); Spain (Barcelona); the United States (New York, Boston, Cape Ann and Maine); Singapore; Australia; and New Zealand.

Regular readers will know that as part of my year-in-review series, I like to highlight some of my favourite travel memories of the year by selecting five photos of me leaping in new or unusual places, so without further ado, here is this year's shortlist:

1. The 'business casual' leap. Barcelona, Spain.
As I hadn't been to Barcelona since 2001, I was excited to return for a business trip, although another work trip to the US the same week meant I only spent 24 hours in the city. The conference was at least being held at the W Hotel on the Barceloneta waterfront (alas, I was lodged elsewhere), which meant that in the brief breaks between sessions, I could dash outside to soak up some sunshine, even if I was more formally attired than usual. I didn't have time for a proper exploration of the city's speciality coffee scene, but I did squeeze in a quick visit to Nomad Coffee on the way to the airport.

2. The 'Czech-ing out Prague' leap. Prague, Czech Republic.
Prague had been on the travel to-do lists of both my mum and me for quite some time, so we decided to organise a long weekend in the Czech capital in April as a late celebration of our birthdays. The weather wasn't especially clement but it was quite pleasant on our first day, so we decided to walk up to leafy Letna Park, which has a fantastic view of the city. The chilly, rainy weather did mean I was able to check out many of Prague's excellent coffee shops.

3. The 'Red Sox fan' leap. Gloucester, MA.
Trips to Boston for me are a bit like buses, it seems. I hadn't been for a decade and then went twice in one year, once in frigid February for a conference and then again in the summer for a family vacation on the North Shore. These trips also allowed me to produce a speciality coffee guide for Boston and Cambridge, MA. In the summer, we rented a house a short drive from gorgeous Good Harbor Beach and the weather was so gorgeous that we spent four or five days there, relaxing on the soft sand, boogie boarding in the rough surf and, at low tide, wading out to Salt Island. Having now seen three Red Sox games at Fenway Park, I now consider them to be 'my' baseball team and even bought a cap.

4. The 'iconic bridge' leap. Sydney, Australia.
As my train pulled into Sydney's Circular Quay Station, the heavens opened, forcing me to dash to my hostel in The Rocks. Luckily, by the time I'd checked in and dropped off my luggage, the makings of a spectacular sunset were underway. I hurried down to the harbour to take some pictures of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. I tried to take some selfie leaps but the lack of places to rest my camera and the volume of pedestrian traffic made this difficult. Luckily, a fellow tourist took pity on me and took this photo for me. In a short stay in Sydney, I also managed to visit 16 speciality coffee spots.

5. The 'leap so I don't have to swim in the sea' leap. Cannes, France.
I spent Christmas with my family in Cannes this year, for the first time since 2014. Although the weather was very sunny, it wasn't especially warm and so the family tradition of a swim in the sea was not enforced (my mum, who is toughest of us all, still did it). As the light on Bijou Plage was so lovely, I recruited my talented brother to photograph my leap into the sunshine. I could be jumping into the sea, after all...

Bonus: The highest 'leap'. Queenstown, New Zealand.
OK, so technically my tandem skydive from 15,000 feet in Queenstown, New Zealand, was more of a tumble and plummet than a leap but it was one of my favourite memories of my trip to Australia and New Zealand, and the most exhilarating activity I've ever done, so I felt it merited inclusion. You can read more about my experience with NZone Skydive here and if you promise not to poke fun at the funny faces I pull, you can watch the video here. If you have the opportunity to skydive in Queenstown (or pretty much anywhere in New Zealand), I'd strongly recommend taking it, even if you find the prospect daunting or scary. It took me days to come down from my adrenaline high (and that period included my flights back to the UK).

Although I don't think I'll be lucky enough to take as many overseas trips next year, I already have several short- and long-haul trips in the works, and am hoping to tick off another major bucket-list item in the autumn. If you are looking for ideas to inspire your own travel planning for 2018, you may like to check out my travel guides page, or for more coffee-centric suggestions, I hope you will find my coffee guides page useful.