Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Not Just Any Old Greeting Card... (said in the style of the Marks & Spencer voice-over!)

I get VERY excited about finding different and unusual greetings cards.

You see, I’m a romantic soul and luckily, so is my other half. We give each other a card every month. Oops, I should have given you more warning so that you had time to grab a bucket to puke in – apologies.

Giving cards is actually a lovely way to inject a bit of romance into a relationship as, let’s be honest, pairing socks, paying bills and taking the rubbish out ain’t that sexy, is it?!

Anyway, when I heard about a local card company called HappiStudios (on Etsy), I thought I’d take a look. Initially I thought I'd get my other half a card but then decided I'd treat my little man (aged 10) instead. I occasionally get him cards with cute or funny dogs on as he LOVES animals but Glen at HappiStudios suggested this card in the style of a computer game which just so happens to be another one of my son's favourite things. No surprise there! And it's a Halloween card – perfect timing. I don't usually give my son Halloween cards but, well, any excuse!

HappiStudios Halloween card

HappiStudioes Halloween Card

HappiStudios Halloween Card

The image on this card is brilliant and I love the 'ammo' and 'lives' icons at the bottom. 

The card can be personalised which makes it even more special. I supplied two pictures of my son and Glen did the rest - turning one happy, smiley, holiday snap of him into a rotting zombie...! My son’s words were 'that's so cool'!

There are other pretty designs on the website, so it's worth taking a look. This one of the Clock Tower in St. Albans is one of my faves - so quirky, and again fully customisable. You can add your own photos or phrases which will appear behind the 6 windows or you can choose an ‘already themed’ card which is a selection of inspiring quotes generated by HappiStudios.

Take a look on the website and order a card for someone you love - even if it's not their birthday, an anniversary…. or Halloween!

Mel x

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

So, did Christian Grey whet my appetite for a bit of slap & tickle?

I read the book and so I wanted to see the film. Not desperately, I just didn't want to feel left out. Also, it was a good excuse to take my best friend to The Odyssey as she hadn't been before.

For any of you reading this who know diddly about 50 Shades of Grey (though that would only be possible if you've been blindfolded, brainwashed and left in a cell for the last 4 years with a butt plug in each ear - which ironically goes some way to explaining the plot), it’s a love story between a college graduate (Anastasia) who steps in for her sick flatmate (a journalist) and interviews the extremely successful and wealthy young businessman (Christian Grey). Grey instantly falls for Anastasia and pursues her. She falls in love with him quickly but finds his BDSM tendencies and past love life hard to handle. She is a virgin.

My other half was a little ‘dubious’ shall we say about me seeing it and he wondered how many other husbands and boyfriends were feeling the same about their ladies going off to see a ‘soft porn film’ (his words not mine) without them. 

On the assumption that I reckon there are more men having a sneaky peek at porn than the ladies, my reply was, “what’s good for the gander". 

It became quite clear that we weren't here to see brilliant acting or a Swedish porn offering. If Mills and Boon were to produce a film – this is what I imagine it being like. We didn't get to see Mr. Grey’s todger (flaccid or erect) though we did see Anastasia’s pubic hair and boobs. A little imbalanced, don’t you think? And by that, I mean we should have got to see more of his body not that her boobs were wonky. They weren't. They were lovely, as was her bottom. His was ok.

So, after the interview scene, which is terrible (I could have acted it better), the film speeds up. Grey is on a mission to make Anastasia his. I forget some of the finer detail, but no matter - you’ll get the gist!

He turns up at the DIY store where she works and asks for some cable ties, tape and rope. This shopping list, together with his lacklustre, dead behind the eyes gaze, should have sent, I would hope, any other woman with an ounce of common sense, running for the hills, but not her.

One night she’s at a club, she doesn't tell him which club by the way (though I don’t think she told him where she worked either come to think of it!) and they are texting each other.
They then speak on the phone and Grey can tell that Anastasia is drunk. Before you know it, he’s somehow tracked her down (freak) and handily arrives just in time to stop her male friend taking advantage of her. She then throws up and faints and he decides he will take her back to his hotel rather than try to get her home (freak). 
Though credit where due, he sleeps in a different room and does not touch her (phew) but they enjoy a snog in the morning even though her breath probably stank of puke from the night before (eww).

She then goes to get dressed but he’s already sent her clothes to the dry cleaners (kind of OK but still a bit neat-freak) and sent his driver out to get her a new (not very nice) outfit.

Anyway, blah, blah, blah - they start seeing more of each other and sometimes she stays over…

Anastasia drives a lovely old VW Beetle. In his *wisdom*, he sells that and surprises her with a new BMW (or something of the like). This is not the sort of surprise that would float my boat. “Hi honey, I've just sold your beautiful classic car and replaced it with some generic, boring, shiny, new red thing” (freak). 

Oh and when he can’t sleep, he gets up and plays the piano - how utterly inconsiderate and selfish to wake Anastasia up just because he can’t get back to sleep.  Why he couldn't just read a book or detangle his whips in his play room or something I don’t know (freak).

He wants her to sign a contract to be his live-in submissive and states she should have her own room as he doesn't like sharing a bed which makes his seemingly gentlemanlike gesture of sleeping in a separate bed after the club not so chivalrous now does it?! (freak). He also doesn't like going out for dinner or to the movies (freak). 

She’s confused, she’s falling for him but she’s unsure as he’s a bit different (no sh*t!) and so she decides that she will go and spend a few days with her mum to get her head straight. He learns of her imminent trip whilst they are at a family dinner at his parents. He is fuming that she hasn't mentioned it to him prior to now (freak).

Anyway, she catches a flight and off she goes for some much needed family time. She’s sipping on a cocktail with her mum one sunny afternoon and guess who shows up?! Yep, you've guessed it. I would have, at this point, very loudly and in no uncertain terms told him to take his sodding contract, car, whips and chains and to f*ck off. But no, she thinks it’s romantic (freak).

Towards the end, he finally takes her to his ‘play room’ for some hard-core action. You have to assume it’s hard-core as it doesn't come across as that really. Yes, he chains her up and she is reminded of her safe word but I can’t give you any more detail than that. Not because I don’t want to spoil it for you but I honestly don’t think there was much more to it. I’m not sure she was that impressed either. 

Finally, beyond the walls of the play room, positioned across that damn piano, she lets him demonstrate what her punishment would be if she doesn't follow his rules. He whips her - hard. And he makes her count each stroke as he does so. This is the deal breaker for her and she leaves him. Or does she?

Throughout the film, there is a severe lack of laughter, banter and (mutual) spontaneity between the couple. The film is totally unsexy. He is totally unsexy. It did absolutely nothing for me. Not even a twinge.

I think I would be more turned on by watching him prepare me a bacon sandwich. Though, to be honest, he would probably be control-freaky and anal (snigger) about that too. It would be on brown bread not white with some kind of low fat turkey rasher rather than my usual favourite fatty streaky and instead of butter he would use some sallow looking cholesterol-reducing spread. And I can almost guarantee he wouldn't let me have ketchup. God no, too sugary, too messy!    

So, for all the worried other halves out there, you can rest easy and not doubt your sexual performance or level of adventure because actually, much like his name, Mr. Grey is a bit ‘meh’. For all his whips, chains and cash, he’s dull, controlling, predictable and let’s not forget, an A1 FREAK! Gentlemen, send your ladies to the cinema with wild abandon and they will come running back to you with arms and legs open wide.

So, did 50 Shades lead to me and my fella having some fun? Hell yeah! He makes a crackin' bacon sarnie! And the ketchup went everywhere - he got a right old spanking for that I can tell you! 

Monday, 23 March 2015

Hertfordshire Wine School...

Last week I went back to school. I’d been absent since last year and so it was high time I put in another appearance.  

Back in January 2014, my other half and I attended a Cheese and Wine Pairing Evening hosted by Hertfordshire Wine School. I learnt that it’s nothing like school because a) you don’t get told off for laughing and chatting with the person next to you and b) they certainly don’t mind if you’re tipsy in class. I also learnt that there's a white wine in existence that I actually like (never thought I’d see the day!) and that it goes remarkably well with a sliver of Sparkenhoe - which is a hard, unpasteurised cow’s cheese, don’t you know.

The evening was held in St. Albans at the County Club (a great, not so little, venue that is available for private hire and where, as it happens, I had my 40th birthday bash). The room was beautifully set out with approximately 6 large tables, each seating about 10 people. We were on a table with a good, funny bunch of very local and not so local (German and London) folk.

We were all given a tasting sheet to fill in. Here’s mine (scruffy handwriting – must try harder!) You’ll see that we had 7 wines (well, 6 wines and a port) and 5 cheeses. The idea was to try each wine with each cheese and write down if you thought it was a good combination or not.

David Rough from Hertfordshire Wine School was the perfect host and ‘teacher’.  We were given details of how each wine was produced; the origin, climate, grape variety, taste, heritage (and more) which was fascinating. So too was the in-depth description of the cheeses; how they were made and why some are soft, hard, mouldy and/or holey etc.

Most interestingly, what someone else found to be a delicious combination of a certain wine & cheese, I most certainly didn’t. To them it was smooth and creamy; to me it was unbelievably bitter and just, well, wrong. I learnt that we all have different taste buds and so there’s no wrong or right combination - it’s all a matter of personal taste (cue Kenny Everett leg swing!). So, that’s where the fun, the discussion and debate came in which made for a very social and interesting evening out. We said, at the end of the night, that we’d definitely do it again.

And so, a year later, when I was, as always, stuck for a birthday present (no wonder when other half’s birthday is in the same friggin week as Christmas!), I turned, once more, to Hertfordshire Wine School for inspiration. Not wanting to repeat the gift bought last year (though I am sure you can go many times and experience different wines and cheeses), I opted for the ‘A Tasting of British Beers’ on the evening of St. Patricks Day (genius timing).

Held at the same venue, it was, again, nicely laid out but with just one table seating 12 this time. I asked David if it was intentional that the beer evenings were smaller but it’s not, it’s just that there’s more demand for the wine evenings.

As before there was a good mixture of people around the table. One newly-wed young couple, a dad with his son and daughter in their 20’s, an older father and son and a group of 3 guys (with one arriving rather late but he didn’t get a detention). Oh and there was a rather dashing older man with his younger wife. She wasn’t his wife and ‘she’ is me and if he likes it, he needs to put a ring on it! Moving on….

The evening started off with a few PowerPoint slides containing some very interesting facts presented by David. Did you know that in the middle-ages, beer was safer to drink than the water? Fancy being totally smashed by 4pm every day! There were many more fascinating facts, figures and diagrams delivered throughout the evening but, as you may want to go for yourself, I won’t spoil it for you.  And anyway, some of the beer was really quite strong and my notes leave much to be desired.

Let's talk about hops

Me, smelling the hops.
In total, we tasted 7 beers and finished with Guinness (of course). We discussed, as a group, each beer in turn and it was evident that some around the table knew their beers, their beer festivals and what constitutes a ‘session’ beer as opposed to a beer that would be slowly sipped if out with the wife (he was deadly serious, which made me laugh). And we also tried different foods with the beers - cheese, sausages cooked in honey & mustard and with one beer we tried cake! Each food picked to complement the beer - much like you would with wine really.

Out of the 7 beers I tried, I had two favourites - well, 3, but I was already a massive fan of the Innis & Gunn having discovered it in Edinburgh a few years ago. So, the other 2 were ‘The 3 Brewers’ - which is brewed in the neighbouring village of Sandridge. And the other, which is definitely going on the shopping list, is the rather gothic sounding ‘Death or Glory’ which in my opinion is very similar to the Innis & Gunn, just ‘richer’ in colour and taste.

8 brown bottles sitting in a row...
In a nutshell – both great nights out. So, if you fancy doing something different or want to give an original gift, definitely check out Hertfordshire Wine School. They offer 4 and 8 week wine tasting courses, visits to vineyards and if you want to get really serious about the whole school thing, you can even gain a recognised qualification with them via the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. Tastings also held in Harpenden and Hertford.

Class dismissed..hic!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Dylans The Kings Arms. A new restaurant/pub/bar in St. Albans

At the weekend, we wined and dined at Dylans The Kings Arms. I’d been looking forward to the re-opening of this restaurant/pub/bar in St. Albans for a while. We’re certainly not short of places in our city to grab a bite or drink but when someone you know opens a place, you can’t help but be more excited than usual.

Also, when the venue holds happy memories of yesteryear, there’s even more of a pull.  My mum used to be a barmaid here when it was a busy and popular pub called ‘The Old Kings Arms’. I was about 14 or 15 at the time and I would sometimes go along and nurse half a sweet cider at the end of the bar under her watchful eye. And, as I’m sure you can imagine, I felt very grown up being part of that scene.

Positioned on one of the oldest and characterful streets in St. Albans, it’s been a public house for the most part of its life and so for me, and I’m sure for many other residents and fans of St.Albans, it’s wonderful that Dylans will be tapping into its pub heritage again.

My other half and I had walked past the window of Dylans one afternoon a week or so ago and peered in to discover that it was nowhere near ready; still very much a dusty building site. So, when we arrived on Saturday night, I was totally surprised to see it looking very much finished, beautiful and polished. Apparently, still not fully open, but I can only imagine this is due to availability of staff rather than anything else.

From the street, you step directly into the bar area. It looks fabulous and very welcoming. Beautiful Fired Earth green tiles and colourful bottles adorn the bar area and the walls are papered in two stylish designs by Robert Kime. I’m not some kind of tile and wallpaper nerd - I just appreciate pretty patterns and so I asked Sean, the owner, who, even though rushed off his feet, indulged me whilst I wrote down the detail of the d├ęcor.

Meet Alan the Ibex

Voysey Trellis by Robert Kime

Galaxy Blue by Robert Kime
The Food

There are two menus available - The Snacking Menu and The Bill of Fayre. If eating in the bar you can choose from The Snacking Menu but if you’re in the restaurant, like we were, then you have the choice of either (or both!).

I was tempted by The Bill of Fayre and was considering the Chargrilled Flat Iron Steak with the Butter Fried Hens Egg. Aforementioned other half was nearly swayed by the Beer Braised Ox Cheek but, after much deliberation, we both decided to choose and share dishes from The Snacking Menu.

We ordered:

Braised Lamb Shoulder Nuggets with Blackberry & Mint Vinaigrette.
Crispy Green Sicilian Olives, Hot Chorizo and Basil Mayonnaise.
Dylans Double Dipped Chicken Wings with Pickled Celery, Hot Sauce, Blue Cheese Dip.
Slow Roast Pork Riblets with a House BBQ Sauce and Green Chilli Slaw.
and some sneaky Triple Cooked Chips from The Bill of Fayre.

Ribs, Green Chilli Slaw and Chicken Wings with Blue Cheese Dip

Lamb Nuggets, Olives & Chorizo, Triple Cooked Chips
My favourite dish was most definitely the nuggets. Tender, melt in the mouth lamb, gorgeous crispy crumb and the vinaigrette was perfect – not too minty and not too vinegary.

The Olives and Chorizo were delicious. And it’s the first time in my life that I’ve had a battered (though crumbed is probably a better description) olive. Definitely worth trying!

The ribs were excellent. I don’t like big, fatty, gunky sauce kind of ribs and so these were perfect. Smaller, dryer and no embarrassing saucy moustache that nobody tells you about until you’re home!  The chilli slaw that was served with the ribs was something to get excited about. I’m not a fan of chillies as it happens, but I picked them out and enjoyed the rest. It was very clean tasting, crunchy and a great companion to all the dishes we’d ordered.

The chicken wings had been raved about on Facebook and so that’s why we chose them, but for us they were too salty. Not just a little bit too salty but quite a lot too salty. And so we mentioned it to one of the waiting staff as we think there might have been a blip in preparation. We’ll try them again on our next visit.

Now for the pudding! Look at this utterly delightful and creative offering – perfectly described by the pretty waitress as homemade Oreo cookies with a Baileys milkshake.

The biscuits melted in the mouth and the white chocolate ganache filling oozed out as I bit into them  - a thousand times better than Oreos. The milkshake was delicious and lucky for me, my dining partner is not so keen on puddings or Baileys so, I had the whole dish, bar one layer of cookie (he got curious), all to myself. Other, undoubtedly fabulous puddings are obviously available but when I go back, I want this again. Please.

What have I forgotten to tell you...?

The wine list is good - we chose an Argentinian Malbec. They have a small selection of lagers but ales are more their thing. The other half enjoyed a Brewdog Punk IPA, which I had a sip of and liked. Rather fruity and quite a high alcohol content - pretty similar to how I would describe other half come home-time!

They do Sunday Roasts too and you can find that menu on their Facebook page. 

The staff are attentive, smiley and clearly excited to be part of the Dylans team. 

Oh and lastly, meet King Dylan himself. This is Sean’s rather dashing chocolate labrador. He rules from afar and so unless you've made an appointment, I doubt you'll see him in the restaurant!

It was a fabulous night and I wish Sean and his team every success with Dylans. They definitely deserve it. 

To book a table call 01727 530332 

Follow Dylans Kings Arms on Facebook and Twitter

Monday, 2 February 2015

One Rainy Bank Holiday Monday at The Mermaid, St Albans....25.8.15

Today, I most definitely saw the best acoustic duo in the world. Ever.

Katie plus Juan blew me away. And yes, I'm quite aware that I'm probably very late to the party and you all know already how amazing they are - but there may be some people out there who have no idea what they're missing and so I will tell you.
Let me introduce you to Katie. She's a trendy, pretty, twenty-something. She has a cracking smile and seems to know and smile at everyone. Then there's Juan, who is probably a twenty plus another number-something who quietly, before they were due on stage, sat, listened and appreciated the other acts, keeping himself to himself.
They take to the stage (well, floor actually) and wowed the audience with covers and mash-ups from the likes of Doris Day, White Stripes and the Jackson 5 - not your usual cover fodder that's for sure. And their mash-ups are inspired; putting together two songs that you would never imagine could merge and separate so seamlessly - it's like they were written for one another. And as for the Spanish song they did - there are no words, but suffice to say, I felt transported to warm and sunny climes even though the Bank Holiday rain was lashing against the pub window.
They also played two original songs - one written by Juan and the other by Katie. And no, the atmosphere didn't fall flat as it often can when originals are thrown into a covers set. The originals are great, better than great. My thought was why on earth aren't they signed? I later hear that Katie is signed to a label but apparently things are moving slowly. My message to that label is, for the love of music, pull your finger out and get this show on the road, bozo!
Their voices are, for want of a better word or phrase, bloody brilliant. Katie has the ability to make like a chameleon and give the covers what they need and Juan has this pure, cut through voice with a spectacular range.
And I cannot finish this review without mentioning the percussion. Katie plays, to name but a few, a shaky egg, a kazoo and an afuche/cabasa (easy for you to say!). And when Katie isn't playing her guitar, she's using it as a drum box for goodness sake.
I urge you to go and see these guys and if you don't enjoy them I will buy a hat and eat it.

Keep up to date with all their gigs and other gigs near you at Lemonrock Gig Guide