Fifty Special Things – Cambridge Gin Laboratory

When: 18-02-2017

Where: Cambridge Gin Laboratory

Price: Free – It was a gift

Review: excellent way to spend a few hours, several different courses available

Tip: take the bus, and then you can spend the rest of the day in the bar next door.

I remember when I was thinking about how to make the fifty special things work that one problem was always going to be budget. Having made the decision to try to make my fiftieth year a special one, how do you afford it all?

So it was with great delight that I received a gift of a gin tasting session at the Cambridge Gin Lab.

It turns out that it is very popular, the day we went it was full up. I imagine other days are not dissimilar.

Gin 1

The Cambridge Gin Laboratory is at 10 Green Street, Cambridge.

Gin 2

There is a board outside to confirm location and a sign on the door.

At the time I was convinced that I was going to rule the world via the medium of blogging – such that there is quite a strong pictorial record.

Gin 3

Gin 4

It was around the time of this visit that I began to comprehend just how fashionable gin had become and just how many people were keen to get in on the act.

Gin 5

The lab is downstairs and is laid out with all kinds of gin-related paraphernalia.

Gin 6

Prior to the gin sampling itself there is a very interesting talk on gin and the history of gin from which I made a few notes.

Gin 7

Note the picture of the black Labrador on the wall, said to be the reason why it is called the Cambridge Gin “Lab”.

There are various events available including a tailoring option to create a unique gin.

Gim 8

Gin is actually juniper-flavoured vodka. The predominant flavour must be juniper. The juniper “berry” is used (which is technically a cone). No sugar.

The nose of gin is often described as “piney”. Juniper was used for medicinal purposes for a long time. However claims that drinking gin is healthy are sadly untrue.

Gin 9

A monastery used to distil wine and float botanicals in it and used this as a treatment. Drinking this though was not tasty so they started to sweeten it.

Gin 10

Traditional gin was produced in the Low Countries (Dutch) in the 15th Century. Jenever was their name for juniper.

Gin 11

The English fought the Dutch in the 30 years’ war. Soldiers began to be given alcohol before they went into battle – it became referred to as “Dutch courage”.

The English then started to make their own gin. The gin craze was between 1720 and 1751.

This could be thought of as the first drug war. In the poor areas of London 1/3 of households were making and selling gin. However there was lots of methanol left in it which is poisonous. Some sellers cut the result with turpentine which is poisonous.

They were drinking 80% ABV in pints – like beer. They became very addicted.

The Gin Acts 1751 started to legislate gin production.

William Hogarth 1751 creates two paintings Gin Lane is political propaganda intended to encourage people to switch back to beer (Beer Street).

Gin Lane
GinLane

Beer Street
Beer Street - Calle de la cerveza

Beer Street and Gin lane
Beer-street-and-Gin-lane

Gin was still allowed to be drunk however.

The theory is that Hogarth was paid by the beer industry to encourage people to drink beer.

The Gin Act was passed. After crop failures and attempts at alternative beverages – they eventually got better at making gin.

Alcohol fermentation, involving yeast processes on sugar, produces heat, carbon-dioxide and ethanol (together with other alcohols).

ABV (ethanol by volume) the maximum that fermentation achieves is 15% ABV. (You can heat the result to make it stronger).

To distil – put the alcohol in a still – heat it. It starts to boil and evaporate. The outlet tube is cooled in water (it is coiled to increase its surface area).

Simple distillation apparatus

Different compounds boil at different temperatures:
Ethanol 78.4oC
Methanol 60oC (ish)

You track the temperature and collect the low boiling point liquid and dispose of it, this is referred to as the “head”.

You collect the middle boiling point liquid and keep it.

You collect the higher boiling point liquid referred to as the “tails” and dispose of it.

In this way you get to concentrate what you want.

In vodka you remove a lot of the impurities, this produces 96% alcohol. In whisky you keep some impurities by retaining a greater heat range, this affects the flavour.

Gin started to be recognisably gin in the early 19th century – juniper is added during the distillation. Juniper flavour becomes incorporated into the gin.

They also started to use continuous distillation – here a huge still uses plates to draw off the distillate at the correct temperature range.


CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Gin now starts to taste nicer – it becomes fashionable to have unsweetened gin.

London Dry Gin became fashionable – today this is a subcategory of gin.
London Dry Gin started in London but not made there anymore.

It is dry – not sweet – you must use real botanicals – these must go into the distillation pot and not be added afterwards.

Gin – is a shortening of jenever the Dutch for Juniper. Today other botanicals (plants) are used e.g. rose petal, cherry blossom, coriander seed, juniper cone.

These react differently to heat – the heat is high so the botanicals are added at different times – this is like adding ingredients in cooking.

You treat each botanical with the level of heat that suits it. The boiling point is related to atmospheric pressure – reducing pressure reduces the heat needed for boiling.

1 botanical is added at a time – you distil different botanicals. What comes out is not a gin, it is a flavoured distillate. Then you blend the distillates.

However it needs a basis of London dry gin. Therefore you can blend your own gin.

The distillery has 100s of distillates. It is tailoring gin to individuals, bars, and restaurants. You can use delicate things in gin e.g. cucumber.

Hendricks add the flavour afterwards – you can make a lot more gin this way – but not a London Dry Gin.

1 gin run takes 1 hour – there are 4 people in the company.

When we arrived we had a gin to start with which was a standard London Dry Gin with a fever-tree tonic. I rather liked this.

However we also got to use atomisers to spray gin directly into the mouth (well after some practice – the first squirt was directly into my eye). Atomisers contain the same spirit as the demijohns on shelves around the walls. They are used to allow tasting without consuming a lot of gin.

Brands feel it is important to be traditional – to have this as part of their brand.

Wheat is the basis of gin, potato potcheen (Poitín). Gin must be a neutral spirit – the basis does not have to be wheat, however if it is not wheat or potato then this fact must be listed on the bottle. Potato vodka is slightly oilier. Rye is slightly spicier (to a trained palette).

To make comparisons involves a system for tasting gin which needs consistency and needs a standardised language. Tasting is an ability that develops from training & experience. Room temperature is best to identify botanicals.

After the initial gin on entry and trying the atomisers there were 3 gins to try, these were sat on the table protected by glass lids.

The first apparently had rose and violet petals in it. The sequence is first mouth feel – it should feel somewhere between milk and water – medium. I have the palette of a straw bale I established.

There is no sweetness added – when you distil – sugar does not carry over, hence the distillate from pineapple has no sugar. What you can have is associative sweetness – this reminds you of sweet things for example florals gives this effect. (It’s all in the mind in fact).

It also had blackcurrant leaf – which gives a fruity flavour and basil, angelica, rosemary. Angelica is very common in gin – it is slightly spicy. In tasting you want to linger a little not too short.

You don’t have to prefer one that wins awards – as this is a measure of how well it is made rather than if you like it.

The Cambridge Distillery make different gins for different bars – Midsummer House has a herbal garden – we use those herbs in their gin.
Pint shop – Peas Hill we use peas in their gin.
College graduation gins – they forage for flowers in their garden – buy the gin which is unique to that year. Usually you have to go to the venue to taste their unique gin.

Japanese gin has become a retail product (this is the second gin that we tasted).
Nobu in London wanted one. It was made with a team of chefs inspired by botanicals used in Japanese cooking. This is light in intensity, the spirit is the same though. The botanicals are different, Juniper, cucumber, sesame, schiso leaf, almonds (it is marzipany), sanshō pepper (a bit perfumy), yuzu.

Botanicals are affected by the weather and are used seasonally. Each year there are seasonal gins. The ones in spring/summer are lighter. The ones in autumn/winter are more warming.

Each gin is therefore non-re-creatable. 100 bottles of each one are made and these sell quickly.

Autumn/winter gin contains bergamot. It has fennel in it, bergamot, rosemary, blackcurrant leaf, and juniper. It can manage a punchier tonic. They tend to use fever-tree as a good “go to” mixer…

The Dog – the black Lab is the lab dog Gin 12 he/she is why this place is called a gin lab Gin 13.

They capture the lightest 1% of stuff that evaporates referred to as the angel’s share of gin. They have made an angels share gin at £2000 a bottle.

They produced about 6 bottles, all sold quickly.

In addition to the tasting which we attended there is also available:

  • Histories and mysteries of gin session
  • Make your own bottle
  • Themed tastings

Given how great our session was these will also be worth a try.
Afterwards they give you a voucher to try a cocktail in the bar next door (accessible underground). The bar is on Trinity Street.

This is at 2648 Cambridge. Great cocktails which may make you want to stay.

As I say take the bus there…

Gin 14

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Prezzo St Neots

When: 01-01-2017

Where: Prezzo St Neots

Price: Free – it was a gift

Review: I find Prezzo to be reliably good whenever I go there

Tip: Wise to book – it can get busy prior to film showing times as the cinema is next door.

This is an old blog post that never got put in the correct place. This dates from a time when I saw the future as reviewing those experiences I was able to take in.

Shortly afterwards I determined that the time for the experiences took away from the time for writing the blog.

This and a few like it will have to stand as memories of that aim.

The last such post is here: https://magic-phil.co.uk/2017/02/20/fifty-special-things-thanh-binh-restaurant-cambridge/.

I had concluded that I would write no further reviews. That was until fellow blog writer Anthony reminded me that the 50 Special Things did not officially have an end. Two years later it would now be 52 special things in any case so I have plenty to review.

You can catch Anthony here: http://unofficialcambridgefilmfestival.blogspot.co.uk/ or tweet him here https://twitter.com/theagentapsley

It had been a few months since my resolution to fill my 50th year with as many fun things as was feasible.

The visit to Prezzo St Neots was my suggestion. http://www.prezzorestaurants.co.uk/restaurant/st-neots/

The purpose: to celebrate my 50th birthday with my family. The event was coming somewhat after the actual birthday date.

If one believes in horoscopes I was born under the sign of Libra. (Which should give you a clue).

The original resolution for “50 special things” was before my birthday in a meeting with my counsellor . (However it was embellished on my birthday whilst eating in a resort restaurant with my two friends Jacqui and Jon. (We were in Gaya in Malaysia). I suspect in some not too distant blog entry details of that will emerge.

The idea of 50 special things was to dispel the belief that a birthday is limited to one day per year. Limiting celebrations in this way is likely to be disappointing. Allowing the celebrations to last all year circumvents that problem.

The idea came through talking to my counsellor. In my experience counsellors are often the source of great advice.

I’m certain that not all great recommendations come from counsellors but in my experience many of the good ones do.

This is quite an awesome responsibility when deciding to embark upon the journey towards being a counsellor. (How do you come up with these good ideas).

As a volunteer counsellor myself I am not certain that I can measure up to that expectation.

A 50th birthday celebration at Prezzo. This was in the hope that gluten-free means less stomach aches the following day.

Prezzo have a pretty extensive gluten-free menu (other restaurants take note). This menu means that I have eaten there many times.

St Neots is the usual Prezzo venue due to the familiarity I have with eateries there. (I live within easy driving distance of St Neots).

(I seem to be a creature of habit who would like to be a creature of adventure).

Prezzo is usually a place that is highly-populated due to its proximity to the St Neots cinema. It has a hubbub akin to a football stadium.

New Year’s Day and all I needed was to sleep (after a night in an Indian restaurant – the site of our New Year’s Eve celebrations).

Prezzo 1

An Indian restaurant some bottles of wine a need for sleep the day after. (To anyone of average intellect that would not have been surprising).

So I am sat half-asleep in a restaurant with a surprisingly muted hubbub. Perhaps I was not alone in my post Chilean wine indulgence.

New Year’s Day certainly seemed to bring a falloff in demand for Prezzo culinary expertise.

It was hard to get enthusiastic when consumption of unsuitable food the night before meant a tsunami stomach ache. Besides enough gas to replenish the North Sea pipeline.

Prezzo 2

Despite this malaise I noticed that the service (by three waitresses) was excellent. They seemed to cope with a deficit of staff (no doubt brought on by the holiday season) without noticeable decline in delivery or positivity.

For some reason the menu was not filling me with joy (as it has on previous occasions). I wondered if there had been a recent redesign or possibly it was feeling green that did it.

When you’re trying to avoid incompatible-with-IBS foods risotto is usually a good standby. That is apart from those establishments that insist all risotto must contain peas.

Prezzo 3

Peas are great if you fancy spending a day or so on your own fumigating a greenhouse. With a stomach that feels like a space hopper with an overweight and restless kid on it.

Sadly my choice was only slightly less tolerable as it contained leek. Leek is fantastic for post-food onion-orientated fragrances (as beloved by no one).

King prawn risotto following a starter of gluten-free bread with balsamic onion dressing. I love onion but onion wages outright war on me. It starts with the intestines and continues on down.

For an IBS-sufferer like me rice and gluten-free gets my recommendation.

Fortunately I have not developed a dairy-intolerance. If you are unable to take the cheese in the risotto there are a few gluten free pastas. I do not tolerate tomato well so eat these when I’m feeling quite well before hand.

Prezzo 4

Desserts of ice cream are well-tolerated by me (with peppermint tea). (This means I get to socialise otherwise going out would be taxing – finding foods that don’t make me ill.)

After all of these precautions I opted for the chocolate drink. In my defence I read recently that dark chocolate helps stay the commencement of Alzheimer’s. (Dementia has been a theme in my family).

Prezzo 5

I would recommend Prezzo as a place to go if like me you tend to tolerate some foods poorly. The menu gives some options that I don’t see at other nearby restaurants.

Although Prezzo is busy the service tends to be swift. The staff are pleasant despite having a huge number of tables to attend upon.

I tend to visit this restaurant every few months. So far the only down side is that the background volume in there can get elevated. In other respects I choose Prezzo over the alternatives.

 

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Do It

What You Waiting For.

I was reflecting today that older people keep trying to tell younger people things are a certain way and younger people don’t listen.

This seems to have been an issue for many generations.

I remember that there was a saying when I was a child “he has to learn the hard way”.

In which the hard way was to insist on learning by experience when someone had already told you what the outcome would be.

When you have twenty years or so left to exist it comes to mind that learning the hard way is too time-consuming and painful.

It is clear that spending a lot of life relearning lessons that others already know, which they have learned already and are trying to show you is a waste.

It took until my fifth decade before I began to get a picture of what other people were trying to tell me. In many respects when it is too late.

One of these is nicely documented in the song Time by Pink Floyd “No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun”.

I found that I waited and then kept on waiting for someone to tell me when was the proper time to begin.

For example since I can remember I have wanted to write a book, there seems no reason that makes sense.

Perhaps once it was an escape from a 9-5 job or something that seemed better than dealing with members of the public or whatever was right for the time.

But as boring jobs ended, and life improved the ambition remained.

It is now plain that I gave myself excuses: no punctuation or grammar background; gradual loss of imagination; daunted by the task and so on.

But mainly I was waiting, waiting for a time to start.

If there was ever a way of passing a message to someone four decades younger. Then it would be: do not wait, do what you want to do – now.

There may not be a tomorrow for you to try to do it in…

Fifty Special Things – Thanh Binh Restaurant Cambridge

When: 03-11-2016 and 10/01/2016

Where: Thanh Binh Vietnamese Restaurant, 17 Magdalene Street, Cambridge CB3 0AF, United Kingdom
Tel: 01223 362 456
Email: info@thanhbinh.co.uk/thanhbinhcambridge@gmail.com http://www.thanhbinh.co.uk/

Price: Free first time (50th birthday present), £20 second time

Review: Excellent Staff. A tiny place in which to treat yourself.

Tip: If you want to drink take your own wine – small corking charge applies.

Next in the task to have 50 great things happen in my 50th year.
See the previous account in this series:
https://magic-phil.co.uk/2017/02/12/fifty-special-things-brampton-wood/.

A suggestion from a counsellor and a great suggestion. Why does the celebration end with the birthday – why can’t it carry on all year?

One reason is making enough time available to do the things in life that you always wished to do.

The next is that, having achieved this hoary old age, remembering all the dreams that you once had becomes a lot less easy.

However I have taken this up like a new religion and so I am trying to make fifty great things happen before I am fifty one.

I think of this restaurant as being on Bridge Street. On the first visit it was a treat from my sister and had that air of specialness that comes from being the focus of attention. My sister drove me to Cambridge and I walked with her to the restaurant with the normal Phil air of complete obliviousness to geography.

On the second visit I was with people from work and I told them to meet me on Bridge Street at the bridge. Only to find the restaurant is on Magdalene Street and the meeting place was a bit beyond the restaurant. (The restaurant is up near the traffic lights and St Giles Church more than down near the Cam).

Of course people have become used by now to my species of woolly-headedness and so after some leg pulling we set off back up the hill.

The restaurant has online booking and in contrast to some places I have tried in the past it is effective. I had confirmation within a few hours of registering interest in a table for four. It is also a relief that having entrusted the booking to mouse and keyboard when I attended they were expecting me.

I had attended with my sister and brother in law for an after-50th birthday meal at the beginning of November. (I was in Borneo for my actual Fiftieth birthday. Accounts of which will be in this blog in the not too distant future). We had a great time in November.

It was with this fond memory that I had recommended it to a couple of friends from work. I was confident in the place: in that it was enjoyable; I wouldn’t have to fight my way through hordes of eager eaters, and the staff were courteous and attentive.

Importantly I would be able to find stuff for me to eat. Given I have IBS (and have a diet slightly less restricted than a vegan) this can make for some entertainment.

Details of the IBS and how it developed will no doubt hit this blog at some point as well.

Of course anything in Cambridge is going to involve some parking negotiations.
When I had come in with my sister she had driven in and very kindly paid for the parking. On that occasion we used the Park Street car park:

https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/park-street-car-park

Not what you’d call cheap, not what you’d call fragrant but had the advantage of being close. I could not recommend much in the way of parking in Cambridge. Cambridge majors on the historic or even quaint but not much on the car city. Bicycle yes, car no.

On the second occasion (taking into account that I am a cheapskate) – after arrival I drove round for some on-street parking. This left a bit of a walk down Castle Hill.

On street parking is a bit of an endangered species in Cambridge. Resident’s parking bays are apparently procreating.

Very soon parking without fee will involve the kind of expedition that would bring a gleam to the eye of Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

It is pointless recommending anywhere because as soon as this blog item is out the parking will have disappeared.

Given the distance from the venue and my encroaching portliness I was late, again.

My two friends were waiting with that patient air of someone who’d dearly like to say “where the hell have you been”. They limited themselves to mentioning that they’d decided to wait at the appointed place.

The bridge is picturesque in that tiny “I wouldn’t have noticed if you hadn’t pointed it out” kind of way. But given the outside temperatures lingering on it was likely to have been diverting for all the wrong reasons.

Despite having attended in November, by the time I attended again in January I had forgotten where it was. A fact that caused some amusement to my companions.
Although not that exceptional for me I have to say.

If you’re as far as the bridge on Bridge Street you need to retrace your steps some way towards the traffic lights. A disconcertingly long way when you can’t remember where the place.

In fact if you are opposite Magdalene College you’re just about there.
Oh and if like me you forgot to look out for it on the way down the hill and walk past it then this is a cue for more ribbing behaviour.

It is tiny.

dsc02789

I felt like I was sitting in the comfort of someone’s front room the whole time I was there.

The staff are friendly and welcoming. In that fashion which does not involve them fussing round you whilst you’re trying to have a conversation.

On each occasion it has been quiet like the low murmur of somewhere refined.

Maybe the more restricted areas of some gentleman’s club but without the wing backed chairs (and the prostitutes).

The first time we took wine to celebrate (they don’t serve wine but allow you to take your own). This is a top tip if you want to drink – they are quite happy for you to bring some.

There’s a small charge for this but cheaper than getting wine in a restaurant I thought.

The drinks available are appealing even if the lack of alcoholic ingredient may deter many.

Although Vietnamese and therefore chopsticks provided as standard fortunately cutlery is available. This is useful considering that I am a Luddite and have the finger dexterity of two large lumps of concrete.

Although chopsticks make a very effective projectile. (As I discovered; I caught one with my sleeve and sent it down to the lower ground floor level – with a resounding clatter which caught everyone’s attention).

The toilet is on the lower ground floor beside the kitchen down a winding staircase. This means having too much to drink is not too great an idea in any case (you might arrive on your backside).

dsc02790

They have both chrysanthemum tea and jasmine tea so I was a bit torn opting for jasmine through habit.

For those who can drink tea which has camellia sinensis in it they have green tea but I saw no evidence of the fermented variety.

The food is to die for and semi IBS friendly. Although I tend to find no matter how careful I am after I go out – being close to some facilities (and away from people) for 24 hours afterwards is a good thing.

The fish I had a couple of times (once on each visit) because I liked it so much. (In a former life I must have been a marine creature given my love of all things seafood).

dsc02792

Mostly you go out for the company. This is a place where you can have a conversation and not have to compete with the hubbub. Neither will you find it necessary to shrink yourself down to a skinny person – to avoid elbows, back or bum intersecting with someone else’s’ eating space.

The first occasion with family was a very uplifting experience – helped by being made a fuss of.

I can’t speak on behalf of my friends but personal view was that the second visit was also a success.

I imagine that at intervals it must become busy and I can’t speak for the experience then. Both occasions where I have attended there hasn’t been need to elbow back the crowds or to join some tiresome queue whilst you “wait to be seated”.

They have some interesting desserts too. Although after my experiences in Malaysia I would not recommend anything containing durian.

They have durian ice cream but after the face shrivelling experience of trying some on an open market in Kuala Lumpur I can’t say I was tempted this time.

The first visit I opted for the standard ice cream which given November wasn’t too shabby temperature-wise just about made sense.

January it turned out was a bit stiffer in its resolve to bring draughty. Everyone agreed dessert was not what we were looking to do.

If you’re coming in and do not fancy car park negotiation one of my companions pointed out that Shire Hall is now pay and display at £1 per hour (at weekends). Compared to some multi storeys this is a disgraceful bargain. But if you’re a cheapskate could be considered ruinous. Consider it a contribution to the good works of the local authority…

I recommend this restaurant for a visit. I’m hoping that my recommendation will not ruin the special atmosphere through increased demand.
Perhaps the thing is to get in quick before the rush starts.

Fifty Special Things – Brampton Wood

When: 30-10-2016

Where: Brampton Wood http://www.visiteastofengland.com/Huntingdon-Brampton-Wood/details/?dms=3&venue=0211398

Price: Free

Review: Not at its best in October; go when it’s warmer

Tip: follow the satnav in this case it makes a better job of finding it.

Brampton wood and the start of many wood visits.

Communing with nature is restorative: http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/we-know-nature-makes-us-happier-now-science-says-it-makes-us-kinder-too-20160312.

So to start with this appeared to be a great choice.

The Wildlife Trusts’ guidebook states that they have managed the wood since 1992. They bought it from the Ministry of Defence.

Guidebook:  Bedfordshire Cambridgeshire Northamptonshire guide: “Where to See Wildlife in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire”.

I was attending the Bolnhurst Steam Fair http://www.bolnhurstrally.org.uk/ when someone came up and sold me membership. This is not an organisation I would have thought of but I am supportive of any group that puts trees before house building.

They have a good little guide to local woods and also a website worthy of a visit: http://www.wildlifebcn.org/.

Brampton Wood has been a site of Special Scientific Interest since 1954.

But it turns out that spotting wildlife is somewhat more difficult than on some of our trips abroad.

The wood is home to dormice (which were re-introduced in 1992) but so far all we seem to have seen in our woodland visits are species of canine on and off leads.

It is the second largest woodland in Cambridgeshire at 132 hectares (327 acres). The largest is Bedford Purlieus: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bedford_Purlieus_NNR.  (Which might be the subject of a future visit/blog item).

The Wildlife Trusts organisation have a good leaflet on Brampton Wood: http://data.wildlifetrusts.org/sites/default/files/Brampton%20Wood%20Leaflet%202015.pdf.

But the wood majored less on the picturesque and more on the damp and cold the day that I went.

The guidebook states there are more than two miles of wide mown pathways and some minor pathways and follows: “pathways maybe muddy” – read will be very muddy. Take wellies (and a small tractor to drag you out).

Brampton wood appears easy to find. But where it appeared to be on the map was not where the satnav wished us to go. We went with our own judgement, and got lost. (OS Ref is TL 184 698).

If you want to find it Google indicates that it is here:

https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Brampton+Wood+Nature+Reserve/@52.3166644,-0.2744105,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x4877c3cb62522f8f:0x491c3106c976241c!8m2!3d52.3166644!4d-0.2722218.

Directions are: From A1, take A14 exit towards Huntingdon. Take the first exit off A14 to Brampton (B1514). Go straight at the first roundabout then right at the second roundabout. Turn right at the T-junction on to Grafham Road. Follow Grafham Road through the village and over the A1. The reserve is on the north side of the road – 1/2 mile out of Brampton. A brown sign indicates the entrance to the wood. Park in the small car park. (When they say small they are not kidding).

Following the satnav lead to a tiny left-hander off the A1. This looked to need the sort of deceleration which the Beagle Lander attempted on Mars.

As a result we took the circuitous route. This required navigation of a narrow road with enough oncoming traffic to provide diversion. After many wood-related trips we found this was typical.

Being a virgin of wood visits I anticipated a car park devoid of vehicles, our journey punctuated by some kindly gamekeeper (with a discussion of pheasant breeding practices or some such).

But turning into the most bijou of car parks I found it already well inhabited with vehicles which could have labelled modern, shiny, and family.

We squeezed in at the end of a row of these.

dsc01893

Vehicles distinguished by large rear load areas. Every one of those vehicles contained inhabitants which you could call “Rover”.(Second piece of education of the day).

All varieties of fur – caked in material which was going to need more than a small towel to remonstrate with.

Each one of the human car inhabitants turned out to have a species of cheeriness, this associated with bobble-hat, fleece, and large rangy hound.

We had snaffled the last space (or so we thought). Yet another shiny Tonka-toy-thing burbled in behind. The driver did not resort to shouting or fist-waving so I assume found somewhere to slot it.

The ground was that species of compliant which one will be familiar with if embarking-out barefoot on a wet evening and murdering a large slug in darkness with one’s toes as the offensive weapon.

Phil’s recommendation: go when it’s warmer. Although given how popular woods turn out to be with dog walkers you are always going to have a lot of company.

It is a top site for bluebells in the spring so that may well be worth a try. I wouldn’t bother with October. Unless you have a 4×4 and something large with waggy tail which doesn’t smell great when it’s wet.

Fortunately the ground was well furnished with leaves. Rainfall sufficiently far in the past that waders were not a necessity.

The Wildlife Trusts’ booklet informs me that the wood is at least 900 years old. And so had a mention in the Domesday Book.

I’m sure in the summer it is a goodly place. But the day we went it had the kind of sombre air usually reserved for death and religious buildings. (Or some combination of those).

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The link above http://www.wildlifebcn.org turns out to be the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife trust – check out their website for further details.

We decided to do a circuit (starting at the noticeboards).

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The link above http://www.hffs.org.uk is for the Huntingdonshire Fauna and Flora Society – check out their website for further details

And so embarked on a journey around what one imagined to be the circumference – just inside the tree line.

Diverting at intervals to have privacy from the next bobble-hatted group.

In places there were stands of conifers – planted when the Government managed the wood.

These are being removed for the wood to re-establish.

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The circuit seemed too brief to me and convinced me that we must have taken the wrong route.

I’d only said good morning to 1/2 dozen people or so and I estimated the population at that time to be several times that. So where had they all gone?

After reviewing the map of the wood we realised that we had only circuited part of it. So there was a lot left to see on future visits.

A little of a good thing convinced me that more of this experience would prove more fulfilling. So decided that this wildlife idea was for me.

Gazing between the trees gave me brief memories of Borneo. It was with sadness I realised that we would see no macaque this trip. (Nor catch our clothes on any rattan).

Back to the car. The surrounding shiny and four wheel drive had swapped about a bit but not reduced in number. So lesson of wood exploration wood=popular=pooches began to form in my mind.

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Stately homes seem to be the places where frazzled adults take their small person. Woods however are where red cheeked outdoors people range about with carnivores.

Well there’s a learning point.

Brampton as we found out later was remarkable in its tidiness (i.e. no dog faeces).

Despite the car park it also proved to be unrepresentative in its lack of population. Subsequent woods were to prove much more popular.

Things You Really Will be Doing Now You’re 50 – Part Five

Following on from part four of the things you are going to find when you’re 50.

https://magic-phil.co.uk/2016/12/11/things-you-really-will-be-doing-now-youre-50-part-four

Ten more items from the same list:

  1. You can’t see road signs so you get glasses. You can’t see to thread a needle, so you get glasses. Any task involves juggling eyesight correcting devices. You develop a facility for recognising different varieties of fuzzy as objects.
  2. Just as you get to like something you find that the shops stop stocking it. Years ago you just moved on. Now you find yourself scanning auction sites, second hand stores, junk shops in the hope of continuing to use that thing you have a fondness for.
  3. Suddenly everything in the past seems more pleasant than today. You forget the shoddy brakes on your first car and wish you still had it. You forget the unpleasantness with the neighbour and consider that everyone was much friendlier then. Constant rain showers are dispelled in memories of long summers of unbroken sunshine. You have entered the nostalgia zone.
  4. After a long time of dismissing it as boring you find an hour of Gardeners’ World quite relaxing. You get drawn in. Before long you find that you are making way too many visits to garden centres. Eventually you start listening to Gardeners’ question time…
  5. You meet up with some friends that you haven’t seen in a long time. You know that you haven’t changed but you are shocked at how old they look…
  6. In conversation someone remarks that you have a lot less time to go than you have already had. After the message has had time to sink in you realise that actually you don’t mind about that. You wonder if that means there is something wrong with you.
  7. Whitening your teeth sounds a great idea. Surely this would improve your appeal to other people. However you realise that your mouth now contains more amalgam than tooth.
  8. Snoring will start to punctuate your night time hours. You will find no explanation for this. In order to avoid being murdered by your partner you take to the sofa.
  9. Your body formerly lived a halcyon existence of cooperative equanimity. Now the disparate parts engage in a war with one another. If one area is dry an adjacent area is greasy. If one is jittery due to inactivity another is tired out from exercise. Whilst one feels fit another feels damaged. Every action is punctuated with either fatigue, itching or little stabs of pain; apparently to remind you that this dispute is underway.
  10. Other people have now moved you from a position where you might have been appealing to some kind of universal parent figure. Your role is now to listen and support; to give advice (which they will ignore). This enables them to go on with their lives; in which it is never suspected you could be involved.

That’s the 50 things that will happen to you now that you are 50, I’d welcome any comments (unless of the trolling variety. If you like this blog please subscribe by email and you will get updates as I post new stuff.
If you missed part one you will find it here:
https://magic-phil.co.uk/2016/12/11/things-you-really-will-be-doing-now-youre-50
If you missed part two you will find it here:
https://magic-phil.co.uk/2016/12/11/things-you-really-will-be-doing-now-youre-50-part-two
If you missed part three you will find it here:
https://magic-phil.co.uk/2016/12/11/things-you-really-will-be-doing-now-youre-50-part-three
If you missed part four you will find it here:
https://magic-phil.co.uk/2016/12/11/things-you-really-will-be-doing-now-youre-50-part-four

That’s it for this series.

Things You Really Will be Doing Now You’re 50

Articles on how to live your life abound; instructions on this; guidelines on that.

If the first 5 decades seem to have been chaotic it might appear that consulting this guidance may provide some hope of enlightenment.

It was in light of this that I stumbled across this article which gives suggestions about what you can do now that you have reached 50:
https://www.onefamily.com/hub/wellbeing/50-things-to-do-now-youre-50

All very well but for me this article did not reflect being 50 in any real sense.

Here are the steps that you will inevitably encounter when you’re 50.

Tradition dictates that there should be 50 of these, but 10 is all I’m prepared to read at one sitting.

  1. Alcohol: moderate drinking leaves you with a hangover which would’ve taxed Gandhi. More than moderate drinking has you escorted to a hospice. Drinking over more than one day means a trip to an expensive rehab centre.
  2. You will forget the name of someone you’ve known for at least ten years; you’ll be too embarrassed to admit it. Months later you’ll be trying to remember where you put your keys; for no obvious reason the name will pop back into your head.
  3. A malicious poltergeist will move into your house. It will confine itself to moving your keys, your money, your work’s access pass. You will spend the start of most journeys hunting for one or more of these items.
  4. You will develop an irresistible urge to sleep whenever you sit down – any comfortable surface will find you drooling into your collar: park benches, train seats, brambles, nettles.
  5. You’re on better terms with the doctor than you have been your whole life; your medical records are being moved to The National Archives.
  6. You meet some people from school and find at least one person you knew is already dead and has been for some time. You start guessing which of you will be next.
  7. Without warning you develop a fondness for cardigans, they become your default outer wear.
  8. Saga starts to send you junk mail – for some reason their trips start to look interesting.
  9. Room temperature of 20 oC seems to be like the inside of a Greenland glacier; you keep revisiting the thermostat.
  10. The heroes you’ve had in your life now turn out to be paedophiles or dead or more often both.

Instalment two in this series covers the next 10:
https://magic-phil.co.uk/2016/12/11/things-you-really-will-be-doing-now-youre-50-part-two