Lifestyle, Opinion, Uncategorized

Back to School, Gin School

“Doesn’t sound too hard to grow juniper berries then does it, Mum?” Only half an hour into the gin-making class and my interest is piqued. This is Gin Jamboree, a gin school held in the auspicious setting of Old School House in Tittensor. The first hour or so feels like being back at school, if this class was actually chemistry and instead of measuring the rate of evaporation we would be making a bottle of our own carefully crafted gin to take home.

One pagers are handed out to teach us how gin went from being brewed medicinally by the Dutch as ‘genever’ to becoming so popular with the British that their drunken mispronunciation birthed the name ‘gin’. To being the tipple of choice for William of Orange and instigating a trade war with the French to the Gin Craze when it became cheaper than beer and the poor literally went mad. The cocktail as we now know and love it started to come back into fashion when the British Royal Navy took cases of gin as a potential cure for various illnesses. Again, gin became medicinal and only the addition of Schweppes’ Indian tonic water made it drinkable then limes were added as an anti-scurvy measure.

Gin is now a £1.9bn industry in the UK and its popularity as a fashionable beverage began in 1999 with the launch of Hendrick’s Gin. Behind me are shelves heaving with bright and beautiful gin bottles, none of which would have existed unless Sipsmith’s successfully lobbied HMRC in 2009 to grant the first gin distillers license since 1820. There are now over 350 distilleries in the UK and the sheer variety means there should be a gin for everyone. Now it is my turn to work out what my own twist should be.

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For the entire, condensed history lesson there are five glasses sat temptingly in front of me. Finally a sheet is handed to us that fails to include any landmark dates and my tastebuds are primed. For a novice like me, for whom asking for a G&T is usually just a question of which brand behind the bar I have actually heard of, the fact that there are actually five different types pretty much blows my tiny mind. London Dry is the obvious one, I kinda knew about Plymouth Dry yet Old Tom, Genever and Gin Liquer are all new to me.

Few spirits are quite as versatile which encourages subtle tweeks to each cocktail. We learn of the importance of ice to open the gin up, encouraged to branch out to lemonade and ginger ale as mixers, how Schweppes dropped a clanger by bringing in sweeteners to their tonic and how the right garnish isn’t just for decoration. The ceiling may be high enough but school was never this fun.

Just as the rush of drinking gin samples before midday hits me we are led into our classroom which eerily does look like what I remember of a school chemistry lesson. Shelves of labelled jars, some decorated with toxic signs and others featuring ingredients you might have at home. A blackboard, measuring jugs, weighing scales, plastic tubes, ballpoint pens and huge wooden work benches. Unlike school, I am keen to get started.

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After a short tutorial of practical science into the art of distillation the creative side of my brain is fully engaged. Since learning of the class I have done a bit of homework. While the gin market is bursting with ideas, one of my favourite flavours is noted for its absence. Ever since a child I have adored liquorice, to the extent of buying a bag of allsorts safe in the knowledge that I can graciously offer the bag to friends and know that most won’t partake, meaning even more for me. As we go through the potential recipes I learn that liquorice root is readily available, then my Mum divulges that she’s making her own liquorice variety. Sigh.

This could be the start of a taste-off as we battle it out for who can best fill that liquorice shaped gap in the market. There could be millions at stake, and I graciously opt out. As I gaze at the shelves I wonder what other taste combinations are available. Liquorice now looks fairly obvious so I decide to go a bit rogue, aim for a little niche and make it my own. The base of every gin flavour board is obviously juniper berries yet second up is coriander seeds, after that it is a blank page. Key to my masterplan of cornering the gin market is subtlety; if liquorice offers division I want to open my flavour up to the world.

Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds’ Big Mac Sauce, Coca Cola and now… Citrus and Spice and All Things Nice Vol. 1. The combination seems straightforward, as if lightning has struck my brain, charged with inspiration. Orange twoways as a frozen segment then dried cut peel, slices of ginger peel, dried camomile flowers and orris root. The mix is precisely weighed and divided between jugs then left to macerate. Production has improved since those dark days in the 1700s when gin could be made with turpentine and sulphuric acid. Instead, my mix is poured into jugs of pure alcohol, itself a cruel but necessary measure for my beautiful flavour combination. Meanwhile, lunch.

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Citrus and Spice and All Things Nice Vol. 1

After an hour we are introduced to our apparatus; beautifully handmade copper Alembic stills. Almost Arabian in appearance yet we are making something stronger than tea. My mix is poured into the still, I tighten the valve, cover the coils in ice, turn up the heat and wait. And wait. While 80c is reached by the rest of the class in what feels like the time it takes to boil a kettle mine is still taking its sweet time. Good things come to those who wait and all that but my scheduled train looks in jeopardy at this rate. The accompanying drips sound like water torture and I continue to wait. Eventually I note that the still is angling off the heat with a gap of 2mm periodically robbing me of my sweet, sweet booze. Finally the mix begins to separate, water seeps out of one tube and after ten more minutes I raise my arms and celebrate the first drop of actual gin.

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These first drips are pretty much pure ethanol yet like any chef I cannot help myself and dip a paper straw into my new fangled masterpiece. Remarkably, after the alcohol burn has left my mouth I can still identify the ginger, and the orange and, incredibly, the camomile too. Even when I bake a simple cake I struggle to identify two flavours, let alone three. As the drips turn into hundreds of millilitres the alcohol concentration dissipates but not my enthusiasm. I continue to dip my straw in and can still pick out each flavour. The rest of the class are busy bottling up while I patiently add ice to the coil and let the vapour do the rest.

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As with any lesson, there is a test. My revision is years of home mixing and I soon realise that in order to win I need to go big. The mixer is a big risk and to complement the ginger peel I stick to my conviction that ginger ale is awaiting a return to the drinks market. Predictably, I add an orange segment to the garnish and four hours of intense classwork is being examined by a gin expert. Mine is the glass marked 3. My challengers are… My mother (2) and another middle-aged lady (1) who have both gone for liquorice and the experimental boysenberry based efforts of the teacher (4). I try the competition and without blowing my own trumpet too much announce to the rest of the class that, “if I was a betting man I’d know which one was the favourite”. Mine might be the only one that actually tastes like a gin you could buy in a fashionable bar, therein lies its appeal. Such is the appeal of gin that it is fascinating that these four distinctive concoctions all follow the same basic recipe.

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The judge comes over, tries each once, goes back to mine and 1 then puts down the straw. Number 3 she says, with an air of inevitability. The greater compliment is that she’d actually buy my gin. That’s right, I now have a certificate that pretty much states I know my gin plus I have the bottle to prove it and a renowned gin seller who wouldn’t mind stealing my recipe for herself.

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Uncategorized

The Final Things I Want To See In Game of Thrones (8.4 update)

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With this being the final season, every scene in Game of Thrones seems to have something riding on it. Whether it be a long-awaited reunion, a brutal battle scene or the most earth-shattering news, things are HAPPENING. Now that The Night King and his Army of Dead have been defeated, focus turns to King’s Landing and the Last War.

For the timebeing I can knock a few names off my Death Pool and still wonder who’ll survive. Of those remaining there are character arcs left to be completed and the Last War is still to come.

  1. Someone on the Iron Throne. Anyone! However, I’m now warming to the possibility of the throne being destroyed at the end of all this. When you consider what Daenerys has lost to get to this point you can see why. Khal Drogo, her unborn son, Jorah, most of the Dothraki and Unsullied, Rhaegal, Viserion, Missandei and now arguably Jon with her claim to the throne. She has threatened to break the wheel and if she has her way I can see the throne being melted and the feudal system abolished. Given how strained her relationship with Jon could become and the way he recoiled from her now he knows they’re related hints that the fairytale finish of them ruling side by side looks to be just that. Doubtful too whether Jon WANTS to be the True King given all that Daenerys has lost to get to this point while he would have it on a technicality. As the final season reaches its climax expect three suitors for the crown (Dany, Jon and Cersei) to be reduced to two then one. Incidentally it’s Mother’s Day in America meaning that in typically cruel fashion either the Mother of Dragons or Cersei could meet their end. A bittersweet ending is to be expected, could it be that Dany and Jon defeat Cersei only to argue over who gets to rule? With Jon being the True King as the remaining male Targaryen heir and Dany starting to lose her mind it would be a shame if the show ended with a tyrant whose reign could spark another war as there’s a suitor with a greater claim who doesn’t even want the throne. Then again, one of the show’s great markers is to subvert the expected.
  2. Gendry to land a telling blow with his warhammer (not a euphemism). There’s still time for this in King’s Landing on his home turf.
  3. Jon Snow rides RhaegonHe’s got some practice in now too. And that’s all the practice he’s ever going to get.
  4. Revealed: Tyrion is also a Targaryen. Pfft, little chance of that now considering the palaver that Jon has caused telling Dany.
  5. Revealed: The identity and motive of The Night King. Was he truly after Bran? Did he want an heir in the form of another baby? Who was he before he became The Night King?
  6. The Valonqar prophecy comes true. Now that Arya has killed The Night King it’s doubtful she’d also claim Cersei, even wearing Jaime’s face. Now he’s left Brienne to head to King’s Landing, maybe it’ll be left to Jaime himself to kill his sister or perhaps Bronn will turn on her. You get the impression this isn’t the last we’ll see of the sellsword and he’ll have a final kill left in him. Considering the prophecy, one line now sticks out. ‘Queen you shall be… until there comes another, younger and more beautiful’. I’ve always interpreted that as being someone female yet Jaime has always been considered handsome and the prettier of the two siblings. Jaime looks to be turning away from his sister and her evil ways and going closer to her throat.
  7. CLEGANEBOWLLLLLLL. It’s so on. Especially if it’s the one thing that’ll make The Hound happy.
  8. Arya ticks off her kill list. The Hound (though Arya did confirm he was no longer on the list), Meryn Trant, Cersei Lannister, Joffrey, Ilyn Payne, Polliver, The Mountain (debatable whether you can still count that monstrosity as him), RorgeWalder FreyTywin Lannister, Melisandre, Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr. She’s killed The Night King, could she really claim Cersei too?
  9. Theon’s redemption against Euron. At least he redeemed himself as a good man in the eyes of Bran, sorry, the Three Eyed Raven.
  10. Happy endings. Brienne rejected Tormund, then he was cockblocked then Jaime left her for his sister then Arya turned down Gendry’s proposal to be the Lady of Storm’s End then Missandei lost her head and Jon has turned away from Dany and WON’T THERE BE ANY HAPPY COUPLES ON THIS SHOW!?
  11. Bran warging into ViserionWhat was Bran doing during the Battle of Winterfell if he wasn’t even trying to do this?
  12. Samwell Tarly becomes George R.R. Martin. In the final scene of the final episode I can now envisage him penning the history of Game of Thrones then reading it to even littler Sam as if he was George R.R. Martin. He kinda looks like him too, maybe that was the plan all along.
  13. The Prince That Was Promised. This could have been fulfilled. According to the prophecy, Lightbringer is a sword of legend that’s wielded by Azor Ahai, chosen by the Lord of Light to fight the darkness. Melisandre, as a disciple of the Lord of Light, gave the pep talk to Arya to shut ‘Ol Blue Eyes so that makes sense with Arya being Azor Ahai. That would mean that Lightbringer could be the dagger. Hear me out as this is no ordinary blade. Many believe that Jon would be Azor Ahai, indeed Kit Harrington was ‘pissed’ that it wasn’t him killing the Night King and ending The Long Night though the writers have known for three years. The book hints that The Prince That Was Promised was meant to be his father, Rhaegar. However, this reasoning doesn’t necessarily rule out Rhaegar’s role as the sword is meant to radiate heat; given he’s a Targaryen and the dagger’s hilt is made of dragonbone there’s still a heavy dragon influence there. Rhaegar is also said to be the original owner of the dagger and when Bran asked Littlefinger who the dagger belonged to, Littlefinger assumed it’s previous owner when perhaps Bran meant Rhaegar. There’s also history behind the blade itself as it likely came into the possession of Robert Baratheon after he killed Rhaegar at The Trident and of course it was then used in the Bran assassination attempt that kicked this whole thing off. That’s one legendary blade right there, fitting for the prophecy. There’s also the fact that Arya has been trained to become the most feared assassin and would have earned legendary status.
  14. Jon somehow manages to either keep the secret that he’s True King of The Seven Kingdoms under wraps or tells the relevant people and still gets to keep everyone onside. While Ned kept the secret for 18 years now practically everyone knows who Jon really is (nice one, Sansa). This means Dany’s claim is even more undermined and soon enough the entire kingdom will know. However much Jon sounded like a True King in his opening speech he doesn’t want the throne. Likely, his own sense of duty will be the end of him, as it was for Ned. ‘Even if the truth destroys us’, because that’s what happens in Westeros.
  15. Cersei denies that the Battle of Winterfell ever actually happened and claims fake news. No photos, no videos so she can put her fingers in her ears and deny there ever was a battle. Hell, most of us watching didn’t see all of it anyway.

And some bonus things I want to see –

    • Starks coming back as wights in the crypts. Called it.
    • Ghost somehow getting through the battle alive. He definitely deserved at least a farewell pat and a hug though the CGI budget denied it.
    • Cersei lets people believe that the baby is Euron’s and not Jaime’s. Just to mess with people. Called it.
    • No Lannister troops are heading up North. They never were. Yup
    • Sansa comes to realise that she has to back Dany or risk losing the Last War before it’s even begun. Then again, she’s also playing the long game in ensuring the future of the North even if it does strain their relationship. Her letting people know of Jon’s rightful claim will only piss Dany off more.
    • Jaime fights for the living then teams up with Tyrion to defeat Cersei, both of them know her and King’s Landing far too well to let this opportunity slip. Still a goer.
    • Bronn has a crisis of conscience when faced with aiming a crossbow at either Jaime or Tyrion. Less a crisis of conscience and more a declaration of intent.
    • Daario persuades The Golden Company to fight against Cersei. They’re mercenaries, plus there is some mention in the book of a long-ago Targaryen link having been founded by Ser Aegor Rivers, a legitimized bastard of King Aegon IV Targaryen. Also, Danaerys could really do with some help.
    • Danaery’s fulfils her father’s intent and burns down King’s Landing. She’s certainly starting to lose her shit.
    • Drogon has given birth to triplets. There’s also a weird rumour going around that explains Drogon’s absence in season five can be explained that he (she?) was away giving birth to triplets. Part of the rumour is based on the new opening credits featuring what appears to be a dragon and three smaller dragons. Let’s see how Euron would deal with that!
    • Tyrion finally redeems himself with some wise decisions. Either he’s a terrible Hand or he’s betraying Danaerys with some sizably questionable decisions. There’s also the thought of whether Euron was tipped off. If there’s a chance to prove his worth and condemn his sister, will he take it?
    • No cavalry to the rescue. This is the endgame and while it would be classic TV storytelling to have a hero return and ride to the rescue I’d much prefer to see these remaining characters play it to the end. That does mean it’s the last we’ll see of Yara, Tormund, Daario, and Ja’qen.
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Health, Uncategorized

Men’s Health and Movember 2017

Men’s health is in crisis and this is a conversation worth having. The Movember Foundation sets out to get mates, fathers, partners and brothers talking about it. It remains the only charity dedicated to men’s health on a global scale and raises money for research into men’s health projects. Men are dying too young and this silence has to stop. This is also why, for the sixth year, I am growing a moustache. If a month’s worth of public humiliation means getting men to talk then it will have been worth it.

Prostate cancer

The second most common cancer in men worldwide, I had no idea and I doubt many do. Early detection is vital; there is a 98% survival rate beyond five years when caught early compared to a lowly 26% if late. The risk develops with age and peaks around 45 to 50 when men really need to take a PSA test, which measures the level of prostate specific antigen in the blood. Get it done. Had any strange urinary or ejaculation symptoms? Get it checked.

Testicular cancer

Only a few weeks ago I had, what I guess was, a cancer scare which was diagnosed as an epidermal cyst and benign. Of course this meant a check-up with a doctor and a trip to the hospital for a scan yet it’s better to be safe than sorry. 47% of the men diagnosed with testicular cancer in the UK each year are aged under 35. I’m now 34 and cannot think of this ever being discussed with my mates. Yeh, it likely seems weird to ask, ‘Have you checked your nuts?’ but getting that conversation out into the open is vital.

Mental Health

75% of all suicides are men. Also, one in eight men in the UK have experienced a mental health problem and I annually suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder which is a type of depression that mainly hits in the winter months. This results in a low mood, irritability, feelings of worthlessness and lethargy. I only let a few people close to me know and I realise I should make others aware. Vitamin D supplements help but we really should talk, ask, listen, encourage action and check in. Men really should open up to vulnerability and not feel uncomfortable about asking mates for help, but we do.

This is only Day 12 of Movember and I’ve got a long way to go yet. Men’s health also has a long way to go to improve yet initiatives like this can only hope. If you want to see my progress take a look at my Instagram (@wiz52gram), Twitter (@wiz52) and please sponsor me at https://mobro.co/omarsoliman?mc=1

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Politics, Uncategorized

General Election 2017. I Still Believe In This Country, But Not Under This Current Government.

Let me begin with a disclaimer, politics is not really my thing. Yes, I take an interest in how this country is run and how, in general, the world is becoming increasingly ridiculous. I also know people who are a lot more articulate when it comes to understanding and explaining affairs of state. Most of us get our facts from the media but my patience for impartial news is wearing thin to the extent that I do not believe it exists anymore. Since a young age I have have maintained this heavy scepticism, especially when newspapers and television become our primary sources of information when election coverage ramps up.

My main concern lies in an estimated ¾ of the current mainstream media in the UK being privately owned, ergo I don’t believe most of what is being printed being anything close to objective. The Government had an opportunity to investigate the media but dropped the Leveson II Inquiry. I do not believe the media were let off the hook without a compromise, a government able to ignore unwanted facts is a prerogative of unchallenged power. Avoid headlines. Read the manifestos and make up your own mind.

Even then it can be difficult to try to find the common good amongst all the promises. I find it easier to present politics as a fairytale; good v evil, The Force v The Dark Side, government for the few v government for the many. Thomas Jefferson saw it as a battle between aristocrats and democrats. The aristocrats are ‘those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes.’ The democrats ‘identify with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe.’ Once you realise how nepotistic the media is and concentrate on policies the picture becomes a little clearer. Judging by the recently published manifestos, it is not difficult to work out which party fits which description in this general elections and why I still believe in this country, but only if the current government was removed.

I believe in a £9 p/h minimum wage and a tax freeze promise on wages for those earning less than £80,000.

I do not believe in zero hour contracts.

I believe in eradicating rough sleeping and raising corporation tax to £26bn. I also believe in Excessive Pay Leverage, in taxing the top 5% and those earning over £80,000. I also believe in giving HMRC more teeth to go after UK companies who plough their profits into tax havens. The rich must pay their dues before a social crisis.

I believe in renationalising the trains and bringing them back under Government control. I also believe in free wifi on trains and freezing rail fare prices before reducing them gradually while investing in infrastructure. Over £100 to visit London before 9am is for the few, not the many.

I believe in renationalising Royal Mail and the National Grid.

I believe in scrapping university tuition fees, a higher education should be a right and not a privilege. However, the Tories have announced plans to fund new free schools (academies and grammar schools) by raising tuition fees. The Conservative manifesto states; “We will make it a condition for universities hoping to charge maximum tuition fees to become involved in academy sponsorship or the founding of free schools”. Universities themselves are concerned, Pam Tatlow, Chief Executive of MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, said “Universities need higher tuition fees simply because the government has cut their funding by over 80 per cent. If the fees of students are used to get more academies and free schools off the ground, this would be like robbing Peter to pay Paul but it would also side-line local parents and governors who might prefer to work with other sponsors.”

Meanwhile, free school meals for children from lower income families would be scrapped despite thousands spent on kitchens. In effect, our education system is becoming a system of entitlement.  To put figures into perspective, Tories gave a £100k tax cut p/a to 13,000 millionaires while they are removing school meals from the mouths of 900,000 kids. Dickensian.

I do not believe in a new Dementia tax for the elderly. This would mean elderly people who are receiving social care to fund the entire cost until they reached the last £100,000 of assets which the state would allow them to keep. Of course, the Tories have now made a u-turn but their intention was clear; taxing the vulnerable. The u-turn itself is also telling, going back on a repugnant proposal only because going through with it would cost them votes. The Tories even bought up Google advertisements to try and hide the ‘dementia tax’ as if the blunder was all but a figment of our imagination.

I also believe in maintaining the triple lock state pension guarantee and means-testing of winter fuel payments up to £300. I believe in caring for the elderly, not stripping them.

I believe in a properly funded NHS with free car parking, not one involving private consultancies. I also believe in restoring nurses’ training bursaries. I do not believe in dismantling the NHS piece by piece. I do not believe Jeremy Hunt has a conscience.

I do not believe in the loss of Disability Living Allowance. I do not believe in the rise of food banks. I do not believe in starving the poor and the needy.

I believe in a new Minister for Mental Health.

I do not believe in Boris Johnson as a functioning adult, can you imagine him negotiating with the EU as Foreign Secretary? The alternative is Keir Starmer LLB, QC and Barrister who is Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. A man with actual experience of persuasion in a court of law. No-brainer.

I believe in interest-free loans for homeowners to improve property.

I do not believe in unethical arms exports to the likes of Saudi Arabia, not with their human rights record.

I believe in banning the UK ivory trade, the Tories removed that pledge from their manifesto. Horrifying.

I do not believe in borrowing over £700bn over seven years with zero investment.

I do not believe in taking the internet under government control but a toughening up of punishments for online abuse.

I do not believe in fox hunting, Theresa May does.

I believe in renewable energy and clean air, not fracking. Germany has it right, not wholesale nationalisation but letting councils decide how to supply their energy and not relying on a few providers.

Strong and stable? What about the weak and vulnerable? I believe in fairness, I shall be voting Labour.

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Film, Uncategorized

The Oscars 2016: Predictions

Granted, this isn’t exactly an original post as I did the exact same thing for 2014’s ceremony. Looking back I was miles out from the results too; I predicted Wolf of Wall Street to clean up and that Leonardo di Caprio would finally get his Best Actor nod, it seemed overdue then too.

This year’s awards are a bit more predictable, or at least it seems there are more obvious winners with a few standout performances. One element that is sadly predictable is the lack of black nominations. However, I cannot seem to recall an outstanding performance that SHOULD have garnered a nomination so it does not seem so glaring an omission. Not like David Oyelowo for Selma, now THAT was an injustice.

Anyway, onto the categories…

BEST PICTURE

The Big Short

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Room

Spotlight

  • I’d love to see Mad Max: Fury Road claim this simply for how wondrously high-octane and bonkers crazy that film is but they don’t give out Best Picture Oscars for that. No, they hand them out to ‘difficult watches’ like Schindler’s List hence it seems just that The Revenant should get this, if not Room.

 

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ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Matt Damon, The Martian

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

  • It just has to be, doesn’t it? He fought with a bear, he endured -25c conditions and slept in a horse. What does he have to do to win one!? Anyway, Eddie Redmayne won LAST year.

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ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Cate Blanchett, Carol

Brie Larson, Room

Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

  • I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen the other nominations but Larson brings such depth to her performance, such gravitas that once you see it you cannot imagine it being beaten.

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ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Christian Bale, The Big Short

Tom Hardy, The Revenant

Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

Sylvester Stallone, Creed

  • Again, it’d be warming to see Tom Hardy get this as he arguably outshone Di Caprio. Rylance was sublime in Bridge of Spies but Stallone might edge this.

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ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara, Carol

Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

  • Fair to say I had a giddy smile every time Leigh popped up on screen during The Hateful Eight, she was such a spiteful bitch. So she won’t win and as I haven’t seen the other nominations I’d take a stab at Vikander.

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ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Anomalisa

Boy and the World

Inside Out

Shaun the Sheep Movie

When Marnie Was There

  • Again, I’ve only seen the one film I’m going for but Inside Out is a heartwarming, hilarious classic. Plus it got me and Mum out of the house with smiles on our face for a bit during the worst week in July.

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CINEMATOGRAPHY

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Sicario

  • While I yearned for my days back in the huge expanse of Australian desert during Mad Max there was something beautiful captured in nearly every scene during The Revenant.Yes, the conditions were perilous but when you see the glistening landscapes of Alberta in all their snow-dipped magnificence it certainly appeared worth it.

COSTUME DESIGN

Carol

Cinderella

The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

  • The battered leather, the face mask and those elegant yet daring white sarongs. They’ll probably give it to The Danish Girl though.

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DIRECTING

The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Room

Spotlight

  • I know he won last year but Iñárritu’s immersive direction throws you into the midst of the film. Arrows go whizzing past and you can almost feel the -25 chill, that’s the sign of a master director at work

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DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

Amy

Cartel Land

The Look of Silence

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

  • Yes, I didn’t see the other nominations but having endured her death as played out in the public eye at the time, Amy broke my heart.

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FILM EDITING

The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Spotlight

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  • If there was an award for editing so a film that ran over 2 hours fails to feel even half that long, oh wait, there is. Done.

 

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MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Mad Max: Fury Road

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out

the Window and Disappeared

The Revenant

  • You try keeping up your appearance in the Australian desert when you’re NOT driving around. There’s red dust EVERYWHERE.

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MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

Bridge of Spies

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  • An original score from Ennio Morricone simply has to win, doesn’t it?

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MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

“Earned It,” Fifty Shades of Grey

“Manta Ray,” Racing Extinction

“Simple Song #3,” Youth

“Til It Happens To You,” The Hunting Ground

“Writing’s On The Wall,” Spectre

  • Geeze, there must have been some slim pickings if Sam Smith’s ‘effort’ was nominated.

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PRODUCTION DESIGN

Bridge of Spies

The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

  • I’m aware I’m overlooking Mars but Bridge of Spies looked and felt like you would imagine Germany during the Cold War. The brooding wall, the palpably murky edginess lying around every street corner, it all looked organically authentic.

 

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SOUND EDITING

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  • Y’know, when I’m watching a film I never, ever think ‘Oh my, they really edited that swoosh well’. But then Star Wars had lightsaber swooshes and The Millenium Falcon so…

SOUND MIXING

Bridge of Spies

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  • See above.

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VISUAL EFFECTS

Ex Machina

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  • The Martian recreated Mars but Star Wars recreated GALAXIES.

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WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

The Big Short

Brooklyn

Carol

The Martian

Room

  • Basing this one on my wise auntie and her excellent opinion after reading the book.

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WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

Bridge of Spies

Ex Machina

Inside Out

Spotlight

Straight Outta Compton

  • Oh look, a black nomination. Even then I’d like to see Ex Machina nab this as it seemed so outlandish yet such a disturbingly real idea. What if you could create AI? Then to explore the idea so vividly was very impressive.

 

Feel free to agree/disagree in the comments section.

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Uncategorized

REVIEW: Courtney Barnett at the Sheffield Leadmill

You could forgive Courtney Barnett if you found her taking sanctuary in her dressing room as the clock ticked down to show-time. A lot has been written about this beguiling 25 year-old since the release of her two debut EPs, paired together in ‘The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas’. Last week her debut album ‘Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit’ piqued interest and gained rave reviews, no pressure then.

Yet instead of cowering under the weight of new-found expectancy she could be found just two deep from the front excitedly snapping away at opening support act and fellow endearing Aussie, Fraser A Gorman. This being Sheffield she was left unattended, probably best for someone who will later breezily describe how an afternoon’s gardening led to a panic attack.

The Leadmill was close to sold out, barely a surprise when you consider how much Sheffield has sound-tracked the banality of life with dry, witty, quick-fire lyrics. Consider Jarvis and Turner then you can easily slot in Barnett for deadpan delivery complete with her ever-so-cool-but-don’t-call-it-cool Melbournian drawl.

The current face and sound of slackerdom opened her set with ‘Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party’. An unassuming, millennial anthem of meh which centres around the line ‘I wanna go out but I wanna stay home’. Thankfully, most in the room were glad they ventured out despite weather that daylight savings won’t fix.

Courtney Barnett (Photo courtesy of the ever helpful Jon Downing)

Courtney Barnett (Photo courtesy of the ever helpful Jon Downing)

There is an endearing charm to Courtney Barnett that is hard to pin down. Her patterned t-shirt, exuberant guitar licks and the way she gently disarms any loose heckling. Maybe it is the fact she quietly started her own record label, Milk Records, to take care of her and her musical chums. Maybe it is the playful sketches and homemade aesthetic that adorn her album artwork and merchandise. Maybe it is just her carefully selected points of view. Like many Australians I have met she shares her suburban status with a more far-reaching outlook. From my time in Melbourne I could picture the Swanston Street commuter captured so eloquently in ‘Elevator Operator’ catching the 96 tram. Mainly as this was my favourite route, taking in hipster Brunswick and ending at St Kilda Beach. I knew the troubles of house hunting away from all the coffee shops, even if I failed to venture as far as deceased estates in (De)Preston.

That she could then solemnly expand on the perils of big business, complete with knackered truckers and ‘taxidermied kangeroos’ on the Hume Highway was impressive enough during ‘Dead Fox’. However, in an age of distraction it was ‘Kim’s Caravan’ that showed Barnett’s real precocity and left the room floored. A tale of a dying seal and the Great Barrier Reef being dredged beyond belief set to an agonisingly heart-breaking delivery and a resounding finale. Not many slackers can show so much soul-baring concern for the environment.

That’s not to say she does not know how to have fun. While her debut album showcases a labour of love, song craftsmanship and anxiety, tonight she looked to let loose. You sense that the spotlight still offers a glimpse into her inner awkward and being Australian means she can brazenly dismiss it, jokingly renaming ‘Debbie Downer’ to ‘Debbie’s Fucking AWESOME’. At other times she seemed far more comfortable tapping a guitar pedal, turning her six-string into a weapon of mass distortion and shaking her mass of thick, brown hair, as during ‘History Eraser’. Close your eyes during ‘Pedestrian At Best’ and you could imagine the screeching guitar and snarling delivery as a female fronted Nirvana circa In Utero.

For the encore she delved into the silly love song set in a swimming pool that is ‘Aqua Profunda!’ and a whimsical cover of The Easybeats’ ‘I’ll Make You Happy’. For someone who can belt out the line, ‘put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you’, she may have found an audience happy to disagree.

As this blog post is all about my opinion, and partly about my time in Australia, I am submitting it in the All About You Party. Get involved!

Mama and More

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Movember
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Movember. From Down Under to Over Here.

On Saturday morning I had a shave and, as usual, I ended by trimming my sideburns. Nothing new there yet for the rest of November I will forgo my upper lip and grow a moustache. I will not be alone, over four million across 21 countries have participated in Movember and this will be my third time, the first since returning to the UK.

So it begins

So it begins

The rules are pretty simple –

1. Start clean shaven on November 1st
2. Grow and groom a moustache for the entire month
3. Don’t fake it. No beards and no fake moustaches
4. Use the moustache to spark a conversation of men’s health
5. Conduct yourself like a true gentleman

Movember has steadily grown in popularity since 2003 and has raised over £345 million towards improving men’s health. It should not come as much of a surprise to know that the movement has its origin in hipster heavy Melbourne. In fact, the co-founders; Justin Coghlan, Travis Garone, Luke Slattery and CEO Adam Garone are all Melbournites.

Having lived in the city for a year I know full well how commonplace moustaches are in Victoria’s capital. You can walk through Brunswick or down uber-trendy Chapel Street during any other time of the year and you will see lads my age sporting facial fuzz. To that extent, growing a moustache while in Melbourne, and Australia in general, is not that daunting so now I am back in Blighty there is a worry as to what I may endure going through November.

You see, the main point of Movember is not to just raise money for men’s health but to raise awareness. As women check their breasts for lumps, men should check their balls. It is that simple yet to try and get men (especially Poms) to chat about prostate or testicular cancer and you can expect a few dropped heads and shuffled feet. Perhaps this is due to masculinity yet part of overcoming that is, as an Australian would say, “sucking it up”.

The ability to talk up is probably one of the reasons why Movember has been so successful down under. If an Australian has a problem, more often than not they will open up and confront it. Simply getting an issue into the open can go a long way to helping solve it which is a trait I have a lot of respect for. I won’t lie, having returned to Blighty I really miss that aspect of Australia where you could say something and not worry about it being taken the wrong way. There was little, if any, shirking.

Pride plays a part in all this and there is no shying away from it, for a significant proportion of men in this country growing a moustache is seen as a challenge. Beards are still en vogue yet there is a sense that a man can hide behind the beehive-esque growth on his face. Moustaches are now considered a bit camp, a little silly and thus far more daring. Think of the moustache and you think of Tom Selleck in Magnum PI, the Village People and Borat. They simply cannot be taken seriously and part of me is actively hoping for someone to look up, stare then giggle at the pathetic wisps of hair on my upper lip. Do it, I dare you.

From what I have seen so far there simply is not the clamour for Movember here as there was in Australia. Let me give you some background. Just a few weeks after arriving I had begun working for Rabobank in Sydney in October 2011. I had considered doing Movember yet needed convincing so was pleased to find a makeshift Movember board had been set up to track the progress of the entire Key Acquisitions team of which I was a part of. Around five more from around the office took part and there was a sense of safety in numbers. Photos would be pinned up every week and you could vote for your favourite MoBro then donate. I could walk around the city knowing full well that I could bump into a MoBro and feel proud that I was part of such a good cause.

Here it is markedly different. This is the first week of Movember and few in my office have heard of Movember, let alone decided to participate. Among my friends I am the only one bothering which kinda frightens me. I wonder if this is a generational thing, that for Poms my age the thought of growing a moustache is seen as far too uncouth.

One of the things that I have noticed since returning is how style-conscious lads have become here. As if blinded by fashion, I can walk down the street and see the same skinny jeans, anorak and douchebag swept haircut countless times. At least in Australia the men dared to look different, which largely meant scouring the racks in thrift shops and vintage stores. They were confident enough to pass on labels and cultivate an individual style which made Movember seem so easy to them and why I am worried about standing out next month.

Movember might not be as well known here yet that is improving. The Football League has introduced a Movember ball for the month and several celebrities have created awareness themselves. The likes of Stephen Fry, Ricky Gervais, Clive Owen and Damian Lewis have all participated. Like me, perhaps they will all look ridiculous too but at least it is for a good cause.

Mama and More
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