Saturday, 29 September 2012

The seductive magic of Dutch Genever...

Imagine an old bar in the heart of Amsterdam, the walls lined with bottles, flagons and barrels. Saucissons hang from the ceiling and a stout wheel of Gouda sits on the bar. There is a scattering of sand on the floor and old barrels used as tables. The lighting is low and the atmosphere is convivial but not raucous. No it is not an off-shoot of a Davy’s wine bar but a description of one of the many tasting rooms to be found across Holland’s most famous city and the ideal spot to sample some of their national drink: Genever (pronounced ‘Geneva’). 

In my previous post about ‘The Dam’ I made hints that I would be writing on this topic and I have been true to my suggestions. Here I am going to concentrate on the drink in question rather than the location or the setting (for more information on where to sample this drink click here). Let me begin by stating that whilst it is an acquired taste, whatever form it comes in, it is a truly subtle, almost magical draught!

The great adventurer and man of letters, Patrick Leigh Fermor, gives a scintillating account of his first experience of drinking this potent liquor in his travel classic A Time of Gifts (1977) which he dramatically described as akin to fire and ice, How extravagant! And if only I had thought of it first because it is a marvelous description of how it drinks, cold on the tongue and hot on the back of the throat. 

Genever comes in varying forms, crucially hinging on its distillation method, but the two most popular (which you will see across every bar in Holland) are the Old (Oude) and the Young (Jonge). The former contains a high quantity of malt and is like a cross between gin and scotch whisky whilst the latter contains less and is more like a cross between gin and vodka. Both in their own way are delicious and come in very distinctive stone bottles which merely adds to their rustic, continental charm. 

In addition, much like Scotch single malt, Oude Genever can be aged over a number of years and there are shops all over Amsterdam selling all sorts of bottles, from the youngest to some which are 25 years old plus! On my most recent trip I was lucky enough to try a 10 year old vintage which - I was informed by the barman - was the ‘Emperor’ of the Bols (Holland's main spirits and liqueur brand) portfolio. Served at room temperature, I was advised to sip slowly whilst cradling the glass in my hand to warm the spirit. It started with a taste reminiscent of a light whisky gave way to rich brandy notes as it warmed in my palm - and this was a gin? It was quite surreal, but well worth the 5 euros I paid for it and urge you to try it should you be lucky enough to go to a bar where they have a bottle. 

Finally - for this is but a short post - I must mention the ritual that surrounds Genever, which is a Dutch tradition for the consumption of this time-honoured drink. Almost always served in a tulip shaped glass (in reference to Holland’s national flower) alongside a glass of cold Dutch lager, the Genever is poured so that it forms a precarious film over the top of the glass almost to overflowing point. The next step will seem strange and I saw a number of tourists confused but the first sip has to be taken whilst the glass is still on the table, known a slurp. It felt a little surreal to me when I first did it and I thought that it was some elaborate joke at the first bar I tried it at and unfortunately I cannot find anything about how or why this ritual started. No matter, it adds a sense of fun and occasion to the drink which is sadly lacking from so many an experience over here in dear old Blighty. after this you can either knock it back before the lager or drink it in tandem, it's entirely up to you! 

But where can I purchase this magical drop? I hear you cry from in front of your computer screens. Fear not my friends, for it is readily available from any good wine merchant worth their salt or hit the internet and purchase it from their without the trouble of going to the shops. Thus, you have no excuse for not trying this intriguing and fantastic drink! 

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Freedom Overspill - Bloody Good Chap's attempt at a gritty detective story

Warning: This post contains numerous rude words so, if you are of a sensitive disposition then I suggest you let it pass you by. 
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I had some pretensions of thinking myself as a novelist. I would carry copies of Steppenwolf and Jonathan Livingstone Seagull in my back pockets and would sit under an old oak on the school grounds, thinking I was to be the next John Fowles! Oh dear!
However, the other day I got to thinking that perhaps I might have been prescient, after all, they do say that everyone has one book in them and I thought why not try and break into the overcrowded cop thriller market with my own contribution, and, to make it even better, serialise it on my blog like some Dickens of the technological age (except with half the talent and none of his sentimentality). 
It seems that all cop stories have to have some sort of angle and that nothing is now taboo in the world of the thriller writer, so I have made this intentionally gritty in the style of an English Ed Mcbain (oh dear! once again). I have also incorporated a period feel as I felt it strange that neither the excellent Life of Mars, nor Ashes to Ashes put any focus on the latter half of the decades they were set in. So let us begin our tale. It’s Wandsworth, January 1986 and the Westland Crisis is at its height. Our two heroes are: veteran Yorkshire cop Charlie Hall, an outspoken and known as the ‘Enforcer of SW18’ and his junior Freddie Lomacks, a newly appointed detective with an economics degree from Leeds University and a taste for pinstripe suits. As we pick up the story, the daring duo are chasing a murderer through the mean streets of Fulham/Wandsworth.

Lomacks picked up the cassette from the car floor and turned to Hall, ‘what is this s**t?’ 
‘Chic Corea’s Elektric Band, hot from Japan, why? Do you have a problem?’
‘It’s awful.’

‘Your opinion I suppose, I don’t get in your face when you play your folky rubbish in that sardine tin you drive.’ 
‘No need to get defensive, I just don’t like it that’s all’ The car took a sharp corner and the tyres whined as if this sort of thing had occurred one time too many. 
‘blimey, this guy’s giving me quite a runaround… anyway Lomacks, listen to Dave Weckl’s drumming, you don’t get any better!’
‘Just concentrate on the road guv!’ As Hall swerved to avoid a collection of wheelie bins placed precariously close to the curb. 
‘Sh*t! That was a close, we could have had yesterday’s breakfast splattered all over the bonnet.’
‘What?’ Lomacks looked puzzled, as he often did by his boss’s bizarre speculations. 
‘Nothing, just make sure you tell me where he’s going.’ By this time Lomacks had switched to the radio, and Dave Lee Travis was introducing ‘Break Out’ by Swing Out Sister
‘For f**k’s sake, he’s got onto the Wandsworth 1-way system. We’ll never catch him now. He isn’t going to stop for a McDonalds!’ The 1-way system loomed as the cars sped over Wandsworth Bridge.  Traffic lights meant nothing to the first car as it started whizzing round the convoluted junction. Hall braced himself and clenched the wheel
‘Just leave this to me…’ he growled. 
‘Is this guy crazy, he’s going to kill someone!’ Lomacks looked concerned, as well he might, knowing how unpredictable Hall could be when faced with a problem. Ahead was carnage as cars swerved out of the way to avoid a potential collision as a result of the oncoming action. 
‘Hold on Lomacks, this is going to take a wing and a prayer!’ 
‘Well…never mind!’ Hall shook his head in disbelief, had his partner not seen the 1957 John Wayne classic? kids these days!  A low rumble turned into a rev and soon the VW Sirocco they were driving was reaching speeds only imagined in the adverts for this distinctly average car. 
‘what the f**k! We’re going to hit the underpass wall!’ Lomacks screamed
‘trust me…’ said the wily old Yorkshireman, his face the picture of calm. 
the car a headed straight for the concrete bank guarding both the round-a-bout and associated underpass networks that characterise the infamous one-way system. the Sirocco had managed to gain enough momentum on the slight slope of the bank and flew through the air. Sailing over the traffic island it landed with a screeching halt in front of the car they were pursuing. The driver of the other car swerved to avoid the tonne of Teutonic metal but ended up crashing into a traffic light by Wandsworth Town station. 
‘JESUS F**KING CHRIST! You stupid b*****d!’ bellowed the younger of the two detectives. 
‘no time Lomacks, he’s legging it!’ The assailant had got out of the totaled wreck of his car and had started to make his way into Wandsworth Town.
‘we’ve gotta stop him’ cried Hall, ‘before he gets to the ‘Toast Rack’, otherwise we’ll lose him.’
‘You shouldn’t have had that extra fried slice at brekkie boss.’ quipped the maverick partner, adjusting his glasses and smoothing his hair before setting off in hot pursuit.
‘Never you mind lad, let’s get that murdering bastard before he can pray on any more defenceless women!’
‘Right guv!’ Hall and Lomacks chased the felonious thug down Wandsworth High Street, the Hall puffing and panting, curls matting to his forehead; Lomacks swift and agile, his close cut straight hair as fresh as if he were straight from the hairdresser.
‘I’m get getting…to old for this sort of thing!’ Gasped the ‘Enforcer of SW18’
‘It’s that fried slice, I warned you not to have it.’ replied the young upstart. Eventually, they caught up with the criminal who they proceeded to brutally beat in a fashion which I won’t describe, purely out of good taste. 
‘Hold him up Lomacks.’ Hall had received a bloody lip from the scuffle and was giving the perp daggers.
‘Right boss.’ said Lomacks pinning the goon up against a wall as Hall walk up to the hoodlum, hate in his eyes and a cocked fist.
‘You know what I hate lickspittle?’ 
‘Na? What copper?’
‘Scum like you, she was only 17 years old. I’ve got a good mind to shoot you here…in the balls, you f**king abortion!’ 
‘Think I care what you think?’
‘I don’t think you do...’ at which point Hall yaked up and spat in the murderer’s face. ‘That’s what I think. You are going away my son, for a f**king long time, and I home they stick more up your a******le than dynamite in a disused coal mine! Take him away Lomacks.’ The cuffs were duly produced and the hooligan read his rights against the side of the Sirocco. As Hall is walked away from the scene to calm himself....
‘They’ll get you Hall, you b*****d, your not f**king God! Hall Turned to face the Hoodlum, whipping out a pair of Wayfarers and putting them on. 
‘God Calls me God you nonce…and don’t you forget it…’ 

Tune in next for the second instalment in this exciting new series...

Let’s go Dutch: Bloody Good Chap’s pick of Amsterdam’s drinking dens and coffee shops...

To most people, Amsterdam conjures up images of illicit sex and relaxed drug laws, a city full of pervy tourists and reefer drenched teenagers with goatee beards and natty dreads. Whilst there is certainly a bit of this sort of thing - testified the clientele of the city’s many coffee shops and prostitutes pressing themselves up against the windows of the infamous red-light district - it is a huge generalisation of a city which I found on the most part to be very civilised and tasteful. of course, I cannot go into full details of the trip as I would end up writing countless pages, but I will give you a number of the many highlights from my trip over the course of the week. 

In the first post of this series I want to give you an insight into the diverse drinking culture of the city and some great places to smoke some very passable Dutch cigars. 


Wynand Fockink is a fantastic little bar and distillery founded in the late 17th Century and I imagine little has change in this establishment over the last 300 or so years. The walls are lined with all sorts of bottles containing a plethora of different fruit and herbal liqueurs as well as flagons of the famous Dutch gin, better known as Genever. I quickly found out this latter drink is pronounced like ‘Geneva’ and not ‘Jennifer’, much to the amusement of the friendly bar tender who was quite the showman! Incidentally, I will be covering this potent drink in more details over the course of the week as it really deserves an article of its own. But the bar had a great buzz and the staff were very helpful and friendly. It might be a bit touristy but then again, that’s Amsterdam for you. Besides, it’s a great place to get a feel of an old Dutch drinking establishment. 

The other great watering hole (and my personal favourite of the trip) was the De Drie Fleschjes another old fashioned tasting room, the room lined with bottles and flagons. The back wall was devoted to a collection of padlocked barrels, which were the reserve of longtime customers who would fill them with their own creations and come to sample them in the rarified atmosphere of this intimate, low-lit bar. There was a general air of conviviality around the place and it was obviously a real local haunt, judging from the lack of tourists. There was one group of suited and be-tied fellows really going hell for leather and there must have been about 7 rounds purchased by them in the time we were there. In addition to the hard liquor there was also a fantastic if modest range of beers, including a dark, syrupy brew called Jopen from Haarlem which was reminiscent of the dark beers I had tried in Belgium. Again the staff were lively, friendly and extremely helpful, especially when it came to choosing different liqueurs to try. 

If this doesn't really sound like your sort of thing (in which case you must be barking!), there are no shortages of bars in Amsterdam in which you can enjoy a chilled glass of the local brews, Heineken or Amstel (which tastes far better in the city of its origin rather than the tasteless golden water they serve in British pubs!) for a very reasonable price. As you can probably imagine, on this trip, there were to be regular stops at a number of such establishments which each had their own attraction, whether it be a playlist exclusively devoted to 70s and 80s music, an emphasis on pool or a karaoke machine. At night the city become a veritable buzz of people of all ages stumbling in and out of an odyssey of booze dens. A couple which spring to mind off the top of my head (and which I can remember) were Cafe Bar The Pint and  Cafe the Tribe


Let’s turn our attention now to the coffee shops which litter the street and the pungent smells of illicit drugs which emanate from their interiors. If we overlook the general bill of fare in these establishments they make a cracking and suitable environment for enjoying the small pleasures of a Dutch cigar, which I must add are dirt cheap! Brands like de Oliphant, Balmoral and Adipati make some very pleasant smokes for very affordable prices  and are as much in place in a Dutch coffee shop as anywhere else. As much as a cigar is complimented by a digestif my greatest pleasure is accompanying it with a cup of coffee and the Dutch certainly know how to make one, putting most of the efforts in this country to shame! I was also pleased by the individual character that each shop had, and you could see that the proprietors had been as keen to leave their own stamp on their property as the customers were keen to enjoy the wares they purvey.

The air was hazy and the walls were plastered with graffiti, added by various punters over the years at Hill Street Blues, one of the city’s most famous coffee shops. Low lighting and pounding dub music give this place an edgy if slightly seedy feel and one would not be wrong in labeling it as slightly oppressive - akin to some dingy basement from an Ed McBain thriller. However no trip to Amsterdam would be complete without stopping in for a cup of that ‘naughty bean we call coffee’ or any other one of their well made hot drinks. 

The other place worth a mention is the equally famous Abraxas, a seemingly large but deceptively small shop on the edge of the red light district. short, kilim-clad stools, wall-to-wall sofas and low coffee tables offer punters an intimate if cramped experience. In contrast to Hill Street the extractor fan is pretty effective at keeping the air relatively less muggy than other establishments we entered, the only thing I was rather put out by was the lack of Santana on the sound system! After all the place shares the same name as their seminal 1970 album.

Anyway, despite any prejudices or pre-conceptions that you have about the Amsterdam coffee shop you should at least make a stop into one to see what all the fuss is about, and then form an opinion.


In my next installment I will give you some info about some of the great cultural attractions that are on offer and some information about two very good hostels where we stayed. So, in the meantime, stay tuned and stay lucky.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Cordon du Chap: One fox I can appreciate...

9 Camp Road 
Wimbledon Common
London SW19 4UN

Cordon Du Chap (out of a possible five) : ❁❁❁❁

It is only recently that Wimbledon has started to see the fragile shoots of good gastronomy establish themselves amongst the suburban sprawl. This seems surprising as it is an affluent area with plenty of people ready and willing to fritter their cash away on their own pleasures! But for as long as I can remember, SW19 has been the haven for chain restaurants and mediocre bistros, at one point the culinary highlight was ‘Tootsie’s’ (now thankfully replaced by the better-than-average Light Cafe)! So it was with a whoop of joy that I greeted the arrival of Claude Bosi and his gastropub venture at the Fox and Grapes. 

For years the Fox and Grapes lay across Wimbledon common and had a reputation as dog friendly establishment popular with walkers. It served a nice pint of foaming ale (Courage) and a packet of crisp but little else. You really went there for the atmosphere, it was like an old-fashioned village pub with friendly service, stained carpets and the re-assuring smell of stale beer. The loo facilities were little more than a hole in the ground and from accounts of female frequenters the women’s weren’t much better! 

Claude Bosi, of Hibiscus fame had taken on the premises and completely refurbished it, whitewashing the previously brown walls, stripping acres of tattered varnish off wooden beams and giving the place the atmosphere of a restaurant-come-pub rather than vice-versa. I have been a few times before this review, and on my first visit they got it very wrong! The establishment was obviously behind schedule on their build and there were empty fixtures and wires sticking out all over the place (luckily this was remedied the next time I visited), but even worse, dogs were not allowed in the establishment (another error quickly reversed when traditional clientele dropped away). The service was slow and the menu cooked without confidence. However, these were teething problems and thankfully never occurred again on any of my subsequent visits. 

The place has now been open for a couple of year and I am pleased to say that it has gone from strength to strength serving plate after plate (at London prices of course!) of great food. On my most recent visit I had a very well considered 3-course set menu which I must say at £19.95 was exceptionally good value. 

To start with there was smoked eel set in a cucumber jelly with horseradish cream. For many this will sound like their worst nightmare but it was a clever and refreshing take on an old East End classic, bolstered by the acidic warmth of the horseradish cream. I wolfed it down quickly and followed this with a beautifully cooked red mullet and cod stew (I had left my sustainable fish hat at home!) in a rich broth of celery, carrots, fennel, potato, butter beans and tomato. Alongside was a dinky bread roll fresh from the oven which was very welcome for soaking up the juices after devouring the bone-fresh fish and assorted vegetables. I finished off with some very more-ish cheddar served with membrillo (quince paste), celery, apple balls, grapes and of course some Carrs water biscuits. I accompanied all this with an ever reliable pint of Sharp’s Doombar.

Other tasty morsels on the menu include a very admirable cheese burger with crisp, golden fries (not those silly ‘triple cooked chips’ - which I’ve never really got) and sweetcorn ravioli with a sage butter sauce and mini tomatoes amongst a host of other dishes which change by the season (I ever look forward to when their smoked salmon mousse appears on the menu each winter!).

 My only gripe and it is but a small one - and not exclusive to the Fox and Grapes - is the extortionate price of the steak. I still gulp at the thought of paying over £30.00 for a 250g piece of meat, but I suppose if the punter is willing to part with their money on a piece of grilled meat, more the fool them. To my mind there is plenty of other better food on the menu to overlook much of the ‘from the Josper Grill’ section of the menu, unless of course you think they can cook a steak better than you can yourself - in which case you should leave the stove well alone and eat out all the time! 

In any case, the Fox and Grapes gets an impressive four cordons for their consistent food, friendly service and relaxed atmosphere. Keep up the good work, Wimbledon needs a few more places like this! 

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The conceptual, the lazy and the crap - disappointing albums: A movement in three parts (phase 1)

What makes a group get it so wrong? Sometimes I ask myself, much in the manner of a young John Shuttleworth! Imagine it, you are on top of the world with the women, the money, the’ve released the greatest album in the world, ever, full stop. and then they ask you to pull something else out of the bag. Tall order, but you think: 
  1. let’s get a bit more experimental.
  2. let’s do a covers album, encompassing all our old standards.
  3. give each member of the group their own space to flourish.
  4. Let’s make a concept album.
The list of possibilities for successful groups are endless and usually the more ostentatious these follow-up efforts are the worse they sound, especially to the modern day listener!

Sadly such albums don’t really get made these days, showing that even the greatest groups can get it spectacularly, laughably wrong. This is not something so plainly obvious in a world of hit factories and tailor-made music. But anyway here are my some of my favourites. 

A word of warning These are not meant to be the worst albums of all time, but a mix of greatest let-downs or indeed the most overrated albums (either by contemporary reviews or re-appraisals) of their time, so do not be disheartened if your favourite bad record is left out of the selection, it might just make it on the second phase. Unsurprisingly, all of the below albums came from the late 1970s a time when music really was a case of the good, the bad and the ugly...

Works, Volume 1 - Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1977): Any rock album that opens with an 18:29 song - especially after the dawning of punk music - could be called ambitious, but it was up to Prog rock supergroup Emerson, lake & Palmer to save the name of this dying genre and they fail spectacularly! The first word that springs to mind when describing this album is disjointed, an uncomfortable mix of music which sees the band pulling away from each other rather than coming together to make a decent record. But what makes it worse are Greg Lake’s attempts to become the stadium rocker, each of his vocal numbers sound like a re-hash of his 1974 hit ‘I believe in Father Christmas’! let’s just say £12.99 very badly spent and leave it at that shall we? 

Metal Box - Public Image Ltd (1979): Generally I regard 1979 as one of the high points of music history with a great diversity across the board, testament to the variety of great albums from this year. I go against the grain on this one for many think it one of ‘the’ great post-punk albums, I personally think it is an stolid slice of pretentious rubbish (not that they are alone in this category). The sound is unpleasant and the music is impenetrable, listening to tracks like ‘The Suit’, ‘Socialist’, and ‘Chant’ are akin to chewing on wasps whilst shoving broken glass down your earholes (or something equally as painful). Except for the shrewd marketing campaign which backed it, where this album managed to get its legendary status I will never know. However, if you can come up with any suggestions as to why this is regarded as a classic I would like to know? Answers here please! 

Mr. Gone - Weather Report (1978): For those who feel i’ve been unduly hard about PiL, then please take a look at this next example (a guilty pleasure of mine) and one that I am sure would have most feeling that they were eating broken glass and shoving wasps down their earhole! Weather report had become one of the biggest bands of 1977 with their surprise hit Heavy Weather (a truly great record, especially for a fusion jazz one), sadly the magic ended there. This release is for most an disparate mess of improvisation over the top of frantic keyboard loops...and for the most par they are right. Jazz has always coined an image of pomposity and nowhere is it more apparent than on many, seemingly endless cuts contained on this disk. The title track on its owen provokes a similar feeling to someone scratching their nails down a blackboard. However a couple of track just about made this purchase worth the £1.99 i paid for it many moons ago at the now defunct CD Warehouse: ‘River People’ and ‘Young and Fine’ showcase the late, great Jaco Pastorius (Bass) at his best but are far off from redeeming an otherwise disappointing record. 

Low - David Bowie (1977): One word that seems synonymous with these instrumental musings of a cold-turkey David Bowie is ‘impenetrable’. So much so that I think ‘Weeping Wall’ (one of the many opaque tunes contained within) is a rather apt title to describe the album in a couple of words! Regarded as a masterpiece by the critics, Low was written as an ‘experimental’ album in conjunction with ex-King Crimson founder Robert Fripp. Let me quickly add that I think both Fripp and Bowie are great musicians and released many fine records in their time, but this just isn’t one of them. I am truly befuddled by those who think so, have they listened to it? I have, and it was all I could do to keep myself from clawing at the walls out of sheer boredom, again please enlighten me in layman’s terms as to why this is such a seminal album and perhaps I might reappraise it. For now, it just sounds like a great artist who reach a ‘low’ point in his career and couldn’t really be bothered (with the exception of Sound & Vision which sounds like an outtake from the amazing Station to Station).  

Tusk - Fleetwood Mac (1979): What happens to a burnt out, drug addled band that was still riding high on the success of a seminal album? They release a series of low-grade demos and off-cuts, which go onto be rightly described by contemporary critics as disappointing but is lauded by modern day music historians as a forgotten classic! If this is the case then I’m In You (1977) (Peter Frampton’s follow-up to the chart-busting Frampton Comes Alive! (1976)) or Genesis’s Then there were three (1978) should be regarded in much the same light! But, quite rightly these albums are regarded as lacklustre, self-indulgent and rather formulaic which is what should still be ascribed to Tusk. By this stage it was money-for-old-rope for the band and it must have seemed far more tempting to cobble together session off-cuts than create another draining slicing brilliance as Rumours (1977) had been. To make it worse it’s a double album, so there’s double the rubbish to keep you entertained! 

Look out for Phase 2 next week...

Friday, 14 September 2012

Sketches from a Cigar Smoker's Album: Volume 3 - The Pelican's Brief

There is no easier way to make yourself into a remarkably unpopular person than lighting up a cigar in a public place, but it was a hot day, the sun was shining and the thought of a coffee and a smoke in one of Her Majesty’s finest park was too much to resist. 

Business brought me to the bustle of the Strand early on a Friday morning and as luck would have it, my next appointment was not until lunchtime. With a few hours to kill I decided that I would grab a stoggie at the fantastic J J Fox of St. James followed by a coffee and a seat in the park. 

The cigar of choice was a new kid on the block, the NUB Cameroon, a delicious blend of Nicaraguan tobacco bound in a wrapper from the African country of which it takes it name. I first had one of these in Leeds when I was a student, it was on promotion at Greens (a very well stocked vendor on the Briggate for anyone who finds themselves in that illustrious city) and it had been memorable. So imagine my joy when I found that it was readily available in town! 

The NUB Cameroon is a beast! With a whopping ring gauge of 64 and a mere 4 inches in length it’s like the Sly Stallone of the cigar world with a subtlety that has sadly eluded the actor over the course of his career (testified by such stellar titles as Oscar and Stop! or my mom will shoot). In a word it is delicious and at £13.50 (can be cheaper elsewhere) is one of the better value, high quality non-Cuban examples on the market. Its gentle flavour, healthy smoke-plume and longevity make this indispensable to many a connoisseur - although I can imagine many expert chocking on their Cohibas at the mere idea of including it in their humidor. 

I strode imperiously into St James Park under the watchful gaze of the Duke of York from his lofty perch with a coffee and copy of the Telegraph. finding a bench perfectly positioned  in front of the lake and basking in the mid-morning sunshine I lit my purchase. Testament to the care with which it had been stored it lit evenly and threw up a steady flow of smoke, much to the annoyance of the people seated on the other benches who crinkled their noses in disapproval and gave me a variety of filthy looks, which I just had to ignore. They must have known I was in for a long haul. After a while such looks gave way to indifference and one attractive couple seated on the bench next to mine eventually lit up themselves, probably encouraged by my solidarity as the beleaguered smoker in an unsympathetic society. 

I had finished the paper containing its usual disdain for all manner of perceived faults by the Coalition government with the NUB still going strong and turned my attention to the water and the myriad birds on the water when I say a most majestic creature. I must confess that up to this point in my existence I had never seen a pelican, and was ignorant to the fact that there were any in St James Park. it must have been quite tame for it landed in a flourish and performed a veritable floor show for the assembled crowd of tourists who got their cameras out to snap a memento of this sighting for their scrapbooks. Oh how I wish this specimen had gobbled up the camera of one of the portly well-wishers who got dangerously close to its substantial beak but alas, this was not meant to be! I don’t know if these animals like cigars, but if it had I would have certainly offered it a toke for a most magnificent display - however I fear it would merely have mangled it with its unsuitable eating apparatus!