Monday, 24 December 2012

Bloody Good Chap's last minute Christmas shopping list

It was not too long ago that I sat down to make a list of things that I really wanted for Christmas, or would have wanted to recieve on this year’s yuletide had I not purchased them myself over this year. Perhaps you yourself are stuck with what to buy a friend of a loved one? Well fear not, for I have made a list of my favourite purchases or received gifts over 2012 which might give a bit of last minute inspirations...

Books might seem a bit old hat but I think that this is far from fair, if anything the market has become more exciting the more it is squeezed, encouraging authors to be a bit more creative in their content and their design. As many of you will know, food is something of a passion and I am quite the avid collector of books focusing on all culinaria. I have purchased a number of fascinating and beatifully bound tomes but by far my favourite of the year is Joanna Blythman’s What to Eat (£16.99, 4th Estate). I have not read such an original book about food for a very long time, it makes you take a step back and question the decisions that you make from shopping in the supermarket to how you treat your ingredients when you get them home. Not only is it highly informative, you can tell that Joanna is as passionate about cooking the food as she is analysing the production, the logistics and the impact of the food supply chain. 

If you (or someone you know) love food and like books crammed full of factoids and fancies, make sure that this is the one book you purchase. For fiction lovers, may I suggest the rip-roaring and adrenaline filled novel Shogun by James Clavell (£8.99, Hodder). I was gripped by this beautifully crafted and unputdownable book about a British sailor shipwrecked in early 17th Century Japan. Apparently it is incredibly accurate as a portrait of Japanese culture as seen through the eyes of a Westerner, but for me this is merely complimentary to a tale in the true spirit of high adventure with forbidden love, outrageous courage, rugged terrain, feuding warlords and a great sense of humour. Some might be put off by the large number of pages (roughly 1100 in total) but you should tear through it soon enough as you become engrossed in the story. 

This year I was particularly focused on 25th Anniversaries, my own being one, but also of some great films that came out in 1987 (the year I was born) and also in the following year. Whilst there was plenty of dross during a period where there were still companies like Cannon Films and Golan Globus ruling the roost of b-grade, but highly enjoyable actions films (something sadly lost to the mists of time). One such film is the 1988 tour de force Blue Jean Cop (AKA Shakedown) starring Peter Weller and Sam Elliott as a mismatched ambitious lawyer and a maverick detective looking to bust some bent coppers who are running their own drug dealing/money laundering service. This film has everything from a tense game of Russian roulette, a drag race, a brothel shoot out, a gun slinging chase on a moving roller coaster and a slew of one liners delivered with panache by Weller’s slimy lawyer and Elliot’s world weary rozzer.

 Another film from the vaults of laughably bad but highly entertaining films is the 1991 homage to the thoroughly dated ‘New Jack Swing’ craze, New Jack City starring a stellar cast of Mario van Peebles, Wesley Snipes, Ice-T, Judd Nelson and a young Chris Rock (doing his very best to play a crack addict). To be fair it is a great watch and the soundtrack will take people back to an era of berets, parachute pants and the pulsating rhythms of Bobby Brown, Bel Biv Devoe, Guy and Color Me Badd.  Snipes tries to be menacing as drug lord come Scarface wannabe ‘Nino Brown’ but he comes more across as Uncle Abanazar in the pantomime Aladdin. However, in a film with characters called: ‘Scotty Appleton’, ‘Pookie’, ‘Nick Perreti’, ‘Frankie Needles’ and ‘Duh Duh Duh Man’ he seems positively conservative. Still a fun experience and worth sitting in front of instead of the fifth showing of Zulu! 

I made much ado about the NUB Cameroon in a previous post, wittily called ‘The Pelican’s Brief’ as I saw a pelican in St James’s Park when I was last smoking one. That aside, I must briefly reiterate that it is a fantastic smoke and also something very different from the norm. It is a wide, stubby creature with a long rich smoke. You can either by it regular or pressed, I prefer the latter as I find it a more satisfying smoke but that is a matter of taste really! Another recommendation if you don’t want to trawl around the boutique shops trying to scout out one of these is the admirable Bolivar No. 2 tubed cigar. These are very reliable and made by my favourite brand, they have a rich smoke but not overpowering. The other bonus is that until you break the seal the cigar will remain fresh so you can keep them by until you are ready to use them. Discourage any ignorant vendor who claims they are checking for quality from unscrewing the cap, take the risk on this one. 

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a bit of the strong stuff and there are two drinks that I ask for each year and invariably receive. How predictable I have become in my tastes. Blackwood’s 60% Gin is one of the most original and tasty tipples on the market at the moment, although its availability is somewhat limited, however I have included the link to one stockist who I know still purveys this fine liquor. At a whopping 60% this drink packs quite a punch and should be drunk sparingly. Made in the Shetland Islands with the finest botanicals, hand-picked by the team at Blackwoods, each year’s batch is different allowing the makers to truly call each year a vintage. Their regular gin is also worth seeking out but stockist are becoming thinner on the ground each day as I believe Blackwoods have ceased to do business, a great shame, so if you do decide to buy some get two bottles and save one to have somewhere else down the line. 

Another old favourite that mine and your Christmas really shouldn’t be doing without is a bottle of Canadian Club Whisky. Single Malt lovers will be scoffing at my choice of this smooth, blended variation from across the pond but to my mind it is the perfect whisky for a casual drink and by far the best should you like yours with a mixer. Sometimes nothing can beat a double Canadian club, a couple of ice cubes and a shaving of white grapefruit peel in a tumbler topped up with Canada Dry ginger ale. Refreshing, versatile and a real crowd pleasure, definitely something to both appear under the tree and on the sideboard. 

Finally, I draw the reader’s attention to a bit of light music. Compact discs might be on the way out but this is not to stop you from looking at the large number of online options available to you from the iTunes store or Amazon’s MP3 services. Two albums really appealed over this year and both are from very different genres: Stardust (1978) by Willie Nelson, and Synchronicity (1983) by The Police. The former is a glorious paean to the golden age of the gramaphone with the country and western star Nelson giving his idiosyncratic rendition of classics like ‘Someone to watch over me’, ‘blue skies’ and most importantly his unequalled version of ‘Georgia on my mind’. Lilting guitars and wailing harmonican bedrock the album in the country genre but this is definitely a cross-over with plenty of jazz, blues and pop elements to keep even non-country fans happy. 

The latter is an album recorded at the height of their fame and their popularity. By 1983 The Police were the biggest band in the world having played monumental dates at gargantuan Shea Stadium and recording albums involving grandiose arrangements and production. This, their final album was an acrimonious recording where the band imploded through a mix of artistic differences and in fighting. However the results are pleasing and includes a trilogy of songs that are perhaps their most consistent and some might say their best: ‘Every breath you take’, ‘King of pain’ and ‘Wrapped around your finger’. The second is by far my favourite and if you would like to see why I think it is so good, take a look at my last post on this blog about my favourite songs over this year. 

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