Yes, I am still wild for Breath of the Wild

 

Main-Day
What grand adventures lie ahead … 

In the rain, I swoop down on my paraglider, line myself up directly above the giant ogre, then I plummet downwards, thrusting the sword into the ogre’s ugly head. This woke him up. After battling for a few minutes, shooting arrows into his one big eye, he dies and leaves me a cache of very good weapons (also some toenails), which I collect.

Walking on, I realise, in the fight I had got myself turned around and I was actually going back the way I came, I keep going anyway and climb up the hill heading to the ridge I’d climbed earlier, before it had started raining. Now it is night time, I reach the lip of the ridge and see the wide valley below, quiet in darkness.  Suddenly from above, a shooting star streaks across the sky and into the valley. A bright yellow beacon of light shimmers at the point where it landed just ahead. I jump off the cliff edge, engage the paraglider and fly towards the beacon. As I get closer to it an unworldly humming gets louder. When I get up close, the beacon disappears and the point on the ground becomes a golden yellow nugget of star fragment. I collect this and keep running on.


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Still in its wrapper…!

 

On Friday 3rd March 2017, I was excited. I went to work slightly earlier than usual and walked a tiny bit out of my usual way to stop by the Argos on Tottenham Court Road, the staff out numbered the customers quite significantly. I shook off the rain from my umbrella and walked straight up to collect my pre-ordered item, having panic-ordered it that morning. I had received a last minute email from Amazon to say that my pre-order which had been in place for months was delayed and I wouldn’t be getting it on the day of release. Immediately at 6:30am by the light of my phone I ordered the same thing from Argos before I’d even received the refund from Amazon. The guy working at Argos saw what it was as he handed it over and said, “nice one”. After years of waiting I’d finally got my gay hands on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.  I walked to work under my umbrella and tried to focus on whatever student problems I was facing that day. After work I headed home and had a pretty normal evening with my boyfriend (now Husband). By around 10pm he said, “I can’t believe you’ve waited this long, if you want to play the game, you-” before he even finished the sentiment I was unwrapping the plastic case and firing up my Wii U console. I hadn’t the money or excuse to buy myself a Nintendo Switch, which was also released on 3rd March, but I was happy to play the game on the slightly inferior Wii U version, with plans to replay the game much later once I had acquired a Switch (this plan is still in progress…) Immediately I was overcome with the excitement and emotion that is hard to describe, something that reminded me of the excitement of going to the cinema to see the last Lord of the Rings film or the last Harry Potter films, or reading a new book from a beloved living author. I knew I was going to love it, the reviews had all been so ridiculously good, there was no way I wouldn’t. I was excited to get into this world I was so fond of, for another adventure.

Within a few moments, I was stood in front of that first grand vista, from the Great Plateau across this new Hyrule. The music swelled like it did in the trailer I’d watched a thousand times and I remember thinking, oh thank god, finally, I am here. That first night I spent shambling my way around the contained opening area, the great plateau, not really knowing what I was doing, where I was going or what to do next. All the reviews had said it, but it was true, this was a very different game to the other Zeldas. A little directionless, I kept on talking to the mysterious old man, to see if I had missed some info, but he said rather pointedly, “you can figure it out yourself!” He had given me the original task of finding these four shrines on the plateau and it was up to me to find them, unlike in other Zelda games, there wasn’t a prescribed order, there wasn’t a guiding voice that would stop you if you went towards the wrong one, you were left to just find them yourself. Once you’d done all that work, you would come back and see him and he’d give you the paraglider, allowing you to glide down off the plateau to explore the rest of the massive world.

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I spent most of my weekends in the late 90s flying around the USA

I have always wanted to play games like this, fully open world games where, if you wanted you could just go on a nature hike (I have a great route across the western portion of Hyrule, scaling the mountains). Back in the day on the rare occasions I used to play Grand Theft Auto, I wouldn’t like to do missions (too much violence) I would just enjoy driving around, following traffic signals, watching the landscape change. Maybe I’d cut loose every now again and drive really fast and  cause some car accidents, but I never did much else in the game. As with many other nerds my age, playing Ocarina of Time on N64 was an incredibly important moment for me, the freedom, the adventure, the whole living world that was so detailed and so full of humour, it was incredible. Alongside The N64 Zeldas (I played Majora’s Mask so much it actually gave me nightmares) I used to spend hours and hours at weekends playing Pilotwings 64. Pilotwings was a release game for the N64 back in 1996, released to showcase the 3D capabilities of the N64. Flight simulators were a jazzy way of doing this with new systems at that time (Microsoft’s Flight Sim 95 and Playstation’s Ace Combat were other examples). Pilotwings gave you various different aircraft to fly around various island landscapes. I spent hours and hours flying around these vast landscapes, the largest was a scaled down version of the USA, including a few major cities, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, the plains of the midwest, Washington DC and Florida (complete with a rocket launching from Cape Canaveral). I flew all of the missions available, but I spent more time flying around just exploring the landscape. The potential to do this was almost infinite, there was no time limit and though there was only so much petrol in your aircraft you could land at the petrol station and fill it up again, then take off and keep flying. I loved the peace of flying and I loved exploring the landscape. I would set myself challenges, landing on roads and driving down them, or manoeuvring in between buildings, or flying from one city to another and landing carefully at the other end, imagining I had passengers. I loved spending my time doing this. I wanted more games that did this, but more and bigger and better.

Playing Breath of the Wild now, long after I have finished the story, I feel the same as I did when I was exploring in Pilotwings. Sometimes I consult the map and plot out a route, wishing to explore some mountain or valley I don’t think I’ve been to. Other times I will just wander, or ride a horse, following a path until I see something that peeks my interest. Breath of the Wild encourages this by placing shrines within the landscape with their distinctive orange glow, you might spy one of these and follow it not realising you will be walking for a long time (and have to battle through a enemy camp or swim across a river) to get there. One incredibly inventive way Nintendo encourage you to explore the landscape is through collecting Korok seeds. All over Hyrule there are 900 hidden little Korok creatures, some hide under rocks, some at the tops of mountains, others reveal themselves once you’ve mastered a little puzzle. They pop up, give you a seed and then you move on. It is necessary to collect the seeds early in the game as this is how you can expand your weapons inventory. After a while, once you have collected a good number of slots for weapons, the need to do this becomes less pressing. I have only recently started hunting Koroks for their own sake and now I am playing the game with a new purpose (I have found only 250 of the 900 available). Now, the game is about being within the landscape, consulting the map, looking at the signs, is there something suspicious about that tree? Does that little hillock look out of place, or have I scaled that particular mountain yet?

It’s not just Korok seeds, as you go through the game, even just idly wandering as I do, you’ll encounter beasts you need to kill and in turn your weapons will break, meaning you’ll need to seek out other monsters to kill in order to get weapons again. Sometimes you’ll be walking along and you’ll hear some distant accordion music playing, which means there’s a special little quest nearby set by a Rito (a bird man) who sings clue-laden songs about different parts of the world. Sometimes a character will just run up to you and tell you to do something, ask you to find their lost friends, or get a recipe from a book in the library in the Hyrule Castle (now overrun with horrible monsters). The game’s world is complex and sings with life. Along with the daily cycles of beautiful sunrises and sunsets, the weather conditions change every ten minutes, it rains a lot, meaning you cannot climb rocks or buildings until it stops and when you’re in certain tropical areas there will be spectacular thunderstorms, on the tops of mountains it will snow. The world of Hyrule is so vast, you can explore areas which suit your particular mood. If you tire of the epic sandy deserts of Gerudo in the South West of the map, you can adventure to the North East where you find the green rolling hills of Akkala, where the trees seem constantly to be brown and orange with Autumn. In Akkala there is a vast side quest where you end up helping to build an entirely new town on the lake. Venture further north in Akkala, following the coastal cliffs and, where the land runs out, there is a huge labyrinth across the water, where you can paraglide and then get lost and probably get killed by the mechanical monsters stalking its corridors.

What I am saying is, even months later, I am still exploring this huge world. I am still finding new characters I’ve never spoken to before and still very much finding more of the 900 Koroks that are hiding across the huge map.

 

zelda-breath-of-the-wild-paraglider
Paragliding at sunset 

Standing on the edge of the Great Plateau, in front of me was the vast Lake Hylia, with a huge bridge crossing its span, with  a clutch of small islands on the lake over on the right hand side. Night had fallen earlier I was admiring the view on the clear night.  Suddenly from somewhere down in the lake, a dragon came out of the water and serenely moved itself up into the air, a long ribbon of a dragon, with talons clawing at the air and a back spiked with blue ridges. The dragon didn’t attack me it just rose up into the air, circled the lake and then returned back into the water.

A Poet on Pop! Lady Gaga

Successful poems, like successful pop songs have a strong central conceit or metaphor, this is like a central gravitational point which as the piece orbits sometimes closely like Mercury around the sun, sometimes distant like Pluto. The song or poem is a journey of exploring this central point up close or at an obscure distance.

In this post I will be casting my poet’s eye over Lady Gaga’s music to comment on what makes these songs so successful and interesting within the context of lyrical analysis, performance and Gaga’s career at that time.

 

 

 

Poker Face (Nadir Khayat / Stefani Germanotta) 

 

The central idea of Poker Face is evident from the title, it is a song about deception. It is about the struggle of withholding the truth but also the joy in being in control of the truth. The song seems to embody these two sides of the deception, stating in turn that the protagonist is in control of the lie (“he can’t read my poker face”), but also that the protagonist will “show you what I’ve got”. This tonal shift between the verse and the chorus expresses the duality of truth and lies in the song. This is further expressed through the stuttering of the title lyrics in the chorus, the catchy hook “p p p poker p p poker face” sets out this sense of waivering or uncertainty.

“Can’t read my
Can’t read my
No he can’t read my poker face”

Ultimately the song is incredibly catchy, as well as covering a subject matter through the central metaphor that is incredibly relatable to a pop audience, the idea of secrets, deception, and deciding to reveal or not reveal the truth is something that will always chime with teen audiences and those within the LGBTQ community. This was the first song that many people heard from Gaga, it is a great introduction to her music, lyrically it has a strong central relatable message and musically it is catchy and well performed.

 

Paparazzi (Rob Fusari / Stefani Germanotta)

 

Paparazzi, though a song in a darker mood, is no less catchy than Poker Face. It is a song which is more narrative driven with the a central metaphor which draws comparisons between the fervour of the paparazzi with that of a lover. The fact that the song is written from the perspective of the person pursuing their potential lover / paparazzi target give the song an interesting perspective. This song is about fame as much as it is about obsessional love. Lady Gaga was in the early days of her stardom when this was released, this being one of the songs which helped her build her profile and success. It is a fantastically wise move to release a song like this (which is catchy and memorable) which deals directly with fame and love in such an explicit way. In terms of building her career, it worked hugely to Gaga’s advantage. The subject matter of the song placed Gaga within the context of fame with all the trappings. She was not quite at that level of fame at this point, but the song suggested she was. In a way which may have been at best a mixed blessing, this song was courting the paparazzi. Through the success of the song, Gaga’s growing number of fans took on the mantel of the protagonist in the lyrics, with Gaga herself becoming the person being pursued. You can imagine the power of a crowd of obsessive fans singing the lyrics:

“I’m your biggest fan
I’ll follow you until you love me
Papa-paparazzi”

The perspective of this song, whether intentional or not, encouraged a movement of fans to grow and galvanise. The work of the video in tandem with the song cannot go unmentioned and was the first major event music video of the many Gaga would do over her career. It was filmed by Swedish director Jonas Åkerlund and starred actor Alexander Skarsgård along with Gaga in a narrative which played with ideas of fame, death and unrequited love. The video referenced (amongst many other things) Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Madonna’s music video for Vogue. The video worked intentionally (in a similar vein to the song) to place Gaga into the mainstream of popular culture, with memorable costumes and iconic video moments. It worked brilliantly.

 

Applause (Stefani Germanotta, Paul “DJ White Shadow” Blair, Dino Zisis, Nick Monson, Martin Bresso, Nicolas Mercier, Julien Arias, William Grigahcine) 

Much later in her career, after the huge success of her album Born This Way, Gaga’s career moved in a much more self-conscious direction, the result of this was the album ARTPOP. Although it can be argued that for her entire career her decisions have been skilled and artful, ARTPOP’s release was self-conscious to the point where it was harmful to its own success, Gaga made a more intentional and sustained bid for mainstream success, something, arguably, she did not need to push for. The song Applause (a simple song written by EIGHT people, including Gaga) is a song which continues the threads of Paparazzi but in a different way. Gaga is now acknowledging herself as the idol at the centre of it all and is singing about the affect this extreme success has had on her:

I live for the applause, applause, applause
I live for the applause-plause, live for the applause-plause
Live for the way that you cheer and scream for me
The applause, applause, applause

Where the video for Paparazzi (and Telephone, which I don’t have time to get into!) worked hard to place Gaga within the pop cultural landscape, Applause does the same and attempts to elevate Gaga above pop culture into the contemporary art world. Her collaborations at this time with Jeff Koons and Marina Abramović served both sides as a way of seeking legitimacy for Gaga as well as introducing her younger fans to these well-respected contemporary Artists.

What is interesting about Applause, when looked at compared to the other Gaga songs I’ve mentioned, is that it seems to dispense with the layer of metaphor entirely. It is brazenly upfront about the subject, whilst still being a very catchy and well put together song. It is an impressive move which once again feeds into her own legend and status as a “POP STAR”. It could be argued that this is the point of the song Applause, that it is a self-conscious, self-referential critique of Gaga’s own career and her own desires for validation, which drove her accelerated rise to prominence. It could be read as a hard critique of herself, that she has nothing else important in her life because she lives “for the applause, applause, applause” the repetition does instil a shade of almost manic desperation into the song. Whether this was clearly the intention, is up to the listener. The song itself also works as a catch all song which can be played in various contexts, it works as a song which could be played to encourage a crowd to applaud or get excited about an act about to perform. It’s not just Gaga’s crowds who can be encouraged to applaud with this song. Along with being catchy, it is an incredibly useful song. It’s not Happy Birthday To You but it is a song which was written to have a clear use, a way of setting the stage, this which means Applause will continue to pop up in this context for a long time.

The song ends, rather cynically in my view, by spelling out the name of the new album the song was introducing the world to A-R-T-P-O-P. This worked in the same way that music videos often now feature product placement, like a bright red pair of Beats headphones, sign posting listeners towards the new album. It was a clever move but perhaps a little too calculated.

 

Conclusion

Ultimately what I’ve learned about Lady Gaga from looking into her work in this way is that she is someone who has engineered her career incredibly well (with perhaps the ARTPOP slump as an exception). The work is written closely and carefully and with a bold and sometimes complex intention at the heart of it. Gaga and those collaborating with her were aware of the song’s potential uses and made sure they worked hard to strength Gaga’s mystique, career, and legend. Whether this explains why Gaga became so successful is unclear. I do think that no matter how the songs were written, their slick production and broad appeal would have brought success in some form. However this extra layer of interest that is at the heart of the songs is what has kept me interested.

The Chai Olympiad: RESULTS

 

Well well well. What a crazy few months it has been knocking about London reviewing Chai Lattes! I have had the secret insider scoop on the chai latte from a barista, been given free drinks as apologies for bad drinks, and moments of pure sweet spicy joy in a fictional Indian train station round the back of Kings Cross. It has been a journey!

If you want to re-read all the reviews they are here 

But here are the results, including the Gold, Silver, Bronze Awards and the Broken Cup Award for the worst Chai out there.

 

Best Corporate : STARBUCKS 

starbucks-chai
Like a delicious comfort blanket

I know what you’re thinking, Starbucks is a soulless corporate giant who have aggressively taken over high streets all over UK and put numerous independent cafes out of business. They also make a really lovely chai latte. Two things can be true at the same time, you know! Morality aside, this one is delicious. A syrup mix with hints of ginger, cinnamon and black pepper, with a very sweet taste (though, possibly too sweet for some). This was always my favourite. This is my go to drink if I want cheering up or if I’m treating myself, so there is a strong psychological element to my fondness. I reviewed this one last to see how it stood up against all the others, although EAT’s Chai is a very worthy contender and I’ve even grown to like Costa’s strange powdery one (so long as it’s made well) the Starbucks Chai is the best one you’d be able to buy on any high street almost anywhere on earth.

 

Best Independent: YUMCHAA

yumchaa-chai
A great chai latte is sometimes an adventure

Yumchaa in general is a beautiful experience, they have a handful of shops in London but are still very Independent in ethos. They have a huge array of loose leaf tea to get through, as well as lots of lovely cakes. Chai wise they have both a black tea and a rooibos blend, I sampled the black tea and it is delicious and flavoursome. It is made using the proper tea blend of loose leaves and hot milk with a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg on top. You can taste the cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and ginger, it’s spicy but not particularly sweet which might be odd for fans of Starbucks or EAT Chais. I can’t recommend this enough, try it!

 

Worst Corporate: CAFFE NERO

nero-chai
DON’T DRINK IT!

 

Oh Nero. What have you done? In a way this awful drink is what gave birth to the Chai Olympiad. It was so bad it moved me to start reviewing. A sloshy powdery nightmare, with gobs of gummy unmixed powder floating about in the mix like unwelcome jellyfish in the sea. Even more unpleasant when combined with the milky froth. Unpleasant all around. What are you DOING?!

 

Worst Independent: STORE STREET ESPRESSO, LANTANA, FLEET KITCHEN 

 

I do not wish to disrespect or disparage independent cafes. Independent shops are important and vital to London and the rest of the UK.  However, this sorry bunch of lattes were a waste of my money. What’s the Tolstoy quote from Anna Karenina?

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

It transpires this applies to these three unhappy chai lattes, they are all unhappy in their own ways. Store Street Espresso was the worst of the worst. I had to throw it away. This was the only chai I didn’t finish of all of them. It was just off milk and bitterness, no flavour at all. What makes it even worse is this cafe is round the corner from my work, I could have been a very regular customer! Fleet Kitchen on the other hand was syrupy, but the syrup tasted like it had been left on a windowsill for five years. It tasted of sour old cloves and horror. Lantana was bad because they need to learn from their mistakes. It was made so poorly (even though the service was lovely!) I paid 3.40 for a “large” cup of hot milk, there was no flavouring at all. As one of the most expensive drinks available, this made the disappointment even deeper.

To be fair to all three, I bet they are great for coffee, but please do NOT get a chai latte from any of them!

Best Service: GAIL’S 

 

When I finally did have a Gail’s chai it was nice enough, nothing too exciting but not bad at all. Better than the drink was their reaction to my first review, their first bland offering, it turned out, had been poorly made. The same day I was contacted by Gail’s on twitter, emailed an apology, a promise to retrain staff and a recipe for their chai latte! Later on in the week I was sent two fully stamped loyalty cards in the post which meant two free drinks to try again, which I did! What a brilliant service! Praise should also be steeped (tea pun!) on Yumchaa, whose wonderful and kind service made the tea all that better. Starbucks, though the service can often be patchy, consistently seem to make my chai lattes to the same standards as well, so praise is due here as well.

 

Worst Service: FLEET KITCHEN, STORE STREET ESPRESSO 

 

I am afraid to report that it is the independents who have been awarded this again. Fleet Kitchen were particularly odd when it came to customer service. First off on the chalk board it was spelled “Chai Lattee”. I ordered my drink and paid as per usual, then the person serving me walked off  without communicating my order to the other person making the drinks. I stood about as the person making the drinks made a coffee for the person before me and two cappuccinos for the people behind me. I continued to stand about and watched the person who served me return, tell the man making the drinks what I’d ordered, to which (for whatever reason!) he rolled his eyes. I had quite a similar experience in Store Street Espresso, not only was the drink undrinkable, but the two baristas were standing about talking about their paychecks while I was waiting around for my drink. I experienced this a few times during my noble quest, I felt like some baristas were not particularly excited or interested in making the drink. It wasn’t exciting or particularly skilled like making a coffee but it was more involved than just plonking a teabag in a cup and pouring water on it. In drink preparation terms it is, perhaps, the worst of all worlds, a bit fiddly and ultimately quite annoying, no surprise that I would be drawn to it…!

 

The Special Achievement in Chai Award: DISHOOM

dishoom-chai

Of all the chais in all of London, this felt like the most authentically Indian, because it came from a wonderful Indian restaurant. It was sweet, spicy, hot and filling. Delicious and wonderful. You could tell it was made to a traditional recipe in a traditional way. It was amazing and in itself almost a completely different drink to all the others. It gets the special achievement award because it is better than all the chai lattes, it is a chai, not a chai latte. It is the source material that all the others are riffing off with varying degrees of success. I recommend it incredibly highly!

Chai Graphs

Over the past few months I have been keeping a spreadsheet of the running tally of chai data. Here are some relevant graphs.

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score v price

The Gold, Silver, Bronze and Broken Cup Awards 

The Broken Cup Award: FLEET KITCHEN 

fleet-chai
NEVER AGAIN!

“people often say chai lattes are too sweet. Well, my darlings, TRY THIS ONE. Sour like the face of an old drag queen. Not a moment of pleasantness for the whole beverage. I hugely regret even trying it.”

 

 

Bronze: YUMCHAA

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The beautiful Yumchaa Chai, I want another now!

“A drink full of overwhelmingly adventurous flavours! A real journey of a chai! Delicious, unusual and full of spirit. I must go back for another!”

 

Silver: STARBUCKS 

starbucks-chai
A worthy second place goes to Starbucks

“this is my premier chai, this is where it all started. My fav from the beginning. As such I can’t be objective about it. I have had so much chai in my life, but this chai is like a delicious spiced security blanket. This is the drink I treat myself to on bad days and celebrate with on good ones. As such it is the taste of consolation or victory.  I find it delicious and reassuring. Love!”

 

Gold: DISHOOM

dishoom-chai
The Winner of the Chai Olympiad, Dishoom

“PERFECTION. Hot, spiced, milky. Ginger, cardamom, clove, cinnamon all stewed together with the milk and sugar. A perfect balance of all these flavours. Authentic bite of spice, not too grainy (but clearly made with fresh spices). This is what  all the other chai lattes are trying (and a lot of the time, failing) to achieve! HOOK IT TO MY VEINS!!!!!!!!”

 

 

Thank you so much for reading my chai reviews! Do not fear, I will be back soon with another series of beverage reviews!

 

The Chai Olympiad

Roll up Roll up!

It’s the Chai Olympiad! The ultimate competition which pits Chai Tea beverages against each other in a tea-soaked battle to see who has the best Chai Tea beverage. This is not a chai tea with a tea bag, more what is often called a Chai Latte, a chai mix with a load of hot milk.

It’s a battle between syrups vs. powders, extra cinnamon on top or not? How much foamy milk is too much?! Who knows!?

The winner will be crowned the Chai Olympiad Champion, the loser will be consigned to the hall of CHAI SHAME forever.

New drinks will be added as they are reviewed on my twitter feed (@eddus) using the hashtag #ChaiOlympiad

 

 

Starbucks ( one of the three Tottenham court road Branches) 28 February 2017

starbucks-chai
Price, Size and presentation:  medium size for £3.25. Foamy and delicious.

Flavour profile: hot and sugary. A little heat from ginger, cinnamon, possibly even a little black pepper too. Perfect syrup to milk ratio. No option for cinnamon on top (don’t really need it)

Comments: this is my premier chai, this is where it all started. My fav from the beginning. As such I can’t be objective about it. I have had so much chai in my life, but this chai is like a delicious spiced security blanket. This is the drink I treat myself to on bad days and celebrate with on good ones. As such it is the taste of consolation or victory.  I find it delicious and reassuring. Love!

Score: 5/5

NOTE: This is the final chai review of the Chai Olympiad. I am now tabulating the results and will present a report on my findings and crown a WINNER!

 

An anonymous Starbucks Barista gets in touch…! cqxxwg1weaanlbk

Dear readers, I have been contacted by a professional Starbucks Barista about Chai Lattes! In the age old tradition of secret spy liaison, we exchanged brown envelopes in a darkened parking lot, spoke huskily under our breaths and smoked copious cigarettes as we discussed the insider scoop on Chai Lattes!

 

Me:  What do you think about chai lattes?

Anonymous Barista: On the subject of chai lattes, I am not enamoured with making them, though I certainly don’t mind. While the recipe is fairly simple (chai concentrate, hot water, steamed milk on top for the hot version) it involves a lot of movement, which shouldn’t be a problem in a slow cafe but when it’s busy it’s a bit irritating. It’s also hard to judge the proportion of chai to water by eyeballing it- for every other drink we have measuring lines in cups and pitchers and shakers so we can standardize the recipe, but not so for chai. You eyeball the water amount, and since that goes in first you may end up short or heavy on milk, so from barista to barista chai consistency will vary a LOT more than say, a latte.

 

Me: Is there a typical chai latte customer?

Anonymous Barista: I will say there is no standard chai customer; almost everyone has their own specific way they like their chai, with far more exact recipes than Starbucks itself provides.

 

Do you think people look down on chai lattes because they’re not a proper coffee drink?

Anonymous Barista: From a customer perspective it is not evident that anyone looks down on a good chai, but people who like chai LOVE chai (their chai, their way) and people who like coffee like coffee and don’t think much about other drinks. As far as baristas looking down on chai… we may do a bit, but only because there isn’t much finesse to it. Even people who are very specific with their recipes don’t give feedback on foam texture or proportion, and there is not much technique or challenge to making a chai.

 

Me: Cinnamon on top or not?

Anonymous Barista: As far as cinnamon goes, that’s a loaded topic at Starbucks. We recently discontinued the Teavana Oprah Cinnamon Chai, which had a bit of a cult following but wasn’t a big seller, and that caused minor riots from its devotees. Our normal chai isn’t overtly cinnamony, and does not come with cinnamon on top, so most people don’t much care. Interestingly, European customers will request cinnamon every time, so they’re an exception. Personally, with our chai, I love to steam cinnamon into the milk, and I skip the water in the recipe, so it’s a stronger, more cinnamon heavy and creamy experience. I’m also a fan of the dirty chai, because I’m a caffeine addict. As a special side note, I will now say that 90% of the chais our store sells have a shot or two of espresso added to them.

 

Me: What’s your favourite drink to make (if there is one?!)

Anonymous Barista: My own personal favorite drink to make is a latte. I love the challenge of making a solid, perfectly foamy, perfectly timed latte, and it’s a huge challenge when you work with three different machines with different timing and steam pressure. It keeps me engaged and active with the process, and there is nothing better than handing out a drink you know has perfect proportions of espresso, milk, and foam. Plus, latte art is HARD! I love practising and seeing tiny improvements over time.

 

Thank you so much anonymous barista for this insight into the world of Chai Lattes from the other side of the counter!

 

 

Dishoom (Kings Cross Branch): 19 February 2017

dishoom-chai

Price, Size and presentation:  £2.50. This was an authentic Indian restaurant style situation and there was chai everywhere! It was served hot and in a glass.

Flavour profile: PERFECTION. Hot, spiced, milky. Ginger, cardamom, clove, cinnamon all stewed together with the milk and sugar. A perfect balance of all these flavours. Authentic bite of spice, not too grainy (but clearly made with fresh spices). This is what  all the other chai lattes are trying (and a lot of the time, failing) to achieve! HOOK IT TO MY VEINS!!!!!!!!

Comments: Oh my lord. This is the best, most delicious chai. I had two glasses (they also had chocolate chai on the menu, which I wish to sample as well) one option was to have a toasted bun alongside for chai-dunking it was SPECTACULAR

Score: 5/5

Store Street Espresso: 8th February 2017

store-st-esp

Price, Size and presentation: £2.70. V small. One size only. Looks promising.

Flavour profile: Immediately after the first sip I was put off. It was overpoweringly milky to the point where I question whether the milk had gone off slightly. There was a feint cinnamon but it was distant. What a fucking WASTE of money!

Comments: As there’s nothing to mention about the chai, I’ll mention the service: the first person who served me was nice but it took a sort of unreasonable time for the drink to arrive, a queue formed behind me waiting for drinks and two baristas were chatting about their pay cheques and not really doing anything else. What a dreadful disappointment of a drink! This is the first of ANY Chai I’ve been unable to finish. I even drank that bitter Upper Fleet one, but this was worse. HOW AWFUL.

Score: 0/5


Yumchaa (Fitzrovia): 6th February 2017

yumchaa-chai

Price, Size and presentation: £3.15 for a regular. This was sitting in so I had a LOVELY mug. Good size for a regular. Cinnamon on top!

Flavour profile: Oh my GAWD. It wasn’t just cinnamon on top! It was nutmeg as well. Incredible flavouring, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and an underlying note of citrus (sort of orangey, I think?) Not overly sweet but you don’t miss that with all of these other lovely flavours going on. What a TREAT!

Comments: this was a powder but it wasn’t grainy or gross, it was perfectly well prepared. Milk to Powder ratio was perfect. A drink full of overwhelmingly adventurous flavours! A real journey of a chai! Delicious, unusual and full of spirit. I must go back for another!

Score: 4.5/5

Lantana (Fitzrovia Branch): 3 February 2017

lantana-chai

Price, Size and presentation: £3.40 for a large. An indie large is a corporate medium, I have learned. It only struck me after I’d left just how expensive that was for a medium size, but obviously, it’s good to support smaller shops!  

Flavour profile: This was subtle to the point of non-existence. What was even in there aside from milk? Nothing at all to say!

Comments: I’m not angry, just BITTERLY DISAPPOINTED. Lantana was a gorgeous little shop, I had lovely service from a cute Australian man, Mariah Carey playing in the background, they had veggie mite and toast available, lovely cakes everywhere. But this was a non existent chai. I did spy the chap get the syrup out and pour it in but I fear it was not enough. I’ve given them a one just for the atmos and the loveliness of the shop. But the drink was a huge disappointment. I bet they’re great for coffee etc and I would LOVE to go back and get something else from there, but I essentially paid £3.40 for a cup of hot foamy milk.

Score: 1/5

Gail’s PART TWO: 31 January 2017

gail-chai-again


Price, Size and presentation: £3.00 for a standard (quite small) size (this one was free though!) This looks so much more like it, but now, dare I say, is there TOO MUCH CINNAMON? The drink itself below the milky foam and cinnamon was the off white colour you’d expect in a good chai. 

Flavour profile: This was, quite frankly, sweet as FUUUUCK. At least I could taste the flavour this time. Sugary with a hint of a little spice. Overall quite nice but not spectacular by any stretch. I got more pleasure from imagining the flavour when reading the recipe (below!)  

Comments: SO MUCH FOAMY MILK. Alas, I feel this was poorly prepared, with no serious consideration for the syrup/milk ratio. I was left with a cup full of foamy fluffy cloudy milk peppered  (and in places, drenched) with the almost excessive cinnamon (never happy, me!) Was this a SARCASTIC OVER-CINNAMONING due to my previous complaint, I wonder?! I bet this is great when you sit in with a big mug and a spoon to stir along as you go, but for a take out situation I wasn’t overly impressed. I would say an average, could be better.  

Score: 3/5

Gail’s get in Touch!

So after my previous review of Gail’s subpar Chai (23rd January), I received a few tweets from their official twitter account apologising and asking for my email address. Soon afterwards a received the following email:

gails-recipe

I was moved by all of the chai recipe details, which I have found very useful, ESPECIALLY the type of tea they use, Assam. I have taken it for granted that a lot of the chai I’ve had has only been briefly introduced to genuine tea, so getting the low down from Gail’s that they actually use a syrup made from real tea is a revelation. The fact that the drink is supposed to come with cinnamon on top is also great to hear. I cannot imagine what they all must have thought of me in their office (what an IDIOT!), but they took my criticism with grace and a few days later after replying with my address and thanking them for their kind and quick reply to my review I received this in the post:

gails-post

A postcard with a handwritten message and TWO fully stamped loyalty cards! What a lovely gesture! Although now I am slightly nervous about returning to the cafe as the email stated the baristas KNOW someone complained their chai wasn’t made properly. I will give them another try and review again, hopefully finding that the drink is as delicious as the recipe suggests.

Nice one GAIL!

Tinderbox (2nd floor Tottenham Court Road Paperchase):
27th January 2017

tinderbox-chai


Price, Size and presentation: £2.60. This was a drink-in beverage not a take out so I was given a BEAUT of a vintage sundae / milkshake glass with a nice long spoon. Quaffed it feeling like a QUEEN!

Flavour profile: A lovely syrup! And what a lot of nutmeg in there! Gorgeously warm and milky with a bit of a cinnamon hint too. Not overwhelmingly sugary at all but sweet enough to be delicious. Cinnamon on top would have competed it but it was delicious as it was.

Comments: A real treat of a drink! Carefully made (ideal syrup/milk ratio) and utterly lovely. Service in the cafe was fantastic, very friendly people indeed. View from the cafe window was lovely and company was wonderful as well (although this had no affect on the beverage, I feel it’s worth mentioning) Also, got it at a discount due to my Paperchase loyalty card! Wonderful all round, will be back!

Score: 4.5/5

Fleet Kitchen: Wednesday 25th January 2017

fleet-chai
Price, Size and presentation: £2.40 for a small one. General appearance fine if looking a bit too much like a coffee?! As sizes go, this was the smallest small I’ve had so far. Essentially three gulps.

Flavour profile: I don’t want to say rancid… but it was heavy on the clove from the first sip and that was it. NO SWEETNESS, NO CINNAMON, NOTHING BUT SOURNESS AND MILK. RANCID.

Comments: people often say chai lattes are too sweet. Well, my darlings, TRY THIS ONE. Sour like the face of an old drag queen. Not a moment of pleasantness for the whole beverage. I hugely regret even trying it. I would add to this a note about the service in the cafe: the quirky chalkboard with all the drinks and prices listed the chai as a “Chai Lattee”. The chap making the drinks made two cappuccinos for people behind me in the queue. As I was standing about making the place untidy, I watched the woman who served me notice me and go over to remind him about my drink and the chap genuinely looked perturbed to have to make one. This rancidness may indeed have been because it had been so long since someone had ordered one, that the syrup was old and gross. Worst chai latte I have ever had and I shall NEVER try one from here again.       

Score: 0/5

Gail’s: Monday 23 January 2017

gails-chai

Price, Size and presentation: £3.00 for their regulation size, a small compared to all other cafés. Cog-themed cup (?!) is Gail a horologist as well as a café owner?

Flavour profile: It’s a syrup. The milk is fucking WHITE AS SNOW. No option for cinnamon on top. Way too subtle, but there is a slight after taste. No spices to even mention individually. I could have been drinking the dregs of yesterday’s leftover lattes, to be honest. Possibly just poorly made by barista (more syrup plz!)

Comments: What a tiny disappointment! I’ve practically finished it while writing this.  I’m left feeling underwhelmed. Not least because the actual service in the café was abysmal. I wouldn’t normally mention service as this is all about the drink, but it was AWFUL. The funny thing is the best service I’ve had so far was at Nero’s where they served me an absolutely disgusting drink.  Milk so white possibly due to fact there was almost NO FLAVOUR AT ALL GOING ON. Gail, stick to your cogs, I’m very disappointed in you.


Score: 0/5

Costa: Friday 20th January 2017

costa-chai

Price, Size and presentation: £3.00 for a medium bit of an expense, nothing special though was offered cinnamon on top. 

Flavour profile: It’s a powder, so prepare yourself for that powdery edge. The flavour profile was different to others, there was a definite clove in there. Possibly too much clove. Cinnamon too, but it didn’t feel SPICEY which is what you want. This is sanitised good boy chai, not rebellious drop out of uni and travel the world sleeping with beautiful strangers chai (have yet to find this blend sadly…)  

Comments: I would say if you’re looking for a solid chai, give this a try. Not unpleasant at all. But of course, as you drink the powder becomes stronger and more invasive. This is a solid mix, isn’t too bad at all. 

Score: 3/5

EAT: Friday 13th January 2017

eat-chai



Price, Size and presentation: £2.60 for a large. Handsome and foamy. Smooth AF.

Flavour profile: Cinnamon is there, but what else? Suspect it’s an artificial chai flavour not a combo of other ingredients. Definite chai bite with the Sweetness.

Comments: This is a syrup chai. Smooth as fuuuuuck but possibly too sweet for some. Good strong aftertaste of chai-ness follows the initial smooth sugary taste. Combination is very delicious. Like a beautiful dream of a drink. Could be a bit more complex in flavour but this is hot sweet Chai. Fuck YESSSSS

Score: 4.5 / 5

Caffe Nero : Wednesday 11th January 

nero-chai

Price, Size and presentation: £2.95. Medium size, good amount of foam. Optional cinnamon sprinkled on top. So far so good.

Flavour profile: There’s definite nutmeg and a sharpness of cinnamon but that’s all. Overall, pretty disappointing. Unpleasant mouthfeel.

Comments: this is a powder-based Chai tea and you can really tell. Even when stirred through it remains powdery and unpleasant. Especially when combined with the milky froth, you’ll get little chewy gobs of powder mixed with milk. Not a great chai experience. The service in this particular Nero’s was exceptionally good, the barista was jolly and chatty and was actually singing to herself at one point. What a cruel irony that the drink she had made for me whilst on such a high was to be so utterly gross. Hugely disappointing. Don’t bother!

Score: 1.5 / 5

My Mild Fear of Flying

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My mild fear of flying had been building for a while. I didn’t fly much at all as a child. Once to Paris when I was 10. Next time to Rome when I was 17. After that it wasn’t until my mid twenties when I started to fly on holiday once or twice a year. Last year we took a lot of mini breaks and visits to friends and flew quite a bit. With this sudden increase in flights, I’d started feeling nervous about flying. We had a particularly difficult landing coming back from Rome last January, in the dark. People all around us were making panicky noises and grown men across from us were trying their hardest not to look too pale. It wasn’t pleasant.

After that I’d been a bit jumpy about flights and in the days running up to them I’d been nervous and withdrawn, which has not been the best mood to be in before or at the end of a holiday.

I decided to do some googling about (as one does will all problems these days) and found various tips and ideas. These are ones that have worked for me recently. Although I was still nervous and not exactly comfortable (especially during landing) I was much happier and better than I would have been, had I not prepared myself.

 

Look at the flight paths

This made a huge difference to me. In the week leading up to the flight every now and again I went onto Flight Radar 24 and watched all the planes snake their way across the map. It’s amazing how many are about. Watching them takes the mystery out of the process. You can see that planes do circuits in the areas around the airports, it’s totally normal. You can follow the long line that stretches from San Fransico up across Canada and the arctic circle and then down over Iceland, then Ireland, then Wales, then England into Heathrow. Looking at this reminded me that flight is amazing. Something to really marvel at. Imagine what your great-great Aunt Agnes would say if you told her you could be in New York before dinner time!

 

Deep Breaths

Not just in the car on the way to the airport. Take a deep breath whenever you’re sat down, doing anything at all. Just remind yourself of the moment. Do this in the week leading up to your flight. At home, at work, on the bus. Then on the way to the airport, on the plane, before and during take off, during the flight, and landing. It will definitely help.

 

Timing

If possible make the flight earlier in the day so you have less time to get nervous. Reduce your caffeine intake as much as possible, this was a struggle for me but I know it really helped.

 

Reframe the feeling of bumping about

One thing that I disliked a lot is turbulence or even just the normal bumping and shaking about that comes with flying. To help with this, in the lead up to the flight I took notice in the car, train or bus, whenever I was bumped about. I thought to myself: I’m not worried about this, this is a normal thing about travelling. If this happened on a plane it would be normal too, nothing to worry about.  If you take notice, you experience and ignore much more buffeting about on a car journey than you do on an average flight. It’s just about reframing this experience and normalising it.

 

Sit at the back by the toilets

This one we stumbled upon by accident. We were sat right at the back of our Ryanair flight, when I wasn’t reading or chatting I was watching the constant activity of the flight crew, their little private jokes and movements up and down the aisles, miming drinks to each other to bring down as they’d run out, calling someone to help make change after a passenger had paid for a panini with a €50 note. I became quite fond of the flight crew just from watching them work, they seemed happy to be doing their job and I can imagine it is a busy and tiring job. Watching them was a brilliant distraction. On top of this, every now and again, people shuffled by to the loos, which was another distraction. Sitting at the back felt busy but not noisy or frustrating.There was also a free row in front of us which meant we had more leg room and I felt less constrained. We also managed to get off the flight very quickly out the back door and were straight through to passport control, we’ll be booking the backrow again!

 

Book choice

Choose a book that is complex or interesting enough to really grab your attention. Make sure you’re already a few chapters in before the flight so you can just start reading. I wouldn’t start a new book on a flight just in case you don’t like it or can’t get into it. I had a nice book of critical theory and a book of poems, the opening poem was about the beauty of a plane flying into a gap in the clouds at sunset, so this was a nice thing to read on the flight. My other book on the way home was an Agatha Christie novel I was 3/4 way through. Perfect distraction!

 

Marvel at the view!

Leaving UK we had a perfect view of the Isle of Wight. It was beautiful seeing the whole island fit perfectly in the cabin window, to see the little ships dragging themselves slowly across to Portsmouth. The slow movement of life below. I’ve always found planes fascinating, looking up at them from the ground and wondering. It was nice to think that I’m up here now and people down on the ground are looking up thinking about where we’re going and where we’ve come from.

 

What actually happened on the flight:

Chilling on the back row, it was myself, my partner, and a lady in the window seat. The flight was totally fine, as we were late we taxied on to the runway and went straight into take off, without a moment for me to become nervous. Take off was exciting, the bumping and buffeting around stopped as the plane’s nose eased into the air. The weather was good and the views were beautiful. Everything was fine until we were coming into land in France. Due to the heat of the day, there were thermal updrafts near the runway which were causing turbulence. This meant the pilot could not make a clear approach of the runway. We had all been prepared to land but it was feeling quite rough and the pilot decided not to land. It was rather unusual as all of a sudden the engines whirred until action again and we tilted upwards. The crew made the annoucement about it being a missed approach. This alarmed a few people around us as we accelerated and banked to the right. People across from us (one of whom had been sat there crying during take off) started to throw up. Cabin crew had to rush about with a few sick bags. You can imagine, this was exactly the sort of thing I had been dreading. But I was actually fine. I took deep breaths, watched the scenery from the window (a gorgeous chateau with gardens, the fields, the snake of the river) and trusted that the pilot knew what he was doing. I felt safer thinking, yes people are in control of the plane, they’re doing their job, all is well. (silly though this sounds, it helped!)

As we were flying in a circuit to approach the runway from the other angle, we chatted with the woman next to us who was not at all bothered by any of it. She said, “I wouldn’t mind landing at some point, feel like I’m on a merry-go-round”. There wasn’t an ounce of panic in her voice at all, just the mild frustration, like she’d been delayed at a red light. A delay was all it really was. After we landed with a bit of a bump, applause struck up from the passengers and we came to a stop. A girl whose baggage was above our head came over to wait to get off and chat. “Ooof a few people suffered with that one didn’t they!?” She was totally fine and happy. No panic from her, no utter relief at it all being over. It was all fine. One member of the flight crew came by holding a sick bag, still with a smile on her face. Everyone around me was fine. Only a few had really suffered. And this wasn’t because the extra part of the flight was bumpier than before or the turning was sharp, it was just normal flying. People were being sick because they were anxious, having prepared themselves to land, we weren’t quite landing yet and this was disrupting. I realised it was more about experience (I’m sure the people who were nonchallant had been on more flights than I had). It’s about keeping yourself from suffering. I was really happy with the way I handled the landing after all my nerves about flying. I took deep breaths, looked out the window, carried on chatting with my partner and the woman next to us. I normalised the unsual feelings of being buffetted about and bumping at landing, thinking if I were on the bus, this feeling wouldn’t even register as scary. It was all fine. I was pleased to be off the plane but I wasn’t scared to get back on in a week’s time.

When we flew back I continued with my deep breaths and the whole flight was fine, even if the landing was once again a bit bumpy in the final approach (at least we only made one final approach this time!) There were some young kids sat behind us and the young girl was telling her mum how excited she was about flying, she said coming into land was her favourite part because she loved the sinking feeling, watching the ground rush up to meet the plane and the bump of being back on the ground.

Open Garden Squares Weekend: Branch Hill Allotments

 

 

What a lovely weekend it was and how long ago it now seems! Open Garden Squares Weekend was 18th and 19th June. Through a scheme called Remixed Borders, a collaboration between London Parks and Gardens Trust and The Poetry School a handful of poets were collected and then scattered across gardens all over London to write poetry and engage with those who use the spaces every day and those visiting just for the weekend.

I was very lucky to be sent to Branch Hill Allotments in Hampstead. Look at my little profile on the website! I chose this garden as I live nearby in North London and Hampstead has always been a favourite place of mine. I was attracted  to the allotments because of the history of the area, the site was once part of the gardens to an Edwardian mansion owned by John Spedan Lewis, founder of the John Lewis Partnership. As an ex John Lewis shopboy I was very happy to be part of the site’s history. John Constable lived nearby and painted a view across the allotments, John Keats wandered the area when it was still part of Hampstead Heath, Gerard Manley Hopkins lived down the road. Poets and painters were everywhere!

 

I made a handful of visits before the open weekend, these were arranged with Annie, my contact at the allotments. The site is on quite a funny corner, a little downhill from a handsome gatehouse which used to serve the manor house, there are black iron railings and only a the noticeboard inside the site lets on that this is the allotments. Annie would meet me at the gate and unlock it to let me in. We’d then stroll down the hill with the site unfolding to our right. The plots range in size and shape, they respond to the natural undulations of the land as the ground slopes down to the bottom lefthand corner, which was a pond in the past. I walked circuits of the allotments, thinking about the space, about what I saw, the huge crops of rhubarb, the bee hives. I especially loved seeing all the repurposed recycled, plastics and wood, reused on plots. Old kitchen sieves used to protect fruit from the foxes, fish netting to cover raspberries. All the compost bins full of homewaste with a whole little world of worms living in there. I chatted to those who were gardening (but was very careful not to disturb anybody and extra careful to not offer to shake anyone’s hand while they were wearing their gardening gloves, you only make that mistake once!) I loved the peace of the site and felt really priviledged to visit and write there.

 

 

Over the weekend I sat at a lovely table in the far corner of the site, meeting most visitors half way on their wander around, I chatted with lots of people about poetry and my time writing about the allotments. I gave out postcards which had poems on the back and print offs of the poems I had written about the allotments. Visitors were very kind and interested in my work and many were very happy with the postcards. I think I have around 6 left of the 50 I ordered.

The Remixed Borders project was such a wonderful opportunity for me and something I am so grateful to have been selected for. I’ll always be proud of my allotment residency as this was the first time I’ve undertaken a poet in residence scheme. I feel I have made connections with people at the allotments that will last and have also made friends with my fellow remixed borders poets.

This is one of my poems, Land

 

 

Land

 

London is a marsh knitted together by rivers.

It is valleys with sharp hillsides and rocky outcrops.

Deep woodland that mulches autumn leaves

through spring and summer.   

 

London is this quiet combe

you walk into for protection.

A steady valley, where you can go

to watch time pass from week to week

watching the onions blossom,

and the carrot tops rocketing upwards

into a row of lofty green fireworks.

Watch how the rhubarb leaves spread out

like floating parachute silk. Hiding

The scraped-knee red of the stalks underneath.

 

London is land on which you can grow.

Land that is soft under your feet.

Lunchtimes in Bloomsbury: Waterstones Gower Street

 

I’ve already eaten my lunch at my desk as it’s been raining all morning. I’m still keen to leave the office for some cold fresh air. I cross Tavistock Square under my umbrella. Looking down at the weathered stone pavements, they look worn, shaped like a relief map of a landscape in Geography, bumpy and collecting little lakes and river deltas.

I walk on past the grand Church on the corner of Gordon Square, sandy yellow old stone stained and wearing away in the rain. I walk past the coffee guy with his little van he parks up each day, by the wooden benches that usually have students lounging about on. Waterstones is on the corner.

The building is a huge piece of gothic revival architecture. Ornate turrets with green copper roofs, stone relief work everywhere you look. It’s a huge statement of a building. Inside it is a large, multi-roomed sort of place. Most sections have their own little antechambers, military history leads on to world history, leads on to travel. I walk to my usual section, up the central stairs and to the right, into the poetry section, where they have a little armchair. I read across the rows and rows of poetry book spines, nodding when I see something unusual or especially good. I pick up a few books to read the first poem the book opens on. In this Waterstones, they mix in secondhand and antique books with the rest of their sections. It’s nice to see a few of the vinatge penguin poetry collections, with their vibrantly pattened front covers.

In the furthest corners of the buildings, the turrets provide reading nooks. The turret in the children’s section is a cosy nook festooned with toys and picture books, with a gorgeous view (even on a rainy day) from the casement windows out to the Georgian terraces on Gower Street. At a little table and chairs a dad goes through timestables with his daughter, waiting for the rain to slow or stop.

I don’t buy anything this time. I do another circuit of the building to avoid the rain, move down through the various categories towards biographies in the basement, next to the Ryman’s in house franchise.

I ready myself with my umbrella and swoop out onto the street, the rain steadily singing away above my head.