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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.

image (2)

imageimage (1)

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

yumchaa-chai

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

Two Poems in “Under The Radar”

I am so pleased and excited to tell you that two of my poems, “The Way Queenie Smokes” and “Why I’m Scared to Let Go of the Papers” are feature in issue 18 of the Nine Arches Press magazine Under The Radar.

You can read “Queenie” above, I had help editing this in the Advanced Workshop at The Poetry School earlier this year. “The Papers” poem, funnily enough, is the poem I performed earlier in the year as a part of my Boring Conference talk on Paper Bags from Independent Bookshops.

What a lovely end to my writing year!

Buy yourself a copy here! 

All Write With Eddus: Notebooks

 

img_20160908_233822

Eddus’s notebooks from June 2014 to present

 

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I edit everything on computer, but the main focus of my writing practice is the notebook. Because I am quite a mobile writer, I rely on a notebook and pen as they work wherever I am. It’s just what works and feels right for me. If you only write on computer and have no wish to pick up a pen again, this one might not be for you.

 

If you’re known as a writer within your circle of family and friends, you’ll be given the gift of a notebook. Sometimes these will be lovely (sometimes TOO lovely!), sometimes they’ll be a bit weird. I wrestle daily with my own diva-ish attitude to most things in life (but WHY do I have to have a boring job?) the question of notebooks is one I’m always thinking about. Spending so much time in Paperchase is probably why. I have kept all my notebooks from the past couple of years, since my Masters. I don’t go through them as often as I should. Sometimes when I do I find one or two magical lines, or one or two whole poems that somehow were forgotten, that I can rehabilitate, rewriting it in a more now-ish voice and polish until I’m relatively happy with it. I use my notebooks for therapy as well as ideas of poetic genius (steady). Sometimes just writing down your raw feelings can help you stumble upon a new metaphor or an interesting turn of phrase. It’s good for your mental health too.

 

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This week’s exercise is to buy yourself a notebook. Get something you like the look of. Pay attention to the feel of the paper, decide whether you prefer the paper plain, lined or squared (I usually have squared) don’t get anything too expensive or too fancy. Don’t just get one that has a particular reputation for being a WRITER’S notebook (it’ll be more expensive!) It needs to be hardy, this has to be your companion. I carry my notebook with me whenever I leave the house. I always think about Viggo Mortensen, apparently when he was playing Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, he carried his sword with him everywhere, it went back to his hotel with him, he took it out to restaurants. This was an important part of his preparing for the part. It’s important for me as a writer to be able to capture a swift sentence or phrase that rings in my head as soon as I hear it. If I don’t have my notebook with me, I’ll never remember it, hence my obsession with carrying it around.

 

Be method and be Aragorn, carry your new notebook with you at all times! Get into character as the writer that you are!

All Write With Eddus: Free Writing

AWWE Free

The sky is the page and you are writing the branches across it, however you like

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Free writing is what you’re already doing. It’s writing without self-editing, without self-judgement. It’s writing along on that cusp of conscious knowledge of what you’re about to say that feels like you’re writing what you mean and also discovering what you mean at the same time. Writing out your thoughts, externalising them, placing them on a page, is a useful thing for everyone. Free writing is oiling up the wheels of your creative mind, getting your body in tune with writing, it doesn’t matter what you write, but sometimes it might be something on your mind you hadn’t quite realised.

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to write anything good. At all. It can be garbage. It’s not about writing sentence after sentence of brilliance. Just writing is the important thing. Brave people stretch their novelistic muscles during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) each November by writing 50,000 words in 30 days, I have done it myself and I know it’s all about QUANTITY not QUALITY. Going back, fishing out the good bits and shaping them up into something decent is all the editing process, which is a different process to the writing process. We’re not editing today! Imagine if you were an artist (you may well be an artist already!) and you were painting a picture and you simultaneously worked on sketches for the final picture whilst painting different layers of detail whilst at the same time trying to find the right frame for the picture. It would be a mess and you wouldn’t enjoy it. Don’t do this with writing. When you’re free writing you are sketching. You are building up your ideas and discovering what you want to make and what you don’t want to make. The detail, the pallet choice, the layers, the finish, the varnish, and the frame, those all come much later.

 

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This is a great exercise to do first if you have a plan to do some writing, or even editing on something else, just to get your brain in the creative mood.
Take a kitchen timer or a timer on your phone and set it for ten minutes. In your usual journal, write continuously until the timer goes off (stamina of wrists and arms permitting, of course). Come back to it later or don’t. There’s no pressure at all. Write exactly what you like, don’t try to write SOMETHING, if you already have an idea for something, write that outside of this timed exercise. If you run out of things to write, write “I have run out of things to write” over and over. It doesn’t matter, fill up the page and don’t stop! This is about just sketching and doodling away with your words and ideas, you’ll be suprised by what things come out. Just make sure you keep writing for that period of time until the alarm goes off.    

 

Other Exercises:

All Write With Eddus: The Morning Of…

All Write With Eddus: DON’T 

 

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.