Waking up and smelling the coffee

Life is too short to drink poor coffee, dammit at my age it’s too short even to drink mediocre coffee so I sure as hell aren’t going to faff around with jars and granules, no matter what their clever marketing tells me. Make Your Moments Matter? Not with instant coffee, Nescafe!

We love our coffee machine so much it has a little shrine in the corner of the kitchen where we leave offerings of coffee and chant. OK, we don’t chant, but we hum a merry tune.

Up until now, our coffee has come expertly ground to the specifications of our machine, direct from a shop in that there London. I’m sure we can get decent coffee in Yorkshire, but these guys came with personal recommendations, so that was good enough for us. They even sell tea, first flush Darjeeling, the Champagne of tea. Sometimes there are little treats tucked in the packaging, like jars of jam, or posh teabags, that’s London for you, it’s a can of mushy peas and jar of mint sauce in Yorkshire.

With no skiing or summer holidays thanks to #bastardcancer and the pandemic, we reckoned we and our coffee machine deserved a treat, something that would bring a smile to our faces every single day. We wanted a decent coffee grinder. Not just any coffee grinder but one which came with instruction in Italian first and has a dial that goes up to 20, eat your heart out Spinal Tap.

The delivery, packaged in what was destined to be the latest cat bed, coincided with the complete disappearance of the my sense of smell and taste. Up until that point, I’d had none of the classic covid symptoms so typical that I should tick that box just as the grinder and 2kg of the finest beans arrived, blimey I might just as well have been drinking Mellow Birds (which didn’t make me smile).

So a few days of Noel grinding beans and me sniffing hopefully. No, I said on more than one occasion, can’t smell a thing. Pity, he replied, it smells and tastes delicious. Oh good, I said, not meaning it.

Of course all my senses quickly returned and that first coffee was divine. It was immediately followed by a second, then third, which were equally excellent. I was soon bouncing off the walls with caffeine overload, but that was a small price to pay by making up for all the coffee I’d missed.

The lockdown continues and those beans and the delicious aroma of them grinding make us happy every day, I told you we were simple souls. Noel and I have been humbled by all the kindness and support from friends near and far while we’ve had covid. We had a mild dose, Noel’s cough lingered a little, but once he could, he was lacing up his running shoes and off for a run, with me huffing and puffing behind him, just like I usually am.

I think it’ll be a while before we’re normal, our normality disappeared 18 months ago now, but we still have good coffee, great friends and cats who ignore us most of the time, but that’s cats for you.

I had a message from the NHS today via the app, saying that as I’d tested positive, would I be willing to donate plasma to help with research? Absobloodylutely, I said, but just make sure the coffee is good and the biscuits are chocolate.

5000 coffees


An awful lot of coffee

If it’s good enough for Mo Farrah, it’s good enough for me. Mo confesses he has a caffeine hit before training and let’s face it, it hasn’t done him any harm. In fact, evidence shows that caffeine can help achieve that illusive PB!

I am partial to a good coffee, emphasis on the good. No Mellow Birds or Nescafe Gold Blend for me, in fact we don’t have instant coffee in the house. Even the workmen get the real stuff, though one poor plumber bounced his way out of the house juggling his spanners after drinking four double-shot cappuccinos.

One of our first major purchases was a decent and rather indecently-priced coffee maker, well, who needs furniture? You have to get your priorities right. It has lots of shiny chrome, a pressure tank that goes up to 11 and a serious-looking frother. It’s Italian, of course, so is very stylish, even the sound of the click of the ‘on’ switch is a thing of beauty. And we don’t just let any old coffee grace the grounds basket, our selected blends, ground to fit the machine, come all the way from that there London. Coffee’s too important to leave to the chance of the supermarket shelves.

While I wouldn’t call it an obsession, I certainly do  insist on good coffee, and I like to remember where I had that coffee, making a mental note on whether or not to return. So for the past few years, I’ve kept a pictorial coffee diary, photographing most of the coffees I’ve drunk, and a couple I’ve send back because they’re undrinkable. For a bit of fun, I’ve made them into a mosaic, using Andrea Mosaic,  a rather natty open source product. This mosaic is made from 5000 coffees, I’ve drunk them all. I’m still waiting for them to improve my running performance, I think it may be a delayed reaction, I’ll ask Mo.


That was the coffee that was

Just of few of my coffees in 2014

Just of few of my coffees in 2014

Some write diaries, some keep a journal. Me? I record the highs and lows of life through the coffees I drink, or in the case of anything from Starbucks, sniff at and put to one side.

It all started in 2010 when Noel was away in Switzerland training to be a ski instructor. Yep, that’s right, I sleep with a ski instructor, cool or what? As I was traipsing backwards and forwards via Geneva (and becoming such an expert  on the airport that it will be my specialist subject in Mastemind) there was one constant. Coffee. I drink it everywhere I go and usually have something to say about its quality and taste.

Seriously, if the house went up in flames, there would be two major rescues. The first would be the cross-stitch it took me two years to complete and the second would be our Rancilio Silva espresso machine. We love that machine, we even order our coffee from Drury Lane in that there London where they grind it to the exact calibration for our machine. We make the best coffee in Leeds and therefore the best in the world.

So everywhere I go, I photograph my coffee as a kind of caffeinated aide memoire. When I’m working, which isn’t as often  as I’d like, I take my trusty mug with me and dare the baristas to fill it with something drinkable. The only condition is that no instant coffee touches my lips. Not ever.

My coffees this year have been on the ski slopes, trails, fells and (somewhat grudgingly) roads I have run, meals with friends, coffees alone. They have marked major purchases, which have a theme of sports-related activity reflecting my increasing reluctance to grow old with any kind of grace. And they have marked major events such as our fantastic experience as tourmakers for Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France in Yorkshire.

One heck of a year, an awful lot of coffee. I’ve no idea what 2015 has in store, but whatever happens, there will be a coffee tale to tell with it. Happy new year, everyone.

A year of running, a year of coffee

Catwoman after the fell race. It was a race, I fell. Twice.

Catwoman after the fell race. It was a race, I fell. Twice.

It’s not everyone that can say they’ve run against both Olympic medal-winning Brownlee brothers in less than a week. Though when I say against, it’s more a case of crossing the same start and finish lines in the same event. The fact that they were back home tucking into their Christmas pudding, having showered, changed and updated their Facebook status by the time I got to the end of the the race is neither here nor there, my name is with theirs.

Yesterday the elder Brownlee, Alistair, showed me how to go down a muddy slope. He fell on his backside, but sprang up again with such agility that he made it look easy. It wasn’t, as I was to find out in the closing stages of the Auld Lang Syne fell race. I’d already done a full frontal flop in the thick smelly mud for no apparent reason except maybe that because it was there. Fortunately, being near the back of the pack, there was no-one around to give me a score for style and artistic interpretation, so I gave myself nine out of ten. The second fall was more of a sit and swear in the mud, so only scored five. Alistair scored ten, but in my defence, he was in the lead so the steep slope hadn’t been churned up by 1000 runners before him. As luck would have it there was a river we had to run through, so most of the mud was washed away. Every cloud, eh?  Personally I think I should have had bonus points, or at least an extra bottle of beer, but there was none of that at the finish, so I snaffled some extra biscuits and a glug of coffee. It was heavenly, though I may also have swallowed a bleb of mud, at least I hope it was mud.

Six days previously his brother Johnny had beaten all comers in the slightly less muddy but longer Chevin Chase. I was there too, somewhere near the back, but, hey, we got the same tee-shirt!

My year had started with the 5km parkrun, and seen many miles, training and races, hot weather and cold, snow, ice, mud, rain and sun. I’ve worn out two pairs of shoes, lost so many pairs of gloves I can’t keep count and put a great strain on my sports bras, but they seem to be holding up. A glorious year of running, recorded in previous blogs.

And of course with every run, there has to be refreshment, and there is nothing like a good coffee, preferably with cake. Much to the amusement of fellow coffee drinkers, I continue the habit of photographing my coffees, it’s my way of keeping a diary – and reminding myself where and when I drank them and who with. These photos do confirm that the best coffees are those drunk in company of good friends and there’s been quite a bit of that over the past year.

So forward, hopefully at a faster running pace than last year, and onward to new adventures, let’s raise a cup of good coffee to 2014, I look forward to sharing one with you.  Happy New Year everyone!

In praise of custard and dental surgeons

Coffee. Liquid food.

Coffee. Liquid food.

I just opened a can of custard and ate the lot. The thick, sweet, silky smooth Food of the Gods coated the inside of my mouth, glided over the stitches and found its way into a very empty tummy which growled with satisfaction.

The can joined the Heinz Tomato Soup empties in the recycling pile. It has been 48 hours since I voluntarily stepped over the threshold of the Leeds Dental Institute with my one remaining wisdom tooth, stubbornly sticking to my jawbone and redefining jaunty with its peculiar and rather useless angle. The next time I crossed it, just 30 minutes later the tooth was gone, though not without a fight.

“We’re going to have to drill it in half,” said Claire, the dental surgeon, in a matter-of-fact way which put me at ease. The equally professional nurse handed me a pair of cool-looking glasses, I was disappointed to find didn’t have some kind of virtual reality projection to take my mind off the drilling and ultimate cracking from that stubborn tooth. The nurse smiled, ‘this is the NHS,’ she laughed, ‘though I’ve heard the private practice have screens on the ceiling.’ ‘I wouldn’t know,’ I mumbled through four lots of local anaesthetic.

And so it began, I’ll spare the details, except to say I was congratulated for being brave and not freaking out with all the drilling, pushing, tugging, cracking and… oh I’ll leave it at that.

As I got up to go, I took a look at the cause of many infections requiring doses of that particular antibiotic which really doesn’t mix with alcohol. ‘Ah you bugger’, I cursed it, not for a moment thinking of taking it home to make into a stylish pair of earrings.

‘Thanks,’ I said to Claire and her team. And I meant it. I told them the horror story of the previous extraction at my dental surgery. The one where the dentist had a droplet of sweat rolling down his nose before he had to take a rest before resuming the attack on what was left of the tooth. In hindsight, that wasn’t a good experience.

So now it’s soft gloopy food for a few days, and plenty of custard and coffee, my drug of choice. I complained to Noel that I did look like I had the face of a hamster, but his assurances that on me it looked good didn’t stop me putting a bag on my head when I went out.

Coffee and A Little Retail Therapy

Ooo look, I have a picture in an exhibition!

Ooo look, I have a picture in an exhibition!

The task was simple. All I had to do was to turn up at the White Cloth Gallery and review the exhibition, our exhibition, There was absolutely no need to get involved with the coffee-making. But I did and it ended with one of us being sprayed with cappuccino froth.

I’d arrived slightly early, very excited to see Exposure Leeds’ collection of images from the streets, backstreets, markets and yards of our lovely city taken by fellow local photographers.   The gallery is one of the city’s newest, focusing on photography and film, my favourites, with the added benefit of coffee and something a little stronger.

There was a meeting going on in the area I wanted to review, but with a top-of-the-range Rancilio, big brother to our own humble home coffee machine, sitting proudly behind the bar, I was as happy as a pig in muck made from coffee grounds. I could wait, I said.

University student Georgia, who helps out at the Gallery, confessed that as a non coffee-drinker, she couldn’t promise caffeinated perfection. That’s OK, I told her, we have one like this at home, I can help. What could possibly go wrong?

It’s all in the tamping, I told her. Good pressure on the grounds leads to a thick crema. And indeed, that was the case, she knew that, but was too polite to say so. The frothing was trickier, I gave unsolicited advice on nozzle positioning and jug angle. Just a little more, I told her. Ah. Not quite that much, as the froth left the jug and settled on her cheek. Maybe I’ll just leave you to it……. She was very sweet about it, though. And the coffee was excellent.

By this time, the meeting had broken up and I could view and review. It was good to see images in a gallery setting. I took mine when I spotted a tourist holding their cameraphone high to capture the magnificent ceiling in the Victoria Quarter, a photo of a photo, taken with my very favourite 50mm f1.4 prime lens.

Just a Little Retail Therapy runs until 8 April.


A tale of two customer services

Canadian dollars thanks to good service in Pudsey

Canadian dollars thanks to good service in Pudsey

As I stand there, cash in hand, waiting for the person behind the counter to finish their important conversation with their colleague about the viscosity of their ear wax, I want to shout at them ‘Am I TOTALLY invisible?’ or, in my crosser, more hormonal moments, ‘You’d know about it if you worked for me, you wouldn’t for long, there’s good people queuing up to do your job. And they’d do it better. And they don’t have ear wax! ‘

Of course, I don’t, I just resort to one of my telepathic messages of dissatisfaction and fix them with my Angry Stare which Noel says is very scary, and he doesn’t scare easily, except when I ask him to dance.

So when I handed over my insulated mug and asked for a tall skinny latte, the little madam behind the counter at Costa’s outlet at Trowell services on the M1 looked at me as if I had just crawled from under a slimy stone. She said petulantly, ‘I don’t know what that is’. Now it was early morning, I needed coffee, decent coffee, Costa coffee. But I had committed some kind of cross-competitor coffee sin, I had asked in Starbucks speak, where such a request gives me my drink of choice. For some reason, maybe it was the stupid o’clock time, I felt I had to apologise for asking for a drink using the language of a competitor.

“Can you help me out, here?” I asked, “I’m not sure what size fits in my environmentally-friendly mug, which Starbucks gives me a 25p discount for using”

“I don’t know,” she said unhelpfully, managing to avoid The Angry Stare, At that point I should have left it and gone down the road to Leicester Forest East where the Starbucks staff are always pleasant and welcoming. She wasn’t open to making a suggestion on which size, so I guessed, but it was hugely expensive, which I commented on in a HOW MUCH kind of fashion.

“Yes, we are more expensive,” she said, as if that was a good thing. “And we don’t give discounts for using your own mugs either”. Well that’s all right, then, I get the privilege of paying more, helping you contribute to global warming and putting up with bad attitude. Thank you very much, you’ll not be seeing me in your little Kingdom of Bad Service again. Which is a shame, because every other Costa I have ever been to, and there’s mots of those, I drink a lot of coffee, has been excellent.

Contrast that to the superb service I received today from two competitors. My quest for Canadian dollars was fast failing, it seems not many places stock them, not in Pudsey anyway. But the very helpful Amy at Thomson immediately phoned another outlet to ask, though they didn’t have any either. She suggested a competitor, the Post Office, then phoned them too as she didn’t want me to have a fruitless trip up the high street. Yes they did have dollars, she confirmed, then gave me directions not just to the Post Office, but to the location of the foreign money counter. I thanked her and said I was impressed with the service, even though they got no custom from me on this occasion.

On arrival at the Post Office, they had the dollars waiting for me, along with useful advice, which I will definitely take next time. We had a pleasant chat on the general wonderfulness of Canada, particularly for scenic skiing and I left the building, a very satisfied customer.

Good customer service costs nothing, but bad service costs custom. Three cheers for Thomson and the Post Office in Pudsey. A tall skinny latte in a Starbucks mug in the eye of that one member of Costa staff at Trowell.

2012? In the words of Jonnie Peacock, f#@king get IN!

A glorious year seen through a caffeine haze

A glorious year seen through a caffeine haze

Today I raced against an Olympian. Well, by that I mean that I was in the same event as triathalon bronze medallist Johnny Brownlee. The fact that he’d finished, changed and was back home tucking into turkey leftovers by the time I crossed the line, was neither here nor there. Nevertheless, he and I, along with 1000 other runners, had enjoyed the mudfest that was the Chevin Chase. Seven miles of mud and hills in God’s Own Country – Yorkshire.

And that’s the story of 2012 for me. The London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics were the absolute highlight that have brought me more tears of joy, thrills, pride and inspiration than I can ever remember. Whether it’s the Olympic anthem, or soundbites from the many winners and nearly-winners on radio and TV, I have loved every minute of it and never grow tired of experiencing it again and again.

They inspired me, all of them. From the arrival of the flame and its journey around the country to the 007-inspired opening ceremony with Her Majesty parachuting into the arena with not a hair out of place, how DID she do that? Then the games themselves, the first medals, Super Saturday, 4 August when we, Team GB, wupped the asses of all the other nations to win gold after gold after gold, I thought I was going to burst with pride. if truth be told, I still do.

Their triumph was my inspiration. My rather mediocre running achievements would never be competitive, but I was definitely stuck in a rut and wanted to do better. And do you know what? I did, personal best after personal best, then my first, but certainly not my last, half marathon.

It has indeed been a most wonderful year, best summed by by the inspirational paralympian Jonnie Peacock who won gold in the 100 metres sprint. I’m no lipreader, but as the 19-year-old sizzled past the finish, he clenched his fists in triumph, exclaiming, “F#@king get in!!’ 2012? Jonnie, I’m with you, f#@king get IN!!

Along with the pure joy of the Olympics, I have had a wonderful year of coffee, it’s three years since I have started a coffee diary, my days in coffee, I do drink an awful lot of it.  The photo above is just a few of them from this year, but each one tells a story. What will 2013 bring?

Coffeeing the world

Rancilio Silvia – coffeeing the world

The English language has suffered some abuse of late, nouns have been verbified and adjectives subjected to superlatives. Although I won’t hear a bad word against The Greatest Games®, they do have a lot to answer for with the enverbalisation of medal and podium. In the name of Shakespeare’s English, a fie on our merrie knaves and wenches medalling and podiuming. They WON a MEDAL, and received it ON THE PODIUM, for heaven’s sake.

The latest misuse arrived with the caffeine-fuelled addition to the household. We’re already in a quandary on what to scoop up first if the place should go up in flames. Noel will grab the cat from his latest favourite sleeping place and I’ll unhook the crosstitch sampler it took me a year to complete from the wall, tuck it under my arm and leg it out of the house. Everything else is insured or backed up on a server in Switzerland.

Our new coffee maker isn’t just any old push-the-grounds-though-the-filter contraption. With the demise of our good and faithful Gaggia, which has delighted us with many an espresso with thick crema and fine-frothed latte, its replacement had to be very special indeed. Extensive research led us to the Rancilio Silvia, which promises to make exceedingly good coffee.

It arrived on Friday, so I’m writing this in a caffeine fug, twitching uncontrollably and occasionally bouncing off the walls. But not before I noticed Rancilio’s claim to greatness. Simply this, ‘coffeeing the world‘.

Coffeeing the world? Is that some new political movement? If it is, it’ll be fast and frantic, but will feel damned good. Personally, I’ll sign up today. And I’ll be facebooking that as my status update.

Saying it in the language of coffee

All my uni coffees in one mosaic. That’s one big caffeine buzz!

My first coffee in my new job was a bit of a blur, with good reason, I’d forgotten my glasses. Colleagues and staff must have thought I was being aloof as I looked at them through narrowed eyes. Not a bit of it, I was just trying to focus!

The final coffee, drunk from what had become my trademark sparkly red mug from a certain Seattle-based cafe chain tasted good, mainly because it was free. I’d made such a nuisance of myself at the coffee bar with my skinny-latte-but-don’t-overfill-the-cup-because-I-like-it-strong requests that they gave me a freebie just to give me a send-off in a kind-off ‘thank goodness she’s going’ way.

Over the year I’ve been at the University of Bradford, every coffee I’ve drunk has told a story. I’ve continued what I started three years ago, keeping a photo diary, a coffee diary, all my coffees in all the places I’ve been. That’s a lot of caffeine, yeeee haaaaaw I feel good and very much awake. For good measure, I’ve made my coffees into photo mosaics, coffees within coffees within coffees, like a Mandelbrot espresso set.

So here’s the highlights:

The coffee that helped me through the business and chaos of the British Science Festival which put Bradford on the map of cool places, rather than the city of riots.

The coffee to celebrate with new graduates, all be-gowned and dewy-eyed, rewarded for all their hard work and looking forward to the future, though dreading the job-hunting.

The coffees with the many cakes consumed in the office, they tasted particularly good, especially when we had the chocolate cake bakeathon. My word that lot could consume their own body weight in cake

The coffees and cheers for good times, the coffees and tears  for times that weren’t as good, that’s being a manager for you.

So I said a fond farewell, a contract is a contract and there was nothing else to do but have a final coffee, graciously accept the lovely gifts which they really shouldn’t have (but I do like pressies so thanks, thanks, thanks!) and go out with a splash. We all headed for Bradford’s newest attraction, the multi-fountained mirror-pooled City Park where, joined by three brave staff and watched by many more, we legged it through the water. But not before we’d had a coffee to warm us up.

Emma, Kate and moi before the dash through City Park