Gin for the win!

I like gin.  I am blaming this on my mother, as back in the 70s drinking alcohol during pregnancy wasn’t frowned upon – and she liked a gin!

A couple of years ago Mum and Dad bought us a trip to the Sipsmith’s Distillery in London.  It was an interesting way to spend a couple of hours – but the gin consumption was very limited – and you had to stand up in the distillery for the duration of the presentation.  This sounds a bit of a first world problem – but was exhausting.  So it was good – but not great.

Since then I’ve had a number of gin and gin related presents off them – and then for this birthday they bought me a gin tasting session at Loki in Birmingham – which we did last weekend.

I’d not been to Loki before, and from outside it looks like an unassuming shop in the Great Western Arcade in Birmingham.  Once inside it’s amazing!  There are hundreds of different bottles of wine and other alcoholic beverages – but the difference is, you can taste them! There are 5 different machines, each holding 8 bottles of wine at exactly the right temperature – and you can select a taster, a small glass or a large glass of any!  Perfect for trying out new wines before committing to a whole bottle.

But I digress – we weren’t there for wine – we were there for gin!

The Gin Connoisseurs Course was run upstairs by Carl Hawkins – or as he is more commonly know, The Gintleman. (Do not fear – I will not recount all of the ‘hilarious’ gin puns – I don’t want to steal Carl’s thunder should any of you decide to go on one of his courses!!) Some of you may have heard of the Jekyll and Hyde pub  – or gin parlour as it markets itself – in Birmingham, and this was Carl’s baby some years ago. He’s also worked with a number of the local gin brands – so he knows his stuff!

There were 19 people (sitting down, so already a higher scorer than the Sipsmith’s tour!) around the room – and I would guess we were pretty much in the middle of the age range.  Initially everyone was very reserved and quiet (apart from my husband, obviously!)

Lined up on the tables there were 8 different gins and 8 different tonics that we were going to try – with 8 different garnishes too!

Carl started off with an introduction to the origins and history of gin.  Some of this we’d heard on the Sipsmith’s tour – but Carl was a great raconteur and it was really interesting. I’m a total geek – so learning about the origins of phrases like ‘mother’s ruin’, ‘Dutch courage’ and ‘blind drunk’ was really interesting.

Then we started on the gins!

Thankfully we’d been given a card with all of the gin / tonic / garnish combos we were going to sample (which is a good job – as after about 4 I would have been struggling to write!!) Then, in the manner of speed dating, we had to rate our neat gin (by circling the number of choice) and subsquently rating it again with the tonic and garnish added (by marking the number with a cross).

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We started with a huge 58.8% proof navy gin (which was V V strong, but I may have undermarked!) and then carried on.

Of the 8, there was only one I’d tried before – Gin Mare, another present from my parents (honestly – it looks like they’re encouraging my gin habit?!?) – but there are plenty I would now try again.

And the range of tonics – and in one case Ginger Beer – was great.  As Carl pointed out – a large proportion of your gin and tonic is tonic – so why buy a fancy pants gin and then put a cheap tonic into it?  (My ‘favourites’ at Ocado now include Fevertree and Double Dutch tonic variations!)

Everyone loosened up after about gin 4 – and it was a really lovely afternoon.

Admittedly as the gin consumption progressed we were undecided between popping to Greggs next door for a sausage roll – or the deli across the road for posh cheese, meat and pastries to soak up the booze – the deli won #classy.

Having attended the course we were able to get a discount back downstairs in Loki – and left with a bottle of Malfi Lemon Gin (think limoncello on steroids), a bottle of Warner Edwards Rhubarb gin – and a nice bottle of red wine for good measure!

All in all I would thoroughly recommend Loki and The Gintleman to anyone – it was a fabulous afternoon.  I’ve also seen that The Gintleman does tastings in your own home – so  that’s definitely something to consider in the future!!

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This is in no way a sponsored post – I’m just sharing the love of gin!

 

 

Grand Central Birmingham

If I had to list things that I like – after the obvious family and friends – then the following things would feature high up the list:

So imagine my delight when all of the above could be combined into one evening!!

I was invited to take part in a focus group about the new advertising for Grand Central, and offered a behind the scenes nose around the site which is due to open next month.

Grand Central logo

I’d never been involved in market research before – so it was all a bit intriguing.  I arrived at the management suite at Grand Central (the shopping centre that is being built above New Street station in the centre of Birmingham to replace the old slightly grim Pallasades. There were 4 other members of my group, and we were all 30 / 40 something parents.

First we talked a bit about Birmingham and what we all love about it (variety of shops / bars / restuarants, the fact the centre is compact, the mixture of architecture, even The Owls got a mention!) and what we’re not so fond of (the traffic, difficulty parking, how busy it can be)  We then talked more about Grand Central and the advertising that was being proposed for it.

Now I have to confess to not knowing much about what Grand Central was going to be.  I knew there was going to be a huge John Lewis (obvs!) but not much else.  I wasn’t sure what other retail and dining options there were going to be.  I wasn’t sure whether it fitted into the same space that the Pallasades did, or how it was going to connect to other areas of Birmingham. And I have to say 90 minutes into the various discussions we had – and looking at the proposed adverts – I was none the wiser either!  Thankfully today I’ve discovered the Grand Central Birmingham website which gives loads of information – and has made me much more excited at the shops and eateries we’re going to have.

The whole process of a market research focus group was really interesting.  Being able to waffle on about your own thoughts on stuff (rather than just typing it down here into the ether) was fun.  Whilst our overall feelings, as a group, about the adverts was quite similar – we did discuss it all, and changed each other’s opinions at times.  It all felt very ‘safe’ and as if you could say exactly what you thought without fear of being ridiculed.  Whether that was just because we had a lovely group – or the particular facilitator we had – I’m not sure.  But I really enjoyed it!

And once the ‘work’ was over, we got to don our full health and safety personal protective equipment and go and have a look round the site…..

Grand Central

And site it is.  It is VERY much still a working site.  Whilst the main atrium is in, and the escalators down to the station – there is still a lot of work to be done. And I mean a lot.  Floors / walls / lighting and that’s before the shops can even think about shop fitting with their own branding, shelves, stock etc!  And it’s all going to be ready for Thursday 24th September 2015…..

I was ‘slightly’ incredulous at this – but maybe the 3,500 people they have on site at the moment are startlingly more efficient than my workforce??

The frontage to the new John Lewis is hidden from prying eyes by roller shutters – but the width of the frontage is HUGE, it’s got to be 4 times the size of the entrance to John Lewis in Touchwood, Solihull.

The huge open plan space is amazing – and the light that will flood the place is immense – even down to the platforms, for the first time ever!  The roof is made out of the same material as the Eden project domes – and is self cleaning (even from seagull and pigeon poo – of which there is a lot in Birmingham). And throughout the mall, the height of any counters or tables is limited to 1.4m to ensure that people have a clear view around at all times.

Currently Westfield in London has the biggest footfall of a shopping centre at 42 million (2 million more than our very own Bull Ring) but Grand Central is predicting 45 million in the first year of operation!  The key will be to get the dwell time of these visitors to increase so that it’s seen as a proper destination – not just the exit route from New Street.  Maybe people will go and visit our Grand Central like I did as a tourist to Grand Central in New York!

And in exciting news – it will still be accessed by ‘the ramp at McDonalds’ (anyone from Birmingham knows that location!) and you will be able to walk all the way through to the Bull Ring through nice free flowing walkways, not random 90 degree turns like the olden days.

I should point out at this point that all of the above facts were from me paying attention to the lovely ops director who showed us around, and I have not independently verified any of them!  But his passion for the project oozed out of him (as did his excitement at having a Nando’s arriving!!)  The bringing together of a transport, retail and dining hub is incredible – and the fact that one of the (if not the?) busiest station in the UK has kept running through the regeneration is amazing.

However – having been very excited that an off peak return to New Street was only £2.80 from Kings Norton, the train home had a platform change and was delayed by 35 minutes – so let’s hope the trains standards can match that of the shopping facilities above…………

But I can’t wait to go and see Grand Central in all its glory when it opens next month.

Owl Woes – Wicked Wednesday 29th July 2015

Last week the children and I started finding owls around Birmingham for the Big Hoot 2015.

Now there’s a lot of scope for Wicked Wednesdays photos from this!

We could have the one outside Cadburyworld in the pouring rain where they all look seriously unimpressed (apart from the eldest who is doing a great fake smile!!) ….

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Or the one about 3 hours in on Saturday when I was making them march between owls at pace, and they were slowly losing the will to live……

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Or an infamous youngest child strop on the steps of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, just because that’s what she does……

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I have to say there are also some fab photos in the album I’ve set up to record all of our owl spottings, and we’ve really enjoyed seeing more of our great city.

52 down, 37 to go………………

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The Big Hoot for Birmingham Children’s Hospital

As many of you will know, we have been helping our friends to fundraise for Birmingham Children’s Hospital for the last year – as their son is being treated there for a brain tumour. They’ve already raised in excess of £20k – but are still looking to support them even more. (Blatant request for donations as the Just Giving link is here.)

Anyway – this summer BCH (that’s what those in the know call Birmingham Children’s Hospital!) have an amazing event on in and around Birmingham – called The Big Hoot and here’s a quote from their website to give you the background.

The Big Hoot swoops into Birmingham 20 July – 27 September 2015

Presented by creative producers Wild in Art working in partnership with Birmingham Children’s Hospital, The Big Hoot has brought businesses, artists, schools and the local community together to create a public art trail of stunning owl sculptures on display across Birmingham from 20 July until 27 September.

With 89 giant owl sculptures to see – each one individually and intricately created by artists from Birmingham and beyond – this ‘owl-spotting’ experience is inspiring fun for everyone and is completely FREE.

Follow the trail from the City Centre to Sutton Coldfield; Winson Green to Bournville and many places in between and enjoy beautiful open spaces; inspiring buildings and Birmingham’s cultural heritage along the way.

All the giant owls have been sponsored by companies and organisations and at the end of the trail, they will be auctioned to raise money for Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

Children and young people from Birmingham’s schools have also been busy creating over 120 owlets. These are displayed in ‘parliaments’ across the city as part of The Little Hoot education programme.

We hope you have fun discovering all the owls and now…let the ‘owl-spotting’ begin!!!

The Price family were very excited to hear about this and immediately downloaded a copy of the trail from the website (you can also get hard copies at various locations around the city).

This week we’ve started on our owl spotting quest – and are ticking off the owls as we find them (we have a copy of the trail on the kitchen wall, as well as one for when we’re out and about – we’re taking this very seriously!!)

The kids did a couple over near Thinktank earlier in the week,

The Big Hoot 1 The Big Hoot 2

and even more today…

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(They were excited, I promise, but it was just raining heavily at the time!  A trip to the Cadburyworld shop afterwards did help cheer them up!!)

I’ve set up a Facebook photo album and will update it as we add to the viewing list with the various owls and owlets – and it would seem most of my Brummie Facebook friends are also on owl spotting missions.  Lots have also been involved, through the schools that they work for, in the painting of owlets – so we’re hoping to spot those too.

Not only are these owls beautiful – it’s also a great way to get ourselves out and about around our fabulous city this summer.  If the weather could just join in and play the game a bit better that would be great!

The kids are already deciding which one they want to bid for in the auction in October!

Trees – The Photo Gallery week 214

I am very excited about this week’s theme for The Gallery – as IT WAS MY SUGGESTION – EEK!!! Having been very chuffed with the photo I’m about to show you, I tweeted Tara at Sticky Fingers on Friday (the day that the theme for the next week is posted) to ask what it was going to be as I had a lovely photo of some trees I wanted to shoe-horn in somehow. Imagine my DELIGHT when she very very kindly chose ‘trees’ as the topic, so no horning of shoes required at all!!!

I took this photo at the Lickey Hills – just 5 minutes from our house – when I went with my son and 105 other Year 5 kids on an orienteering trip last week. It was EXHAUSTING – and my legs ached for the whole of the next day (as did a lot of the kids, so it wasn’t just me being unfit!) – but a really challenging, interesting, calorie burning day.  It also reminded me what amazing photo opportunities we have right on our doorstep.

There was snow on the ground but the sun was shining brightly first thing. We were asked not to take photos of the kids – so I took 2 photos on my phone the whole day – but this was one of them:

Trees

I kept expecting to see Mr Tumnus peep out from behind one of the trees!

And just for completeness, here’s the other photo I took from Beacon Hill looking out towards Birmingham City Centre – lots of trees on that too, for England’s second city.

Snowy Birmingham skyline

This is my entry for this week’s #thegallery – so do go and look how other people have interpreted ‘trees’…..

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

On the Tolkien Trail……….

As the front of my blog says, I am a Brummie Mummy and my husband is a proud Brummie too!   In fact when we had to complete the forms to get married in St Lucia we had to fill in the place of birth of our parents:

Birmingham, Birmingham, Birmingham, Birmingham.

Our 3 daughters all have Birmingham on their birth certificates – but our son has Redditch.  We’re hoping this doesn’t cause him a complex in later life!

A decade ago we moved to a village just outside the sprawl of England’s second city (in fact, my parents used to come on Sunday school outings here when they were kids as it was the ‘countryside’)  – but we’re still within striking distance (and sometimes hearing distance depending on the direction of the wind) of the motorway network and thus the infamous spaghetti junction and can be in ‘town’ within half an hour.

This gives us a wealth of places to visit within an hour of leaving the house – but often you don’t take advantage of what’s right on the doorstep.

Last week we went to Sarehole Mill – and all 4 kids enjoyed it (this is a feat in itself!).  The older ones enjoyed learning about Tolkien who lived nearby as a child and there was plenty to keep the little 2 entertained (fishing game, brass rubbings) And, the favourite thing for them all, was watching the water mill in action.  The mill is operational on Wednesdays and Sundays through the summer – and it definitely adds to the experience. It’s free for the kids to get in, and was £3 for me.  There were also craft activities for a small charge on Wednesday – and so the kids all made farm animals!! We had lunch across the road at ‘The Hungry Hobbit’ (a friendly greasy spoon, with great bacon sandwiches and scrambled egg or beans on toast) – although we could have had cake at the mill itself.

Sarehole Mill 1 Sarehole Mill 2

There are other Tolkien sites to visit in and around the city on the Tolkien Trail – so they’re also on the hit list for the holidays.  Given the big 2 have read the books and seen the films, it helps bring it all even more to life. Now – if we could just plan a trip to New Zealand to see where the films were made……………