‘And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.’
Ophelia, Hamlet (IV v). William Shakespeare.
Out at daybreak on Tuesday to photograph cobwebs in the freezing mist, I literally bumped into a professional photographer doing the same. He gave me his card and we both turned to go in opposite directions, disappearing into the fog to go our separate ways along the river. It was a great way to start the day before my final lectures of the year.
Last year, I visited Nassos Keramik on the island of Rhodes, Greece. This particular outlet has been producing handmade ceramics in a traditional style since 1964. Its founder, Nassos Mylonas, had learnt his trade at the ICAROS factory which had been established by the Italians in Rhodes in 1928 to reproduce the traditional, regional ‘Iznik’ designs.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to visit Nassos Keramik with a friend who was learning how to decorate the ceramics in that traditional style. Even more so, the next day, to be taken on a guided tour around the exhibition ‘ICARO – ΙΚΑΡΟΣ The Factory of Rhodes 1928-1988’ at the Grand Master’s Palace in Rhodes Old Town.
This visit was a while ago, but it is never far from my mind. My memories can travel, even while I cannot. They have a fine, translucent glaze and I handle them with care.
Last month, I celebrated my birthday sober to help raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support. It’s a cause close to my heart (and other organs) and, of course, I’m not alone. This, though, did not mean I had to forgo fizz on my big day, oh no.
I was fully prepared to feel virtuous with my summer-time favourite, Elderflower Pressé and indeed I did (and still do), it’s effervescently refreshing whether drunk straight, or as a mixer (with dry white wine or vodka for – my – preference).
However, I decided to research some alternatives. I’d long derided alcohol-free wine as sickly-sweet grape juice with zero complexity, but was prepared to change my mind – and, I did. So, as a mark of my humility and the quality of my tireless research in this area during October, I’d like to share my top three zero heroes with you.
Here they are, in no particular order…
This one definitely came as a surprise to me – the muscat grape is not one of my favourites. I expected it to be much sweeter than it is, but, although the nose says muscat, the tongue says a very crisp round apple. It helps to serve this deeply chilled (you and the wine).
I said a mellow goodbye to Sober October with a fruity friend from the Languedoc. The well-named Lâchez-Vous! is a full-bodied Syrah/Grenache blend, red-purple in colour with the scent and taste of black and red berries. Dry and smooth, it went down very easily as I said hello to November.
The next day, on a casual wander through Colchester, I visited a (relatively) new off-licence at Fenwick, just to browse. Winter is coming, so I headed to the whisky section which, though compact, had interest. There, late to the game (the distillery, Mackmyra, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year), I discovered that Sweden produces whisky.
Thanks to an attentive sales assistant, I also discovered that Sweden produces good whisky. She noted my interest and asked if I would like to taste two of those Swedish whiskies they had in stock. I agreed and she fetched the bottles.
The first, Svensk Rök, is a smoky single malt whisky made exclusively from Swedish ingredients. Flavoured with juniper, it’s light, mildly spicy and peaty in character. The second, Mackmyra Äppelblom is also a single malt and is finished in Calvados-saturated oak casks from Christian Drouin. It has a richer dry-toffee-apple character. I enjoyed tasting both, but, if I had to choose, would take the Äppelblom for an autumn-into-winter drink. The apple and the Calvados are very persuasive.
So, cheers, dear reader, wherever you are and however you mark this season – here’s a toast to new discoveries – lâchez-vous!