Coals to Newcastle – Proto-Tibet

There is a mathematical theory that is a particular favorite of mine. As roughly stated, the problem is as follows: you are looking to hire a new employee, you have 100 candidates to interview but (and here’s the constraint) you have to hire the winning candidate on the spot at the end of their one interview. Thinking this through, the first candidate may be the best of all the 100, but if you hire the first candidate on the spot you never get to see any of the others (and how do you know that all the others aren’t even better?). Alternatively, if you don’t hire an early candidate that you think is excellent … you might end up kicking yourself because you never get anyone of similar quality and you might be forced to settle for a less good candidate later on (in extremis, you may have to hire candidate number 100 no matter how good they are, because you have no other choice). So what do you do? How do you get the highest probability of hiring someone good?

Is anyone still with me? Excellent. The answer (apparently – I no longer have the maths to prove this myself) is that you interview just under one third of the candidates without hiring anybody, then hire on the spot the next person who is better than all the candidates you have seen so far. And if nobody is as good, hire candidate number 100.

Err, hang on, relevance please? This is a pretty wild digression even for you, James. So…

We are on the outskirts of Tibet, although still officially outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The countryside is mountainous and starkly beautiful, monks and monasteries abound and the smells of juniper incense and the squeak of prayer wheels are a constant reminder of where you are. And we are on the lookout for a Buddhist Thangka painting. There are a whole load of art galleries in towns that we are going to visit – once – over the next couple of weeks. We are heading up to Lhasa, which is of course the historical home of all that is excellent in Tibetan art, but history gets pretty convoluted in this part of the world and this may no longer be the case. And we can’t be sure that we won’t end up having to buy Thangka candidate 100 on our last day in Tibet. (see what we have done there? The theory is actually pretty widely applicable – one of the reasons I like it so much)

First stop: Labrang monastery in Xiahe. The monastery itself is perched amidst a small Tibetan enclave at the top of a typically charmless, rapidly growing Chinese town. As a first taste of Tibetan culture it is a dilly – deeply chanting monks, dark mysterious shrines, more deities than you can shake a prayer wheel at and a kora pilgrimage around the monastery walls that doubles as a pleasant stroll for a pair of altitude-acclimatizing westerners.

Next stop: Tongren. And it is here that we have our mathematically resolved dilemma. Tongren (cookie cutter Chinese hole in the ground medium-sized town – don’t bother) has a famous Thangka painting school attached to the Wutun-Si monastery about 6km out of town. And the Thangkas are great. Really great. But are we really about to buy a large Tibetan Buddhist painting and then carry the bloody thing the 1,000+ miles to Lhasa, where there must be more Thankga shops? We ummed and ahhed, we looked at dozens of paintings, we haggled, we negotiated hard … and we bought an awesome painting of a particularly fierce looking bloke on a horse (we discovered later that our fierce looking bloke is in fact a she. And it’s a mule. To be precise, her name is Sri Devi, and she is one of the only protector deities that you offer beer and wine to instead of holy water. Result!)

I would like to say that the mathematics played a part in our decision, and maybe it did. More likely, however, we were so stung by our Tashkent Experience that we would have kicked ourselves hard enough to draw blood had we missed another early opportunity to pick up something high quality and ended up spending another five days hunting for second best. Anyway, we picked up our painting, slid it inside a cannily acquired chunk of sewer pipe and headed off to Lhasa with our fingers crossed that we would never see anything as beautiful again.

One for the Girls

(OK, and maybe Tim. But basically, the girls.)

So I bought some fabric in Uzbekistan – ikat fabric, which is made out of silk and hand woven on a loom which is a little narrower than I am. It’s really beautiful stuff and was cheap as chips – but now I have to work out what to do with it, so that when I get to somewhere with a tailor, they can magic it into something fabulous.

So, by the magic of camera and Powerpoint (all the famous designers use it sweetie), I’ve come up with the below 3 ideas. Need to be different to avoid my re-naming as Ikat girl, and also I don’t have that much of the black fabric so that one probably needs to be a shift.

Any better ideas, girls?

Answers on a postcard.

What Would Michael Palin Do?

I don’t know about you, but when Michael Palin’s first travel TV series came out I scoffed a little. I mean, what qualifications (other than past fame) does Michael Palin have to make a travel show? It took half-watching a few series for me to realize the genius of it: it wasn’t that people followed him round the world doing silly walks and offering him dead parrots (although they did) but the fact that Michael Palin is truly, truly world-class at non-verbal communication. Whether it is in the background of Monty Python sketches or high on the Tibetan plateau non-talking to nomads in a yurt: he gurns, he gurgles, he falls over, he makes funny faces and he is absolutely hilarious. And, whether you are going around the world in 80 days or eight months, unless you are prepared to learn the language of every single country that you visit for a few days at a time, non-verbal communication is where it’s at.

Lucy and I are not complete Alan Whicker-style post-imperialists. Between the two of us we can muster English, conversational Spanish and French, enough German to get around (and, bizarrely, to negotiate with one particular Kyrgyz guest house owner) and enough Japanese to order food and train tickets. We can also handle hello and thank you and the names of common foods, railway stations etc. in just about every country we go to. However, we are currently in China, and we are completely stumped. It’s the tonality of the language, you see – even if you know the words it is damn near impossible to make somebody understand you when you say them. We have a piece of paper from a hotel with “railway station”, “airport” etc. written on them in kanji, but they are no help when the taxi drivers can’t read, and no help at all when the taxi drivers steadfastly refuse to believe you don’t speak the lingo and stop the cab in the middle of nowhere to demand that you renegotiate the fare, in Mandarin. So I regularly find myself asking, when faced with a blankly uncomprehending hotel owner, a taxi driver, a waitress: what would Michael Palin do in this situation?

I have smiled until my face almost fell off; I have mimed buying train tickets; we have pointed at food others are eating; we have taken iphone photos of things and shown them to people; we have drawn diagrams of double and single beds (a Lucy inspiration – it looks less like a toilet sign and more like a double bed when you draw the pillows as well). I once found myself actually mooing loudly at a cabbie to get him to take us to the animal market. I carry a pencil and paper to write place names, draw clocks and write down dates. It doesn’t help that Chinese sign language is actually different too – two crossed fingers meaning ten, anybody? (Also, if you are miming eating, you have to mime using chopsticks, not the traditional knife and fork sawing and chewing – simple once you know how).

As a pop quiz, think how you would mime the following requests, drawn from our day to day interactions:

  • Do you have Wifi?
  • What is the wifi password? (and the IP address, while you are at it)
  • Where is the ticket office?
  • I would like a long enough length of your plastic sewage pipe to pack this Tibetan Thangka painting back to the UK, please (actually quite easy)
  • What time does this office open after lunch? (Also actually quite easy, but try to catch the mimed answer: “No, it’s the Uzbek National Teachers Day bank holiday”)
  • Please would you impersonate a CNN foreign correspondent for my friends’ wedding video?

Michael, if you are reading, you are more than welcome on our next trip, and we promise not to mention the parrot incident.

Ti-Be-t or not Ti-Be-t

That is the question.

James and I started planning our trip many moons ago now, with the rough outline of an itinerary (or at least places we thought sounded cool and would try and wrap in if at all possible) probably having been solidified around January. We’ve had plenty of time to get illogically, emotionally involved with our choice of countries, to the extent that a 3 month delay in our trip didn’t necessarily cause us to change any of our destinations, just the order in which they were visited. And also meaning that some of our planned locations are being visited at rather curious times of year: which brings us onto Tibet.

Our current plan has us trotting into Tibet near the end of October after a rather lengthy connection across China from the end of the Silk Road. Fine and dandy, other than the fact that Tibet is (i) in the Northern hemisphere and (ii) very high and (iii) our plan involves high altitude trekking. Yep, five days hiking in altitudes of well over 4,000 metres and temperatures of who knows what but I’ve got to guess well below freezing at least at night time.

We must have been insane.

Still, the trip is booked and fully paid for. And let’s face it, as long as we don’t actually die of AMS and / or hypothermia, it’ll be pretty darned cool. I think. Maybe.

Enter Mr. Cameron. Yes, him of current UK prime-ministerial fame. You see, Cameron met the Dalai Lama back in the summer, which infuriated the Chinese authorities to the extent that they have been refusing all Tibetan permits to UK nationals since said meeting occurred. For the past 2 months, we’ve been on tenterhooks waiting to see whether the Chinese reversed this decision post the Chinese national holiday at the start of October. Our travel agent told us that basically, we just had to hang on tight and hope for the best and with luck, we’d know where we stood by 15 October, or a whole 7 days before we were due to enter the country. In the meantime, perhaps we’d better consider some alternatives.

Now, I like to think of myself as a reasonably hardened traveler, so it’s not without a small modicum of shame that I confess that our alternative planning had got as far as looking longingly at the website of the Banyan Tree hotel in Li-jiang; plus some pretty advanced double-think on both of our parts to persuade ourselves that the $500 a night charge at said beautiful, luxurious hotel (with private bathroom!!) was totally worth it and in complete keeping with the whole ethos of our trip. I mean, we’d always said we’d be flashpacking, and lately the flash seems to have fizzled out into an endless sea of mutton kebabs and Chinese business hotels (which, in case you’re ever after such a place, are quite possibly the perfect suicide venue; particularly the wet room style bathrooms where you shower kind of on or over the loo. Perfectly rinse clean-able). And the Banyan Tree has a spa. And white wine. And cocktails.

So we were in somewhat mixed minds when we heard 10 days before launch date that the Chinese authorities were now letting English people into Tibet. However, they still weren’t permitting anyone to cross the border from Tibet to Nepal (an essential part of our trip), so we still weren’t sure whether we were going or not. Plus only groups of five or more are currently being allowed in, whilst the plan would be that it’s just the two of us. Our travel agent told us we’d need to hold on another week before getting any kind of decision but to be honest we’d kind of written the trip off by this point. Banyan Tree here we come.

Eventually, we got our go ahead 2 days before our scheduled departure, to the amazement of all we have spoken to. Our group of five fortunately managed to get a permit in the end, although tragically the other three members fell deeply ill and were unable to make the trip, leaving just James and I as the group’s two representatives in Tibet. I’m actually writing this aboard the train between Xining and Lhasa (which is a spectacular engineering feat – almost all at over 4,000 metres and partially built on permafrost – but not in and of itself spectacular. Still, acclimatization wise every little helps), taking a short break from reading some of the material on Tibet I’ve been blithely ignoring for the last 2 months, secure in the knowledge that we’d been rescued from our own craziness by the good graces of the Chinese authorities.

Tibet looks amazing. And cold. I can’t wait to see it all from the snugness of the 5 down jackets and one sheepskin cloak I intend to purchase in Lhasa.

And hey, there’s Banyan Trees all over the place, right?

The planning begins in Xining station. The large plastic bag has our ration of instant noodles for the journey, just in case the buffet car fails us

Xining to Lhasa train. Told you it wasn’t that spectacular!


The End of the (Silk) Road

We had a cunning plan to bridge our Silk Road epic into our trip to Tibet.

We’d go overland. Couldn’t be far, right?

We wanted to do the full Silk Road experience – not just in the Stans, but heading into China, and onto the official beginning of civilization (as these things were measured at the time) as denoted by the end of the Great Wall of China, in Jiayuguan. A mere 1,500 miles from Kashgar, with 2 notable sights to see along the way, the first being some ooh, 1,350 miles from Kashgar. All before then travelling a further 500 miles to Xining, whence to board our 1,100 mile train journey into Tibet. So 3,100 miles in total. Or to put it another way, a slightly greater distance than crossing the United States. All to be done in a little under 2 weeks so that we could connect to our Tibet trip.

Reader, we cheated. We shamelessly flew the 1,350 miles from Kashgar to Dunhuang (via the charming city of Urumqi – don’t miss it) instead of just manning up and taking a simple 32 hour train journey. And boy, were we glad we did.

You see, in case it’s not clear from the above this is a region not overly blessed with a great concentration of tourist sights. Or indeed tourists. Whilst Uzbekistan proffers 3 or 4 world class, stunning architectural sites for each 3-4 hour journey you take, Western China has 3 or 4 kind of quite cool sights for each 3 or 4 DAYS journey you take. The hotels are drab, the food uninviting, and we’ve not seen a white person since we got here. Which also means that we’re a vast source of local entertainment and get stared at everywhere we go (we’ve started to stare back. Surprisingly good fun, actually).

All in all, it’s been pretty hard core.

Still, the remaining Silk Road sights themselves were pretty cool, and what this crazy trip has given us is a chance to really witness the immense changes – topographical, environmental, cultural and anthropological – which take place along the Silk Road. It’s been kind of fascinating to watch the progression of faces from vaguely Slavic in Turkmenistan all the way through to the Chinese Muslims. Plus that ever important index, the availability of wine: from none whatsoever in Turkmenistan and most of Uzbekistan, to Georgian (surprisingly good) in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, to Chinese (we’ve had 2: one ok, one awful. Jury’s out) in China. A region of true diversity.

The first stop after Kashgar was Dunhuang, famous for 2 sights. One is the Mogao caves, a set of caves filled with Buddhist artwork dating from the 13th century and older, although frequently defaced by later Muslim traders who came along the Silk Road and couldn’t bear this evidence of believers of another faith. It’s an absolutely stunning sight and all the more remarkable after 3 weeks of Islamic art, but unfortunately we’ve no pictures – photos aren’t allowed as apparently 13th century wall paintings don’t take too kindly to the flash. The other main sight is the sand dunes, which were pretty awesome (as seen from the roof of our hotel – climbing a 1,000m sand dune filed us both with absolute horror).

Next stop, Jiayuguan and the end of the Great Wall, which was pretty epic, and provided a rather nice sense of completion.

We’re a bit sad still, because we’ve really loved parts of the Silk Road, and the Chinese segment didn’t quite live up to the rest of the route. But it’s been an amazing part of the journey. And the journey continues.

Next stop: Tibetan Buddhism!

Crazy in Kashgar

And so we rolled into Kashgar, where we had a rather nice sounding hotel booked for the night (based on the guidebook: new, own bathrooms, the works!). Unfortunately, the guidebook lied and the place ended up being rather elderly looking (holes in the walls), with dirty laundry lining the corridors and filthy rooms complete with aggressive looking bunches of Chinese men hanging round drinking and smoking. We cracked. We moved. Into a bit of a quirky place, Kashgar’s newest (and second) FIVE STAR establishment…. Still being built and with only one functioning lift, but very smart it was, more marble than you can shake a stick at and hot and cold running receptionists. Also (mercy of mercies) an enormous big fluffy bed and a BATH – haven’t seen one of those in a while. So we felt jolly smug with ourselves and decided that China was obviously going to be an easy ride vs. all those pesky Stans.

Kashgar is a famous market town; both for its daily Sunday market and its Sunday only Livestock market. Yep, we were confused too. Still, off we set for the market and – once again were a tiny bit disappointed in yet a other bright new shiny bazaar, carefully compartmentalized and clean as a whistle. Although the hat section was cool. And we were pretty happy about that whole clean as a whistle bit when we stopped for some noodles for lunch – figured those would be boiled to food hygiene safety – and the noodles actually turned out to be the cold variety. And, as it happens, delicious (no Mum, we weren’t sick. Yes I’ll be more careful from now on). On the walk back we discovered the old town of Kashgar which is where all the trading has moved now the market is so shiny and spent some happy hours there haggling for hats. James bought a rather natty drinking hat made out of GENUINE lynx fur and has been rather too cheerful with life ever since.

Next day was the livestock market where the real action happens. If you’ve never seen a few hundred enormously testicled fat bottomed sheep all lined up together ready for sale, well then….I think I might actually envy you. It’s certainly a sight that’ll stick. Compared to the sheep the enormous and rather moody cattle, braying donkeys, and, yes, I think even the camels (two humped and very very fluffy this time around) paled into insignificance.

Next stop, dinner at a local cafe with no English or picture menu. We’ll have one of what they’re having please (appetites weren’t that high having seen the unconcerned-with-cleanliness open air butchery stalls at the livestock market – right by the animals in fact which seemed a little unnecessarily cruel). As we finished up and moved to settle our bill, a small child sat on the pavement and crapped about a foot away from James shoe, leaving us with some unresolved queries about basic food hygiene in this part of the world…

It was something of a timely reminder actually. China may be many things, but an easy ride it ain’t.

Metal Fatigue – Crossing the Torugart Pass

Those of you who know me personally and professionally may be surprised to learn that insurance was not my first intellectual interest. That dubious honour goes to engineering – four happy years at Cambridge studying everything from the performance of jet engines to the design of transistors and all that falls in between. And a topic that has sprung to mind recently has been metal fatigue: the process by which a metal body is stressed repeatedly (although not quite to breaking point) until it suddenly gives way without warning well below its design limits. This process leaves a distinctive fracture: bright, shiny and beautiful where the repeated stress has worn away at the edges of the body, then matt, dark and ugly where the final catastrophic failure occurred.

We have just crossed the Torugart Pass. Wildly scenic, this pass winds its way from the rugged south of Kyrgyzstan through the snow-capped Tian Shan mountains to the far western reaches of China. It is remote and deserted, and sees relatively few foreigners due to the extraordinary bureaucratic procedures required to get across it. No fewer than five separate checkpoints, with gun-toting soldiers at each checking your documents, luggage checks, x-rays, form filling and long waits (including one spent standing alone outside the closed gates of China – in case you are wondering, they are high and desolate with five-pointed communist stars and lions on them). You need two drivers, two cars (one Kyrgyz, one Chinese) and all the right documents, and it is an expensive pain in the arse. And you can guess where this post is going, yes? The metal fatigue analogy is all a build up to some spectacular bureaucracy-induced sense of humour failure, right?

Wrong. Lucy and I were actually pretty chilled about all the bureaucracy, as we had employed a specialist travel agent and had managed our expectations extremely hard before we set off. We literally (and by “literally”, I once again mean “literally”) sat back and enjoyed the view. The Big Issue was that once we had got over the pass and were speeding down the road to Kashgar … the back wheel of our car fell off.

Nobody was hurt; nobody was killed. The wheel was – very, very, very fortunately – trapped by the brake disk and the brake pad and merely got stuck at an angle to the car, thereby bringing us to a screeching halt. Indeed, it wasn’t immediately apparent that the back axle had sheared completely off until the driver and I removed the wheel and stuck our heads under the car. There I saw the distinctive (textbook even) pattern of shiny and matt fractures across the inch-thick metal shaft and had a cold sweat moment when I realized what had happened. The driver was still making reassuring noises about “problem with the brakes” when we left him, picked up by the only other tourists who were crossing the pass that day. How the driver got his car picked up we don’t know, and we will never know – you see, we agreed to pay him the $170 for the Chinese side of our trip once we reached Kashgar and, while we made it in one piece in our third car of the day, we have never seen him since.

Eagle Hunting

Lucy and I have many “rules” when travelling. There is the “you are never too old to moo at cows” rule, put into devastating and much-admired effect at the various livestock markets we have visited along the Silk Road, and extended with panache to sightings of camels, donkeys, horses, fat-bottomed sheep and various other animals (birds of paradise, anyone?). Another animal-related rule that we created relatively early on in the trip was the Eagle Rule, ergo: any bird of prey sighted out of any moving vehicle anywhere in the world is definitely an eagle. This elegantly dispenses with the boring kestrel / hawk / falcon discussions, and makes any long journey instantly more epic – I mean, you just saw a real life eagle, how excellent is that? (incidentally, the only place where this breaks down is the Colca Canyon in Peru, which is ram packed full of authentic Andean condors).

Having spent the trip happily sighting eagle after eagle all the way across the USA, South America etc. we came to Kyrgyzstan, where they excel at the traditional sport of … eagle hunting. And so Lucy and I found ourselves on horseback under a beautiful clear blue sky walk-trotting up into the eye-bendingly scenic hills around Lake Issyk-Kol in the company of our man Cadr and his pet hunting eagle. And that was when our previously much-loved rule came tumbling down, for when you see a real life eagle up close, you realize how absolutely HUGE these things are. No mice and voles for this puppy – full-sized eagles attack wolves, sheep and other really not very small animals. And we were off hunting.

We didn’t expect to find very much, to be honest. It was still autumn (hence very early in the season) and the animals that eagles typically hunt were still up in the mountains near the snowline. No matter – Cadr had presciently brought along a poor little bunny in a bag to be let loose for the eagle to catch if we couldn’t find any truly wild game. And after an extraordinary ride up in the hills (see photos below) we came down to a convenient hunting ground and Cadr let the bunny out of the bag.

Only it wasn’t a bunny. It was a fox. And it was pissed. And it went for him.

Now, a short animal rights pause here. None of these Kyrgyz guys are going to win any animal rights prizes. The eagles were looked after very well, but this was hunting – things were likely to get hurt and killed. We are not ardent pro or antis, but we do eat meat and wear leather and we do follow this logical thread through to the fact that cute fluffy animals are going to get killed at some point to allow this to happen. And we are in Kyrgyzstan for the only time in our lives, and we were damned if we weren’t going to see a traditional hunting method using eagles, and if we support this hunting method by our presence and our tourist dollars we can get comfortable with that.

I can also get broadly comfortable with the fox attacking me (which it subsequently did). What I was unable to get comfortable with was the fox attacking Lucy. Now, we were taught on a previous trip (to Guatemala, by a Hemingway-esque character called Jim, who applied Neitzchean philosophy to his daily interactions (and that is actually pretty weird when you see it up close)) that if a strange dog or similar attacks you, the thing to do is act natural. And by natural, I mean bare your teeth, shout and attack it back. Dogs are smart, social animals and you are much bigger than they are. A vicious-seeming dog will quite quickly become much less so as soon as it realizes that you are the alpha animal. Fantastic Mr Fox, therefore, decided to stop trying to bite my fiancée after a short conversation with one of my hiking boots, and I can get comfortable with that too.

So, the fox stalked off into the desert. The eagle flew down and sat on him. The man fed the eagle. The fox went back in the bag. The horses ate some grass. And we went home to dinner.

To Health, Comrades!

Memorandum. 18th Oktober 2012.

From: First Under-Commissar of the Standing Soviet Committee on Revolutionary World Travel (Sub-Division for the Care of Reactionary Fat Capitalists)

To: Commandant of the Tamga Sanitarium for High Soviet Dignitaries, Lake Issyk-Kol, Kyrgyzstan


Attention, Comrade.

I command to your care Lucy & James: class enemies, proponents of toxic Western values and running dogs of the Yankees. After months of hard travel through areas ripe for sedition and glorious revolution they have finally come to the alpine region of Kyrgyzstan. They have been betrayed by their soft and decadent constitutions after a mere two weeks of eating Stalin-sized lumps of badly cooked mutton every day and are strongly in need of some mountain convalescence. As such, I command you to do the following:

Allow them two full days to recuperate in the grounds of your historic facility

  • Exert state control over the weather to ensure bright, sunlit autumn days, yet with nights cold enough to freeze the Mussorgzy off a Bolshevik
  • Make an allowance for their pitiful circulations by giving them a bed each, with a mattress, and duvets at least three feet wide
  • Use precious hard currency to feed them a recuperative diet of Western “snickers” bars, “twix”, mineral water and “flat fanta”
  • Allow them full access to their imported medical kit, even their American-made broad spectrum antibiotics
  • Guard them from enemy propaganda on their gentle walks around your beautiful gardens. Instruct the guards to allow them to walk outside of your perimeter down the hill to the lake
  • Finally, make use of a glorious volunteer labour force to sprinkle dry leaves on the ground, such that Comrade Lucy may indulge in her favorite habit of kicking through said leaves while whooping

Hopefully, two full days of rest and recuperation should grant Lucy & James renewed strength to continue South across the high passes to China, inspiring the revolutionary socialist spirit of our people as they go.

Glory! Strength! Cabbage!

Signed: Sergei Sergeivich.


Elaborate Fantasies – The Perfect Cucumber Martini

Long train journeys, long boat trips, long car rides. The mesmerizing drone of the engine, beautiful but unchanging scenery, the steady sense of progress. The mind wanders – back to places you have been, forward to plans you want to fulfill, round and around fixating on the most unlikely objects and people.

The road – scene of this reverie

The road – scene of this reverie

For some reason, the road over the Tian Shan mountains had me dreaming about a cucumber martini. And not just any cucumber martini, but the one that the barman at 83 Mercer Street used to serve. If anyone is so minded, it would make me extraordinarily happy if someone were to make one of these and then drink it while thinking of those less fortunate than themselves (i.e. those who are currently oh-so-many weeks away from a cocktail shaker).

James’s Cucumber Martini – the recipe

It’s a hybrid this one – a mix of a number of ideas picked up in various places: at Kittichai (where they make it with sake); Pegu Club (where they taught me the whole taste vs. aromatics trick); Drakes in London (where the martini barman is happy to lecture on gin types); and Little Branch (where they specialize in ice, and I experienced my first perfectly cubic ice cube so big you could see straight through to the bottom of the glass). It’s rather elaborate – as I say, I had a very long, very straight road to dream about this one. By the way, HEAVY GEEK ALERT for those of you who need them (hi Dad!). I mean, serious geek alert: this post is just over 2,500 words long, and it’s about how to mix a drink.

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