Film review: Big Hero 6

IMG_4577By now, it’s likely you will have seen posters featuring Baymax, a portly inflatable robot, and probably watched the trailers of him footling gently behind a football that remains just out of his reach. The question, of course, is if this evidently charming and unlikely superhero’s sweetness can provide a solid core for the latest Walt Disney Animation outing- and the first to use one of their Marvel properties.

In a word: yes. In a few words: a thousand times yes. Baymax (voiced gorgeously by Scott Adsit) is a beautifully realised creation – a ‘personal healthcare companion’ created by idealistic nerd Tadashi Hamada and inadvertently bequeathed to his younger brother  Hiro  (Ryan Potter) after a terrible tragedy. Baymax’s relationship with a slowly recovering Hiro forms the essential core of a film that – while it has many fast-paced sequences and explosive exchanges – is in many ways a tender love story. It packs in the brilliant irreverence and humour of a Marvel adventure, but tempers it with lashings of heart. In fact, what it reminded me of most was ET.

IMG_4590The beautiful setting of San Fransokyo, a near-future East-meets-West mashup, is somewhere I instantly wished I could visit, crammed with touristy cable cars and cherry blossoms but also with a seedy backstreet or two so that it felt just real enough. Hiro’s life is also a welcoming mixture of the mundane (familiar forms of transportation) and the ridiculous (his carbon-fibre 3D printer). The film eagerly champions geekery and also acknowledges the inevitability of failure; at some point every character finds themselves in a bind they have to think – not just blast – their way out of. And there are plenty of fanboy references to keep the nerdiest fan entertained (I can’t have been the only person who flashed on Tom Fitzgerald’s Horizons legacy when Hiro announces of a new invention that “if you can think it, they can do it”).

IMG_4576A review of this would be incomplete if it failed to mention one of the things I was most heartened by, which is that Big Hero 6 does more to advance the position of women in the Disney Animation stable than anything that has come before – even Wreck It Ralph and, yes, Frozen. The latter certainly did its bit to advance the princess narrative but in the case of Big Hero 6 there are strides made in abundance. The title refers to a superhero crew made up of a ragtag band of nerds from a university science programme; two of them are female, and each in her own way defies expectation. While Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) is fond of stilettos and pink, she is also obsessively pedantic about science and unashamedly smart and capable. Speed-obsessed Go Go Tomago  (Jamie Chung) bats the boys out of the way, demonstrating her impressive physicality and barking at them to “woman up”, but never becomes a Strong Female Character stereotype, showing a full range of emotions.

This trend continues outside the heroic sextet. Hiro and Tadashi’s Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph), raising them since the loss of their parents, is a loving parent but not necessarily a natural one; she also sinks time, passion and love into running her own business. Dropping in to Tadashi’s lab for the first time, Hiro ambles past quite a few women tinkering away alongside the men – and a number of experienced scientists featured in the film are female. Best of all, I’ve already noticed this reflected in the merchandising, with the female characters displayed among the men, in fighting poses, and with their physical features represented – such as Go Go’s muscular legs. And as for the boys? Well, most of them are shown as eschewing unnecessary violence, offering affection and exhibiting fears; my favourite, Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr) is a welcome and genuinely funny mixture of insecurity and swagger.

Given that this balance is at the core of each character, its no surprise that the real power of Big Hero 6 lies in its essential humanity. Every element of it is rooted in relationships – in love, in loss, in revenge and in redemption. These are weighty themes for the most youth-focussed of Marvel outings, but in many ways the naive directness of childhood is what makes it so perfect a medium for this message.

Beautiful, smart, moving and funny; I couldn’t recommend it more.

Big Hero 6 is on general release in the UK on January 30th. It is preceded by an insanely adorable short, Feast.

Parental advisory: I have a nervous 4-year-old who needs gentle leading into some films so I pre-vet them for her. In terms of scary moments this is quite manageable; there’s a spooky-looking villain and a lot of loud fights, but no teeth-and-claws scariness. There is a great end-credit sequence worth getting through the wriggling for.

Disclaimer: Disney UK kindly provided tickets for the UK gala screening where the above funtimes were had, and there were some cute snacks provided by sponsors. Opinions are entirely my own.

I Quit Sugar: Eating out and on the go

I wasn’t intending to write much more about IQS; I’d shared my initial thoughts, addressed misconceptions, voiced my post-blip considerations and come to my end-of-programme conclusions and I’ve just kind of quietly been living a mostly IQS-friendly life ever since. I do occasionally splurge, but mostly I keep my fructose levels pretty low, and I’ve not regretted it. My skin has stayed clearer and my ability to resist an OMGSNACKBINGE is at its best for years (not infallible, and now I have an even bigger obsession with cheese, so…) and though it wasn’t my intention particularly to lose weight, it has stabilised at about 20lbs lower than it was.

Of course, I should have anticipated that come January lots of people would be embarking on various versions of their own reduced-, low- or no-sugar journey – most of them, in fact, focussed on reducing fructose, not sugar in general, although some just focus on so-called ‘refined’ sugars, preferring honey, maple syrup and drief fruit (I don’t really get the point of that, but to each their own). Naturally, I’ve thus been thinking about it more, and been asked questions by various friends and family. I’ve also observed a number of people on social media suddenly interested in ‘detoxing’ (meaningless) or ‘clean eating’ (even more meaningless and offensive to boot).

As such I wanted to touch on an issue that I think rears its head for anyone practising a dietary restriction, whether for health, medical, preference or religious reasons: eating out, and eating on the go.

Now, most of us are broke at the moment, and making our own lunches to bring to work, but at some point That Week happens when you seem to be buying an extortionately priced sandwich every day; also the drive to reconnect with friends inevitably seems to result in everyone being free over the same three days at the end of January and you leave a succession of restaurants considerably lighter of pocket and possibly of spirit, but with the nagging feeling you’ve done something wrong.

Well, rid yourself of that feeling immediately. Feeling guilty about food is never a good idea. If you have over-sugared, you’ll probably know (I get actual sugar munchies and sometimes nausea; a friend tends towards stomach upsets and headaches) and really what is there to do but drink water, eat your veggies, chow down on some yummy fat and move on? No-one made you sign your name in blood to pledge to give up sugar for ever and ever, and if you decided you wanted the damned piece of cake (or accidentally had something you didn’t realise contained added sweet stuff), then who cares? There is no place where lists are kept, and red marks are added by your name. It is, in the end, only food and not a moral decision that will haunt your every step until you turn into some sort of cursed Miss Havisham, forever condemned to chow down the neverending yet crumbling remains of a wedding feast made entirely of sugar and marzipan. Chill.

Still, I can understand wanting to feel like you have a go-to – restaurants and cafes you feel you can safely order a few things from without feeling ill or uncomfortable or, yes, guilty afterwards. Or you’d at least like some guidance in good choices to make if you’re going somewhere you have no say in. To that end, I’ve gathered together a few tips that have helped me navigate these waters without getting too bogged down in Super Special Snowflake Rules, and would appreciate any of your own you have to share.

  • Certain cuisines are a bit of a sugar minefield. Thai and Chinese cuisines – at least in the form that tends to appear on the British high street – do tend towards added sugar (that is a massive generalisation though; there’s almost always likely to be something you can have and both have plenty of protein, nut and legume-filled dishes). I prefer to avoid them unless I have a specific craving for them – then I’ll just have what I’m after and move on. There are also a few things that have ‘hidden’ sugar – for example, Japanese sushi rice is partly made sticky by the addition of sugar. It’s not really a big deal and you’re eating it with lovely fatty fish like salmon, so meh, but just so you know.
  • Cheese makes an excellent starter and dessert. I have before managed to have three courses that all involve cheese and I’m pretty proud of that. I tend to sidestep the inevitable fruit and chutneys on cheese boards, which can help.
  • ‘Health food shops’ are tricksy buggers. Whole Foods is often where I pick up some of the more expensive hard to find ingredients for various low-sugar dishes, but it also has plenty of healthy-looking pre-packaged foods that are heaving with the stuff. Be wary of ‘no added sugar’ signs that have the caveat that it’s ‘pure fruit sugar’ – that’s fructose, so… if you really want a fructose load, just eat the piece of fruit. You’ll get the fibre and goodness too.
  • Some fruits make better snacks than others from a low-fructose perspective. Strawberries, raspberries and apricots are my go-to and all travel well in a tub. Try having them with fat – a piece of cheese, some full-fat yogurt – if you’re prone to sugar munchies like me, as it helps you feel more sated and less snacky.
  • In terms of high street lunch chains, Pret a Manger, Pure (Made for You) and Itsu all have nutritional info on the website; Itsu, however, does not list sugar. From the carb count, you can usually make an educated guess (and it looks more than 6g sugars – not carbs! – per 100g, I tend to avoid) and there are some lovely coconutty, avocado-y, chicken-y choices. It’s often quite a nice way to have a little sweet touch (like a sprinkle of pomegranate) mixed in with a delightfully fatty main. At Pure I often go for the Falafalo Soldier – not exactly low sugar, but not high either (and yes, all their product names are that bad).
  • If I’m out and about with the Kid, she will generally request a trip to Wagamama. I’m happy to oblige because, despite the website being more fancy than easily navigable, if I have any doubts about what i’m going to order the info is all there. I particularly <3 the Coconut Seafood Broth.
  • If you want something sweet, dark chocolate is never not marvellous, and the higher the cocoa percentage the lower the sugar. My current faves are Lindt 90%, Hotel Chocolat Dominican Republic 90% (and 100%) and Tesco Swiss 85%.
  • I’m a bit obsessed with tea-with-everything but if that’s not an option and you don’t want still / tap water, then ask about soda water; it’s rarely on the menu, but any place with a bar should have it as a mixer.
  • You know when you’re on a diet and it’s all “don’t choose the creamy dishes as they’re full of fat, choose tomato sauces”? Flip it. Cooked tomato is great stuff but in large amounts does boost the sugar level. Cheeeeeeese.
  • Consider alternatives for treats; for example, if you’re a massive afternoon tea fan like me, go for one that has good savouries as well as pastries, as after a while sugar-free you’ll be far more interested in those anyway. I’m dying to try Fortnum & Mason’s entirely savoury tea… you know, when I win big on the lottery that I never play.
  • Eat, enjoy and feel well. Whether that includes sugar or not.

My apologies if you were hoping for more strict rules and regulations than that, but I’ve had a disordered relationship with food for so long that I am all about the freedom now. The entire reason I tried sugar-free living was to fight off cravings and the feeling that I had to try and control everything – so I’m not about to undo all that work liberating myself just to obsess over every mouthful, or encourage anyone reading this to do the same.

That said, if you have a failsafe idea you’d like to share in the comments, go to it!

 

Film review: Into The Woods

It’s almost impossible in the world of teasers, trailers and special features to go into a film without knowing much about it. Even harder when the film is an adaptation of some other property – in this case a well-known and well-loved Sondheim musical. However, as with all people I have some black holes in my cultural references, and this was one of them. I was hugely excited to see a film where I didn’t know much more than  a) it was a musical with fairy tale elements and b) a whole bunch of incredible people had been corralled together to do it – all in the UK in and around Shepperton, no less.

Usually, going in blank is an incredible bonus; here, unfortunately, I think it confused me because I left still not entirely sure I understood the film as a whole. Not the plot – that’s clear enough – but the overall vision stitched together out of gleaming but very distinct threads.

The tale is of a Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) who set off into the woods to obtain elements from different stories – the collective power of which will restore their ability to have a child, following a curse laid on the Baker’s house by the mother of the local Witch (Meryl Streep). As their desperate search unfolds, they cross paths with a precocious Little Red (Lilla Crawford), a dim-witted boy with a propensity for stealing from giants (Daniel Huttlestone) and an indecisive Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), among others…

There are at least two excellent stories here; one, the tale of a marriage reacting to the stresses and strains of infertility and the promise of parenthood in the shadows of an unfortunate past, is driven by a constantly watchable Emily Blunt, whose voice and presence are beautifully dominant. When she leaves the screen it’s like a light going out, and it’s quite funny to consider the position she was in the last time she shared a screen with Streep. Mixed in with this is a stirring, darkly funny satire about fairy tales, in which a brace of preening princes – “I was raised to be charming, not sincere” – flounce their way through the forest in scenes that wrung belly laughs from the audience. Chris Pine in particular is an absolute revelation; I’ve always been a bit so-so about his Kirk, but he won me over completely here. Somewhat unsurprisingly, given the calibre of the cast, performances across the board were great, with the big stand out for me being 13-year-old Lilla Crawford, imbuing the precociously dreadful Little Red with real depth of character – and occasionally showing some of the adults how a real belter of a musical number works. I did keep thinking young Huttlestone was going to burst into an audition piece of Consider Yourself, but enjoyed his scenes with his overbearing mum (the always marvellous Tracy Ullman).

In terms of key musical moments, hearing that Stay With Me has been bringing people to tears left, right and centre is no surprise – it’s beautiful. Pine and Billy Magnusson’s Agony is hilariously perfect, and, if it’s not obvious yet, I was pretty much sold every time Blunt was on screen. I think I might want to be her when I grow up.

If I had a problem with the whole, it was in not quite understanding how it all hung together in terms of pace and tone. I could practically see the scenes as they would be rendered on stage – this little cluster of dialogue under a spotlight here, suddenly switching to a group over there, then back and forth – but I couldn’t quite get to grips with these sudden jumps on screen. I think this is something of a hallmark of Rob Marshall’s films – he applies his wealth of theatrical experience to a film and sometimes it really, really works (Chicago) and sometimes I’m not sure it does (Memoirs of a Geisha). I’m left dying to see a stage production so I can understand this in its natural habitat, and really get to the heart of Marshall’s vision.  I now understand this differs in substantial ways to the original production, albeit with Sondheim’s blessing; I’m a great believer in being quite brutal with adaptations if it fits the intended medium better, so I just wonder if Marshall could have sliced and diced even further. I do think the film is at its best in a cinema; it needs the grandness of the dimmed lights and the group experience to really bring out its best.

In the end I was left feeling intrigued, and surprisingly uncertain; I’m usually very opinionated on what I’ve seen but this left me outside my comfort zone – no bad thing, in fairness. I am very glad I’ve seen it plus I haven’t really stopped humming since (warning for Sondheim newbs – it’s the continuous-recitative-with-breakout-numbers type of musical, not the dialogue-interspersed-with-songs type; nothing wrong with that, but you should know if you have any strong preferences in this area). I’m really curious to see how the general reception goes in the UK, given it’s slamming through box office records in the US where it opened back on Christmas Day.

Into The Woods is on general release in the UK from Friday, 9th Jan.

Disclaimer: my thanks to @Disney_UK, who provided two tickets to the screening last night. Thoughts and opinions are my own.

2015: My Film Year

So, 2015’s Year of Asking is already shaping up rather nicely. I’ve used it to book into catch up dates with three people I’ve been doing the “let’s do tea” dance with for far too long. I contacted a brand with a cheeky request and it paid off. Basically, we’re a week in, and it’s all looking pretty good.

So, for a more fun resolution, or goal (the word we use when it’s not a resolution, just a goal, like it’s not a diet, it’s a healthy eating plan) or just general hope for the year, I’ve realised that film – something I used to be seriously into, but which kind of fell by the wayside with time and parenthood – has muscled its way back into my sightline. Okay, it’s far more blockbusters and far fewer indies (not because I don’t like them, but just because time means I have a more superficial grasp of what’s happening – and since Ramona there’s a certain amount of misery I can no longer take). But who cares? This is my year of film, and I don’t need to justify my taste or choices to anyone other than myself, and whichever poor sap I force to come with me.

So, here is my list of things I want to see this year. It will grow, undoubtedly, and I’ll try to remember to come and tick things off as they happen, or link to reviews if I scribble them. Although they’re simply in alphabetical order (projected release date order just got too messy), the ones in bold are the ones I’m OMGSUPEREXCITED about, so are the most likely to actually get watched asap… though it also assumes that those in the latter part of the year will see their UK release before 2016.

Ant-Man
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Big Hero 6 - reviewed
Birdman
Cinderella
The Dreamer
The Fantastic Four
Far From the Madding Crowd
The Good Dinosaur
Inside Out
Into The Woods – reviewed
The Jungle Book
Jurassic World
Mockingjay Part 2
Pan
Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens
Strange Magic
Suffragette
Testament of Youth
The Theory of Everything
Tomorrowland

Am I missing something really obvious you think I would like? Bear in mind that I do also like quiet, lovely or clever little films (as well as loud, explosive or clever big films) but can’t really be dealing with horror (soz Crimson Peak – Hiddleston almost won out, but no). I’d love to hear suggestions that would help broaden the list a bit or introduce me to something I might not otherwise have thought of watching.

2015: The Year of Asking

No, it’s not a review of Amanda Palmer’s book. (Which I might read. I think it would actually be really appropriate to do so but I do tend to find myself disagreeing with her as much as I agree with her; while that opinion matters not a jot to her or hers, it is sort of important when you’re deciding what you should spend your time and attention on.)

But, this year, I’ve decided, will be my Year of Asking.

I’m one of those people who lives with a foot in two different cultures, and sometimes I don’t necessarily mine the best of both. Forgive me for resorting to some tongue-in-cheek stereotype here but I love that I enjoy wonderful Mediterranean foods and nurse a fabulously British passion for tea. I love an orderly queue, and also shouting at then television as if they can hear me. I love a bloody good argument debate, holding court on my favourite subjects and also glaring withering glares at people (*cough* my husband *cough*) who try to talk to me in the cinema. I sit poised between Greek drama and British reserve, and that can be a wonderful thing.

But it can also be an obstacle. For example, I’m really quite bad about asking for things. Not so much at work where the last few years have seen a continual and steady growth in confidence and that just goes from strength to strength – and thank goodness for good management continually prodding me to speak up and demonstrate my worth, with the result that I was promoted this year and actually felt I deserved it. And in the past few years I’ve got a little bit better at complaining – politely, of course – but it’s the proactive asking I still get super hesitant about. But in the (IRL) social world, even something as simple as suggesting a meeting with someone I don’t know can have me second-guessing myself and worrying that I’m somehow taking up too much space in people’s minds.

Some of this is probably leftover socialisation from growing up as a fat kid and literally worrying I took up too much space (tip: please don’t feel the need to tell me I’m not fat now, as a) yes I know and b) still kinda big though and c) that just encourages people to think fat is bad and thus the evil cycle of mental pain continueth). Some of it is probably because several generations of women in my family have very much been the type who worry what other people will think and say if… Some of it is because, resorting to stereotype again, British good form is really not to shout too loudly about oneself or be too proud of one’s accomplishments – and isn’t making your presence known basically a way of doing that?

I sometimes find myself wincing when people self-publicise or repeatedly tweet the same posts with “ICYMI!”. But honestly, why shouldn’t they? They’ve come to the point where people are waiting for their updates, and why shouldn’t they recognise that? What is so wrong with saying “I am here, and I am asking for your attention, because…”? And honestly, waiting in the corner for the Powers That Be (from the brand you want to work with to the person you want to make friends with or the company you want to notice your complaint) to notice you is several times more pathetic than just sticking your hand up and giving a little wave.

I’m sort of a believer in defining years by words because when I do it seems to work out for me as an excellent mental reminder to hop to it. 2013 was Decisiveness; I changed jobs, though I was a scared, and surprised myself regularly throughout the year with what I could set my mind to. 2014 was Creativity, and #100forchildsi seriously unlocked or unblocked something wonderful. 2015 is my Year of Asking – and I guess it started with asking you to read this.

Thank you for your time.

Ten New Year wishes for my four year old daughter

Hey Pickle,

I’ve been reading back over my wishes for last year, and you know what’s awesome? You pretty much cracked them all. I mean, okay, there are plenty of lifetime ones that none of us will ever exactly nail – that life is a journey stuff? Trite, yes, but true – but all those goals like toilet training and staying immensely cool and surprising me every day? Yep, yes, done. As if there were ever any doubt.

And in the spirit of celebrating that joy and achievement, I have ten more wishes for you. Because I will never stop wishing for you.

1. I wish that you will continue to bring the laughs. I was bowled over when it turned out that your relentless good humour and the jokes and daftness that you bring to everyday life at home turned out to be your default position in school as well. It’s heartwarming to hear that you spend your time making friends and encouraging people to smile. Okay, we’ll probably need to have some conversations about not getting carried away (and maybe also not basing your worth on being the centre of attention), but I can’t really think of a better essential life skill than spreading the happy. You go, kid.

2. I wish for you to have an IMMENSE time at Walt Disney World! I know I’ve invested an awful lot in this since your first visit is to be at the same age as my first visit was. And it was different for me because a) different people and b) I had no expectations – whereas you, lucky creature, have been to Disneyland Paris twice already! But you’ll have your cousins with you, with my nephew the same age as his mum was when we embarked on this manic, lifetime’s love together. And I hope that will help you overcome any nerves about rides (not to mention entertain you in the crazy queues). There are some attractions we’ll experience for the first time together, and some I think will be reignited in my heart by experiencing them with you. I am highly aware that I need to not base my own excitement on yours, and that I need to accept that your experience will be what it will be. So, you’re the lucky one – when I took your father for the first time, on our honeymoon, I told him that if he didn’t love Epcot I’d regret marrying him. You, I leave to your own devices. (But please don’t hate Spaceship Earth!)

3. I wish that you will keep smashing those targets – in your own time. I knew you were a ridiculously good reader, but I had no idea until parents’ evening how good you are at, well, almost everything else as well. And it’s easy to get carried away with that and get complacent or smug – plus I’ll never apologise for being aspirational and ambitious for you, including academically. You’re smart, and that’s nothing to hide.  And I think we should look to find activities that will let you enjoy your love of singing, dancing and performing. But I also don’t want your formal achievements to be everything about the way you define yourself. That kindness and joy-spreading I talked about? Equally, if not more important. So while I will pray for every success and offer you all the support you could ever possibly want to do what you dream of doing, I’m definitely not going to Tiger Mother you to the next level.

4. I wish that you will keep being amazed by small things. I pretty much adore that you are equally blown away by theme parks and the dodgy-looking wobbly Christmas tree across the road from the childminder’s. The awe is so real – so genuine and heartfelt. I love that you find something wonderful in everything and I hope you keep that for a long time.

5. I wish that you will keep liking what you like, regardless of the opinions of others. Your life is an explosion of all colours, superheroes, princesses (and queens – let’s not demote Elsa like everyone else seems to), building, drawing, reading, writing, singing, playing, computer games, puzzles… no boy things, no girl things, just things. And you don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I know school has a way of knocking the corners off and making people hide their interests to fit in, and I really really hope this doesn’t happen to you. Especially after I promised to give you my Captain America leggings when you grow up. I’d really like to keep that promise.

6. I wish that you will get to spend even more time with your cousins. A holiday together will really help and you’d think a couple of hundred miles is NBD, but somehow we never seen them quite as much as we’d like to. And when you are together, it makes me so happy watching the close and affectionate and rowdy and ridiculous relationships that you’re developing between you. It’s a wish for all of us really, because you can’t ever have too much love in your life, can you?

7. I wish that you will keep inspiring me to be better. From drawing a story out of me, to forcing me to pay attention to the balance I strike between time working and time with you, you raise me as much as I do you. I spent the first year of motherhood trying to work out how to follow a script and be a mother. But being a mother can’t be done by me to you. It must be done between us, as a lifetime’s work. You have to teach me to be the mother you need, and I have to teach you to be your most honest self.

8. I wish that you would let me brush your hair more often. Listen kid, I get that it’s boring and sometimes uncomfortable, and from the perspective of supporting your control of your own body I really, truly don’t care if you want a crew cut or Rapunzel’s braids. Just, for sanity’s sake (and so that the school don’t think I’m neglecting you), as long as it’s clean, tidy and not the snarled and knotted haystack you far too often force me to let you get away with. We’ll use the special brush and the conditioner spray and all the rest of it, but for real kid, we need to keep that thing in line.

9. I wish that you will keep playing along. I’ve never been sure whether you know that it’s me moving Kinder Egg Loki around the house or whether you really think he does it on his own, but if you are humouring me well then keep doing it. All our little in-jokes and silly conversations that only you, me and your dad really ‘get’ are what makes our little world so perfectly, unforgettably ours. Also, the bizarre knock knock jokes like “Knock knock. Who’s there? Banana. Banana who? Banana, can you paint a wall? No.” Those have to stay.

10. I wish that you will watch Ratatouille. Cos it’s great. And that Care Bears movie thing is doing my head in.

Yours with a full heart,

Mama x

Ten Things About Tea

I thought I loved tea, and then two of my best friends came to stay. And now not only do I love tea, but I’ve radically evolved the way I drink it, with an ever-increasing list of favourites for different occasions, moods and times of day, and the ever-decreasing use of milk. I was always pretty straightforward – dash of milk, no sugar, because sugar in tea is an abomination unto Nuggan – and happy with a teabag. I still find myself able to drink this at work (though the teabag should barely be introduced to the water because that powdery, papery shizzle stews so easily), but at home the teabags have been banished to a sealed pot for insistent visitors, and the shelves are heaving with tins of loose leaf glory (always airtight tins, because tea will lose its freshness in no time without them).

So, because tea is really such a wondrous thing, here are ten things about tea; a random collection of fag-ends of knowledge and recommendations of Stuff I Like, because if I don’t share this kind of thing on my blog what, indeed, is the point of having a blog?

1. Although tea comes in different colours, it’s not necessarily a different tea plant. Black tea and white tea, for example, could be the same tea – the latter the new, furry, young tips and the former a fully fermented version. Oolong tea, with its distinctive delightfully musty scent, is part-fermented, and tends to produce a yellow-gold tea. Also, camomile is not tea; it’s an infusion, but no worse for it. Try the real stuff – freshly steeped flowers – for the best, sweetest, no-sugar-needed taste.

2. If you’ve tried Oolong teas and kind of like them but they seem a bit strong, Whittard does a very light afternoon blend that’s quite hard to over-brew.

3. I have a tea Tumblr. The posts from Australia aren’t me, but I shall leave my tea-swilling partner to be an International Person of Mystery.

4. Tea should genuinely be made at different temperatures. You want around 70 degrees (the point the kettle reaches about half an hour after it’s boiled) for white tea, and varying points in between that and 100 degrees for everything up to black. To be honest, this is getting a bit precious but you will taste the difference if you go for it. Or you could just switch the type of tea you’re having if you boiled the kettle and then forgot about it. In related news, if someone ever wants to send me one of these beauties, I wouldn’t cry. Well, I would, but not the sad tears.

5. Gen mai tea / genmaicha is a form of Japanese tea that includes roasted brown rice, which adds a sweet taste and a disorientating scent. It’s worth trying but is definitely quite odd to those of us raised on the milky black ‘English Breakfast’ version of tea.

6. Try drinking your tea black. The flavours are immense, and some black teas – Assam and Darjeeling for example – are really killed dead by the addition of cow juice brimming with sugary lactose. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with a milky cuppa, but you’ll find a whole new appreciation for the flavours of tea if you ditch the dairy now and again. You could also try a flavoured black tea like T2’s delicious Brisbane Breakfast (I did not believe tea with a hint of mango could be nice, but apparently…). They also do a glorious London Breakfast blend which has no additional flavourings, but uses a dash of Lapsang Souchong for a hint of smoke without the slap in the face you get from pure Lapsang.

7. I really bloody hate fruit tea. It’s just hot, faintly sweet, disappointingly flavourless water in deceptively interesting colours.

8. Ditto floral teas, which just taste like dishwater flavoured with perfume. I am not a fan of Earl Grey, Lady Grey or any of the other ennobled Greys. Bleh.

9. Wanting low-caffeine tea late in the day doesn’t have to mean switching to green or white (unless you want to – and there are plenty of good reasons to drink both). T2’s Daintree blend is lovely, as is the Panyang Congou, for getting the flavour of a stronger tea without the caffeine kick.

10. My favourite places to shop for tea are Australian outfit T2*, Whittard, Camellia’s Tea House, JING and any number of random outfits in Chinatown. (*now all over London thanks to investment from Unilever; nothing to do with any of my clients, though, and I loved them before I knew that, so there is no client conflict / sponsorship here).

And as a bonus – and because, as the members of Spinal Tap know, it’s better if you go up to 11 – here are links to two rather different afternoon tea reviews I’ve done: London’s The Pelham and Bath’s Bea’s Vintage Tea Rooms.

And now… anyone for a cuppa?