Le Petit Ballon wine Subcription

‘Wine is bottled poetry’ – Robert Louis Stevenson

I may not be able to recite Pi to more that 3 decimal places or know the names of the last 30 British Prime Ministers but wine? Wine I know.

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It’s probably the fact that I mention wine in almost every blog post I write that French wine subscription company Le Petit Ballon got in touch and asked if i would mind them sending me a couple of bottle to review. When someone sends you an email entitled ‘We’d like to send you some wine’ it makes you about a nano second to consider and respond.

Wine subscriptions aren’t a new thing and Le Petit Ballon have been hugely successful in their native France. They’ve decided to branch out to the UK and offer two different options of wine delivery; Grape Expectations at £24.90 per month for two bottles and Age of Raisin at £39.90 per month for two premium bottles of wine.

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Each month the wine is delivered direct to your door (or office or neighbour etc) and comes with tasting notes for your monthly offerings and The Gazette magazine which is packed with information about the company, the vineyards they use, that months selections and recipes. All wines are hand selected by Jean-Michel Deluc who worked for many years as master sommelier at The Ritz in London – so you’re in safe hands!

This month we received our package less than 48 hours after it had been dispatched which contained a bottle of South African red called Okoma and some French Sauvignon Blanc called Chateau Le Grand Verdus Expression

The Red:

To get the most out of our wines we tried to follow the tasting notes as closely as possible so as it was recommended that this particular red went well with red meats and BBQ’s we decided to cook up some gourmet hamburgers for our Friday night treat. I love my red wine, particularly in the winter; which lets be honest in the North East of England is 10 months of the year! This was a really full bodied fruity number which smelt great and went perfectly with the meat. It didn’t taste too tanin-y like a thick Merlot would so imagine it’s pretty versatile. It also had a really rich oaky after taste so would go perfectly with a cheeseboard! Being a Leo I absolutely feel in love with the bottle as well; i imagine it’s bold design would make it a popular choice were it sold in a supermarket.

The White:

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Savignon Blanc is my favourite grape so was really pleased that’s what we received for our first month. It said in the tasting notes that it’s paired well with meat, fish and cheese so, being unable to decide what to make, we went for a bit of all of it and had some swiss cheese Fondue! This one was on the dry side of medium, which I prefer over wine being too sweet any day, it it meant that the flavour wasn’t too over bearing of all the different flavours of the food we were eating. I would never normally drink white wine with cheese however this one complimented the fondue perfectly. On first sip it’s like an explosion of flavour in your mouth, which possibly says a lot about the quality of the £3 supermarket wine we normally drink, there’s no doubt that these wines are very good quality.

When it comes to wine we’ve always been quantity over quality people and I have no shame in admitting that we always shop at the low end when just buying for ourselves. The benefit of doing that is that when you get a really good bottle, you really notice the difference. It’s nice to have your wine chosen for you by someone who knows what they’re talking about a little better than you and that every month is a different tasting experience so you get to try things you possibly wouldn’t normally. If you find a bottle that you simply can’t live without you can order additional bottles of your faves on Le Petit Ballon’s website as a discounted price if you’re already a subscriber.

You can find out more, including how to get £10 off your first subscription here

And follow Le Petit Ballon on their social media channels here:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lepetitballonuk/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LPBallonUK

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lepetitballon

Wallsend

Despite Wallsend being home to two large housing estates (Battle Hill and Hadrian Park) and Silverlink Retail Park, the metro only really services Wallsend High Street. It’s another station which was originally park of the Newcastle and North Shields Railway and received a little facelift in 2013 adding some local art. It’s also the only station on the network which has it’s signage in English and Latin due to it’s proximity to Segedunum Roman Fort.

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Sadly that’s where the roman roots end as there and nothing historical or educational about the pubs in the local vicinity. If you leave platform 1 and turn left up Station Road the first pub you’ll get to (in about 5 minutes) is the Anson which is a Sizzling pub and as a member of our group said ‘probably the ugliest pub I’ve ever seen’. It certainly won’t be winning any architectural awards as it has all the charm of a cardboard box (which, incidentally is what I reckon it was modeled on).

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It was heaving when we visited on a Saturday afternoon as the Grand National was on as well as a late afternoon Newcastle away match and as such there were tables and chairs which had been pulled in all different directions to crowd around the many screens in almost all corners of the large open bar.

Being a chain pub they have a standard Wetherspoons-esque food menu with various different offers depending on what day you visit. They has a decent selection of handpulls, Dave had a pint of the Green King which was decent enough and their wine selection was what you’d expect; nice and chilled but pretty bland.

To be honest, ‘bland’ is probably the word i would use to describe our experience over all. Had we visited on a quieter afternoon it may have been a bit less frenzied and chaotic. It even has a plasma TV mounted into the wall in the beer garden just to make absolutely sure there’s nowhere to hide from the endless sport.

To be fair, the only other pub in the area really is The Ritz further down the High Street, which is a Wetherspoons. It doesn’t have as many TVs but still more of the same so your choices are limited in Wallsend sadly.

Contact:

Address: Station Road, Wallsend NE28 8QS, England
Tel: 0191 262 3012
Find out more about where we’ve been on our metro tour here

How to be Dead: A book series by Dave Turner

‘In the deepest hour of the night, confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write. And look deep into your heart where it spreads its roots, the answer, and ask yourself, must I write?’ – Rainer Maria Rilke

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I’m not a natural when it comes to reading, I mean, don’t get me wrong, I can read, i just don’t enjoy it as much as some people seem to. I’m jealous of people who can curl up on a rainy weekend and get lost in a book (ahem Ang, Bev & Ruth), for me it’s binge watching old series of The Challenge! However I did get right into Dave Turner’s How to Be Dead series of novellas (nice and short, kept my attention span!) and now I feel the world needs to know about them!

Dave actually caught my attention on Twitter (it was the naked selfies he used to post back when there were no decency filters – fnar, fnar) – he started a parody  twitter account called @itsdeath which was based around Death as a character (called Steve – obviously) think of that scene from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey when Death follows the old lady round the supermarket and you’re along the right lines.

PhotoGrid_1494753375093It doesn’t hurt that Mr Turner (right) and my hubby Dave, could have been separated at birth!

All the best comedians have the ability to make the strangest subjects seems funny. Tom Stade does a hilarious skit about market meat vans for example. And being a chronic over thinker with previously diagnosed medical hypochondria there’s nothing less funny to me than death. Dave put a face to my worse nightmare and suddenly Steve Death was someone I no longer feared but was someone I wanted to share a bottle of Pinot Grigio with. I also found myself sympathising with him, he would often complain about getting bogged down with paperwork and bureaucracy, when all he wanted to do was get on with his job. He also loves a chocolate biscuit.

So from the Twitter account came the novels, after a small kickstarter campaign (which I proudly sponsored myself) the adventures a Steve, his assistant Anne and reluctant hero, ordinary man (also called Dave) were born. Of course the great thing about social media these days is when you’re planning on a writing a blog about your favourite author, you can reach out to them in the vague hope they may wish to contribute. So, seeing as Dave himself can tell his story was more articulately and funny than I ever could, here he is:

I’d like to say that I had a five-year publishing master plan from the start, but really I started a Twitter account as Death because I was bored in a dull office job.

An outsider looking in would be a good way to make jokes about the human condition, I thought. He’d be bored, befuddled and have an odd sense of humour after hanging around us for so long. People liked it. It was also a very convenient way of making observations that I wouldn’t make myself.

Then I decided I should do something with those jokes. I had an idea for a series of 3 novellas telling the story of Death and the problems he had trying to sort out the undead. “I’ll bash them out over the course of a year,” I thought. “It’ll be a nice little project to keep me out of trouble.”

Four years later, I published the last part of that story. It all started easy enough writing the first novella. It was called How To Be Dead (after a Snow Patrol song). People really liked it. That made me very happy. “I should probably write the second one,” I thought.

Then I was diagnosed with a seriously massive heart condition. You know when a footballer drops dead on the football pitch? That’s the bad boy I’ve got. There were hospital visits. Medication. Implants. Wires stuck into my heart. But I’m now technically a cyborg. Which is actually the childhood dream come true.

I’ll be honest, there were grim days contemplating my own mortality. What would my wife and kids do if I wasn’t around tomorrow? Who’d remove the Billy Joel albums off my iPhone before people discovered them?

Then I thought, “Hang on. I’m writing comedy books about death. I can probably use this.”This may go some way to explaining the number of Billy Joel jokes in the books.

When you stare in to the Abyss, sometimes the Abyss stares back. So you wave to the Abyss. Then you realise the Abyss was actually staring at something over your shoulder and it all gets a little bit awkward. And then you just bloody well get on with it.

An agent got in touch to say that he loved the first novella and did I want to turn it into a novel and be represented by him? “Yes! Of course!” I said. So I signed with the agency with ideas that I would be An Important Novelist. And I wrote a novel. Which I wasn’t

completely happy with. Then the agent decided he didn’t want to be agent anymore.

So I was left agent-less and holding a novel I didn’t knowwhat to do with. So I decided that since I’d had an idea for 3 novellas, I’d better start the second one. That was called Paper Cuts (after songs by Nirvana and The Boy Least Likely To). People seemed to like that a bit more than the first one. “I’d better write a third one,” I thought. So I did.

It’s called Old Haunts (after a song by The Gaslight Anthem).

After I’d dragged a story that’s been banging around my head for half a decade kicking and screaming into the world, I didn’t know what to do next. So I’m writing a fourth story. Simple as that.

Writing. It’s basically about just bloody well getting on with it

I’ve read all 3 books (twice now) and I change my mind every time about which one is my favourite. How To Be Dead is all Steve Death, and that’s what I loved so much about the twitter account, you can see him sitting in his office on Crow Road in London rolling his eyes and talking about the good old days.

In Paper Cuts the story is developed more and we’re introduced to Deaths old mates (the other 3 horsemen of the apocolypse – naturally) who also have their own personalities. The banter between the 4 of them is hilarious and reminds me of my own Dave and his 3 best mates (I won’t go into who i think is who though!)

And I love, love, love Old Haunts. Mostly I think because you learn a bit more about Anne, Death’s loyal PA and how she  came to be Steve’s loyal sidekick. Having worked as a PA myself for doctors, surgeons and professors in the past, working with people who believe the fate of mankind lies solely in their hands is something I can relate to.

Oh, there’s also so zombies and suicide cults thrown in there for good measure too! If you’re looking for something to read this summer, the HTBD series won’t disappoint. All i’M waiting for now is for it to be turned into a TV series then I need never read another book again!

My favourite quote from the series:

Dave: Some people say dreams are visions that you can predict the future or see into the past
Death: Yeah well some people say that a rich tea is a good biscuit. People are stupid

You can buy all three books here

And find out more about Dave here:

Twitter: @MrDaveTurner

Instagram: @MrDaveTurner

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mrdaveturner/

Gateshead

My experience of pubs in Gateshead is limited and despite sometimes using Gateshead Metro when I’ve been to the Sage it’s not a town I frequent all that often. Since I last visited though there seems to have been quite a bit of money ploughed into the area with a swanky new Vue cinema and little restaurant quarter.

The metro is integrated in Gateshead Interchange which is also a large bus depot and is used by over 4 million passengers annually making it the busiest transport interchange in Tyne & Wear – oooh!

If you exit the metro (which is underground) via Jackson Street, the closest pub you will come to is the Tilley Stone about 100 yards down Jackson Street and on your left. It’s another Wetherspoons (we have a sweepstake running on which chain or brewery will have the biggest presence on our guide!) and well, what can you say about a Wetherspoons? It’s pub by numbers.

This particular pub is fairly modern and clean, nicely decorated with the standard local pictures and factoids on the walls. There’s a long large bar towards the back on the left, with a seating area immediately as you walk in and more cosy areas off to the right. In front of the bar there’s some higher tables and bar stools in front of the bar for more casual drinkers or people who aren’t ordering food.

Drinks were your standard Wetherspoons offerings. They had a list of special cocktails on the wall however when I asked for a Strawberry Daiquiri the barmaid confessed no one had ever ordered one before and didn’t know how to make one. She did offer to find out however her cocktail making skills didn’t instill much confidence so I just got a glass of Prosecco instead. It was about 8pm on a Saturday night and the whole place felt like it was winding down a bit with little to no atmosphere.

Gateshead is steeped in local history so it’s almost a shame the that closest pub to Gateshead Metro is a Wetherpoons, there is a pub further down on Jackson Street; The Metropole, which has been through a massive refurbishment recently and looks like a much more traditional pub.

Contact:

Address: 9-10 Jackson St, Gateshead NE8 1EE
Tel: 0191 478 0060
Web: https://www.jdwetherspoon.com/pubs/all-pubs/england/tyne-and-wear/the-tilley-stone-gateshead

Find out more about the pubs we’ve visited on our tour here

How many times a day do you check your phone?

‘Technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream’ – Steven Spielberg

I’ll be the first to admit I’m on my phone a lot, probably more than I should be and I am a bit of a self confessed social media addict. It gets a bad press and there are certainly negative aspects to social media, for one I’m extremely thankful it wasn’t around when I was a teenager as I think I would have made what was a patchy high school experience even worse. I do however love the social aspect of it, I like that you can find out what Harry Styles had for breakfast (should you want to) and there are ways of keeping in touch with people or making you self heard that were never around 10 years ago.

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The flip side of that is of course that it stops you being actually social in real life, if you’re looking at life through your phone screen all the time then you’re never really seeing it, or living it or experiencing it. So I read about a fun app called Phone Checker, which logs how many times in a day you check your phone, so you can see in black and white actually how much time you’re using it.

I downloaded the free app on a Sunday night with the hope to keep it on for a month or so. When you first download it you’re really conscious it’s there so purposefully don’t check as often as you might. So I figured eventually I’d forget it was there so the results would be more honest.

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What would be really interesting would be to see how many checks are you reacting to something, like receiving a phone call or a text message and how much is just idly checking for the sake of checking but I suppose that kind of technology if probably a bit too much to ask of a free app!

Phone Tracker is really simple with very few interfaces. All it every shows you is how many times you’re checked your phone that day, how that compares to how many times you’ve checked on previous days, and an option to share to social media. That’s it. You get reminded every morning to check the previous day’s views – and if you don’t it doesn’t log them and will add them on to that days views, which is an annoying feature. Also clicking on the graph icon just seems to take you back to the the play store rather than show you any data analysis – and i’m a real graphs and stats geek so find that frustratingly odd. Aside from that it pretty much does what it says on the tin.

The results were interesting if not that surprising. I check my phone almost double the amount at weekends that I do on week days, which will largely be due to the fact that my phone usually stays in my handbag whilst I’m at work, but also, at weekends you’re doing stuff you want to take pictures of/text someone about/tweet about so it makes sense you’d be on your phone more often.

Nottingham Trent University did a study where they monitored a group of 18 to 33 year olds and found that they checked their phone on average of 85 times a day, so when you compare that to my weekly average of around 60 times a day It doesn’t make me feel so bad, then again I am two years out of their research age so perhaps that’s high for 35 year olds?!

Has it made me more wart of looking at my phone so often? To be honest not really, all its done is made me aware. It has made me think more seriously about having a social  media ban for a weekend though, which is an idea I’ve toyed with for a while now however I’m not quite sure I’m ready for that yet!

Howdon

I’ll be the first to admit that this section of the metro line is uncharted territory for me, my dad’s a Heaton lad, my mum’s from Birmingham and I grew up in Cramlington so there was never any real great need for me to visit Howdon in North Tyneside.

Howdon station was actually opened in 1839 as part of the Newcastle & North Shields Railway. It was rebranded and reopened as a metro station in 1982 after being almost entirely rebuilt and is the only station on the yellow line where the platforms are split by a level crossing.

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I confess that two things let me down on our visit to Howdon on a sunny Saturday afternoon in April; my ability to sufficiently research something and my ability to read a map. As such when we came off platform 2 and started walking in the wrong direction of The Willington Quay, we stopped and asked somwehere the nearest pub was, their response of ‘I wouldn’t recommend any pubs round here like’ fell heavy on our hearts.

However we had a job to do, and we would not be beaten, even if it meant buying a bottle of cider from Aldi and drinking it in the park. Thankfully we were saved as right next door to Aldi (cross the train tracks from platfrom two and walk straight up Howdon Lane for 2 minutes) we saw High Howdon Social Club and decided that surely that was a better option than 4 thirty somethings drinking cider in the park?

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Despite not being members were was no one at the front desk so we gingerly approached a local at the bar and asked whether he thought we’d be able to stay for a drink, half expecting to be sent back along our merry way or at least being asked to pay a fee. We were in fact greeted with exceptional hospitality and told by the barman we were more than welcome and to take a seat.

It was North East Hospitality at it’s finest. I mean don’t get me wrong, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it’s a duck and this walked and quacked like every other social club you’ve been in since 1960. Dark wooden furniture, pink upholstery with cigarette stains, glasses of wine by the bottle and sport on every screen as far as the eye can see. However the benefits of being a social club is that 2 bottles of Budweiser and 2 large glasses of wine were £9. There are some really interesting Newcastle United memorabilia on the walls and some of the notices amused us too..

Ideally, we wouldn’t be visiting social clubs on our tour however High Howdon Social Club was an absolute oasis for us on the day and despite our reservations I’m really pleased we went in as it restored my faith in the kindness of strangers. Shame on me for being such a snob in the first place really!

Contact:

High Howdon Social Club
Tynemouth Road
Wallsend
Tyne and Wear
NE28 0EA

Tel (0191) 289 9981

www.highhowdonsocialclub.com

Find out where else we’ve visited on our metro adventure here

How different do you look after 3 glasses of wine?

‘Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy’ – Benjamin Franklin

One of my favourite quotes is that alcohol is what makes the good times better and the bad times bearable. If I knew who first said it I would have it at the leading quote to all my wine related posts because I think it’s so true. And I’ve never been shy in admitting that I love a bottle of wine or two.

When I was idly trawling through Stumbleupon one Sunday afternoon (probably hungover from the previous nights wine) I came across an article about Brazilian photographer Marcos Alberti who did a series of photos of his friends after they’d drank 1, 2 and 3 glasses of wine and the results were fascinating.

I mean, there was an element of ‘people look more relaxed after a couple of glasses of wine’ shocker. However what I did find fascinating was the really subtle differences in some of the subjects faces. Some people were noticeably more relaxed, they tied their hair back or removed items of clothing. There was definitely caution to the wind being thrown. However what amazing was the people who were so obviously trying not to look any different, yet their faces told a completely different story. In the first picture, where people were fatigued and stressed by the end of the working day, there was a vulnerability and dare I say sadness in some of the peoples eyes. Yet after a couple of glasses of wine the smile was reaching their eyes again and they looked 100% more relaxed.

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Some being me, I thought I would completely steal this idea, take my Samsung Galaxy S6 and see how different me and all my friends look after 3 glasses of wine. I’m unclear as to whether Marcos’ subjects knew what the purpose of the photo session was for, however my lasses knew from the start. It would have been weird making them pose up against my living room wall without telling them what was going on, so I’m not sure if that’s skewed the results slightly. There were a few ground rules to this experiment though; we all drank the same drinks, and we used Prosecco instead of wine (carefully measured out into 125ml glasses).

Whilst the results may not be surprising, they are bloody funny!

Ang:

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Carrie:

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Emma:

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Me:

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Steph:

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All we seem to hear these days is how bad alcohol is for you, and yes of course if we all lived macrobiotic, wheat free, gluten free, sugar free, taste free, fun free diets I’m sure we’d all be very virtuous and live to 150 but where would the fun in that be? While this experiment probably won’t win me any Nobel prizes (mainly because I didn’t think of it) it was still great fun to do and a brilliant excuse to get the lasses round, drink a shed load of wine and dance around my living room to boyband videos after a long working week – like we needed an excuse!

Oh, and the outtakes are pretty funny too:

Outtakes