Review: Old Swan & Minster Mill - Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire

Food: 7
Service: 3
Atmosphere: 2
Location: 8

It is imperative before visiting any restaurant to check it out online first. Check the review sites, check the website, have a good gawp at the menu to see if you actually want to eat any of their pabulum. Everyone does that, right? None of this "let's just take a chance and try it" malarkey. If you are one of those chancers who just walks into a restaurant without doing at least 5 minutes of Googling beforehand then you must be clinically insane (and will probably turn out to be a serial killer).

I was rather excited for the Old Swan & Minster Mill - in fact, I thoroughly insisted we went there. Being a non-meat-eater, the food selection at restaurants tends to be rather thin on the ground so you can imagine how my eyes lit up when I saw ' Wild mushroom ravioli topped with parmesan and toasted pine nuts'. Finally, a place that didn't just serve herbivores a dry, depressing veggie burger!

12 noon. We pull into the rather full car park, stomachs growling, longing for a good plate of food. A brand new Ferrari 488 GTB sits smugly across two parking spaces - as revenge we park our 2007 Ford Galaxy dangerously close to the driver's door. That'll show the bastards.

We make our way towards the entrance, passing a sign reading "All children left abandoned will be sold to the circus", and step into the dimly lit former mill. As we walk towards the baron bar, we notice a distinct lack of any human life - it was as though we'd traveled into the future to some dystopian version of Earth after Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have had their hissy fit that led to the extinction of homo sapiens.

After three or four minutes of standing around, a mustachioed man (French I assume given his accent) takes us to a table in an empty dining room. There is no music, just the distant sounds of pots being bashed together in the kitchens and the hum of an air conditioning unit above us. The Frenchman then disappears into the shadows as a waitress hands us each a menu then hurries off to bring us a bottle of water for the table. To my amazement, it is a different waitress who delivers the bottle to the table. Following that, a fresh-faced young waiter with a notepad places his groin dangerously close to my head as he takes our order (there was a distinct smell of musk radiating from his crotch). We'd only been there 5 minutes and had already been served by four members of staff.

After 25 minutes of sitting in the quiet with nothing but awkward family conversation to keep us sane, a totally new waitress brings us our food.

At this point I'd just like to stress that I'm not making it up about the number of wait staff who are serving our table independently. I wish this was some "bit" I had prepared but honestly, there were more staff than customers in there.

Having paid £15 for this plate of ravioli I expected, justifiably, a full plate of food...I mean, is that too much to ask?

A jaunty black plate is placed in front of me with ten pieces of petite ravioli with a couple of pieces of rocket sprinkled on top - because all chefs seem to think that rocket makes a plate of food look like the Mona Lisa. I spend a minute or two looking for the "parmesan and toasted pine nuts" that I was promised, however, it quickly became apparent that it was devoid of both. Being British and not wanting to cause a fuss, I said nothing to the waitress as she brought out the remaining plates of food for the rest of my family.

She then asked if we wanted any sauces with our meals - my sister had ordered a burger so asked for ketchup, and off the waitress scampered. 30 seconds later yet another waitress appeared at the table asking if we would like any sauces. "Ketchup please", asked my sister for a second time, and again the waitress disappeared round the corner. After 10 minutes of eating it became apparent that the ketchup was never going to arrive.

Despite the hundred-plus staff members that seemed to work there, we couldn't find a single person around to ask, they had all vanished. Where did they go? Where did they come from? Questions. No answers. A dry burger it is then.

My ravioli was actually delicious, the filling was sublime: rich, earthy, buttery. If there was anyone around I would have asked for a recipe. I just wish I had more than ten tiny pieces, also a sauce wouldn't go amiss.

£15 for this? It was nice but we had been to a Wetherspoons in Oxford the day before and had payed half the price for food and service that was twice as good. They actually do a cracking veggie burger!

Review: L’Anatra Italian Kitchen - Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire

Food: 2
Service: 6
Atmosphere: 4
Location: 8

Restaurant reviewers always seem to follow the same "set menu", if you will. They spend an awful lot of the time writing an introduction that doesn't seem to have any connection to the actual restaurant they're writing about. Then there is a single final paragraph where they list off the food they ate and that's it - restaurant reviewed.

But is that the whole point of a restaurant review, to not talk about the food? Going to a restaurant is all about the food, surely...or maybe that has something to do with my inherent greediness. So, like Nigella Lawson on heat, let's talk about some food.

L’Anatra Italian Kitchen is located in Bourton-on-the-Water, postcard-Britain's answer to Venice - except the masses of canals have been replaced with a single piddly stream. Set back a street away from the water is a building that, from the outside, doesn't look very Italian. It is the same story once we step inside, there is a distinct lack of any charm or character. It is dull. If it were a singer it would be Taylor Swift, if it were and actor it would be Tom Cruise, and if it were a band it would be Coldplay.

The whole place is pretty much empty except for three old biddies guzzling down cups of tea before making a hasty getaway out into the rain. Despite the lack of customers, we're still shoved in a table in the corner out of the way, as if to be forgotten. A waitress - who clearly had better things to be doing other than working on a Thursday lunchtime - handed us menus and brought us a bottle of their finest tap water.

The menu was nothing new or exciting, "the usual Italian" as one might call it: pizza, pasta...more pasta. The most exciting thing on there was a vegetarian calzone (and yes, I don't eat meat so my only other option was "pasta in a tomato sauce"), my brother opted for a lasagne, my sister chose the carbonara and my dearest mother went for the penne bolognese.

Not enough time had passed for the food to be freshly made before we were presented with four gigantic plates of food that didn't really look like what we had in mind. My calzone looked like a Frankenstein version of a Cornish pasty, complete with a side salad of vegetables that had clearly been sat in the back of a fridge for two weeks.

By this point a couple of Japanese tourists had taken a seat on the table next to us, and while they were waiting to be served the man was holding his phone to his ear desperately trying to learn to say "soup of the day". The closest he got was "supa day" which I think is close enough.

Once they waitress had served them their supa day, she ambled over to our table and asked if everything was okay with our meal. Being typically British we responded with nothing but positivity, "Mmm yeah, everything is great thank you. No no, there's nothing wrong with our meals". A blatant lie. We were all hating our food.

My brother's lasagne was a steaming pile of grease, the carbonara that my sister ordered was absent of any flavour, and my mother's bolognese was just a tin of chopped tomatoes on top of overcooked pasta with a few pieces of dry mincemeat hidden away from prying eyes.

I would however argue that my calzone was by far the worst of all. A gigantic mound of dough filled with a teaspoon of tomato puree and the saltiest olives I have ever tasted in my life. It was like they'd been grown inside a fisherman's scrotum before being spunked into my calzone, along with what seemed to be congealed "man fluid", but that just turned out to be goat's cheese.

We ate what we could then loathingly paid the bill and made a quick getaway, vowing never to return. Goodbye Bourton-on-the-Water, you were...kind of average really.

Saviour - The Disappearance of John Henley

Whoever desires to be saved,
Should above all hold to lies.
Scatter your faith and your trust for it matters not,
Murals in the chapels of our minds.

--

Original Poem by James Birchall
Extract from Project Unknown

Don't Fear The Reaper? I'm Terrified

Amy Winehouse, Marc Bolan, Sid Vicious, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison: a panoply of artists all labeled as "died too young". Down the Faustian pathway they traveled to reach the very beginnings of greatness, masses of potential still held within their souls. But does this mean that their lives were wasted? They were able to create and express themselves but then life, and drugs in most cases, got in the way and thus their lives were cut short.

How much of a legacy does one need so that we don't die in vain? What I mean by that is, what achievements qualify us to utter the deathbed words of "I've had a good run"?

Personally I'm petrified of dying, probably out of fear of not being able to justify my life as amounting to anything. It'd be bad enough to think that if I were now lying in a hospital bed knowing I was merely a useless pile of skin waiting for death, but imagine stepping out into the road and seeing a bus flying towards you. In that split second your life flashes before your eyes, literally, as you try to find some big enough accomplishment so that at least they have something good to say at your funeral.

I also have an issue with how I'm going to die. I want to have a proud death, not something long and drawn out but not something pitiful and quick - "Here lies James, he choked on an apple pip". How depressing would that be? I don't mean it's depressing because I'm dead but because of the lack of nobility. I can't be alone in thinking this way, surely.

I'm certainly not saying that because death is inevitable and inescapable that we may as well all top ourselves now, that way our collective achievements add up to nothing. But my conscious has no great desire to go out into the world and find the cure to cancer or be the first to step foot on Mars. My real problem is that death bears an overwhelming uncertainty as to the "when" and "how", and while I have no real big goals in life, I'd like to be able to list my achievements on more than the back of a stamp.

Side note: don't use this is some sort of therapy evidence against my mental welfare, I'm not depressed or unhappy, I'm merely curious.

This probably, in some shape or form, has something to do with a deep-seated need to be acknowledged by a system that I abhor. Everyone has their own little quirks but these are often not enough to make us successful, but it's these quirks that make us who we are.*




*I added that cheesy ending to make it seem like I'm not completely nihilistic and twisted

Athanasia - The Disappearance of John Henley

The pursuit of meaning,
A veiled reality lies bare.
Perpetual and draining,
Morbid and dark.
There's a light for some,
An eclipse for many.
Fear of death,
Fear of life.
Come the end,
Please come the end.

--

Original Poem by James Birchall
Extract from Project Unknown


Valentine's Day - What's the Point?

Valentine's Day can go fuck itself (yes, we're starting on that level so strap in). Don't think for a second I'm saying that out of jealousy because I couldn't care less for all of the annoying Facebook couples celebrating their 3 week anniversary together. Out of all the silly holidays and pointless days of celebration we have in our society, it is by far the worst - a whole day dedicated to mushy love songs, cheesy romcoms and cheap flowers.
For those in a relationship, first of all good luck, secondly don't forget the roses, the chocolates (the ones that aren't quite the cheapest on offer), those bath products that she loves, oh and remember you have dinner booked at 7. Did she get that card that you ordered at 11pm last night which says something like "You rock my world" alongside a picture of a pebble with googly eyes stuck to it?**
If you need a reason to take your significant other to a restaurant or buy them flowers then all hope of your relationship lasting is over. Exchanging the words "I love you" over a pun-based customised card ordered online is proof that your relationship is nothing more than a sham. If you even dare to propose on Valentine's Day then you may as well end it all now (both the relationship and yourself); how incredibly unoriginal and dreary are you?!
If you love someone, you shouldn’t need a holiday to express it. Don't be a whore to what society tells you to do by declaring your love just because it’s Valentine’s Day. Go out for a meal on any other day except February 14th, surely that's more of a statement of your feelings for one another. If you get chocolates, jewellery or flowers on Valentine's Day then you may aswell throw them away because they were bought without thought.
Valentine’s Day is made a hundred times worse because of all the miserable people on social media complaining how lonely they are. It's either that or they are writing about #SinglePower or how they're "winning at life" because they get a whole tub of probably tear-soaked ice-cream to themselves. By acting as if you don’t care that you aren’t in a relationship by making such a huge gesture implies that you, in fact, do care. You care so much that you felt the need to try and be subversive so that people think you're strong and independent when really you'd love to be bought a teddy bear with your name written on the t-shirt. Bears don't even need t-shirts!
Whilst I'm in super-rant-mode, February...everyone hates you! February is the forgotten middle child of the year. It’s the shortest of all the months, sometimes it has an extra day and sometimes it doesn't, the weather is crap, you've already given up on your New Year's Resolution, it's got too many Rs in it. Damn you, Ferbrurary! 
In reality, though, I’m just bitter and devoid of all positive feelings. Feel free to celebrate your unfounded, two dimensional love on this day, just remember that those gifts are meaningless. Happy Valentine's Day, happy every day.


**I don't mean to gender stereotype or whatever you wish to call it. Whatever your gender, sexuality, persuasion etc, you shouldn't celebrate Valentine's Day either. I hope this clears things up.

The Lonely Astronaut

Floating through space,
He thought about things.
He missed his wife,
He missed his kids.
He missed five-aside football in the park,
He missed air.

--

Published in Echoes of Silence (2016), edited by Emily Wilson

Does Trump Mean Progress?

Image result for donald trump
President Trump is here and now it's time for us all to strap in with belt and braces until 2020 when the orange overlord's reign will end (unless he manages to win another term).

What with Brexit and the election of Trump, many have said that Western society has taken a step back in its views, signifying regression, progress reversed, a deliberate worsening as some might argue. Perhaps it is possible that the whole world will not fall down at the hands of Trump, that World War Three will not begin and that a nuclear fallout will remain unseen.

I had been hoping Hillary Clinton would win, maybe you had too - I don't really care, though that was largely because I simply wanted Donald Trump to lose.

I didn’t have any strong feelings about Clinton, she seemed...reasonable. However, I lost all interest in the presidential election very quickly as a very personal battle seemed to be being fought between red and blue. Swords were wielded in the debates that saw no politics being spoke at all. Hillary rode of the backs of her social media team who tried to rally the youth armies by using emojis and vacuous hashtags. #GrowUp. Donald, meanwhile, looked to enlist the hard-right forces of the silver-haired troopers, gun-wielding landowners and those with a healthy bank balance.

I was able to assemble a vague sense that Hillary wasn’t all that, but at least she hadn’t said that Mexicans are rapists (every cloud and all that). However, it was clear to see that Trump was very strong is his speeches and debates to a point where it didn't matter what he said, everyone was just happy to be listening to something different.

Trump is so watchable - that’s surely something that we could all agree on regardless of political standing. It was funny to watch an orange man with funny hair being overly verbose and obscure yet being taken completely serious. When he puts on a statesmanlike face, you just know his inner monologue is delightedly singing 'You're the Best' by Joe Esposito. The politics of politics is that 
it’s not about what you say, it’s about relishing the role.

It seems that the general public have a perverted infatuation with an underdog; someone who appears unlikely to ever do well so we give them a chance. If this were the X Factor or some other similarly nondescript reality television show,
 Trump would never get voted out. We'd all tune in for week after week to watch the funny little man say his funny little lines in his usual funny little way, then we'd cheer because he looks so happy with himself just to have made it this far. Soon the joke would get tiresome to many people but the funny little man has already gained a significant platform for which to, either physically or metaphorically, grab us by the pussy.

Trump’s win came as a rather large shock to me for a number of reasons. Firstly, I wanted to witness his 'defeat' face, the one where he would try his very best to hide his sheer anger and disappointment that he was beaten by "Crooked Hillary".

Secondly, myself and other out-of-touch liberals had been pepping ourselves up with the fact that "he can’t win - it's impossible for him to win". "Out of the two worst presidential candidates in history, he is by far the shoddiest", we would say and then go about our business feeling smug in the knowledge that the world wasn't full of crazy people who would vote for a man like him.

My brain runs on a 'rational optimist' frequency and likes to pat me on the back with thoughts of "maybe he was joking when he said some of those things" and "maybe people will be there to restrain him". Am I really just a reality-denying fool?

As President Trump takes his seat in history, one can only wonder if a shiny new tomorrow is on its way and whether we will see it under Donald's leadership or in the PT years (post Trump). Perhaps Trump will act much like milk does which, given time, matures into cheese; a strong but smooth staple that is loved by the world. Or maybe we will just be left with something lumpy and off.

THE GREATEST POST EVER?!?! (Gone Sexual) - The Death of Intellectual Media

‘Clickbait’ is the art of giving a piece of content a deliberately inaccurate title or appearance in order to ‘bait’ people into ‘clicking’ on it. A fairly simple concept but it often leads to irrelevant, phoney or obtuse content, or as I like to call it "bullshit content".

Over the last few years clickbait has shifted its way from the internet to become ever-present in daily media; from magazines and newspapers to YouTube videos and TV programs. This is an important anthropological factor that is intriguing and beguiling, let me explain.

Fifty years ago one of the bestselling books was Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? by Martin Luther King, Jr. This was a book that advocated human rights and inspired a sense of hope in readers. The best sellers of 
2016 were all colouring books.

Also, does anyone else remember when TV shows actually set out to teach you something about the world or at the very least spark a fleeting glimmer of interest inside you? Nowadays television schedules are saturated with vacuous drivel that is designed to entertain those unable to entertain themselves.

Newspapers and magazines used to tell us things that we genuinely needed to know, not what flavour of yoghurt Kim Kardashian is buying or "how to get the perfect beach bod in 12 seconds".

Does this mean that "intellectual" media is dead in the water? This is a question that is not new, it has been discussed and critiqued for many years. But what is new is the subtle shift in culture where simplicity has become the key to everything. The problem with simplicity is that it stops us from questioning the norm and a "non-curiosity culture" is established as the new standard.


I'm not saying I'm anti-anti-intellectual, I just don't feel as though every media outlet has to give in to using emojis and clever hashtags to seduce people into viewing their content.

The economics of the situation are that quick clicks, easily digestible content and lack of nuance generates money, and that's all that matters. A dumbed-down media frenzy where quality of content serves no purpose - anti-intellectualism is king.

The media responds to what people want and people then respond by going even further, thus the cycle continues. A new basis is created where people r
ead only the articles with pictures and not many words, if a word contains more than 2 syllables then it may as well not exist. People will do anything to not have to think.

This is all wrong! Ask difficult questions, engage in logical reasoning, exist to contribute not just to consume. We need to find the way back to curiosity, it may have killed the cat but it means that you're actively taking part in evolution where we must aim to learn as much as we can about as much as we can.

Harambe: The Meme of 2016

Image result for harambe
Oh Harambe, you really captured the hearts of the nation - once you were dead anyway. Why did the internet embrace Harambe the gorilla in such a strong and affectionate way?

In May, a three-year-old child fell into an enclosure at Cincinnati Zoo, then one of the gorillas inside started to drag the boy around.

Fearing that the boy's life was in danger, a zoo worker killed Harambe with a single shot and the boy escaped without serious injury. 
People were saddened by what had happened but would they have been more upset if it was the child that had died?

Harambe's death began a heated, if predictable, debate about zoo welfare standards and whether lethal force was necessary.

But what wasn't expected was what came next. Harambe became meme.
Meme
An image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.
His image was spread across the entirety of the internet. What started as a very real outpouring of shock and grief spawned into all manner of jokes and trolling.

The hashtag #RIPHarambe was alight with comments ranging from people wishing they had been there to jump into the enclosure themselves if that meant saving Harambe, to people declaring that they would have been happier if the child was the one who had been shot.


Were people really that upset, or even angry, at Cincinnati Zoo's decision to kill the animal?


It was clear after several days that people were now just posting about Harambe because it was funny, this was when 'meme status' had been reached. The online community wanted to "keep Harambe's legacy alive" and they did so by trolling Cincinnati Zoo's Twitter feed. Strongly worded messages 
about how wrong they were to kill Harambe and endless photos of the gorilla adorned with crying emojis were spammed in the general direction of Cincinnati Zoo's account.

The situation wasn't helped when Cincinnati Zoo asked Twitter users to stop sending them the messages. In this instance, the internet acted just like a toddler who is told not to touch something because it's hot.

There were those who held vigils and started campaigns targeting the child's parents, things just
 spiralled out of control because it involved an element of supposed animal cruelty. Being in a zoo meant that Harambe was in an unfair environment where he didn't have much of a chance to begin with.

The problem with some people online is that they seem to get off on being mad about things that they don't actually care about. 
For me it was driven to the ground so quickly, it stopped being funny after a day or two.

The only way to understand why Harambe was embraced by the internet as he was is to imagine that people were just tired of the usual media spiel that dominates the news and, in turn, society.

People were bored of hearing the same old stories about war or famine or refugee 
crises that they just wanted some way to vent their frustration with the world.

The only way of expressing this anger was to turn this into some sort of worship of Harambe and then offer up memes to their gorilla god.

Harambe: the meme of 2016.