Pudding Club

I recently had the opportunity to attend Pudding Club. For those not in the know, Pudding Club is a weekly event held at the Three Ways House Hotel in Mickleton, Gloucestershire. The owners were sick of the sort of desserts being served in the 1980s and set up Pudding Club to promote traditional, hearty English puddings. The event has really taken off since then and it regularly features on TV and in travel magazines.

The event begins with an introduction from the Pudding Master, including a rundown of the puddings on offer that night. Once you’re all seated, you are asked for your choice of light main course – for us it was salmon fishcakes, butternut squash risotto or chicken with bacon. To accompany these, dishes of vegetables and dauphinoise potatoes were brought out but sadly, despite how tasty the potatoes, were the vegetables were barely touched as nobody wanted to fill up on the main course! I have to say though, my salmon fishcake was delicious.

A short while later and it was time for the parade of puddings. The pudding master announces each pudding in turn and staff bring them in pudding one by one while guests clap and cheer. They are all placed on a central serving table along with a large bowl of custard. Staff stand ready to serve you.

The Rules

Oh yes, there are rules.

  1. You can only go up to get a pudding when the Pudding Master says so. Each table goes in turn so you do at least get a reasonable gap between each pudding.
  2. Staff will serve you a small-ish portion, but after you’ve had three or so you will feel pretty full. You can ask for a smaller portion if you wish.
  3. You must clear your bowl. If you don’t clear your bowl, you cannot have another pudding – and nor can anyone else on your table! This can lead to a bit of mostly good-natured barracking from those who want another helping if you can’t finish – or don’t like – your pudding.
  4. You can have the puddings in any order you like.
  5. You don’t have to have one helping of each – if you want to have seven helpings of sticky toffee pudding, you can. The idea is to try all seven though.
  6. If you’ve had seven puddings and want to keep going, you’re perfectly welcome to do so. The record is 26 helpings!

Our seven puddings were Rhubarb Crumble, Spotted Dick, Very Chocolate Pudding, Passionfruit Charlotte, Banana and Cinnamon Pudding, Syrup Sponge and Butterscotch Pudding. The menu does change.

Once everyone has managed all they can eat, it’s time to vote. You’re allowed to vote for your favourite puddings as many times as you ate it, so if you had three helpings, that’s three votes. Everyone gets a certificate to celebrate the evening and after relaxing over tea and coffee (included) it’s time to leave. We were fairly local, so just came for the evening, but most people at our event stayed over.

I’d wanted to go to Pudding Club since I saw it on TV years ago and it didn’t disappoint! Sure, the Spotted Dick was boring and the Banana and Cinnamon Pudding unpopular but the others were tasty and the evening was great fun. I certainly want to go back!

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A Look Back At My 2013 and A Look Forward to 2014

At the risk of being self-indulgent, this post is more for me than readers – a convenient way to see everything I did last year of significance, all in one place.

Walking and Running

I carried on walking with my walking group, although I wasn’t able to make as many hikes as I’d have liked due to them clashing with other events. I also spent a weekend walking in the Brecon Beacons with my brother, including a hike of the Pen-Y-Fan Horseshoe.

View of Pen-Y-Fan

As promised in my New Years resolutions for 2013, I successfully completed a 10km race. I also wanted to run a local, off-road 10km race called the Wolf Run, which has lots of obstacles to overcome. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to do this as the date was announced while I was in America and by the time I got back it was sold out! It’s all worked out well though as many of my friends were also interested so we now have a group of 10 or so of us signed up to run it at the end of April.

Travel

It was a good year for travel, beginning in late March when I joined 7 friends for an epic 3 week roadtrip holiday, travelling to San Francisco, Yosemite National Park, down the central California coast to Los Angeles and then across to Las Vegas, from where we took a trip to the Grand Canyon. It was my favourite holiday I’ve ever had – it really was a trip of a lifetime! During the 3 weeks, I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, rode a San Francisco cable car, explored Alcatraz, saw Giant Redwoods, gazed in awe at the sheer magnificence of Yosemite, surfed badly in the Pacific alongside some dolphins, saw sea lions and a hummingbird, posed with the Friends sofa on the Central Perk set, gambled in Las Vegas (I lost, obviously), fired a shotgun and marvelled at the Grand Canyon.

Viva Las Vegas – it’s a crazy place

In August my family and I went to the Lake District for a discounted week in a caravan. We were on Ullswater, which is a stunning lake. It was a great week, especially as the four of us haven’t holidayed together in several years. My brother and I enjoyed some outdoor activities – climbing Blencathra, Helvellyn and Skiddaw, wild swimming in Ullswater (utterly fantastic, albeit a tad chilly) and canoeing to an island on the lake.

Looking down Hall’s Fell Ridge, Blencathra

In December I went to Rome. I was proud of myself for taking the big step (to me) of going it alone and though I would have enjoyed my visit more if I’d had a companion, it was great to see the sites. It also added an extra country to my talley – Vatican City!

The Colloseum, Rome

I added another new country 3 short weeks later when I saw in the New Year with friends in Dublin, though my favourite part of the trip was a visit to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.

New Year’s message projected onto Trinity College, Dublin

I took a couple of daytrips to parts of my own country I hadn’t seen before. My Mom and I visited Stonehenge and Salisbury for the day, which was really nice. I also visited Bath with friends, which was fun.

Stonehenge, Wiltshire

Royal Crescent, Bath

Other

My Dad and I competed in a charity sailing race, helping to crew a 72ft yacht in a circumnavigation race around the Isle of Wight. Unfortunately the wind didn’t really want to co-operate but it was a great experience.

Sailing round the Isle of Wight

With my friend Zoe, I went to watch a disabled athletics event. It was fantastic to see so many Team GB paralympians competing! We saw Hannah Cockcroft and David Weir, among others.

Hannah Cockcroft wins by a mile!

I finished my photography course and a number of us saw it out in style by arranging an exhibition of our work, which was thrilling!

My photographs in an exhibition!

The final big event of 2013 for me was starting a new job. I had the interview back in September but all the pre-employment checks took so long I didn’t actually start until a week before Christmas. I was sad to leave my old job, which I found interesting and enjoyed most of the time (I worked with some great people too) but the new job is in my chosen field and is a promotion so it was a no-brainer, as they say! It’s been less than two weeks but I’m enjoying myself there.

All in all it’s been a pretty good year!

What 2014 Has In Store

I doubt I’ll be able to travel much, if at all, this year. That’s because my primary goal for 2014 is to buy a house. I’ll be booking an appointment with a mortgage advisor shortly to get things moving. If things go smoothly I hope to have bought somewhere and moved in by the halfway point of the year. This will no doubt suck up all my money for some time! If I can afford it, I might do the Caledonian Canal canoe crossing this year.

Other than that, I’m in training for the Wolf Run at the end of April. My new workplace has a very cheap gym on site so next week when everybody’s back in work I’m going to see if I can have a look at it. Assuming it’s ok, I can quit my existing gym membership (saving myself more than £200 per year in the process) and work out before or after work instead, hopefully several times a week. With luck and motivation I’ll be fitter than I’ve ever been – although that won’t be difficult!

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Dublin and Giant’s Causeway

Ha'penny BridgeGiant's Causeway (Black and White) 1Giant's Causeway (Black and White) 2New Year's Message on Trinity CollegeDepartment of the TaoiseachKilmainham Gaol
General Post Office and Spire of DublinPadlocks on Ha'penny BridgeRiver Liffey and Dublin at DuskSplash of Water 1Splash of Water 2Giant's Causeway 1
Headland Overlooking Giant's CausewayGiant's Causeway 2Giant's Causeway 3Giant's Causeway 4County Antrim CoastlineCampanile, Trinity College
Bright Buildings, Dublin CastleLeopold BloomRiver Liffey

Dublin and Giant’s Causeway, a set on Flickr.

Some months ago, my friends and I organised a trip to Dublin for New Year.

I’d never been before – in fact, I’d never been to Ireland before – and it surprised me how similar it is to home. I know that shouldn’t be surprising, but I didn’t think it would be so familiar. I suppose you might see more traditional Irish culture outside the capital.

We did see some Irish music performed in the pubs and visited Dublin Castle (not my idea of a castle, to be honest, but the state rooms were impressive), Kilmainham Gaol, where a number of political prisoners from the uprisings against British rule were held and many executed (well worth a visit), and saw the inside of many a pub!

Perhaps my favourite part of the trip was hiring a car with three of my friends and making the three hour trip to the Giant’s Causeway. It’s at the northern tip of the County Antrim coast, in Northern Ireland. I’d never been there before so I have now been to all the constituent parts of the UK. We were lucky with the weather – the sea was powerful but that just adds to the photos! It was great to see such a landmark for myself. I was worried it might be a let-down after such a long drive but it wasn’t at all.

Back in Dublin we saw in the New Year with a meal, some beverages in the pub and tickets to the New Year’s Eve concert on the streets of Dublin, headlined this year by Madness. Having danced and sung 2014 in, we dispersed.

It was a good trip, and although I didn’t love Dublin (I liked it well enough, but didn’t love it) I am certainly keen to return to Ireland!

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Solo Trip To Rome

As discussed in my previous post, I spent the weekend before last Rome. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to go as it happens. My flight was early on Friday morning and on Wednesday evening and through Thursday I had some kind of stomach bug. Fortunately I was feeling better by Friday, only to develop a bad chest cough and a cold while I was away!

The travelling went smoothly and I even found my hostel without too much of a problem. It was called ‘Coliseum Lodge’ [sic] and I was quite impressed by it. Really, it was more of an apartment where one of the rooms had 6 beds in it. Even more happily, the beds were mostly single beds rather than bunk beds, which I far prefer. They were comfortable and the facilities were fine.

After arrival I walked to the Colosseum, which was only about a ten minute walk away. Having done my research, I bought my entry ticket (which gets you in to the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill) at the Palatine Hill ticket office, which is much quieter. The Colosseum is larger than I expected and is very interesting to walk around. Before I left the UK I’d downloaded some free audio guides onto my MP3 player by a guy named Rick Steves. They were American so had the odd reference I wasn’t familiar with, and some terrible jokes, but they were quiet useful. I had those for the Colosseum, the Forum, The Pantheon, the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica and they gave some useful information.

After the Colosseum I walked round the Forum in astonishment at the sheer quantity of Roman ruins in such a small area. There are remnants of many temples and two impressive triumphal arches as well as part of the house of the Vestal Virgins. I was amazed by the large fragments of columns and inscriptions which just litter the ground – in an area of such historic riches they aren’t a priority.

Following that I walked up the the Victor Emmanuel II monument, also known as the Vittoriano. It’s absolutely enormous, a huge stone structure to commemorate King Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a united Italy. I had a wander round the museum inside before heading back out to explore the Centro Storico.

Christmas lights on the Via Del Corso, one of the main streets in Rome.

My evening wanderings took me several miles and I made sure to visit all the main sights – the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon. I had a thoroughly disappointing canneloni in Piazza Del Popolo and headed back to the hostel for an early night because I’d been up since 4.20 am! It didn’t end up being very early though as I got chatting to my roommates – one of the advantages of hostels for the solo traveller!

The next day I had a booking at the Vatican museums at 9.30 so I was up and out early. I went slightly wrong on my walk there but didn’t end up being very late at all. This area is one of the worst for street vendors trying to sell you tat and it’s added to by all the salesmen trying to get you to pay for a tour. Having successfully avoided all of them, I got into the museum and quickly ignored the crowds by heading to the right to get a shot of the famous exit staircase.

I ended up spending 4 hours in the museums, because they are simply huge and very wide-ranging. There are museums of portraits, a museum dedicated to the coinage and stamps of the Vatican City, another for early Christian scarcophagi as well as those for sculpture and the like. The most famous part of the Vatican museums is the Sistine Chapel. At first sight I wasn’t as impressed as I had been expecting to be but it really is fantastic work and it’s no surprise it took Michaelangelo four years to complete it!

After the museums I had a pizza nearby before joining the queue to enter St Peter’s Basilica, one of the largest churches in the world. The queue was huge but it moved quickly and I was inside in about twenty minutes. The light was fading so I went straight for the stairs to climb the cupola, the dome of the church, as I’d read that the views were incredible. Five Euros later (it’s seven if you take the lift halfway) and I was climbing 700 stairs and negotiating the very narrow corridors at the top where the wall curves in on you. The view was well worth the effort – judge for yourself! Downstairs, I looked around the church while listening to the Rick Steves’ audio tour. I was thoroughly impressed by the sheer scale of it and the incredible decorations, though I do think that overall I preferred St Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

Afterwards I had a wander down the bank of the Tiber (the picture shows Castel St’Angelo, near the Vatican) and through Trastavere. It’s supposed to be very authentic, but it wasn’t anything special from what I could see (though it was dark!) After a spaghetti carbonara in an empty restaurant, I headed back to the hostel for bed. I was tired from a long day and a lot of walking, but I think my visit to the world’s smallest country was my favourite part of my trip.

Day 3 dawned and I walked out to see a few places I hadn’t yet seen and to see some which I’d only seen in the dark the day before. After some navigational difficulties caused by the Italian dislike of road signs, I eventually found my first destination, the Campo D’Fiori. It was a nice enough space but I wasn’t quite sure why it was a recommended visit. From there I headed to nearby Piazza de Navona, which was very busy even in the morning, and the Pantheon. When I arrived the service was still taking place (it’s been a church for 1400 years and was a Roman temple before that – the name means ‘All Gods’ as it was not dedicated to a specific deity) so I waited for a few minutes and was able to enter. You can’t really see it from outside but the Pantheon has an enormous concrete dome, which was built with the temple in Roman times. It’s an architectural marvel and was unmatched until the Renaissance. There’s a circular opening in the roof which lets in light – and also rainwater.

From the Pantheon I walked north-east to the Trevi Fountain. To my surprise, it wasn’t much busier than it had been at night two days before. It’s a stunning construction and I sat and enjoyed it for a few minutes.

Next I went to the Piazza de Spagna, the square which hosts the Spanish Steps (both so-names because the Spanish embassy is also in the square). I knew that there was due to be a ceremony there that day, as they do it every December 8th. The ceremony involves the fire brigade placing a wreath over the outstretched arm of a statue of the Virgin Mary at the top of a tall column. When I arrived, the wreath was already in place but there were people waiting around behind barricades so something else was obviously due to happen. I’d read that Pope John Paul II had taken part in the ceremony years ago and there were men handing out flags which said “Benvenuto Papa Francesco” so it was fairly obvious a papal visit was in order. I waited around but there was no sign of it beginning so I had to give up and head back to my hostel to be able to check out. On my way from the hostel to the train station to return to the airport, I stopped for some real Italian gelato at Merulana Ice. I ordered a larger size than I would have done ordinarily as it was only 3 Euros and the distance the dishes were away from the counter meant I didn’t quite realise how large it was! Oh well, I got a very large helping of dark chocolate ice cream for a very reasonable price!

Overall, I enjoyed Rome but I didn’t fall in love with it as many people seem to. I’d go back, although I’ve now done everything I was particularly bothered about doing, but I’m in no hurry.

Travelling solo was an interesting experience. I haven’t done it before, and while it had its advantages (I only had to go where I wanted to go and never had to wait for anyone, which meant I fit much more into my limited time, and I wasn’t annoying companions by making them wait for me while I took pictures) I much prefer travelling with friends or family. I don’t really mind being on my own during the day when I’m doing things (as long as I know where I’m going and what I’m doing) but I don’t like eating alone. Still, in other circumstances I may well have been able to find someone to come with me, it was just short notice!

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3 Weeks Off – So I’m Going To Rome!

I finished my job on Friday. It was a sad day, as I’ve been there 5 1/2 years, but a new job had come up which was exactly what I was looking for. I asked if I could work my full notice period and be paid in lieu for my leave, but wasn’t allowed to, so I find myself with 3 weeks off.

I’ve already got a list of things to do – I need to have a clear out and visit relatives as well as getting on with things related to the festive season: finish my Christmas shopping; write my cards, go to a couple of Christmas get-togethers etc. Plenty to do, certainly, but it’s an unparalleled opportunity so I decided to bite the bullet and go on a solo city break.

I decided on Rome for a number of reasons – it’s not too far, I can see the main sites in a couple of days, flights are cheap and it’s perfect for a history and photography buff like me. I will confess to nerves though. I’ve never travelled alone before and there is a language barrier, although many people will speak at least some English. On the whole I’m excited and I think it will be a bit of an adventure, but there are definitely nerves!

Rome, Italy, by Kerry Loggins

 

Now to squeeze research into my list of things to do!

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Film Review: Gravity

I’ve been seriously slacking on the blogging front lately, sorry!  I haven’t had all that much to write about, I’m afraid.

I recently saw the film Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. I’d never heard of it until I saw a poster on the side of a bus (old fashioned marketing still works in the digital age) and was sufficiently intrigued to look it up. What I saw convinced me to see it.

The film centres around a rookie astronaut, Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) on her first trip into space where she’s helped by George Clooney’s retiring veteran Matt Kowalsky. There’s an accident and they end up the only survivors of their mission, with the shuttle too damaged for them to return to earth. The film is the story of their attempts to survive and to say much more would ruin it!

The film does a spectacular job of conveying the vastness and loneliness of space, helped by spectacular (and seamless), CGI which must have taken years to plan and produce. The effects are staggering, but never showy. It’s designed to be watched in 3D and while I’m not normally a fan of 3D, it did work for this – I was particularly impressed by tears floating towards the camera in zero gravity.

I can easily see this film walking away with a good handful of Oscars and confidently predict it to be at least nominated for Best Actress, Best Film, Best Director, and Best Cinematography.

If you can handle the tension it’s easily worth watching.

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Lake District Adventure Holiday

A few weeks ago I headed up to the Lake District with the family for a week. I’d been able to get a caravan cheaply through work so why not? We were based on the shores of Ullswater, which was perfect. It’s a beautiful lake, much more rugged than, for example, Windermere, but also with a few small centres of civilisation so it doesn’t take half an hour to go out for some milk.

During the week, I climbed 3 mountains (Blencathra, Helvellyn and Skiddaw), swam in the lake and canoed to an island and around the southern section of Ullswater, as well as seeing the Aira Force waterfall. It really was a great week! Naturally, I took my camera – here are some shots.

Ullswater with the fells behind

Blencathra

Hall’s Fell Ridge – our Blencathra descent route

Our routes were chosen to be exciting – on Blencathra we chose to ascend via Sharp Edge, a narrow rocky ridge, and descend via Hall’s Fell Ridge, which is almost as bad! A bit of scrambling and climbing brings interest to any walk!

A mini waterfall in a brook at the bottom of Blencathra – photography practice time!

After a day’s rest we tackled Helvellyn, 3rd tallest mountain in England. Striding Edge was to be our ascent and we planned to descend via Swirral Edge and then Catsty Cam.

Our lunch spot on Helvellyn!

We decided to stop for lunch before taking on the mighty Striding Edge. Lots of other people had the same thought but full credit to my brother for spotting this place for lunch – what a view!

Helvellyn’s Striding Edge

View from Helvellyn

Our walk up Skiddaw was a bit less exciting. Not only is the route less interesting than Blencathra or Helvellyn (no ridge walks) but the weather was bad and got worse. It was quite cloudy on the lower slopes – this is the best shot I managed to get – but as we got higher the cloud surrounded us completely so we couldn’t see a thing. It also started to rain and the summit was incredibly windy, so between the cloud, the wind and the rain it wasn’t the best mountain experience of my life! At the summit there’s a plaque showing what you can see in the distance on a clear day, which was pretty annoying as we couldn’t even see the edge of the summit plateau!

View of Keswick and Derwentwater from Skiddaw

On the last day we went to Aira Force, a 62 ft waterfall. I took my camera tripod on the holiday for that reason and that reason alone, so I was able to experiment with slow shutter speeds to blur the water. I was really pleased with the results!

Aira Force from a distance

Brook at Aira Force

Aira Force and bridge

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Restaurant Review: Fumo, Birmingham

Having had Fumo recommended to me a while ago, I suggested it as a venue for dinner with some work colleagues last night.

Fumo, at 1 Waterloo Street in the heart of the city centre, is an Italian with a difference, offering what we might call Italian tapas. These small plates are known as chichetti and are a Venetian idea.

Unfortunately, you can’t book unless you’re a large party, so we were rather surprised to be able to be seated immediately on a Friday evening. The restaurant was quite busy so I think we were just lucky! The menu is divided into several categories, including breads, meats, salads, pastas and pizzas and they suggest 5 or 6 dishes between two people. There was so much choice that making a decision was difficult but I eventually plumped for Sicilian Arancini (fried rice balls with a ragu filling, much nicer than they sound) and Trofie di Pesto, a pasta dish with green pesto. Both were very nice and the pasta in particular was a large portion for a small plate, albeit somewhat lacking in variety as it was just pasta with pesto and parmesan cheese. We also had two portions of battered calamari on the table which I tried. The batter was lovely but the calamari, as is so often the case, was chewy and rather tasteless in my view. On the other hand, I always feel that way about calamari but the others who ate it enjoyed it immensely so maybe it’s just me!

The food comes whenever it is ready which means dishes keep arriving, but it’s not a problem as it started appearing very quickly. My colleagues and I all enjoyed our dishes greatly. A few of us also ordered desserts. These took rather longer to appear and once perhaps 10 minutes or so had passed since we ordered we flagged down a passing waiter to ask after them and request the bill. We weren’t complaining but wanted to explain that two of the group had a train to catch. He disappeared off to check on them and returned to apologise and tell us they would be complementary. You can’t say fairer than that!

I was a little disappointed with my Torta di Caprese (chocolate and almond torte) when it arrived as the body of the tart wasn’t rich enough for my taste, but the chocolate topping was delicious.

All in all the bill came to £140 between 6 people, which isn’t bad when you consider that we had 5 cocktails and a cognac between us. The cocktails are on the pricey side (ranging from £6.50 to £9.50) but there is a huge choice. The bar seems to be rather popular and that led to my main complaint about Fumo – it’s rather noisy. It was a strain to hear conversation at times over the music and bustle of the restaurant. Fumo is designed in a stylish, modern way, but that means there are lots of hard surfaces and no soft furnishings to absorb sound. We were sat near the bar though so it may well be that the problem isn’t as bad in other parts of the restaurant.

Overall, 7.5/10. I’d happily go back.

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Bucket List Update: Have A Photograph In An Exhibition

This item in my Bucket List has a full title of ‘Get a Photograph Published or in an Exhibition’ and having had a picture used in Christmas cards last year, I had already ticked it off. Now, though, I’ve doubly completed it as 3 of my photographs are currently in display in an exhibition.

Since last September I’ve been attending a photography class, starting with the beginners’ class and progressing through intermediate to advanced. Our tutor suggested that after the advanced class we might like to hold an exhibition and a number of us jumped at the chance! Unfortunately I was away for the opening night (I’ve just come back from a week in the Lake District – pictures to follow) but I was able to go and see them all yesterday. It’s quite thrilling to see my photographs on display in a real exhibition!

IMG_2419

My section of the exhibition!

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Book Review: ‘Our Man In Havana’, by Graham Greene

I haven’t done a book review in months – I’ve read plenty of books, just got out of the habit of reviewing them!

Having never read a Graham Greene novel before I wasn’t too sure what to expect when I picked this up, but I did have the impression that it was a serious spy novel. Not so much, as it turns out.

The story focuses on Jim Wormold, a British expat living a quiet life in Havana with his daughter. He has a shop selling vaccuum cleaners and is fairly content with his life, including regular meetings for daiquiries with his German friend Dr Hasselbacher. One day, however, his life is turned upside down when a British secret service agent tries, in somewhat unclear and bumbling fashion, to recruit him to be their ‘man in Havana’.

Wormold tries to say no but Hasselbacher convinces him to take their money and send made up reports in exchange. Wormold gets sucked in to the lies, inventing other agents who pass him reports and creating imaginary military installations by drawing the internal workings of his vaccuum cleaners.

It’s the Cold War and London needs all the intelligence they can get on Cuba so they devour his reports urgently, and even send him more staff. Wormold has no idea how he’s going to keep his inventions secret but then, reality starts to mirror fiction in any event.

It’s a quick read at 220 pages and I felt it kept the humour light enough to not become too silly. I also liked that you do get a good sense of life in Havana from the book. Reading it has certainly made me more likely to read other Graham Greene novels in the future!

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