Wednesday, 30 October 2013


With Strictly Come dancing back on TV, I was reminded of a wonderful Caribbean experience in Puerto Rico's old San Juan

‘If you can walk you can dance,’ said Raffi the salsa instructor although he looked sceptical as our group shuffled in. Raffi teaches salsa   to’ anyone and everyone’ from judges and accountants to students, tourists, locals and visitors alike, and he claims it can change lives. The power of the dance can, he says, turn the friendless into party animals and the lonely into Red hot lovers. An eco-lawyer by day, he has taught hundreds of people to salsa, and our group was his latest challenge.

Although the debate still rages as to who invented the salsa, the Cubans or the New York Puerto Ricans, (Nuyoricans)there’s no getting away from it in the streets of Old San Juan,  Puerto Rico, and with the beat pulsating from every doorway, its impossible to keep your feet from tapping.

 Our first salsa session took place upstairs at old San Juan’s Noyorican café which is tucked in an alleyway of San Francisco Street. Many a famous face has  shaken a leg here , including the Rolling Stones who apparently inisted on coming here to experience the laid back atmosphere, the great music and, of course, the dancing.
For those who are beginners to the world of dance, Salsa is  said to be one of the more accessible forms of partner dance  and is the salsa dance is, in essence, no more than a step forward and a step back, with a rock in between.  Raffi mades it look effortless as he spun his lithe partner around the room.

After this mesmerising demonstration, Raffi started to put us through our paces. The dance is done with three weight changes (or steps) in each four-beat measure. The beat on which one does not step might contain a tap or kick,.. One of the steps is called a "break," which involves a change in direction. When we reach this point,
Raffi shouted ‘prepare’ as a cue for us to be ready for the turn. Desperately trying to mimic his smooth moves and effortless twirls, we lurched gracelessly around the room. But Raffi allows us some false moves and, taking each of us in turn, passes on a little of his stylish kno-how. By the end of our lesson, we can execute a passable salsa.

 It hadn’t changed our life, but we left with slightly more rhythm than we arrived with and headed downstairs to see how it really should be done. In the Nuyorican, dozens of gyrating bodies were hitting the floor at the famous café, The live music is infectious and the salsa party continues well into the small hours.
If you can walk you can dance, claims Raffi. But after an evening of salsa dancing  at The Nuyorican, you cant necessarily walk that well. We stumbled home to bed and dreamt in Latino.


We were experiencing a taster session, but to learn to salsa in style Raffi’s classes come in  a series of 10 sessions which typically last 1 hour 45 minutes.


Nuyorican Café

312 San Francisco

San Juan

Puerto Rico



Tuesday, 29 October 2013


An exhibition of fabulous photographs taken by royal photographer and friend of the Caribbean the late Patrick Lichfield, is on show in London.

 The son of Viscount Anson and Princess Anne of Denmark, Patrick Lichfield - the 5th Earl of Lichfield - was the Queen's first cousin once removed.  He had a lifelong love affair with the Caribbean, and travelled around the islands snapping glamorous people and stunning vistas until his death in 2005 at the age of 66.  


He was devoted to his Mustique home, Obsidian. a typical ‘gingerbread house’ built in charming Caribbean style after the designs of Oliver Messel. With beautiful whitewashed wooden walls decorated with turtle shells, a stunning view of the sea, the sprawling six bedroom house had pretty tiers of lower bedrooms, terraces, orchards and two cottages tumbling down the hillside.
When not staying there himself with his three children or friends, he would rent the house out to the likes of Hugh Grant and Pierce Brosnan.
The photographs on show at The Little Black Gallery in Chelsea, London is the first exhibition of his Caribbean images and represent all genres of his photography; landscape, portraiture, fashion and nudes.  Some of the pictures have never been seen before. They reflect the passion he felt for the islands and show some of the people and places that made the Caribbean his spiritual home

Patrick Lichfield's Caribbean is at The Little Black Gallery, 13A Park Walk, London SW10 0AJ from 29 October - 7 December.









Friday, 25 October 2013


New research has shown that food tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors for the discerning traveller.Enjoying local food and drink is becoming one of the dominant ways that Brits interact with a local culture,  according to a survey by Caxton FX. While 14% of people said that they spend most of their budget for a holiday experiencing tourist attractions and going on day trips, a staggering 53% said that eating out in local restaurants was an essential part of experiencing the local nuances while abroad.

Top tourist destinations tend to have unique gastronomy that is rooted to their origins, and this research proves that Brits are some of the most experimental and gastronomically curious of all Europeans, putting food as a consistent factor that contributes to a good holiday.
This should be good news for anyone heading to a winter sun holiday in Barbados this November.World renowned chefs including Marcus Samuelsson, Jose Garces and Anne Burrell are set to return to the Caribbean island for the fourth annual Barbados Food & Wine and Rum Festival, 22 – 25 November 2013.
Marcus Samuelsson - the man who made Ethiopian food sexy - is one of my favourite chefs. His Red Rooster restaurant in New York's Harlem is regularly packed out and is one of the few places which manages to combine African, European and American cuisine



In 1751, artist William Hogarth published his satirical print ‘Gin Lane’, which depicted disturbing scenes including a gin-crazed mother, covered in syphilitic sores, unwittingly dropping her baby to its death down some cellar stairs. From such gin sodden debauchery to the glamorous Martini bars of ritzy hotels, London has been the spiritual home of gin for centuries and the affair continues with a new generation of brands and drinking establishments throughout the capital In the last decade or so enthusiasm for interesting gins has grown, and with it, the number of small distillers such as  Portobello Road, a small outfit boasting its own 'Ginstitute', a tiny room above the Portobello Star dedicated to the history and scientific understanding of gin.

Mini gin distillery Sispsmith in Hammersmith has open days  and tasting evenings, although I hear they are currently booked through into the new year

And last night I met another gin - Butlers’s Gin a new, British, artisan spirit produced in Hackney Wick, East London. A smooth yet refreshing fusion of juniper, lemongrass, cardamom and citrus notes, Butler’s Gin has a light, crisp character which is set to become the drink of choice for the cognoscenti, bringing something extraordinary to every occasion.

Ross William Butler is The Butler. A designer, brand developer and lifelong gin obsessive, Ross spends much of his time on his speedboat Fletcher, enjoying the waterways of South-east England.  It was on Fletcher, whilst moored in London's Docklands one summer, that The Butler developed his first batch of gin.  This small personal venture swiftly grew as friends and acquaintances tasted its delectable aroma.

Originally inspired by a Victorian recipe, the gin is placed in a 20-litre glass jar with infusion bags containing fresh lemongrass, cardamom, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, fennel, lemon and lime. After infusing for 18 hours it is hand-bottled.  

Ross was handing out the gin at the delightful Hackney Heart, a lovely pop-up shop . gallery and creative space on hackneys Mare Street.

 Originally intended as a medicine, gin became suddenly affordable in Britain due to changes in the duty levied following the accession of William of Orange to the throne. French brandy prices went through the roof, a great many small-scale gin distilleries were established across London and by the early years of the 18th century what had become known as the Gin Craze was truly out of hand. In the first third of the 19th century, advancements in distillation eventually allowed for the mass-production of pure spirits using "continuous" stills. These spirits were then re-distilled to make "London dry gin", the defining stipulations for which are still in force today: it must contain no added sugar, be flavoured primarily with juniper and a minimum of 37.5% alcohol by volume.

With the discovery that quinine was effective against malaria the colonial officer class began to drink the new "tonic water" enlivened with gin. Now enjoyed in fashionable circles, the rehabilitation of mothers' ruin was complete, with the added bonus that the antimalarial tonic water actually worked.

The perception of a link between gin and glamorous living received another fillip in the jazz age. The drinking of cocktails and the culture around them grew and flourished even during American prohibition, and President Roosevelt's first act upon signing the paperwork which repealed the alcohol ban was to mix a martini, using plenty of gin, vermouth and olive brine. The growing popularity of gin cocktails provided the distillers with another challenge: the fruity juniper and citrussy coriander seed flavours which work so well with tonic water are not always ideal in a cocktail

Tuesday, 22 October 2013



I am walking down Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, followed by three youths wearing hoodies. They are right behind me, muttering and swearing. They are breathing down my neck. I can smell their sweat.

They are my sons.



This is our last Big Family Holiday. The Boys are aged 20, 18 and 16. So before they flew the nest, we flew them to California, where under 21s are not allowed to drink alcohol. The challenge was to find out if all the family could enjoy themselves in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas while respecting the local laws regarding minors. Would the boys be too old for Micky Mouse, too young for Caesar’s Palace?


Luckily many attractions in California reduce even mature adults to the level of children. By the time we reached The Simpsons’ Ride at Universal Studios, Los Angeles, we had practically turned into Homer, Marge and co.


In San Francisco, the hippy trail on Haight Ashbury was strangely intriguing to a generation conceived 20 years after The Summer of Love, but the boys’ favourite stop was at the sobering island penitentiary Alcatraz. We escaped The Rock for milk shakes on Pier 39.


Leaving California behind, we drove through the Mojave Desert to Las Vegas, stopping en route at Calico, developed in 1881 during the largest silver strike in California. Now a ghost town, it is a quaint and rickety taste of the old Wild West where grown men and big kids alike can play at cowboys.


Las Vegas is where Peaches Geldof married ,aged 19. ‘There probably wasn’t anything else to do’ empathised my sons.  Although bouncers kept them away from the gaming machines and the bars, star struck teenagers found the buzz and bling of Vegas addictive enough on its own.

Flying home across the Grand Canyon, we agreed that although alcohol-wise this region  is as dry as the desert for the under 21s, we all got a kick out of California and Las Vegas.