It’s a magic number, yes it is, it’s a magic number

34 years old, which means that this site is now 15. I really should work out what it’s for.


Sage Tea Maker

The Sage Tea Maker (image supplied by Sage)
The Sage Tea Maker (image supplied by Sage)

The great and all-powerful rise of the espresso is confusing to me.

I live in a country which has a cultural obsession with tea, where people will wax lyrical about the restorative properties of a cuppa, where it is a symbol of the unbroken british spirit, a place which worships and adores the every concept of tea.

But also a place where you can go to almost any staffed train station in the country and order a half-fat hazelnut soy latte, but not any grade of tea above that sold thirty years ago. Tea bags were, for stations, the last great revolution for tea making, and everything has stuck since then.

So where we need a revolution, we need a revolutionary, but what we get is Heston Blumenthal.

In my tradition of getting over-priced kettles, I asked for a Sage Tea Maker for my birthday (Or, in this modern age, I put it on my Amazon Wishlist) without expecting anyone to actually get me it. My out-laws surprised me slightly by getting it. So, it is this:

It’s a kettle, foremost. You can select water temperature in bands of five degrees, and it’ll boil to there and stop (An improvement on cheaper variable-temperature kettles – including the iKettle – which will repeat the boil-and-test cycle a few times until it gets the temperature right, resulting in taking longer). A Keep Warm function will keep it at the desired temperature, but in general you boil the water and there is boiling water. Very kettle, much boil.

A Drop-Tower ride
A Drop-Tower ride


There’s a kind of fairground ride which seems to be generically known as a Drop Tower, where the customers are slowly raised up in a cage, and then this is “dropped” down a controlled-fall.

In the tea maker, you put the tea in the cage at the top, attach it to the post (which is done with magnets) looking very like a miniaturized chrome drop-tower, and then you turn on the kettle.

Once the water below is bubbling and churning away, the device switches from fairground ride to Bond Villain Trap, as the tea cage is slowly lowered into the choppy, boiling water, to release its life force into the water around it.

“No, Mr Bond, we expect you to steep for 3-5 minutes in boiling freshly-drawn water”

Once the tea has either escaped with a shiny gadget or been boiled until its goodness has been drawn out, the basket is slowly lifted above the water-line, and the tea is ready (Again, a Warm function will keep it at optimal tea temperature for an hour or so after steeping. You can even tell the machine to occasionally dip the basket back in, if you want it to get increasingly strong).

I can’t control it from bed, but I can set it to wake me up with tea in the morning. It’s not great at making tea for one person, but it’s not as if my array of tiny teapots will form a suicide pact because I own it. Plus, it’s a shiny electronic device that works with magnets, what is there not to like?

Well, there’s Heston Blumenthal, I suppose. Here’s him demonstrating how it works:

Gaming Places

Review: Draughts London

Draughts, London
Draughts, London

I’m a Kickstarter backer of Draughts London,  and how could I not be? My primary problem with board games is not being able to find places to play them with people, especially since the Pembury Tavern – where we went a couple of times a week to do just that – became popular enough that finding a table to play games on got difficult. Then we moved out. So, having backed it, obviously I was first in line to go there when it opened in November…

… yeah, not quite. November and December have been a bit rollercoastery, and then I missed a trip there with some friends between Christmas and NY, so I eventually decided just to call a date and see if people would turn up. They did.

Draughts is in a railway arch under the Overground line from Haggerston. It’s fairly easy to get to, if not to find. An accordian player under the station was our constant companion as we walked back and forth looking for the right turn-off.

We turned up at opening time, which is 17:00. Sensible for normal working days, though did cause some confusion in the “what day is it today anyway?” murk of the holiday season, but they had published opening times clearly, it was just me being wrong. I’m not sure if it was the effect of being the last friday before the new work year starts (for a lot of people) or just a normal Friday night rush, but within twenty minutes of opening every table was full and the cafe was at capacity. I was quite worried while I was getting my Kickstarted membership sorted out that we’d get a table, but eventually we did.

a two walls of bookshelves filled with boardgames
Draughts has a library of over 500 games

My plan was to play Sentials of the Multiverse – which I bought a little while ago, but haven’t had the chance to play my copy – but until people arrived I went hunting in the Library to search for a two player game for me and Fyr to play with while people arrived.

The library is extensive, listed in detail on their site, and divided up into genres such as Strategy (Zones 1, 2 & 3), Family, Party and such. Under Family you’ll find the stuff that Joe Public expects to find on a board-games shelf, from Scrabble and Guess Who to the family dividing games of Monopoly and Cluedo. Members of my family will be debatably happy to know that neither Pit or Pass the Pigs make an appearance. While the shear volume of games is somewhat daunting, there are friendly employees who can find you the kind of thing you’re looking for. I picked up another Kickstarter-funded project (Dungeon Roll, more a serial-single player game than a multiplayer one) and the gaming commenced.

The drinks menu is mostly locally sourced, with draught beer from Meantime Brewery in Greenwich and soft drinks from Dalston Cola, and bottles of beers from all over London, and some decent apple juices too. This provides a nice supply of decent drinks for those who like such things, but is very much in the opposite direction of Opinionated to the inclusion of Monopoly in the library, anyone whose preferences are for more generic soft drinks rather than the strong and different flavours of Dalston’s output, or whose drinking preferences are for something + mixer are out of luck. Similarly, the only food the cafe offers is a short range of pre-made sandwiches and some cakes, the latter of which weren’t available when we went. While food is not a central tent-pole of the cafe’s appeal, and I imagine the existence of cakes will help, it felt lacking the “café” part of Board Game Café right now.

From 5pm when it opened, all the way until the last hour before close every table was occupied. Most of the tables are built for four people to sit around comfortably – six at a squash – but with the astounding innovation of a table under the table to keep things like board games and card hands in, which keeps the main surface clear for actually playing games on. The only possible improvement would be to add cup-holders to the table to reduce the possibility of getting beer over the games.

It’s not cheap, although it’s not bad for the area. The beer was ~£4/pint, £2.20 for the soft drinks. As I say, the food isn’t a focus of the place, but for £5 a sandwich I’d prefer it more was. Toilets are unisex, for those it’s important to.

Looking from the library out over the cafe
Looking from the library out over the cafe

The gaming sessions are better value, there’s a £5/person cover charge (£3.50 for members, who also get a set of free session tokens when they join) but that’s for however long you stay, and access to all the games. This relies a lot on people being honest and paying their due, and I hope they’re able to keep that attitude. Staff were friendly and helpful, and knew their stuff about the games on offer (and expressed interest in the game they hadn’t seen before that we were playing), and it was a good environment to play board games in, without the strange looks you get when you do that in most normal pubs, and with the added advantage of not having to lug any large boxes halfway across London.

A place I think I’ll go back to often.