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Cuban Cool Cats

Welcome to my Blog at The Lair Of The Camrose


It’s my bespoke stomping ground in the Intermatrix . You are very welcome, and thanks for stopping by…

This time, some Cuban reflections.


We were in Cuba in February 2020, a lifetime ago. The sun was out, the sky was blue, the cocktails flowed like, er, wine. Like Freddie, we were Havana good time, Havana ball… Far away from where we are right now after these dangerous months.

When I think of Cuba, I think of cars, cocktails and – slightly strangely – cats. At times, they blend together: when we first arrived in Cuba, a 1958 Plymouth ride back in time to La Guarida restaurant in the heart of Havana, its feline guardian in the entrance hall large enough to hold a dance floor, a rooftop terrace housing the open-air Mirador Bar dispensing life-giving Negroni Habanero cocktails – a mixture that includes aged Campari, red vermouth and the perfume of orange rinds. Plenty of ice.

I thought I would share a few memories like that of our trip to bring a little salsa (and, as you will see, heavy metal) back into life for a few minutes as we mingled with the cool cats of Cuba.

La Guarida restaurant in Havana, Cuba
Paladar La Guarida, Havana with a bonus game of Spot The Cat

More cool cats at the Buena Vista Social Club.

You have to smile when you see this much joy

Music is an enduring part of the place. Take a look at a few moments of this street sweeper practising asome moves to the beat of a nearby bar.

A brush with Cuban music

And in Varadero, a table band in a restaurant playing the final notes of some AC-DC…It’s a matter of great regret that I didn’t hit record sooner; too busy head-banging with the rest of the restaurant-goers…

Definitely not A Touch Too Much…

In addition to hearing some heavy rock on a violin in Cuba, I have also been lucky enough – quite a few years ago – to hear Jingle Bells on a sitar in an Indian restaurant in Sri Lanka to get us in the festive spirit.

But it’s best to leave the last words to the cats and cocktails of Cuba:

Please do not park on this cat

The cocktail below is an El Presidente (there are numerous variations, but this one works a treat):

  • 25 ml Bacardi
  • 25 ml White Vermouth
  • 5 ml Grand Marnier
  • Dash of Grenadine
  • Beautifully cut Orange Peel, preferably sliced very thin and in one piece – the one below was from the maestro who served us at El Floridita in Havana

Shake with ice. Pour into a Martini glass.

Glorious

Harking back to AC-DC, this cocktail is perhaps a Highway to El…

Cheers!

Alan


Alan Camrose with beard

Alan Camrose writes books and a blog:

www.alancamrose.com

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Deep Inside The Lair Of The Camrose

Follow me if you dare

The embedded YouTube video below will take you beyond the path to the Lair and down into its ever-changing (ie messy) secret depths, braving the Guard Hound, viewing the treasures of the Great Library, before reaching the Candy Pink String of Writingness.

Come along for the ride…

In case you are minded not to take the danger of your trip seriously, behold the terrifying Jasper Hound, the creature that can read your every movement to detect tasty snacks and can roar like a dragon in his sleep (and yelp very cutely sometimes during a good squirrel-chasing dream):

The feared Jasper Hound of Outer Darkness, Guardian of the Deep Gate

Please exit on the left, avoiding the lightning storm as you go.

Beware the lightning as you scurry to safety from The Lair Of The Camrose…

On your way out, please do drop a comment – if your hands are not shaking too much with terror, and remember to collect all of your belongings (especially edible ones – Jasper has you in his sights)…

I look forward to seeing you again down here for blog posts, quizzes, human sacrifices and other cool stuff...


Alan Camrose writes books, this Blog and quizzes . His clones help him to find time to do all these things simultaneously. His coffee machine is set to intravenous. His golden retriever, Jasper, is set to Hungry Cute at all times. His cat – Pagoda – is like all cats, she doesn’t help him at all. Even though he is a certified cat-whisperer (more a cat-yeller). Pagoda rules the house with an iron claw. Alan lives with the rest of his family in Surrey. Please do visit him at his website: www.alancamrose.com

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The ties that bind a writer

Welcome to my Blog at The Lair Of The Camrose


It’s my bespoke stomping ground in the Intermatrix . You are very welcome, and thanks for stopping by…

This time, come with me to Myanmar (Burma, as was) and see the origins of one of the characters in one of my books


We holidayed in Myanmar (formerly Burma) in 2012, travelling from Yangon to Bagan, to Lake Inle in central Myanmar, via a couple of bracing air and road trips. The great thing is now we’re able to say that – like Nellie the Elephant – we met one night in the silver light / On the road to Mandalay. No traveling circus to run away from, although we did have our eleven year old twins with us.

In an earlier post, I mentioned the religious dimension of the exquisite reclining Buddhas. Now I’m going to talk about the exquisite Burmese cats there, which delighted and charmed us in equal measure.

Burmese cats in Burma? Who knew? Read on.

We found them at Lake Inle. It’s an almost supernaturally peaceful place of calm water and effortless fishing with nets by wiry boatmen. They work on long skiffs, their practices unchanged over thousands of years, balanced, more like perched, on one leg. Precarious but elegant. Their non-standing leg wraps around a long oar which they use to propel their boats, freeing their hands to manipulate long, thin bamboo poles and silky fishing nets. They look like eerie stick figures in the early morning mist, or complicated semaphore signallers. Magical.

We saw hand-weavers and metalworkers plying their trades in raised bamboo buildings on sturdy poles above the lake. Then we landed at an island jetty revealing the entrance to:

to cafe for Burmese felines in Burma
Afternoon tea for cats. Burmese cats. In Burma.

Do not enter here if you are not a cat-lover, or if you do then be warned (and wear a hat). There are lots of cats. Burmese cats. A silken wave. In fact a heat map of Myanmar would surprise you in terms of hits for Burmese cats, since they died out in Burma in the 1930s. No more Burmese cats in Burma, like no chocolate in a chocolate cake. 

They were re-introduced to their native and spiritual home in 2008/9 from Australia and Britain to re-kindle the flame. Make the world right. Put that smooth, delicious chocolate back where it belongs.

Cat storage platform cat sitting on head
Just passin’ through…

The cats at the Cat Café won our hearts – as well as high ground in the picture opposite. Their now familiar to us complete lack of fear (common sense) of strangers had them cavorting around all of us in no time. 

It was an easy step to acquiring one when we got back to Britain. 

Pagoda.

She even now walks on my shoulders – not so much on my head, maybe – in the same no-nonsense way as her predecessors at, a link to the feisty cat familiar in my new book, Lost In Plain Sight. 

What felt like an inevitable starting point for my writing journey: that cat as one of the protagonists, allowing mere humans a periodic glimpse of what it means to be a cat. 

I was acting on the most consistent advice that I’ve seen, apart from the raucous screaming of the words “SHOW, DON’T TELL!” :

“Write what you know”. 

Maybe something about law at some stage. I was a lawyer for a long time. However, for my first project I chose to write about a magical cat who naturally believes that her “owner” is in fact her familiar while they hunt down a murderous demon. With the greatest possible respect, that was a lot more fun than writing legal opinions. 

I hope you read it and agree.

Cheers,

Alan

Alan Camrose


Alan Camrose writes books, this Blog and quizzes . His clones help him to find time to do all these things simultaneously. His coffee machine is set to intravenous. His golden retriever, Jasper, is set to Hungry Cute at all times. His cat – Pagoda – is like all cats, she doesn’t help him at all. Even though he is a certified cat-whisperer (more a cat-yeller). Pagoda rules the house with an iron claw. Alan lives with the rest of his family in Surrey. Please do visit him at his website: www.alancamrose.com

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Brighton Beach Memories

Welcome to my Blog at The Lair Of The Camrose


It’s my bespoke stomping ground in the Intermatrix . You are very welcome, and thanks for stopping by…This time, come with me in the company of a psychopath to the seaside for a look around the place that inspired one of my books…


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Brighton hasn’t featured prominently in literature or movies with a few outstanding exceptions that I’ve looked at in this post. (Brighton Beach Memoirs doesn’t count since it’s in a foreign country) I have embedded info about various of the treats in store. Keep it to hand for the better times that are coming.

Pinkie Brown is a psychotic and ruthless underworld figure in Graham Greene’s classic 1938 novel, Brighton Rock (and the classic movie in 1948 (Richard Attenborough), and the re-make in 2010 with among others Helen Mirren – Official Trailer. Pinkie would be an unlikely poster-boy for the Brighton tourist trade. The  brawling tribes portrayed in Sixties Brighton in the movie Quadrophenia wouldn’t be on their shortlist either. (Official trailer)

To give you an idea of the menace that is in this book and the movies, imagine you’re the teddy bear:

Pagoda Cat menacing an innocent teddy bear
Bear in the cross-hairs

On a brighter note, Brighton prides itself on its eclectic cultural scene: a challenging marathon (which I have witnessed, I confess, as a supporter rather than a participant), and the legendary annual Brighton Naked Bike Ride (2019 details) where riders struggle to stow their gear. With the Palace Pier, the towering Needle city observation deck (the British Airways i360) and the barking mad architecture of the Brighton Pavilion, there’s a lot to see.

I have been going to Brighton throughout my life, first with my parents, often to the pitch & putt on the front when I was a kid. I achieved a keen grasp of ’99’ tasting. Then I went with friends, and now family and friends. The city has changed from a more traditional seaside town of ice cream, sticky rock and fish & chips to the newer, more wide-ranging, place to be. I found it was a natural choice for me to use Brighton and its local area as the main backdrop to my new fantasy-thriller, Lost In Plain Sight. I was drawn to it by my familiarity with the place, the excitement that it still gives me to go down there and crunch over the beach and visit the Regency fish restaurant on the seafront for some hake and chips. And an edge to the place, created by the ebb and flow of visitors to the city. Never the same twice.

The West Pier is my favourite landmark in Brighton. Visit the webpage and you’ll see its Goth allure. It used to be an elegant slice of seaside glamour, then fires and the elements conspired to bring it down before its redevelopment, leaving what now looks like a black rib-cage hovering in and above the sea, no longer a counterpoint to the Palace Pier, more a dwindling marker of past glory. 

The sea and the sky danced on the horizon, impossible to tell apart, the view broken only by the brooding, spidery remains of the burnt-out West Pier, soaking up sparkles from the water with grim determination.  

Lost In Plain Sight

Pinkie would’ve attacked it with sledgehammers to finish it off, but it sits there now, reluctantly crumbling into the sea. It’s a symbol of keeping going against all the odds. Like the investigation team in my book. 

Brighton has evolved over the years, its history a backdrop for greasy doughnuts, beer and cults of human sacrifice. Keep it in mind for a future escape during these difficult times. I’ll keep it in mind for future books.

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The magic of make-up: Lights…Camera…Joker!

Welcome to my Blog at The Lair Of The Camrose


It’s my bespoke stomping ground in the Intermatrix . You are very welcome, and thanks for stopping by…

This time, come and see me in my make-up studio, also known as my office…


Dressed as Joker in the office, the magic of make-up - nothing to do with my magic cats novel

I absolutely love the Joaquin Phoenix Joker movie. He made me feel sorry for the Joker. Crazy!

Worth his Oscar every day of the week.

It’s been an epic journey for the Joker leading up to this point:

Cesar Romero was fantastic cavorting opposite without question the best Batman ever – Adam West. Cesar was the chortling Clown-Prince of Crime…Among others, the reckless and deranged Jack Nicholson, guilty of chewing up the furniture in Batman.  And the sadly missed nightmare of Heath Ledger’s take. Genuinely unsettling, and brings nightmares even now of his magic trick with a disappearing pencil…

But I think the Phoenix version had the extra dimensions of his aching need for acceptance and terrible mental health issues. All of that seeped into the character so much that even with the horrific crimes that he commits during the course of the movie and his thirst for chaos and destruction, we are still invited not so much to side with him as to at least understand him as a complete character rather than a caricature – an amazing feat when you think about him strutting around in lurid clothes and troubling make-up, the scent of coulrophobia burning your nostrils as you watch.

My stint as a villain (apart from the heinous crime of being a lawyer, that is) amounted to several hours at an office party a while back, heisting beer. You can see the office below…

I recall having taken a conference call that day in my get-up, asking the – very understanding, and amused – client to allow me to conduct the call on speaker, explaining that I didn’t want to smudge my make-up.

Becoming someone else for a brief time is amazingly liberating, as you can perhaps see below – a visit to the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong for tea illustrates that…

Make-up and costume of Joker in Hong Kong

I asked for a table for four in the Clipper Lounge for my wife and the kids. The staff are magnificent there, not even raising an eyebrow – they could have borrowed one of mine – as they showed us directly to our table. I suppose it made it OK because I was wearing a tie?

This feeds through into my writing – the liberation not the need to dress up in odd costumes. Each character unleashed in a book contains – worryingly sometimes – a little bit of me, my family, friends, acquaintances, history. Inevitably. Everything comes from somewhere. All part of my way of understanding the world and me, and me in the world, as part of my writing.

Take a look at my other blog posts: see if they drive you crazy…

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Cheers,

Alan

Alan Camrose


Alan Camrose writes books, this Blog and quizzes . His clones help him to find time to do all these things simultaneously. His coffee machine is set to intravenous. His golden retriever, Jasper, is set to Hungry Cute at all times. His cat – Pagoda – is like all cats, she doesn’t help him at all. Even though he is a certified cat-whisperer (more a cat-yeller). Pagoda rules the house with an iron claw. Alan lives with the rest of his family in Surrey. Please do visit him at his website: www.alancamrose.com

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Appearances are deceiving…

Welcome to my Blog at The Lair Of The Camrose


It’s my bespoke stomping ground in the Intermatrix . You are very welcome, and thanks for stopping by…

This time, come with me on a trip to Cuba and see the coming together of Santeria and roast chicken…


Santeria emporium, Havana, Cuba
Santeria emporium, Havana, Cuba

We wandered round the streets of Havana, Cuba drinking in the sights and some local beer. Our journey led us into a surreal world of crumbling beautiful buildings topped with optimistic modern extensions, watchful street cats, and the mysterious religion of Santeria (the Cuban version of voodoo).

That was a departure from the usual boat-like classic automobiles and challenging-coloured cocktails). 

We discovered a voodoo shop around Calle O’Reilly (O’Reilly Street) in Old Havana. There must be a magic spell over it; I would never find it again, tucked away off the main thoroughfare. The street was named after the unlikely sounding Alejandro O’Reilly, 1st Count of O’Reilly of the Spanish Empire, rewarded by Spain for among other things during the course of the 18th century re-building Havana’s defences after they’d proved to have been set in the wrong place. So, who did your building work last time…?

The exotic emporium was festooned with bowls (for offerings), trinkets, candles and candlesticks, figurines of Catholic saints, necklaces, and coloured beads called elekes. The authentic, sacred versions of elekes are carefully prepared by santeros (think, priests) to reflect and guide initiates in suitable ways; other beads are…just beads.

Elekes Santeria jewellery, magic, voodoo
Elekes

The religion of Santeria developed undercover as a shadow of Catholicism, when slaves from Africa arrived at their new enforced homes in places like Cuba, and were discouraged from openly practising their beliefs. They used Catholic saints as avatars or proxies to cloak their own style of worship, an intriguing sleight of hand to allow them to continue to follow their old ways. 

Orishas – the Santeria equivalent of selected saints – have specific colours, behaviours and powers associated with them, practitioners emerging from behind the disguise of Catholicism to make offerings of food and sometimes blood (animal sacrifices). The latter adds something of a sinister element to the religion, often over-shadowing its predominantly uncontroversial ways and discouraging open practice.

I made more of Santeria in my novel, Lost In Plain Sight, which portrays a menacing arm of the religion allowing – demanding – human sacrifice, not merely chickens. 

Roast chicken at Hixter

Is this a horrific memento that I stole away out of the back of the Santeria shop allowing me to make an evil Hand Of Glory to strike fear into my enemies and lay waste to their souls?

No, It’s a roast chicken served at Hixter restaurant, Bankside, in London. It’s presented at your table done up like a, er, chicken, including a very fine looking pair of feet. Took me back to our days in Hong Kong, where chickens’ feet are alarmingly popular, espacially when employed to bait foreigners at dinner. 

They’re not for the squeamish, but neither are they a monstrous display of dark magic. The chicken is moist and succulent, run through from the base with an uncomfortable nod to Edward II. 

I picked out this image to illustrate the power of connection and association.

I used the concept of Santeria in my book, albeit distorted and made more alarming by the introduction of higher levels of sacrifice rather closer to home. 

Here’s a passage from my book that talks about it, a taster perhaps, using authentic names but for more diabolical purposes:


EXTRACT from Lost In Plain Sight

The leader intoned in a voice that melted into the African drums and the chant as the chorus writhed in anticipation, all in time with the ancient rhythms: 

‘Babalu-Aye, Oh Lord of Healing, Lord Ọbalúayé, Wise and conquering One,Your Worshipfulness Erinle, Your medical wisdom we need and implore, Lord Esu, Your Tricks and Wit are our Guide, Lord Kokou teach us your Warrior ways, Obatala, help us to create human bodies in your divine image, Lord Shango put your trust and lightning in us, Lady Aje share your bounteous wisdom and wealth, and Mistress Oya, let us know the secrets of your Maagic, we beseech you.’ 

The leader motioned to his entranced entourage, like a king cobra conducting at the Royal Albert Hall. They responded immediately. I am horrified to say that we responded immediately, just far enough away to escape the strangling power of the combination of beat and words and song. The circle of acolytes and spheres tightened; the intensity and volume increased. I could smell its dark ululations, feel the texture of its cloying taste, hear the jangling of harsh colours, even from where we were.  


Religion covered over with religion in the real world, a chicken that tastes wonderful/ looks demonic, and the modification and distortion of reality to provide grounding for some pretty anti-social behaviour in my book. All things that were unexpected for me related to my experiences, woven into fiction because they fitted in with what I wanted to show.. 

Nothing’s wasted. 

Like the chicken (well, maybe those claws this time around)…

Cheers,

Alan

Alan Camrose


Alan Camrose writes books, this Blog and quizzes . His clones help him to find time to do all these things simultaneously. His coffee machine is set to intravenous. His golden retriever, Jasper, is set to Hungry Cute at all times. His cat – Pagoda – is like all cats, she doesn’t help him at all. Even though he is a certified cat-whisperer (more a cat-yeller). Pagoda rules the house with an iron claw. Alan lives with the rest of his family in Surrey. Please do visit him at his website: www.alancamrose.com

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