Remembering Matt and reflecting on my own life path

Remembering Matt and reflecting on my own life path

IN 2014, having recently taken over as editor at The Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, I identified the need for a restructure and decided to cast the net out for a News Editor.

Amanda Chalmers

I was strongly encouraged by a senior colleague who had worked with Matt Bates, to give him a shot at interview.

‘Encouragement’ was needed only because, on paper, Matt was not the obvious fit. He had only four years’ experience on a news desk.

When interview day arrived in walked this unassuming slip of a lad with a beaming smile and brimming over with enthusiasm, but just the right amount of nervous energy to demonstrate his desire to land the job. He was clearly hungry for this opportunity and, over the course of the next hour and a half, he proved it to me. I was left in no doubt about this candidate’s desire – and importantly – ability – to do the job. If he just managed the team by example alone, I reasoned, that would be enough to gain their respect.

In 30 years as a journalist – around 10 of those involved in recruitment – Matt stands out as one of that rarest of breeds – a true journo whose instinct and nose for news had no off switch. His appetite for a good story was voracious.

He threw creative ideas down on the table that no one who had been in a profession for just four years had the right to know. An understanding of how to find – and treat – a story was second nature to him. He showed empathy, curiosity or tenacity as the situation demanded and it was a pleasure to see his efforts – and results – play out day after day.

An affable nature also made him both approachable to interviewees and a quick hit with the news team. I was soon at ease with my leap of faith in making this appointment. This was a star waiting to shine its brightest. . . Unfortunately fate had other ideas.

Although at The Herald for just a few weeks, the impression he left is a lasting one. This raw talent was emerging – before being cruelly snatched away from the industry. Matt never gave up showing stoicism in the face of this horrendous disease – recognising the same resilient qualities he’d demonstrated daily in his job. Sadly though, in October 2016, he was taken from us.

Louise Bates

Surreal then that some five years on, I find Matt filling my thoughts again. Last week I met his mum Louise for the first time, in my new public relations capacity. – I left newspapers in November last year to launch my new business and it’s brought me back in touch with The Bates family to promote Louise’s new book, Letters To Matthew: Life After Loss. Bitter sweet of course. While it’s lovely to get to know this wonderful lady (who we’d heard so much about in the office), one wished it could have been under happier circumstances.

The heartfelt collection of letters she wrote to Matt during the year after his death was launched on what would have been Matt’s 30th birthday this month, and also includes inspirational quotes and insights into her journey of self-discovery.

Its contents brought a tear to my eye – but it is Louise’s hope that the book will leave a positive impact on those struggling to navigate their way through the pain of grief. It can be purchased here

And times like this leave us reflecting on our own life’s journey. In 2014 a bright young talent walks into my office and makes me excited for his future. Just five years on he is no longer with us, while my own future has also taken a very different turn. I no longer work on newspapers and am enjoying success with – meeting a host of inspirational business people, many of whom are also pursuing their dreams of a new start. None of this could have been predicted.

It’s also poignant occasions such as my recent meeting with Louise that reinforce the brevity of our time – and potential – in this life.

Matthew Bates
Matt at Warwick Hospital just eight days before he died.

It has been surreal to be referring to Matt in the past tense, let alone writing a press release about a book following his death. But I’m also proud to have been the one selected to do it.

Just like Matt, journalism will always be a part of what defines me. Three decades of my life in an industry I loved and grew up with, brings me no regrets. But, for a variety of reasons, the time was right to make a break. I am proud (and relieved) to report that I have not looked back – not for one solitary second.

Life is too short to put up with stress and/or unfulfillment and I have never felt so much respect for the entrepreneurs – and charity leaders – such as those I now work with.

What would Matt have made of me turning my back on the industry he adored as much as I did? I didn’t know him that well, but I like to think he’d understand.

Read Matt’s story here

‘Unique’ recipe for success

‘Unique’ recipe for success

IT’S been a few months now since I met Martin and Lorraine at Moores of Warwick Gin Distillery.

In that time I’ve learned a lot about their business and been left feeling inspired by their personal story. You see, for those who haven’t thus far seen any of the publicity (where have you been?!) the couple are living their personal dream. But it’s a dream that’s emerged from a nightmare – because Martin has stage 4 cancer.

Moores of Warwick, Lorraine Moore, Martin Moore

In 2011, after spotting a mole on his back, Martin, now 59, was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma. Despite months of surgery, four years later they received the news they had most dreaded – the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes. After Martin being given just months to live, the couple took the decision to both quit the rat race and pursue their joint dream of starting a business together.

He’s now on a trial course of immunotherapy treatment which has shown signs of shrinking the tumour. And, as far as they are concerned, it is business as usual. Indeed, plans for expanding their drinks offering are already in the pipeline. So watch this space.

Moores of Warwick Gin Distillery, Lorraine moore, Martin Moore
Amanda, Denise, Lindsey and Jo join Lorraine and Martin Moore for the gin school.

The most recent of my visits to see Martin and Lorraine – on World Gin Day no less – was in a more informal capacity. I thought it was about time I immersed myself into their world and learn what all the fuss was about – so signed myself up for the gin school. – All in the name of research of course!

But who to accompany me? It’s fair to say, volunteers were not slow in forming an orderly line! (Never seen so many forty-somethings been quite so keen to get back to the classroom!)

So my three gal pals and I put ourselves in the capable hands of the Moores and opened our minds and our hearts to the heady world of gin making.

The three-hour session started in the best possible manner – with a Moores G&T at the bar, served with our choice of tonic and fruit garnish from their menu.

We were quickly ‘in the mood’ but didn’t feel rushed and were afforded plenty of time to savour our drinks and meet our hosts before being ushered into the first formal part of the afternoon.

We were treated to a short presentation on the history of gin as well as the Moores’ own story. They are keen to introduce us to Nellie – the name they’ve given to their 100-litre still as a nod to Martin’s cancer – the elephant in the room.

This earnest introduction to our friendly hosts broke the ice nicely (if the gin hadn’t already done that) and settled us gently in to the task ahead.

Then Martin guided us through our instructions for the session and then let us loose on the equipment. (Some might say that was brave!)

Firstly we set about the botanicals shelves like sugar-starved children running amok in a pick and mix shop. For me, arriving at the right recipe for my gin was the biggest challenge. The must-have ingredients are singled out to us (juniper being one). But then which other herbs and spices do I choose? How many do I choose? How much of each do I use? Then the ingredients had to be carefully weighed out. These were fine margins and we’d already be warned that some of the botanicals pack a more powerful punch than others.

Moores of Warwick Gin Distillery, Lorraine moore, Martin Moore
Keeping a note of our ingredients and measurements.

As a self-confessed failed cook (my family will concur!), too many nervous doubts were creeping in. This was serious business I had concluded – and was determined not to be the first student to turn out an undrinkable gin!

But luckily I’m also a hopeless perfectionist – and this ‘special’ blend, crafted painstakingly with my gin partner Lindsey, was going to be at very least, I was assured, palatable.

I needn’t have worried. With Martin’s patience and guiding hand the blending processes were painless and I quickly got into my stride, chucking in ingredients like a woman possessed.

In actual fact, the beauty of this is its simplicity. No need to get weighed down with exacting measurements and award-standard recipes. This experience is very much about designing a drink to your own tastes and preferences. Most of all, it’s about having fun. But for all the advice and instinct poured into your recipe, it’s the ultimate taste test at the climax to this experiment that offers the moment of magic.

It’s like the best bits of cooking and chemistry lessons combined. (And this comes from someone who is/was dire at both.) Throw it all in and let the mini still do its work.

Some careful temperature control – again under Martin’s watchful eye – and the first drops of our infused liquid creation eventually emerge from the pipe. At this stage we’re encouraged to sample a drop from our finger – but only a drop as this is undiluted 90%-proof alcohol. It’s fair to say that at this stage in the process, it tasted disgusting. This didn’t bode well, I reasoned.

Moores of Warwick Gin Distillery, Lorraine moore, Martin Moore

But then what’s termed the ‘heads’ and ‘tails’ of the gin are discarded in favour of preserving the ‘hearts’ for bottling. And so comes time to add the distilled water to make it, well frankly, fit for consumption. The more water, the lower the alcohol volume. Advised levels for gin are around the 45% mark, but you’re invited to keep testing as you keep adding the water and achieiving the desired taste. Interesting how moreish the drink has now become. Maybe I could make a mean gin after all!

Take-home bottles are filled to the brim with our concoction and we add our own labels, even coming up with a name. Apparently a record of our recipes are filed away should we ever want to put in a repeat order. (Can’t see that one flying off the shelves!)

For me the pinnacle of this experience is in tasting our random recipe for the first time. I think if I did it again I would be more likely to try a different recipe altogether. But then I can also quite appreciate why those who hit on a winner would want more of the same.

Throughout our Moores gin glasses are kept topped up, plus some well-timed nibbles are introduced later on to satisfy those mid-afternoon munchies.

Moores of Warwick Gin Distillery, Lorraine moore, Martin Moore

I’m not convinced Amanda Chalmers’ June-iper Gin (do you see what I did there?) will be giving the Moores blend a run for its money  – but that’s not the point. My friends and I were unanimous in our enthusiasm – we had enjoyed the most interesting, entertaining and unique experience – and one we were keen to repeat.

More information on the Moores of Warwick gin schools at:

Gentle pedals. . . big steps!

Gentle pedals. . . big steps!

IT’S been three weeks since I brought home my first electric bike, courtesy of the new Electric Bike Shop at Hatton Adventure World.

The bad news is, I’ve struggled to find the time to get out on it as often as I’d hoped.

The good news is, my relationship with e-bikes is such already that I know the situation will improve  – I’m eager for it to do so.

Amanda Chalmers

You see, this has been somewhat of a mini revelation for me, to the extent where I’m afraid to say three’s now a crowd. And I think it’s time for my traditional road bike and I to part ways.

Purchased as a birthday gift around 10 years ago, the intention was genuine – to hit the road every weekend and transform my deteriorating fitness levels back to something approaching at least average for my age. Genuine or not, I don’t think it left the garage more than a couple of times, but putting the brakes on my cycling days was like admitting defeat to the ageing process.

I now realise, as an e-biker (probably haven’t quite earned the right to call myself that yet, but let’s go with it. . .) that the journey back to increased fitness doesn’t have to be an arduous and painful one.  

The logic is simple – if you’re using your e-bike to do something that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do, it carries great long term mental and physical health benefits. E-bikes can get older or less fit folk cycling again – and that’s what I feel it is doing for me. Without it I can either keep living the lie that my road bike will ever see any traction again in the coming years – or throw my (not insubstantial) weight behind a new biking chapter. . . a chapter that makes cycling enjoyable again, while gradually and gently rebuilding my fitness levels.

Well, you have to start somewhere!

The sunny Easter holidays enticed me out and, in a short time, my confidence in handling the bike and ability to get the best out of it, is improving. I’m keeping distances short at the moment but plan to build on that, especially as the summer months break through.

And thanks to advances in technology e-bikes now last longer between charges (some modern models can last for up to 110 miles on a single charge) so there is nothing to be nervous about when I do decide to tackle the further flung destinations.

And when you do need to charge your bike – what better excuse for a well-earned refreshment stop while the friendly pub’s plug socket does its thing.

The popularity of e-bikes is massively on the rise and it’s widely predicted they will outsell road bikes within five years. – They already do in The Netherlands!

If you’re older, unfit, recovering from an injury or illness or simply lacking in cycling confidence, the arguments for investing in an e-bike are cumulative.

That’s all very well, you say. “Sounds perfect. But they don’t come cheap!”

E-bike prices tend to start at around £1,000 (and up to several thousands) which is undoubtedly heavier on the pocket than a traditional bike. But in the long run they can actually be the most cost-effective option. That’s because an e-bike is more convenient so you’re likely to use it more often.

Cycling instead of driving – even for short commutes – brings big savings on the costs of running a car, including fuel, parking and depreciation caused by wear and tear.

It’s also worth noting that the Government’s Cycle to Work Scheme allows you to save up to 42% off your e-bike. Click here for more information.

Included in part 3 of my blog COMING SOON are the subjects of security and maintenance.

Read Part 1 of my blog here

Read about the new Electric Bike Shop in Hatton plus an interview with Karl Haden here