In praise of Beer Cafés?

This is by way of a follow up to my eulogy to old men’s pubs.  I’ve been to the beer café in town before, for lunchtime work drinks mainly, so I knew what to expect.  It is amazing how unalike four walls containing people and alcohol can prove to be; stopping off at a traditional pub after work on a Friday evening is a completely different experience to partaking of a gin and tonic in a trendy café-bar.

On this occasion, I was offered an array of fancy gins and felt that I had to take an interest, or risk offending the barman.  The most recognisable brands were Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire, but I opted for something obscure, which smelled of lilac blossoms (I know this because the barman wafted it under my nose, before pouring it into an ice-filled goblet).

The room was painted a charcoal grey, which absorbed the light, but there were tall white candles in bottles dotted around on the tables.  It always seems very 1970s to me, to see candles in empty wine bottles.  As I set my drink down on the table, I singed my fringe on the candle flame, but happily, this did not result in self-immolation.  Turning into a human fireball would not be a good start to the weekend.

There is very little of interest to describe about this experience of drinking alone in a café-bar.  Unlike in the pub, no one took any notice of me at all.  No one started up conversation.  No one shouted “cunt!” across the room in an attempt to discompose me.  It was pleasant, but boring. Which, I hate to say, is how I find middle class people in general.

I have pondered why it is that I prefer old men’s pubs and I think it just feels like familiar territory.  Also, it is a more emotionally stimulating event – the middle class clientele at the café -bar seemed very jolly, but they were insular.  Each table is an island, oblivious to the other islands around it.

I’m not saying that I would have found them dull, had I sat down and spoken with them, it’s just that they were self-involved – a closed group.  There was no chance that any of the groups of people would interact with each other, apart from to politely ask, “is this chair taken?” In fact, that’s the only thing anyone said to me this evening.  Two men with dogs sat down next to me and discussed their property renovation.  I preferred their dogs – although, even their dogs were boring and unfriendly!

In conclusion, although the gin was very fragrant, I would much rather run the gauntlet of grumpy pool players in a traditional pub, than feel like I’m in a middle class sitcom.  Unfortunately, I’ve always been more ‘On the Buses’ than ‘Terry and June’ – it’s too late to change now.




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Hanne Ørstavik

loveI was genuinely very excited to come across this in the poetry section of Foyles on Saturday – I think I may have squeaked with delight. Thank goodness it had been shelved in the wrong place. I read The Blue Room a while ago and loved it, but was disappointed to find that it was the only one of her novels translated from Norwegian into English.

In Love, Ørstavik weaves together the parallel stories of a young single mother and her son, on the eve of his ninth birthday.

I really don’t want to give anything of the plot away, as the novel skillfully creates tension and foreboding through the simple description of seemingly ordinary events.  The prose is clear and lucid, the characterisation is painfully acute and the pacing is wonderful.

If you are going to read it – now is the appropriate time.  At least if you are currently ‘enjoying’ freezing weather conditions.  I read it under a duvet, with my fingers numb with cold, while outside the streets were dusted with snow – which was absolutely perfect.

I’m not sure why the novel is called Love.  It could be called Loneliness.  This novel is the quintessence of loneliness.  It is really beautiful.

London (Past)


It’s hard to believe this London ever existed.  It probably never did.  This is a mythical London, somewhat allegorical; it is used here to express a sense of national history and immutable values, such as sovereignty, law, order and tradition.  Although the narrator, Rex Harrison, uses the word ‘change’ over again, its context is a dreamlike, unchanging city.  This London is hypnotic, and to my eyes, very seductive; the people are elegant, the scenery is bucolic, the buildings are beautiful.  Perhaps not just to my eyes: it is this myth of London that keeps the tourists coming.  I wonder how disappointed they are with the real thing?

How to be a poet


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How To Be a Poet
Jo Bell & Jane Commane

I may start to sound a bit angry and disparaging further into this review, so I’ll say straight away, that this is an excellent guide for fledgling poets. It has advice on form, submissions, editing, and so on, and I would recommend it to anyone who dabbles with poetry, but isn’t sure how to improve their writing or how to get it into print.

So that being said, I have to admit that I skipped two chapters because they were political in content and intent. Not only that, I was slightly annoyed that they were included, rather than some pages that could have been of more practical use to me.

zineI write poetry to escape politics and especially the politics of victimhood, which seems to be the current orthodoxy. Why is everyone obsessed with being oppressed? It’s easy to have a voice – if you can’t get anyone to publish your writing, then publish your own journal online, write a blog, or go old fashioned Seventies punk and photocopy a zine to sell for 30 pence a copy!

Do you want to be embraced by the mainstream?  I don’t.

Perhaps I don’t actually want to be a poet?  Well, not if I have to subscribe to some sort of political cult to be one.  It’s of no more interest to me than joining a religious cult – dogma and orthodoxy, it’s all the same.

Anyway, it’s a good read.  I just don’t want to be in your gang, leftie poets, because I’d rather do my own thing.

In praise of old men’s pubs



I decide to go for a drink after a demoralising day at work. My choice is not a rough men’s pub where women must sit quietly in the snug, but my unexpected presence makes the pool players pause mid-break and stand to attention. All eyes on me, though not in the way men used to look, eyeing me up. I am invisible in this town, but now my presence is felt – I have been seen. Though, ironically, the bloke who later chats to me, has a degenerative eye condition, requiring corrective contact lenses.

God sends meat and the devil sends cooks, is written behind the bar in cursive. The middle-aged barmaid takes my order; do I have any specific brand of gin in mind, or will Gordon’s do? I’m not fussed, I say.

Apart from two elderly men on bar stools, none of the men are seated, but they have marked their territory with pints and coats, so that I don’t know which table to pick. I choose the one nearest, even though it is adorned with a tepid, flat-looking pint of beer; the head has gone, leaving a scum round the rim.

I’m briefly tempted to talk to the barmaid, as she’s the only other female in the room, but I don’t. What would I say? I used to be a barmaid too – has it made one of your boobs bigger than the other, or do you alternate pulling hands? Mentioning breasts may not go down too well in here, I think, although one of the regulars breaks the silence with some innuendo to the barmaid, about handling his nut sack.

I take my seat, which is flat against the wall, very upright and uncomfortable; I think of the pedestal of infamy in Jane Eyre. Play has resumed, they chalk their cues, with talk of rules – are they nominating on the black? I have no idea what this means. The sign next to the bar optics informs me that it’s ‘gin o’clock’– which is fortunate. The fruit machine stands flashing and ignored up the corner, a pair of paint splattered decorators in tracksuit bottoms laugh together, while examining their phones.

One of the pool players shouts ‘Cunt!’ very loudly to someone at the other side of the room, who responds that there is a lady present. The cunt protests that there isn’t and I say that there are two, actually. The other pool player says to his mate, ”that’s the worst thing you can say.” “No, that’s – it’s your round,” the cunt responds and walks over to feed the jukebox.

A man sits down opposite, trying to focus his deteriorating eyes on my face, and informs me that it’s Jimi Hendrix, Isle of Wight Festival, 1970. I know, I say. He then lists all his favourite music from 1981 onwards, with me responding either yay or nay. Exhausting this topic, we then move onto football, of which I know absolutely nothing, although I have met Alex Ferguson, and throw this in at the appropriate moment – when he goes off on a tangent about Celtic vs. Rangers sectarianism. You wouldn’t want to mess with Alex in his day, he says. When I met him, he was politely sipping a cup of tea, I tell him. James Bond films then come up, via the origins of Duran Duran and the name of Simon Le Bon’s yacht. It’s Drum, but neither of us could remember this at the time.

I’ve noticed that men like to reel off facts to me, as though it’s a revision session for a pub quiz final. I don’t mind this – I’ve learned lots of new things this week, such as the correct temperature of water for making a cup of tea – 96 degrees C.  (Am I expected to carry a thermometer around with me, in case anyone requests a perfect brew?). That A View to a Kill was the first Bond film not based on an Ian Fleming novel. That Birmingham City F.C. were originally called Small Heath Alliance…

Perhaps some men enjoy talking to women, but don’t know what to say? Other men would rather not share their space with you at all, and so they shout the worst thing they can think of, in the hope that you will take offense and leave. This ploy is useless – I frequented pubs full of glass-blowers and steel workers as a teenager, so the word cunt isn’t going to intimidate me.

At least it all felt real. It was an untouched, ungentrified pub, which hadn’t yet had the soul sucked out of it. It wasn’t a gastropub, run by metrosexual hipsters, serving posh cheese platters, instead of pork scratchings. God save me from such abominations. God bless old men’s pubs.



I found it difficult to find the right clips of Naked, so posted the trailer instead. I remember hating this when it came out, but I watched it again last year and thought it was incredible.

Johnny (played by David Thewlis) is the film’s anti-hero, who runs away from Manchester to London to escape retribution for the rape of a woman in an alleyway. He then wanders the city aimlessly, in a picaresque manner, becoming increasingly hopeless and nihilistic in his outlook.

As someone who has lived in both cities, I find that the London of this film is actually more reminiscent of Manchester in its bleakness. The palette of this film is like one of those paint colour charts for various shades of grey. Though hopefully not fifty shades of grey. The Director, Mike Leigh, grew up in Manchester and I think it has a really Mancunian feel to it, in spite of its location shots of Soho and Dalston.

However, whether he’s in London or Manchester, the place Johnny actually seems to inhabit is the underworld.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film which features more stairwells. In terms of location it is like an essay in non-place. Which is one of the reasons I find it so interesting.

Don’t watch this movie if you are at all depressed.



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Ha! This is one of the worst music videos I’ve ever seen and you only get a brief glimpse of sex in human form – Mr Jim Morrison. Oh well, you can close your eyes and listen to his gorgeous voice, which had by this time obtained the timbre of a cement mixer full of gravel. However, the eighties vibe of this video (why is the shampoo model sprinkling herself with glitter?) is fitting for me, as I visited L.A. in 1986 (I think?).

I have to say that I don’t/didn’t like Los Angeles. My abiding memory is of policemen pointing guns at people spread-eagled on the pavement. I saw another shoot-out in San Francisco too. I actually liked Palm Springs, for its retired affluent golfer vibe, much better. However, I could happily have stayed in the Sequoia mountains forever, where I swam in a creek full of iron pyrite, so that I emerged looking like Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger.

The Doors’ L.A. Woman captures a sense of Los Angeles as I wanted it to be. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if a time machine had transported me back twenty years to the Whisky A Go Go?


I plan to post some images, music, videos, etc. relating to place. This is mainly for my own research, but if they’re of interest to anyone else, then that’s a bonus. I’m not sure where my obsession with towns and cities in particular comes from, perhaps because I’ve travelled a fair bit, but also because I’m of a transient nature. I tend to walk around on my own quite a lot and I have always done so. My mum once pissed herself laughing when, as a child, I said I was going to get a paper round, because I couldn’t name any of the streets in my neighbourhood. However, I still covered a lot of ground, even if I had no idea what the roads were called.

Weirdly, I’m starting with somewhere I’ve never visited. Here’s a wonderful clip from Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese’s 1976 film, set in New York.  I love the synthesis of voice over, soundtrack and the shots from a moving vehicle.

However, it does remind of somewhere with which I am quite familiar – Blackpool! I have a very happy memory of lying in the boot of my friend’s Dad’s Volvo estate, aged about eleven, and admiring the illuminations upside-down through the back window.  I think my friend and I were also singing a medley of songs from The Kids from Fame, if you’d like to imagine it too!

Olivetti Lettera 32

1964_olivetti_lettera_32_04I wasn’t going to walk around town today; fractals stole my eyesight at 9 o’clock. By lunchtime I’d got it back, but my migraine was like a prison chain gang breaking rocks in my frontal lobe – thump, crack, thump, crack.

In M&S café it was kicking off, with pensioners shoving each other to reach the cashier.  I felt like pointing out that actually I was the only one with work to go to.  I’m too courteous now – I’ve left my street fighting days behind me.  Though, to be fair, I’ve never picked scraps with the elderly.

On the way back to the office, I spied this beauty in the window of the Hospice charity shop. The staff were confused and surprised, when I asked if it worked.  It’s the model favoured by Cormac McCarthy, who sold his old one to a collector for thousands of dollars, then bought a replacement for twenty.

What I’m really after, is a cold war era Erika, so that I can pretend to be typing Samizdat, which I then have to hide from the KGB.  This is how boring my life is. Although, I do have many unorthodox views by today’s standards. Such as, I quite like men and don’t think they should be more like women.  Heresy, I know.  I need an Erika to write pro-masculine novels, to share with likeminded souls, through a network of secret book clubs.  I’m actually thinking of the Two Ronnies’ series, The Worm that Turned, as I write this, and laughing at the mental image of Ronnie Barker in a frock.

My friend sent me a book he self-published today and it made me very happy. We’re fortunate to live in an era where writing and sharing your work is so cheap and easy.  See, I don’t hate everything about the 21st Century.