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Smoking in Worcester

Posted on March 20, 2012 by     Leave a comment

So I’m in Worcester, reasons and descriptions to follow later. Suffice to say at this point, that my solitary foray and mooch about involves a few beers and fags. Entertaining enough, especially as Stephen Fry is chatting into my ear about packing in smoking; but for the moment, and specifically because I am voluntarily exiled from the Beloved for a couple of days, it’s something I’m enjoying. Time for self and all that. Relishing even. Whilst not going nuts on it.

Except of course, that one can no longer smoke within establishments (rightly, I might add – though I say to all those non-smokers who said they supported the ban on smoking in pubs as a factor that would allow them to visit more often [in the voice of Delia Smith] “Where arrrrrrre you?”. Fuckers.).

So there is where I am staying, Ye Olde Talbot (no, really): an inn, perfectly fine, relatively cheap and, frankly, more fitting to my battling-to-remain-working-class character than the overindulgent, massively expensive boutique hotels I would prefer with Her.

And then there is the Pheasant. Perfectly fine old building, just up the road. Fosters is £2.70, staff baffled by mild erudition in chat, though friendly, and the (after) thought to smokers is rather surprising.

And then there is also the Swan with Two Nicks (quality name, which would always entice me, particularly, or oddly, because in this case it is accurate rather than playing the pun*). Beck’s Vier at £3.70, which is amazing as a difference for pubs barely 15 yards apart. Also Doom Bar, Old Slug (yum!) and Sign of Spring. Which is green. Green.

Anyway, whilst it looks similar to the Pheasant from the outside, it’s considerably different within – though both are much more expanisive than the frontage suggests, spreading backwards like secret drinking alleyways.

In order, therefore, the smoking options:


Talbot Smoking Pheasant Smoking
Swan Smoking


Take your own guess as to which I preferred (the clue is where my paper and pint are…)


*From the website: “The Dyers swans are marked with one nick [at the time a ‘neck’ could hold a similar meaning] on the beak, whilst the Vintners have two”




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Uncharted 3

Posted on January 3, 2012 by     Leave a comment

I’m not an avid gamer but I do enjoy the chance to play them, mostly for the escapism and because they’re better than telly. I’m also not very good at them, due in part to lack of practice (I can only play one game “at a time” for fear of forgetting all the command choices) and also lack of desire. I miss the days when easy cheats on PC games gave infinite ammo so I could get past the inordinately dull “boss level” at the end of each sequence. Descent or Doom, way back when, for example.

Uncharted 3 is a different beast. It’s not, to some degree, even a game as many would view it; it’s an interactive movie. And astonishing for all that. Nathan Drake and Sully return, determined to find the truth about a long lost secret of Sir Francis Drake (Nathan’s ancestor – or is h..?).

It’s balanced nicely between problem solving, chases, gunfights and video sequences that don’t have you reaching for the skip option. It’s not a perfectly explorable world – leave the expected route in a chase or jump somewhere you thought was reachable and you likely have to restart, though that’s quick. The only section of the game that was a little infuriating, so far, was young Nathan running across rooftops where it really wasn’t clear where to go so it takes many attempts just to learn the route. A later chase, following rather than escaping, is far, far better for just that reason, as it gives fast-paced clues as to where to step next.

It’s linear and you are expected to follow the script – but, by God, it’s compelling! Some of the linearity is hidden beautifully in timed events – some flooring crumbles, or a door slams in your face, for example; it was only going to when you got to it but its managed so seamlessly that it adds to tension. For free exploration, try Skyrim or Assassin’s Creed. But for driving story and excitement, this is where you want to be.

I’m 70% through and can safely say it’s the best game I’ve ever known. The graphics alone are gobsmacking – not just in the details, but in the choice of details: there are relics and antiques, portraits and pictures that are real and just there for joy, not story-relevant content (case in point: a stuffed Tasmanian Tiger, extinct, casually atop bookshelves).

(from here)

The last sequence I played, “rewound” to do again, was in a rusting dockyard. From the point where the floating barges and pontoons are rolling about in the waves, continuously; from exiting the innards of a vast ship which trigers a pan back to show the scale so glorious I stopped and stared for minutes; from being taken out by an unexpected wave and then battling on board ship it is simply exhilarating.

Voice acting and script are excellent and the motion of the actors and facial expressions are exemplary (with the possible exception of Marlowe, who somehow looks less animated and more fake than anyone else; she looks like she was intended to be Helen Mirren but then had pixels zapped at the last minute so she that it wasn’t too obvious). Even touches like Drake extending his arms to move off a wall when you unexpectedly send him into it are naturalistic.

The only really unnecessary thing here is the collecting of random treasures, noticeable by their twinkle; it’s irrelevant and belongs in a different sort of game, even if I do still find myself wandering to grab some, although that’s probably more an excuse to look at more of that incredible detail.

I could do without the bloody spiders, though. And I rather doubt I’ve seen the last of them. Far too unsettling!

Arkham City is more playable, and terrific in its own right, especially for a bat fan like I. But Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is unmatched as a thrill. And contrary to others thoughts, I feel, eminently replayable.




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NaNoWriMo: End

Posted on December 1, 2011 by     Leave a comment

9pm, 30th November finished the task. I’d like to say I wrote “The End” but I’d already done that and had to write a short epilogue.

“Grace, Heaton and Silk” is a tale of two people and their cat and the adventure they have due to the things in the hedge. It’s not literature by any stretch of the imagination and the tone is fairly light, so I wasn’t sweating blood to make every sentence better, more evocative than the last.

It is 55,000 words, though, and that’s a lot more than I imagined I would write in one month.

NaNoWriMo is a terrific idea for those who have ever had the urge to write something – and that’s most people, right? Personally, I feel the actual number of words written isn’t too important; it’s just a notional target to aim at to keep you going. It’s not even a novel (the ‘No’ in NaNoWriMo) by most definitions and that nomenclature is too pompous a description if you’ve done it right. And doing it right, crucially, is about sticking your inner editor in a box and writing every day for a month; spurting out your creative thoughts and not worrying if they’re good or not. As far as a novel goes, it’s a first draft. At best.

That’s the part that I enjoyed: writing every day. Well, mostly enjoyed. It was a lot, lot harder to do than I would have expected.

I’m also an idiot about anything I care about. If I care, I get stressed. If I get stressed, I go for beer. Too much of that in November. But now it’s December so I can try to stay in more – besides, I can’t play Arkham City, my “well done me”, in the pub. Sorted. I also haven’t read anything fictional for a month, afraid of influence, stealing by osmosis and, primarily, realising how poor my own writing is by comparison. So I have a lot of comics to read, too.

Two details stick with me about the experience. One is the name of a character, a dog. It’s the only character whose name is the same as the character she is vaguely based on (other characters are incorrectly recognisable to anyone who knows me, though Heaton Bairstow is very much templated on me; write what you know!). I couldn’t change it – nothing else would fit, and once the character was there, it  was set in stone. The story made the choice for me. A very curious feeling – moreso than realising Heaton had hair (I don’t) in chapter one, then finding out that was quite an important teeny detail in chapter 16.

The other detail was the Day of Doom; another aspect that revolved around a name. I’m obviously obsessed. 26th November and approaching the end, sure of hitting the numbers and “winning”, then stuck. I couldn’t name a starling. He was going to be Emirascenes, Duke of Starlings but it sounded too dark. I like “Emirascenes” and might keep that for something else, but “Duke of Starlings” was too Stephen King. I’d broached the subject on Friday night in the pub and a friend didn’t like it either – too Greek, apparently. He suggested something more in keeping with the shape of the flock, the way it morphs – Morpheus! Shudder.

Saturday I wrote 600 words and then stopped at the introduction of the starling. The bloody thing is in the tale for about two paragraphs but I couldn’t get passed it and dropped into a glum mood. Apologies to the Beloved for that.

Sunday, after a restless sleep, I awoke to Quintus Darius, Praetor of Starlings, accepted it and wrote 5,000 words.

Writing is a strange thing.

[Word cloud of “Grace, Heaton and Silk”; click to embiggen]



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Posted on November 23, 2011 by     Leave a comment

Well, then end is sort of in sight. 37,000 words written, which is about 35,000 more than I’ve ever put together on one piece before. The story has evolved a bit, and is ludicrous, naturally but should just stretch to the magic 50,000. My aim is to both hit that mark and finish the story, preferably by the end of this coming weekend, which will not be easy.

I had not appreciated how difficult writing 1,000 – 2,500 words, which seems to be my modal average, every day would be. On day 22 of that, I’m suffering physical fatigue; hands ache badly. Laptop keyboards are not useful for lengthy attacks.

But yesterday was good. It was the chapter I had been dreading. It’s all exposition, essentially, and my way around that was to present the information as extracts from a journal (as in a diary, not peer reviewed, edited, scientfic publication as the Beloved thought).  The good part of this was that it was all first person and dialogue-free, unlike the rest of the unlikely yarn. The bad side of it is that it was meant to be by a Victorian scientist in 1879. No time for lengthy research but thank goodness for Wikipedia.

By the end of the evening, which included a brief sojourn to the pub for a break and to figure out how to end the chapter, I’d written 4,000 words and completed the dreaded journal. I was quite light-headed.

And then the strangest thing happened: I became quite sad because, after 4,000 words of exposure, I quite liked Dr. William Henry Lansbury and, moreover, I was concerned about him and wanted to know how he would be. But in the story’s “now”, he is long dead. Gutted.

It will be curiously difficult today to get my 3rd-person narrator and main character voice back together.

I knew that journal chapter was cursed. Just didn’t expect it to be such a perverse one.

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Posted on November 2, 2011 by     Leave a comment

Well, I started. 50,000 words to write in one month. Although realistically for me, whilst it would be good to hit that number or more, it’s finishing a story I want to do. 1400 words written yesterday, which is below par but I was happy enough with as a start.

In fact, I stopped because I suddenly realised I was at a point where I needed to decide on whether some places were fictional or real. A relevant for the story reason, so I figured that was OK. And fictional is the decision by morning (influenced by real, of course).

It was a surprisingly enjoyable experience, thankfully. I’ve tried to lock away my “inner editor” and just write, pausing to correct incoherence or error in a sentence whilst pondering the next bit, which I figure is OK. And also had a mild hint of a “writerly moment” when I realised, somewhat to my horror, that one of the main protagonists, Heaton Bairstow, is a bit ginger! Oh, the humanity!

So: “Grace, Heaton and Silk” to be written in a month and then filed away to be read by but a select few. It won’t be good. But it must be finished!

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I do Like to be Beside the Seaside

Posted on September 16, 2011 by     Leave a comment


The Beloved and I have been meaning to go to the seaside for a while and she finally got enough work sorted that we could at last venture saltwards.

Christchurch was the first stop and, true to British summer form, it was flinging it down. Christchurh itself is a bit tired and dreary, spoiled by thundering lorries hurtling through continually – not helped by the weather, either. We joined the ducks and pigeons by the river and took shelter with others near the castle ruins before finding some food in the Ship. Disappointingly, the one thing I was interested to see, the electricity museum in the old power station, was closed. But I was cheered to see that the town still has somewhere as nostalgic-looking as the Regent – the Ship had classy black and white pictures of various stage shows it had shown dotted around its walls, lacking any celebs, pleasantly, and giving something of a community feel to the place. It also “boasted” a player piano, tinkling out soft jazz with invisible hands. Irritating, I suspect, over time…


Lunched up, we headed to Mudeford, where the hotel loomed, threatening Poirot-esque adventures! As if to mirror the improved man-made views, the weather brightened up and we tootled off to the harbour passing a surprising amount of swans, battling it out with the seagulls for visitor’s scraps.  Boats and Catamarans indicated the nature of the place, although it was out of season and little was being done by way of sea frolics. A number of people were catching the crabs that Mudeford is apparently known for, and equipment on the harbour side spoke of professionals in the wee hours.


We didn’t venture on to the ferry as the weather looked as if it could change its mind any time, but I was pleased to note that my parrot, had I brought one, would have travelled free. Besides, it was by the sea, not on it, we wanted to be. Sand underfoot and the rhythmic sound of the waves. A lovely day. I remain amazed by how many people drive down to the seaside and sit in their cars watching the ocean. Step out! Go on, it won’t kill you! Actually, looking at some of the visitors, it may have. After stretching of legs and kicking of sand, a nearby pub beckoned to sit in the last of the sun, and amuse ourselves with near-or-far pint malarky whilst starlings bullied people out of their chips.


Caught between bright skies and ominous clouds of doom, we eventually made our way back to the hotel (noting on the way that the local tree-rats are as fearless and well-fed as the swans) for some swimming and spa-ing before dinner and wine in the machine-efficient, and reasonably good, restaurant. The view at night was perfect across the becalmed waters, the hotel grounds gently lit by its own lights and spill from the Jetty restaurant. Unfortunately, my camera “night setting” sucks – but that didn’t stop us enjoying a stroll, watching a swan, drifting along sedately with its neck curled onto its wings until it was rudely awoken by its feet dragging on the shallow quay floor.

Ham, cheese, juice and cooked breakfast set us up for the day and the easy 2 hour drive home. Top time; we should holiday more often.

Disappointingly, nobody was murdered in the night, so our detective skills were left untested.


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Loving Loves

Posted on September 2, 2011 by     Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago I went to Loves restaurant for an a la carte lunch in Birmingham with The Beloved and Drs Thom and Faith Oliver. Now a good meal can be made by many things – company is one of them, so I was safe here as you won’t get much better than these three cherubs. Atmosphere matters, too and Loves brings that – over a bridge by the canal, the approach is slightly marred by the ramshackle view to the left; and entertained by the “Vibro Suite” to the right.

But the restaurant itself is welcoming – friendly staff and nicely understated, crisp decor with good natural light – you don’t feel as though you’re expected to be anything other than yourself.

And then there’s the food, of course.

Flavours are, obviously, a must – but I admit to being a sucker for great presentation; happy claps are difficult to suppress when a truly marvellous looking plate of food is placed in front of me, before I get anywhere near trying it. And Loves present plates that one is tempted to leave alone. But this is not food to revere; it’s food to eat.

My starter was described as “Sashimi tuna, beetroot – raw, cooked, pickled, jelly and sorbet”.

I mean, good God: look at that!!! The number of styles of beetroot are underestimated in the description. As well as raw, cooked, pickled and jelly, there was additionally a pureé, an espuma*, in the glass and with a magical texture, some powder (that can just be seen, looking like dropped blusher on the plate) and what I believe was a Ferran Adria-like spherication. The latter popped on the plate when I prodded it, to my annoyance; had I gone with my hunch it would have popped in my mouth where it belonged!

After that, I opted for the beef:

This consisted of beef rump (presumably cooked in a water bath), with braised ox cheek and crispy tongue, carrot purée and smartly carved mushrooms. The braised beef was sat on smoked mashed potato (smoked mashed potato!); the rump on a shallot purée and dusted with carrot powder, which was rather marvellous. At the bottom of the plate was a saki jelly, which whilst good, was the only thing I thought a little incongruous.

We had opened with an amuse of a foamed parsnip soup and before dessert came a pre-dessert; a lemon custard with a light tuille. These were both little freebies, something else I’m a sucker for. The desserts themselves were exceptional but since I have no pictures, I shall leave these as a tease (clue: well worth making sure you have space in your tummy!).

Open less than 2 years, Claire and Steve Love have created a gem here – they already have 3 AA rosettes and surely a Michelin star, should this matter to them, can’t be far behind. Having eaten in the last 12 months (ooh, la di da!) at the Nut Tree, Hand and Flowers and the quite fabulous Olive Branch Pub, I don’t see Loves as being behind these in quality. Different in style, perhaps, but not quality.

Considering this was the same day that was followed by Batman Live! and fine drinkies into the evening as Beloved and I hooked back up with birthday boy Thom and Faith, it’s says something that it left such an impression. Looking forward to going again…


*or “foam”, as I’ve now realised these are the same as

 [Thanks to Thom for the photographs!]



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Riots, Rhetoric and Righteousness

Posted on August 13, 2011 by     Leave a comment

Well, I was going to write a lengthy tract about the riots – why the unstoppable growth and spread of Capitalism is the real reason why they happened: unchecked greed and “gimme gimme” replacing aspiration and effort. The erosion of the idea of “us” over “me”.

That’s it’s no surprise that people feel disenfranchised from society when they see MPs, bankers, journalists and the police get away with all manner of things. Some illegal; all immoral.

That any amount of tub-thumping rhetoric by the privleged hypocrites who for too, too long have preferred the trappings of power over actually doing the best thing for the bloody country.

But it’s been said far better elsewhere already.

The only “good” thing from the riots was the sight of the people who came to clean it up (except for Mr. Cameron practically claiming that as his, which spoiled it) and the amazing dignity of Tariq Jahan.

Riot Clean Up

” Amidst the bleakness of this social landscape, squinting all the while in the glare of a culture that radiates ultraviolet consumerism and infrared celebrity. That daily, hourly, incessantly enforces the egregious, deceitful message that you are what you wear, what you drive, what you watch and what you watch it on, in livid, neon pixels. The only light in their lives comes from these luminous corporate messages. No wonder they have their fucking hoods up.From Russell Brand


It is not just the feral youth of Tottenham who have forgotten they have duties as well as rights. So have the feral rich of Chelsea and KensingtonFrom Peter Oborne


But, of course, this [expenses claims] is different. This is just understandable confusion over the rules of how many houses you are meant to have as an MP. This doesn’t show the naked greed of people stealing plasma tellies.From Nathaniel Tapley

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Damn it, Jim, I’m a Capitalist not an Explorer!

Posted on August 5, 2011 by     Leave a comment

Way back when, the first space shuttle took off. I couldn’t really understand why there wasn’t a national holiday, even though I’m in the UK, so I nicked off school to watch it (at least it was on TV). This was it: we’re in the future! Can’t be long for jet packs all round and shiny silver suits.

As a kid, I was pretty enthralled with the idea of space flight. Still am, I guess. And now an era has ended.

No flights. Earth orbit flights. Landing on the moon. That’s NASA in reverse. Summed up:

The argument usually seems to be  that it simply costs too much – even though NASA produces $10 for every $1 invested. So I guess it’s the short-sightedness of seeing easily how much it will cost without seeing the guaranteed return. But exploration and research doesn’t really work like that. Sadly, to me, it’s the triumph of capitalism over the spirit of adventure; the need for ROI instead of JOY.

So the last shuttle flight is the end, for now, of the USA in space. With a budget deficit the size of a planet, when will they dare venture again? And if they don’t, who will fill the gap? Europe? India? My cynical view is that space flight will only occur if it’s about laying satellites, new alloys, that sort of thing – you know: making a profit. With capitalism now global, compared to when men landed on the moon, or even when that first shuttle headed off, it’s difficult to see the desire for profit margins ever changing (TV news is full of economics these days; I’m sure that never used to be the case!).

So whence the trip to Mars? Pub conversation yesterday suggested that one of BRIC nations, perhaps, once fully established in the New World Order of wealth and economic power, might have so much cash sloshing about that they then think: “you know what, fuck it – let’s build a massive space ship and get OUT THERE!”.

Me? I’m less optimistic than Mark.

R.I.P. space shuttle.

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It’s Just an Ingredient

Posted on July 13, 2011 by     Leave a comment

Some years ago I was mildly ridiculed for commenting on part of a dish at a friend’s dinner party being the best thing on the plate. I was ridiculed because this was a bought item; a mushroom “casserole” of sorts and absolutely delicious; the attitude ranged from humour to mild, snobbish sneer (this was, after all, a jar of pre-cooked goodness picked up from Milan airport, the provenance and cosmopolitan nature of which acquisition was quite enough to impress me).

I was rattled, not knowing some of the people there so didn’t persist as I usually would.

The point being, I didn’t say “this thing you cooked is lovely”, I commented on the thing itself being lovely, which is perhaps where the detail was missed. As much as sourcing a good lamb steak, succulent tomatoes or fresh scallops is a thing that cooks enjoy so that they can then cook, so is sometimes realising that all the hard work has already been done, and done well, so why bother. Like croissants. Worth making once just so you know exactly why you’ll never bother again.

Tonight was of that ilk: bought pasta cooked and then just rolled with some tomatoes, chopped celery leaf and a dash of cheap truffle oil. Served with courgettes cooked with butter, garlic and black pepper – I like courgettes cooked like this so that they, like the pasta are almost al dente – the outer edges get a little translucent and they burst with moisture. Yummy.

Cooking time for two: 12 minutes from arriving home to sat on lap.

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