Solemn futility in the higher places

British-politicians-2011
Gordon Brown, Anthony Blair, John Major, Nicholas Clegg and David Cameron. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Executive Office of the President of the United States.

In the real dark night of the soul, it’s always election o’clock. Here come the endlessly repeated phrases, the lines to take today, the turgid interviews, the let me be absolutely clears and hard-working families, the swapping of business/celebrity/expert endorsements, the gaffes and the unread manifestos.

Before you despair, remember that ’twas ever thus… Continue reading

Goodbye to all that. Leaving Bristol

bristol-exitI like Bristol plenty, enough to live here for nearly fifteen years, but I’m not sure I like it in the way I’m supposed to. A typical Bristol enthusiast will tell you that it’s a vibrant, diverse, happening place, like a laid-back outpost of trendy London in the provinces, or a West Country Brighton. A friend overheard a Bristol University student say, ‘Bristol is like a sort of second-home London.’ Well, yah. Continue reading

In which I went on a wine tour

Our table at Avignonesi in Montepulciano.
Our table at Avignonesi in Montepulciano. Click to read the piece on Alderman Lushington.

Today in Bristol it’s raining heavily, it’s cool but not cold enough to be satisfying, the leaves are rotting on the pavement, and I’m thinking about drinking good wine with old friends on a hot summer’s day.

Click here to read the not-very-serious spread I published in Alderman Lushington on going on a wine tour in Tuscany.

The wingless birds of less difficult media

When books have all seized up like the books in graveyards
And reading and even speaking have been replaced
By other, less difficult, media, we wonder if you
Will find in flowers and fruit the same colour and taste
They held for us for whom they were framed in words,
And will your grass be green, your sky be blue,
Or will your birds be always wingless birds?

Louis MacNeice (1907–1963), To Posterity (collected in Visitations, 1957)

Have a look at photographer Babycakes Romero’s smartphone-themed collection, The Death of Conversation.

Pets and prizes. Sugar, Johnson and Hodge

Johnson reading closely. Portrait by Joshua Reynolds.
“Wealth cannot confer greatness, for nothing can make that great which the decree of nature has ordained to be little.” Samuel Johnson.

This week’s Apprentice opened with the candidates being summoned to Dr Johnson’s house to look at the memorial to his cat, Hodge, outside. This was the set-up for Lord Sugar to give them a pet-bothering task: “People will stop at nothing to pamper their pets, and the pet market is worth a massive 4.6 billion pounds per year. Now I want you to get a piece of that action…” Continue reading

We need to talk about Negroni

red streets
The people’s flag is Campari red, it shrouded oft our martyred dead—what mass agitation for Campari Week might look like. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
BywaterKeepOffHipstersStepsB
They appropriate everything I’ve ever loved. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

This is the third annual Negroni Week. From 1–7 June, that is. I suppose it’s possible that it began in Gruppo Campari’s marketing department, rather than as a popular clamour in the pubs, bars, fields, taverns and mean streets of the world, but for Campari, I don’t mind. Partly because I love the stuff—you can read my piece on that here—and partly because for years few others I knew liked it; they groaned, mocked, doubted and feared, even if many of them know better now. I always had a sense of Campari being friendless, beleaguered, unloved, neglected, and that lingers. It was always preposterous, given its mighty popularity in parts of the world, and is now much more so as the artisans and hipsters have taken it up. Anyhow, here’s to the noble Negroni, one of the best and strongest of cocktails, and a prime way to drink Campari. Continue reading

Questions in a world of new: beer tasting at Zero Degrees

zero-degrees-bristol-1
Bristol Zero Degrees at night. Credit: http://www.zerodegrees.co.uk.

To Zero Degrees in Bristol for a beer tasting, brewery tour and dinner. On its fifteenth anniversary, Zero Degrees is launching a new range of bottled beers, while it has also been working on refreshing its venues. I was with Andy Hamilton, author of Brewing Britain and co-founding editor of Alderman Lushington, an online drinks magazine we’re launching shortly. We were guests of the management as part of a press group. Continue reading

You must eat your boots first | Spelk

Marooned
Howard Pyle, Marooned. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

My short story, published by Spelk | Short, sharp flash fiction

Some years ago during one of the dull seasons—our work was very much on the seasonal side—my Waterstones branch entered a Book Tokens company competition on ‘opening lines’. We had to identify the opening lines of various more-or-less famous novels. We also had to come up with an opening line of our own. For whatever reason, ‘I’d been prodding the Frenchman with my boot all day to see if he was dead’ was the egg that my subconscious laid and we used that. It bothered me a little, it itched, and I knew that I wanted to make a story from it some time. Much later, the story suddenly came to me in the shower; at that time most of my best ideas, such as they were, seemed to emerge under hot water. I used to covet a pen with ink that would hold to the watery tiles, but that could be wiped away later. Continue reading

Glass by Alex Christofi

christofi-glassGlass by Alex Christofi. My review for Shiny New Books.

Alex Christofi’s debut novel is a mildly eccentric, likeable and interesting not-quite romp.

Read the full review at Shiny New Books


I have come to wonder whether I will make it through my twenty-third year. In the nine months since my mother died, I started a new job, which led me to meet a number of new people, one of whom I killed in a misunderstanding. But other things happened in the first twenty-two years that I should explain first.