18 October 2014

plus ça change

Not been around here in awhile. And I won’t be in the future. I’ll leave this blog here, to gather a bit of dust. Just popping in to say ‘bye, and to let you know that my writing is moving. It’s going over to ishouldbewritingsomethingelse.net. Which is an irksomely long URL, but there you go. Bookmark it so you don’t have to type it every time. That place will be a little different. It won’t just be a chronicle. There will be fiction and travel and baseball and nerdy stuff. And the chronicle stuff, too. There’s still a Belfry, it’s just getting an upgrade. All that I’ve written here can be found in the archives there. 

No booze, though. That will be at The Last Sip

Thank you for reading. I hope you keep doing so at the new place.

11 July 2014

on rails

I’ve not written from a train in awhile. I’ve not been on a train in awhile. Oh, I’ve been on the the tube and overground and that sort of thing, but those aren’t really trains. Real trains cross countries and borders, not cities. 

I’m off north to Scotland to drink wine and catch up with friends and wonder once again why I don’t here anymore. 

Last weekend I ‘performed’ at the Cornbury Music Festival, sometimes called ‘Poshstock’. There was wine and music. I learned I like the Peatbog Faeries more than the Gipsy Kings and survived on about 2 hours sleep over 48. We danced. We drank. We ate pulled pork. We angered bees sleeping soundly in their hive and had to run away.

I expect this weekend to be every bit as good. Perhaps without the getting chased by bees part, however.

08 June 2014

ending chapters

Where have I been and what have I been doing? I’ve been to the States and Scotland and East Sussex since last here. And to Somerset and Stonehenge. I’ve run a lot, but maybe not enough. I’ve not written anything, but I’ve thought of and planned the writing of things. There are schedules now, and preliminary dates for my next book’s release. I’ve met a new editor and journeyed to Oxford to plan things with them. I’ve lost old friends and met new ones. I’ve watched the seasons slowly change and listened to the rain on my skylight whenever I could. 

So all that.

The Red Sox season is killing me, which is just as well as life’s proper portions of heartache and heartbreak are fresh and raw and searing and if I seem down, it’s just the baseball, honest.

The sun’s out and all things are flowering - scents of the season drift along the riverside. There seem to be more honeybees about this year. It’s all good if you just let it be.

22 February 2014

dreams interrupted

I don’t remember the dream, but I’m pretty sure it was a good one. The sense of disappointment when it was shattered by my phone’s alarm was proof of that. I tried to grab at the last few tendrils of memory, but they slipped into permanent shadow. My body knew it wasn’t meant to be awake. I moved slowly.

I made it to the tube on time, but nearly missed the bus. It wasn’t where it should have been. It wasn’t immediately apparent. It was dark and damp on Baker St as I stood pounding postcodes and streets into my phone, trying to work out where I should be to grab the coach to Stansted. Bus after bus drove by, always the wrong one, each leaving a cavernous echo along the empty street. I looked over at the Sherlock Holmes museum when the correct address popped up on my phone, and ran a few streets over to where I should have been waiting in the first place. The coach was there, and waited for me as I huffed and puffed my bag into the locker.

I slept and we were there. My bag wasn’t overweight, even with a bottle of Barolo wrapped tight in a protective but otherwise superfluous beach towel. Stansted always seems unfinished to me. There was quite a lot of work going on. I bought gin for Andy and Kirsten and some breakfast for myself. My gate was called and I walked by the bar to join the queue for boarding and I quite fancied a Guinness.

I slept on the plane. Well, I kept my eyes closed anyway. We landed early and so those ridiculous Ryanair trumpets sounded. My bag popped out early and Andy was there and so we headed into Girona for lunch. Basque tapas at a restaurant near the vine-clad elevated train line. The vines that clad it looked skeletal and dead in the winter light, though they were only sleeping. The restaurant wouldn’t open for another 10 minutes and so Andy and I cracked a beer while the kids climbed about in the playground. I’m not sure we could have been more scheme-y if we’d tried. Andy took Angus to use the toilet so of course Theo fell and hurt himself. He bawled and would not be comforted. So there I was, stood by a playground, trying to comfort a screaming 5 year-old while holding a can of Estrella’s double malted beer. He was having none of it until his dad came back. I was worried about getting looks from the parents in the playground, but no one cared. There was no disapproving glance at either the screaming child nor the ever-lighter can of beer in my right hand. I nearly offered Theo a sip. Then Andy returned and Theo’s wails descended to whimpers and finally he realised it wasn’t so bad after all. Tears wiped dry, the restaurant opened and we went in for lunch.

They poured us Txacoli into beakers from a great height and then we helped ourselves to the seemingly endless tapas dishes displayed around us. It was a modern building but the interior had been done to look like an taverna. Behind the bar that displayed the food was a large cut-out barrel end, foudre size, with a tap at the bottom. I guessed the tap was dry. We ate and drank Txacoli and the boys mostly behaved and then we got more food and drank more Txacoli. I noticed on the second round that the bottle had a spigot on the end of it, to facilitate the pouring from a great height, which released a satisfying spritz.

Sated, we left in search of ice cream, but the ice cream place we wanted was closed. So we crossed the river and I got a glimpse of Girona’s strange cathedral. Asymmetrical, daunting and monolithic, it looked like something out of fantasy. Perhaps a defensive keep rather than a church.

We found a frozen yoghurt bar that did goat milk stuff and lots of toppings. The chocolate sauce was the sort that hardened, so that you had to crack it like an egg shell. It seemed strange eating something so cold in January. We ate and walked around the narrow streets in the old town. 

Dessert finished, we found the car and drove to France.

29 December 2013

return flight

5 Brothers was closed, so I waited in the queue at the Cuban Coffee Queen shack by the bight for a con leche. The sun hadn't yet broken through the cloud. Two guys sat on one of the benches, sipping away their morning java, yacking. They were tan and young. The conversation went something like this:

"It got really bad with the drugs and the booze. Woke up in a hospital handcuffed to the bed, cop there waiting for me to come 'round."

"Well, Key West can do that to you."

"Oh, no man, this was way before I came to Key West."

20 December 2013


I fell asleep before take off but woke before landing. I opened the blind and had missed the the southern coast of Greenland but saw the icy stretches of Northern Quebec far below. Over Massachusetts, I looked out again but we were too far inland to see Boston. An hour or so later I saw the the vast jagged opening of the Chesapeake Bay and remembered summers long gone and mountains of spiced crabs, mallets and tablecloths made from old newspapers. South of Georgia, tracing the Florida coast, the sun started setting, throwing sharp contrast on the small cotton ball clouds hovering over the water below.


There were scores of cops waiting for my flight when it landed. I never found out what for. I had to make my connection.


I got home and drank a few beers, re familiarised myself with the house. It's my only address in the States but I've not been here in nine years. Since I started this blog.


Jet lag woke me up early, before the sun. I listened to the roosters herald the new day and looked at the stars for awhile. When the light came I went out to grab a coffee from 5 Brothers and wandered the streets of old town. I took pictures of old cars and tree roots. I walked by the cemetery, the graves like tower blocks of the the dead. It's not high enough here to bury folks, so they stack them. Unsurprisingly, cremation is quite popular these days.


It was already hot. I finished the strong Cuban coffee and went out again to grab a croissant. A couple in the café split a bottle of red while their happy young child munched a morning pastry. It was 930 in the morning. The girl behind the counter gave me a local discount and I gave her a tip. I walked around the block, up to Whitehead and the lighthouse, past Hemingway's house. It's a beautiful house. I looked in the gate and promised myself I'd do the tour again this year. It's quite a thing, living around the corner from that house.


The sun was in and out from the clouds. I got home and ate. Some leaves and flowers swirled about in the pool and I thought for a moment I might skim it. I would. But later.

16 December 2013

white noise

There's a skylight at the top of the staircase outside my room. It's domed. Most of the time I forget it's there. There's a ghostly pall of daylight that reaches down the stairs, but the glass is pretty much opaque. Aside from letting in a little more light, it's nothing particularly special. Until it rains.

It has great acoustics, and the drumming patter of rain drops on it has become an unexpected comfort. It's like the sound of rain in a movie. A foley artist special. Even the softest of showers seems more intense. More there. It sometimes wakes me up, if it's heavy enough, and I'll lift myself from my pillow and look towards the stairs and listen before checking and making sure I didn't leave the door open to the wet. If it's raining when I go to bed, it becomes my counting of sheep. Listening to the wee, echoing thuds of thousands of rain drops sends me straight to dreamland. Sometimes too quickly.

I dated a girl, for too short a time, who couldn't sleep without some form of white noise. One of the first nights we shared a bed, she fumbled on her laptop for a few minutes, apologising profusely, looking for streaming sounds of rain or whales or surf. I was fine with it. She was beautiful.

This morning, in the wee hours, I woke to the drums. Or maybe it was a machine gun. A downpour. I lay there in bed and saw that it had woken the cat up too. I listened to those quick thuds as they echoed down the stairs. Behind the sound of the rain howled the wind, and the creaking branches of the willows that stand alongside the river. A before dawn chorus, it raged, and the cat drew close and huddled under my arm. We listened. And just as it had woken me up, it put me back to sleep again. 

13 December 2013


So some stuff has happened in the meantime. In that gap created between times I’ve written here. I’ve been back to Scotland, and sat in the sun on Islay sipping whisky and beer and eating something fresh from the sea. When the breeze died the midges appeared and fed on us, but it was breezy on the beach when we popped the Champagne and drank it even though our legs hurt. The sky so blue it pierced. And Loch Indaal sapphire, but for the odd white horse. The hills and fields an undulating green banner between them with the white buildings of Bowmore dotted against it all, tall black letters spelling the name of the distillery and town all at once.

I went to France and made wine. The Vermentino bubbled in its ferment like a bath with too much Imperial Leather poured in. It tasted of lemon barley and oats. The mist rolled in the from the sea and crept up the hills and mountains. I drank old Armagnac and stumbled in attempts to speak the language. Loose schist and pebbles fell beneath my feet as I stooped to pick bunches of grapes high up in the hills behind Banyuls. Thibault and I drank beer in a bar by the beach and we talked about wine and women. Andy and Julien and I drank strong Belgian beer next to the sailboats in Argeles after work and I don’t remember what we talked about, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the pretty Italian girl on the picking team came up once or twice. Her name was Luna. Everyone fancied her. I fancied the other one. I don’t remember her name. One night we decanted a couple of wines, Andy and I, and stayed up late in the gallery drinking and listening to music. The wines opened and we talked about them and the world around them. We drank all the whisky I brought and more. I returned to London but wasn’t quite sure why.

Summer turned and the leaves fell and now autumn is almost gone as well.

The Red Sox won. I stayed up late to see.

Mezcal, Old Fashioneds and Sazeracs stood lined on the bar, with shooters of sangrita to chase. We drank them, too many of them, and stumbled out into the Soho night. My bus never came, so I grabbed another. 

Wine sipped, glugged and sometimes spat. Old friends caught up with over beers and burgers. Plus ça change. 

I wrote and edited and amended and did it all again. I checked proofs and drafts and covers. I submitted and re-submitted. I drank pints and chatted with my publisher about costs and dates and rates and boards and dust jackets. I waited and then corrected again. I got it right, I think. It got sent to press, that book of mine, and soon it will be real. 

And now it’s now, and there’s a journey soon. 

07 December 2013

a greyer shade of winter

I was writing something about the rain but it took too long and the rain stopped and all of the sudden it didn’t seem terribly relevant anymore. I was going to write a lot of things. I’ve got the scribbles in notebooks and snippets in note apps on my phone and iPad to prove it. Reading them now they look surreal, without context. Some draw forth more recognition; a sense of the time and the place and the feeling. But for the most part it’s sentences and phrases unanchored by meaning or memory. Some are tasting notes for wines I’ll never drink again. 

There’s one notebook with a bunch of diary entries. I used to write in it while propping up a bar where a girl I had a crush on pulled pints. I would drink and write and nod and smile as she drew me a fresh beer and then poured a glass of whisky on the side. The beer was hit or miss. The lines weren’t terribly clean. If the bar got too busy I’d put the pen and notebook away for fear a pint might slop all over my unreadable script. 

Once I sat in a pizza place writing in that same notebook and a pretty waitress complimented me on my handwriting. I think that might have been the only time anyone had done such a thing. I drank Peroni Gran Riserva and ate a calzone on my lonesome, and someone pretty liked my writing, or its aesthetic at least. That waitress lives in South London now, with some friends of mine. She’s not a waitress anymore. 

In Autumn 2007, before it got cold, I sat with my laptop in the afternoon sun in the ruins of the cathedral and rewrote a chapter of my novel. From time-to-time I’d pop my head up for a breather catch the odd look from a bemused tourist. I disappeared into the words that afternoon. 

Nine or so months before that, I sat on a couch at Naughton, typing on the same laptop, and wrote the last page of the first draft of that book. It was New Year’s Eve, and about an hour or so before the party was due to start. I opened my last bottle of 1985 Dom Perignon to celebrate. It tasted wonderful. 

This morning I dragged the big purple binder that holds the draft and notes for my novel into the office. I grabbed a few notebooks and started flipping through the ageing pages. Far away from my desk, final touches are being applied to what will be my first ever published book. It should (knock on wood) go to press sometime next week. There’s nothing else for me to do with it. 

And so I brush off memories and pages, excavate old writing, looking for what to write next, and beginning to feel both excited and terrified by pages that need filled with words.

31 July 2013

a walk

The field of wheat spread out in front of the cottage, green still, and shining like a blanket of emeralds. Tall clouds dotted the otherwise blue sky and the sun cast its rays down through the gaps between them. We walked through the farm to get to the other lane. It sat quiet. Everything was growing around it, not quite ready to be harvested. Past the farm and in the next field was barley, its wild spikey hair shooting off in all directions. It was further along than the wheat, full on golden. Every bit as shiny, though.

Across from the barley lay the sweet peas. A small sign informed us that these sweet peas were grown under contract for Bird’s Eye, and that when they were fully ripe they would be carefully picked and then speedily whisked away to be flash frozen, to preserve their freshness.

Harry and I helped ourselves to the sweet peas. They lived up to their name. Sweet as could be. Harry spoke about the plants, what with being a gardener and all. The tire tracks of the path were full chalky rocks, big enough to be a pain to walk on. I tread along the grassy bit in the middle, Looking constantly at the contrast between the blue of the sky, the green of the peas and the rich gold of the barley.

Harry noted the lack of birdsong, and indeed the lack of birds. I scanned the skies and could see none. We talked about the dales as we descended down into them from the fields, about these small valleys with no rivers at the bottom, about the chalk they carved deeply through at such precise angles as to look like they were created with intent.

The chat turned to the distance to the pub which was, by this point, obviously a great deal further than Harry had estimated. Neither of us minded. It proved worth a chuckle though, as we climbed the other side of the dale, up to a herd of cattle decidedly unimpressed by our presence. They blocked the path, and so we charged up the steep bit. I was expecting the pub to be just over the ridge. It was not. There weren't even any sweet peas to be seen.

The sun beat down, and the large clouds scattered about provided shade only to elsewhere. In the distance stood a steeple. Near that would be a pub. We caught our breath from running up the side of the dale and walked in that direction, chatting still as I wiped the sweat from my brow.