14 October 2010

why this weekend won't be like last weekend and other tales

There are times in my life when I will admittedly regress to my younger self. Well, that's what I think I'm doing. I feel like I'm chasing some version of me that could drink more, party longer and get up the next day without any sign of the damage from the night before.

Last Thursday, for example, a bunch of us went to a whisky tasting, including four genuine-actual-really-grown-up booze trade professionals (myself included). We were excited. Not just because it was a whisky tasting, but because it was an Adelphi Distillery whisky tasting, and they bottle some utterly spectacular drams. So we were professionally excited, kind of, and excited because pretty much everyone of us (six in total) loves whisky. We met beforehand and had a bite and some overpriced beer and pretty much all we chatted about was what was going to be available to taste? Apparently, everyone at the table was an adult. I ate a massive burger, deluded that this would provide adequate ballast against the 5 whiskies to come.

We left the pub and skipped down towards the hotel where the tasting was being held. A queue for tickets indicated we were just in time and sure enough it sold out just seconds after we took our seats. Many disappointed whisky fans had to be turned away at the door. We were quite close to the door and oozed schadenfreude at their misfortune, thumbing our nose at both them and karma. Oops.

The tasting was full to the brim and all five whiskies showed well. We delved deep into the mind-numbing analysis of whisky chat, but always with our tongues firmly in cheek. No one had the same favourite, though quite a few had the same least favourite. The outing of a Talisker-skeptic caused the always rambunctious and legendary Broomie to howl in outraged disbelief, hurling insults of such epic fury that I daren't transcribe them here. Too much would be lost.

The crowd grew louder the more drams supped and the remains of the tasting bottles were raffled off for extra drams. I won far too many. The majority of whiskies were cask strength, never less and often more than 50% abv. At this point, they were going down like ambrosia, and I just happily glugged away. We all did, but I probably glugged a little bit more.

We went to the pub after that. We didn't need to, but we did. Then Broomie and I went to another pub and I remember us attempting to barter for the remains of a bottle of Tio Pepe sherry they had in their fridge, to no avail whatsoever. Broomie is usually quite the barterer when it comes to leftovers. The barmaid was having none of it and so we simply supped our pints and muttered in the language of drunks, not listening to each other while nodding sagely at changes in volume. There was live jazz too.

Megan walked me home as she didn't think I'd make it on my own, and she was right. I woke Friday to a brickbat of a hangover and a cat in my face, demanding food. I stumbled, made some phone calls, cancelled lunch and went back to bed. When I finally left the house it was for a hair-of-the-dog pint and a chicken and ham pie at the the Crit. There was a beer festival on and the pint tasted good. I didn't hang around long as I had the weekend's next big event the following days.

The Luvians Wine Fair and I have a long history, with me both as a customer and employee. It is a Bacchanalian extravaganza involving well over 150 wines and finger food. Students, adults and adult students all descend upon it with a thirst and a glass and everyone gets gleefully merry over the course of a Saturday afternoon in October. While not unbiased, I can assure any reader of this blog that it's a pretty spectacular bash and the wines are exceptional. It takes a lot of work to pull off, and every year it seems as though we're on the verge of disaster but it all comes through fine in the end. 250 people have a great time and stagger off into the fading afternoon light while the Luvians crew has to clean up. And do something with all the half-empty bottles of wine.

So we went for the obligatory after-wine-fair pint or two and then headed into the dark and foreboding suburbs of St Andrews for the aftermath party. It's one thing to see 150 wines spread over 15 or so tables on 2 different show floors. 150 wines on one small kitchen table, spilling over to the countertop and coffee table is all the more imposing. It started in a rather stayed, gentrified fashion. I searched for wines I'd not tried at the fair, or was curious in sampling again. There were quite a few. The chat was almost civilised, with the possible exception of the odd roar when a new arrival appeared at the door. I switched somewhat into elder statesman mode for awhile and regaled all with tales of wine fair after parties in the days of yore. I made the mistake of mentioning the one particularly painful party where some undrinkable Portuguese grappa made its way into the room. Faced with its undrinkability, some people started snorting it.

Snorting booze is irredeemably stupid. Really, really dumb. It is so dumb that animals sniff booze and instinctively flinch. It goes against every shred of intelligence we've evolved since the dawn of the universe.

Broomie brought out a bottle of Spanish grappa. Not quite as vile as its Portuguese cousin, though fairly undrinkable nonetheless. He also produced a snuff box, complete with snuff inside. By this point I'd tried a few more wines. I was perhaps becoming less selective. My mental images are certainly more impressionist than photographic. My judgement on all things was certainly, and beyond question, impaired. Everyone's voices became louder and I lost track of how many people were there. Amateur boxing played out silently on the television, for reasons unknown. A teaspoon appeared and someone poured grappa onto it - too much.

The guitars and the bongos came out, much to the neighbours' disdain. We sang and shouted and some people left and more arrived. Whisky made an appearance with a couple of teaspoon encores as well. I retreated from the snorting (whisky, snuff and grappa) and grabbed a beer. Its merciful bubbles washed clean the tannic remains of the day's wine tasting. I phoned a taxi and headed home.

Sunday morning I woke to find my flatmate had bought me a breakfast roll. Not just any breakfast roll: a Munch breakfast roll. I rose slowly and unsteadily and devoured its fried-egg-bacon-sausage-tattie-scone-haggis-y goodness and then retreated back to the warmth of my bed. I slept another four hours. When I rose again I found Alex and Jamie in the living room discussing tunes and contemplating dinner. We went for a curry. When we got home, we watched Anchorman and called it a night.

Thus ended four days of drinking, hangovers, sleeping and revelry. Sometimes all at once. I certainly didn't recapture any youth, though I did discover that being older doesn't stop you from acting like a moron. Or having fun.

13 October 2010

last whining about being sick post (promise)

The last time I relied this much on 'symptom-killers' was in the Autumn of 2007. Knee damaged, overworked and illness-ridden lead to the consumption of anything that would dull the pain to the point that I could function. It wasn't an addiction by any means. I never took more than advised and would often forget to take any at all. The bad mornings though, those were the days of paracetamol/codeine/espresso cocktails. They left me numb to the pain but buzzed, fuzzy and tweaked for the rest of the day. Comfort, which was all I sought, never came.

Now, three years later, I'm typing this with a sinus headache that punishes movement and even the slightest change in altitude. I've given up on the pills and am drinking a beer that will be followed by a wee dram. My ears need popped every minute or two and I don't cough as much as I should because it makes my head hurt too much. Bizarrely, the only time my head feels clear is when I'm running. I've done two days in a row, a six-miler and 4-miler. There's no pain at all. There's clarity and it's keeping me sane at the moment.

It's not comfort, but it'll do.

11 October 2010


My change-of-seasons cold is clingy. I can't shake it no matter what I do. Lemsip, running, not running, Sudafed, rest, lack of rest, whisky, beer, wine; none of it works. Instead of buggering off and leaving me alone, it changes symptoms. At one point I was incurably snotty, then the next it's a chesty cough and now it seems to have settled on a piercing headache. There is still nose-running and the odd cough, but all they seem to do is make the headache worse. It's made life a touch uncomfortable of late. It's not a serious enough ailment to phone in sick and one man's discomfort is hardly worth whining to the world about. Well, not when he can blog about it, anyway.

05 October 2010

a pairing knife and penny buns

I grabbed the chopping board from the drying rack and lay it down next to the stove. The kitchen was untidy, but not messy. Next to the sink, in the corner, sat my 'shroom groom. I put it next to the chopping board. Fiddling with the light switch on the cooker paid off and suddenly there was illumination. The white paper bag bulged and the odd blade of grass and speck of dirt fell from it as I placed it carefully on the chopping board. Slowly tearing it along the seam revealed mushrooms of various shapes and sizes, pouring their earthy scent out into the kitchen. The ceps (or porcini or penny buns) were huge, their stalks caked in moss and soil, pine needles and blades of grass. The chanterelles were simply dirty and fragile, tearing along their ridges, their trumpets splitting.

On the other side of the cooker, From Our Own Correspondent played from the speakers of my laptop. Perfectly enunciated missives from every corner of the globe; from small tales about ordinary folks to interviews with the great and the good, a world in constant motion and reported as such. I took the small pairing knife from the block as one correspondent chatted about family farming in Sierra Leone. The largest cep had the most damage, so I carved the divets out from the cap and plucked the various bit of foliage that had become stuck. Cep caps have a pleasing, peculiar stickiness. Displaced islanders living in Mauritius spoke of how they yearned to return home and I whittled the soiled base of the stalks, revealed their pure white cores, then placed the peeled detritus into a pile next to the board.

It smelled of autumn and the forest. Muslims in New York expressed their views on the Ground Zero mosque while I took the 'shroom groom and brushed any remaining soil and woodland remnant from the fungi. I took more time than usual. A young boy in Africa was reunited with his family after five years on his own, living rough. His father didn't want him back. I chopped the cleaned mushrooms into big chunks and put them in a large bowl. Three onions from a string, and as I sliced them, their sharp, oddly sweet scent joined with the heady nose of the ceps and chanterelles. The boy's mother and grandmother were overjoyed to see him.

As the world continued in my ears I prepared the stock and started frying off the onions and mushrooms. The voices from abroad spoke over the sizzle of a frying pan. I stood in my kitchen, stirring my dinner, in my own world, to the sound of everyone else's.

04 October 2010

the red sox post

I was going to write this in May. Then I was going to write it at the end of July. Something got started about a month ago, but I never finished it. In fact, I don't think I got through two whole paragraphs. The words didn't come. I did post a little missive on tumblr, but it was a small piece, and focused only on two players.

The last time I wrote a season-ending missive was after the 2003 ALCS. I wrote it as a letter to the Boston Globe but never sent it. It was an angry and defensive rant about the team, raging against the naysayers and curse-mongerers. I bet I wasn't the only fan who penned such a letter. I'm glad I saved it, as the catharsis of 2004 felt all the sweeter for that saved file lurking date-stamped but never printed in my Documents folder. The tone was belligerent and assured, that the Red Sox would one day win the World Series and that anyone who doubted that could go fuck themselves. I emailed it to my folks and my mom suggested that it could use some editing. My dad loved it.

So sitting at the end of the 2010 regular season and pondering what has just passed is quite meditative in comparison. I'm not crying into a beer and swearing at Dan Shaughnessy (well, possibly the latter). Instead I'm shaking my head, sipping a beer and remembering some of my season highlights. Watching Tim Wakefield out-pitch Roy Halladay in Philadelphia certainly stands out, though it's gutting Wake didn't have the form he did last year. I have a witness who can confirm that I called Daniel Nava's first-swing grand slam (as did, apparently, Victor Martinez). Darnell McDonald's first appearance as a Red Sox resonates, beating the Rangers almost single-handedly and giving the first glimpse of a team turning the corner from a dreadful start to the season. I was at Opening Day when Dustin Pedroia led the comeback against CC and the Yankees with a dinger over the monster. The Dodgers game where he smacked a 100mph fastball into right for the walk-off winner played live through my flatmate's laptop onto the TV in the living room. We all knew he could do it. I was also at AT&T Park and saw Pedey foul off his foot, take the walk, hobble to first base and then back to the dugout, without any idea of the significance of it all. There was the series against the Tigers in May, where David Ortiz homered twice in one game against pitches that didn't seem hittable by anybody (I'm sure he drove one of them with his knuckles, it was that far inside). That was a late night. I remember my jaw hitting the floor the first time I witnessed a Beltre one-knee homer and the feverish excitement when we swept the Rays at Tropicana, a feat formerly commonplace and now so rare.

There was a lot to love. I liked watching Mike Cameron in the dugout, even though he was hurt, because he seemed like a cool guy to be on the team. Lester and Buchholz were a blast to watch, as were at least three of Dice-K's starts. Maybe four. The first three innings against the Yankees in May, where Beckett looked staggering just before he went crazy, crossed up 'Tek and then proceeded to hit the entire Yankees lineup with errant pitches. Victor Martinez's growth as a catcher and determined comeback from the DL (no rehab games) showed just how admirable a player he is. And Dustin Pedroia was the funniest second baseman on crutches I've ever seen.

That said, it wasn't all fun n' games. Watching most games on my laptop, enduring the five hour time difference, it could be incredibly frustrating. I stayed up until 3 in the morning watching Lester give up 9 runs and the Blue Jays trample us while the Jimmy Fund Telethon rolled on in the background. Day games were little consolation as the Sox seemed incapable of winning them. As for night games, to struggle through watching all the way to the bitter end only to watch the fragile bullpen blow a win was no fun. Sometimes I didn't stay up, but woke up early to check the scores and read about it all. Pete Abraham and Chad Finn provided some cracking reporting and commentary along the way. Sleep deprivation has become an accepted side-effect of the summer. If you catch me somewhere in Scotland on a June morning, I'll probably be yawning uncontrollably. But that's what being an ex-pat fan is all about. I probably caught more games this season than any since I left Boston, 21 years ago.

I don't regret it. As I mentioned above, there were some brilliant baseball moments, as fun and exciting as any full-on championship run. It was a fun team, and they played hard. All that lacks is the catharsis that comes from making the postseason. Rabid, longtime Red Sox fans have had a serious change to deal with of late: we've gone from perennial disappointment to the perennial expectation of success, even if it is the unromantic 95-wins-will-get-us-there philosophy. Gone is my outrage from 2003, and I'm pretty sure that in 2006 I was still so buzzed from 2004 that it didn't make a dent (I also didn't have MLB.tv). The rash of injuries, the under-performing bullpen (plus Lackey & Beckett) and all the impending free-agencies don't leave a bad taste in my mouth, they just leave me tired and a little curious. It was a long season for the devoted fan, and without the rush of the playoffs there's little point in spitting nails and grumbling.  And any season that starts and finishes with beating the Yankees can't be all bad, can it?

We'll see what happens. A new bullpen and staying healthy would help.

When does Spring Training start?

Update: 132 days until Pitchers and Catchers report.

26 September 2010

sunday thoughts, musings and banter

Every time it looks to be properly Autumn the sun pops out, the wind dies down, the temperature climbs and the flies come back. So we're going to take a frisbee, a rugby ball and perhaps a cricket kit down to the beach and throw stuff at one another, hoping to catch it. In the brief time before this, my now caffeinated mind has been mulling upon some of the following:

  • This blog is in catch-up mode. I had an amazing, fun-filled summer and there will be a lot of posts looking back on it. California, Islay and France all feature heavily. So there will be a stretch where this seems more like a travel retrospective than anything else.
  • My cat is huge. And still sounds far too much like a seagull.
  • My car is dead at the moment and may need quite a lot of work to resurrect it. I've been avoiding it up until now, but am beginning to feel claustrophobic without it. Considering how long I waited to get my license, that strikes me as funny.
  • The more I realise I need a new job, the more clueless I become about what I'd like that job to be.
  • St Andrews still lacks a wide enough range of lunch options. Those who follow me on Twitter know this to be an enormous bone of contention.
  • I still can't bring myself to give up on the Red Sox this season. There is so little chance it's laughable, but whatever. Lost causes are no stranger to this team.
  • Good Morning, Nantwich, Phill Jupitus's Radio 6 memoir, is a fun read.
Right. Off to the beach. 

25 September 2010

misplaced monsoons, jet-lag and apple blossoms

The following are some snippets I wrote in early June 2010

The cat is launching himself throughout the flat, bouncing and arching his back, leaping up on the window sills and ambushing me from behind ill-concealing corners. From the edge of the curtain I see two striped paws stretched, claws extended, resting on my desk next to a stack of blank cds and a memory card reader. And then they're gone again, a stampede and a meow and the cat is elsewhere.

Spring turned into summer and I didn't realise. I turned 34 and didn't tell anyone. I flew to Boston again and saw my sister for her 40th. We had a blast and so did the rest. We walked through Harvard and beyond in the summer sun, we ate pizza and watched the Celtics/Lakers, we got along. One afternoon I insist on running. It's muggy, it's cloudy and by the end I'm dancing through a monsoon. Only in India have I seen rain like this. There are tornado warnings and the streets run like rivers. It's only a weekend and then it's gone.

Before I know it, I'm back in Scotland. Events tumble in some manner of domino order. For a brief moment, on a sunny day, I wander into the back garden. In the back garden lives the hammock, strung between two knobbly, knuckled apple trees. They stand in full blossom, their petals pink with hints of green and already they fall, three or four at a time, spinning on warm cushions of lazy air. I stretch out on the hammock, slowly, and deliberately rest one leg over the other. I tip my Sox hat over my eyes and fold my hands over my chest and in little time I snooze, letting the jet-lag take me.

When I wake up, I'm covered in blossoms and the sun is still shining.

24 September 2010

old running shoes

I bought them towards the beginning of 2008. I was living in a flat on South Street in St Andrews and I'd not yet been to India. The Red Sox had just won the World Series and I was happily in my early thirties, rather than aimlessly in my mid-thirties. Their predecessors had served me well but were wearing out at every seam. I replaced the garish orange trim with a slightly more subdued blue trim. I bought another pair of Asics as I liked the last pair and they've always struck me as a 'serious' runner's shoe.

Not that I'm really that serious a runner. 

How many miles have they run? I don't know. For a while I considered calculating; working out my injuries and lazy periods, the recovery from my eye operation and hiding from bad weather and, of course, the cataclysmic hangovers. I couldn't be bothered. Why put a number on it when the answer's the same: they've seen a fair few. It's probably more than a thousand miles. They've run in Scotland, in England and in Ireland. They've run on both coasts of the United States: in California and Massachusetts. Sunrises, sunsets, and the glorious midday sun; howling gales, morning frosts and the odd hailstorm, their treads wasted smooth in all weather, at all times of day. 

The heels wore out first and I repaired them with packing tape. The jury-rigging lasted me about a year. 

I'd run the beaches and leave them on the landing outside the flat, coated in sand and/or mud. Some mornings they felt heavier than others. 

In the time I owned them I changed jobs twice, ran four half marathons, gained more weight than I lost and didn't write anywhere near enough. I've been on three different continents and helped make three vintages of wine. The Red Sox have not won a World Series since, and the Celtics won one World Championship, their 17th. I attended several weddings but not my own. Many friends had kids, some more than one. 

Can the lifespan of a pair of running shoes be a specific measurement of time? It's no more arbitrary than the calendar year, I suppose. A considerable chunk of life happened while these were my running shoes, and the breathless therapeutic rhythm of those daily exertions helped deal with the peaks and troughs of that life-chunk. 

I've not thrown them away. They're in my closet, unworn since I retired them. Outside the front door of my flat sits a shiny new pair of Asics. I've run in them three times and they've given me some brutal blisters. My feet have healed now though, and I'm ready to give them another shot. 

I don't know how long they'll last.

23 September 2010

still here

In so many ways the title suits. I am still here. I have several blog drafts to finish and post. It's been far too long. I even reached a point where I thought of just wrapping up my blogs. In the end, I decided against it. Writing is proving difficult because I'm out of practice. My prose feels stilted; forced. This blog was meant to keep my writing limber, like stretching before a run. Its neglect has led to stiff prose and it may take awhile to sort out. In any case, if you're reading this, then thanks for sticking around. There's a lot more to come.

06 June 2010

rainy sunday

The clouds didn't retreat this time and there's a steady rain falling without thunder. My legs are stiff and head a bit fuzzy from the ridiculous selection of beers last night and a probably-unneccesary nightcap of Balvenie Doublewood. There was Port too, as there usually is if I'm with my sister. The Sox won though, and the bar cheered when Youk hit a dinger. There was a loud, bellowing Jersey girl and two hipsters in bad hats slouching by the bar, trying to look badass. There was a faux hippy with dreads and a beard who still managed to look too concerned about his appearance. It was an amusing supporting cast. As we left the bar there were four or five yardies hanging out in the square laughing in the warm summer night.

The lazy ass side of my brain is using the rain and the stiffness as an excuse to avoid running. The arguments for and against batter about like a tennis rally, or battle-to-the-death on a squash court. It's Tom Hanks vs. John Candy in Splash type-stuff. I sip my coffee and ponder. The small blue ball bounces above the red line and back, smacking John Candy right between the eyes.

The coffee went down quick and now there's mutterings of breakfast. All this leads me further away from my run. My sis wants potato cakes with leftover veg. I'm still full from last night's burger. She's checking the movie listings and I still haven't decided whether or not to go for a run. The rain's falling hard now though, and my coffee cup seems to have refilled itself.

05 June 2010

storms threatening

I'd forgotten the heat of a summer's day in Boston. The sun's strong and the air's thick. A little soupy, if you will. I'm not really built for humidity, to be honest. I'm not built for speed or distance for that matter, yet I still insist on running half-marathons. So there you go. Anyway, it's a hot, humid June day in Boston. Every hour or so the clouds build up; dark, full, towering clouds that block the sun but not the heat. They threaten and if it's quiet I can feel a growl of thunder that may only be in my head. Everything seems to go quieter, muffled. Shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops seem like overdressing and not for the first time I ponder wandering down to the Charles and just jumping in. I hear it's a lot cleaner than back in the day (apologies to The Standells). The beer tastes amazing and I've probably eaten more than I need to. Another look out the window and the clouds have released the sun again, retreating to the distance and looking for all the world like mountains.

I'm here for my sister's birthday. The party was last night and the beer flowed, the paper plates buckled under pulled pork, chicken and the trimmings and I bumped into folks I'd not seen in a quarter century. My three siblings and I were under the same roof for the first time in 5 years and it was good. I hold my breath at these things, conditioned to expect disaster, the one-too-many rant, the fractious calamity of exposition and tears. I guess I'm a touch of a pessimist. Disaster never came. There were hugs and laughs and dire attempts at compressing five years of life into the confines of a party conversation. The general idea is passed along but it's vague; abstract. If you're lucky, it gets close to impressionism. The room filled with happy party noises and an all-70's soundtrack. Jetlag combined with age (I'm a year older too, as of a week or so ago) led to good behaviour on my part. That said, it was still a slow start this morning.

Boston is a cocktail of eating, walking, drinking and remembering. I munch lobster rolls and oysters, slurping clam chowder, Harpoon IPA and Sam Adams. I trip along the uneven sidewalks in a daze, the oft-beaten streets of my younger days showing the passage of time or obscuring it, convincing me that nothing's changed. I sometimes wander past one of my old playgrounds, feeling that stabbing pang of lost youth. I breathe deep and cherish it.

16 May 2010

silver mornings

The sunlight isn't golden in the mornings, it's silver. And so it coats the world beneath it: the sea, the clouds, all and sundry sparkling in the morning light. The water becomes quicksilver and the landscape slips behind a polarised filter.

It doesn't last long, or it hasn't of late at least. The wind picks up. I watch the waves ripple on their swells and see the walkers pull their collars up against the surprising chill. The cloud rolls in and the silver turns quietly to grey.

Summer's almost a month away and it still isn't warm enough for Spring, though people seem to be ploughing on regardless. Pimms is swilled and I see shorts and flip-flops with alarming regularity. Sunglasses are fused to every face and there are fewer pairs of tights beneath the skirts that walk by. The tables outside the pubs are full of smokers and drinkers laughing and shivering. There's often the whiff of BBQs or bonfires or both travelling along with the breeze.

I'm ready. I've got a closet full of shorts, two pairs of flip-flops. There's a nice selection of whites on the wine rack at home and some cider in the fridge. But most of my drinking of late has been in the warmth of the pub. I bumped into a chef I used to work with and an impromptu 'quick pint' turned into several. The banter flowed as did the beer and we lost track of whose round it was. We finished off the proceedings with a couple of quick shots and stumbled our separate ways. I heard later he got into trouble with his girlfriend for showing up late and tipsy. As an act of solidarity I gave myself a stern telling off for my behaviour. It was worth it. As I get older catching up reminds me more of where I am, rather than where I've been.

08 May 2010

cat at the bottom of the bed

The cat's grooming himself at the bottom of the bed. He's fairly meticulous, from what I can tell. I guess most cats are. One of my Red Sox hats lays on the duvet next to him. I think I threw it off in the wee hours, upset while watching the Yankees knock us around. The room's quiet otherwise, but for the sound of the cat's tongue on his fur. There's the sea in the background, of course, but sometimes I forget that's there. The curtains are drawn, but they're not dark, and the cloudy light from outside gives the room a soft, pastel glow. The sun pops out occasionally and its beams pierce the gaps in the curtains, drawing blades along the corners of the desk, the floor and the bed. Through the gap in the curtain I can see whitecaps on the waves and I guess the wind is still up. Now the sea is louder than the cat. He's moved from his rump to his forepaws and looks scheming, licking his claws in contemplation.

I didn't sleep much last night. Around 10 to 5 I felt myself slipping and then my brain noticed and was so excited by the possibility of unconsciousness that I woke up again. I guess I got maybe 3 1/2 hours in the end. I woke up several times after sun up and then gave up. I read the end of my book, which left me somewhat deflated (White Tiger by Aravind Adiga) - superb writing but it tried too hard in the end. Or maybe not enough. The result is often the same. In any case, I really loved the book up until the last 50 or so pages. After that, I just liked it. I read over what I wrote in those wee hours and found it to be the predictable gibberish I spout at that time of night. I was half tempted to delete the post but decided that while it was predictable gibberish, it was my predictable gibberish. And so now I sit, propped up in a bed seemingly incapable of providing sleep, still in my pyjamas, typing more predictable gibberish and wondering how to avoid the day.

The cat's finished his grooming. It's nap time. He's sleeping on the part of the bed that, should the sun come out again, will bathe him in warm light. His face looks scrunched when he sleeps and his ear twitches every once in awhile. There's no snoring, but sometimes the occasional groan. I try to match the sound of the waves crashing to the rise and fall of his striped breaths but there's no correlation. Each to their own rhythm.

insomniac musings

There's no reason for me to be awake right now. The Sox game is over and we lost. I didn't sleep in today. Work was long and in its way exhausting. I had a big dinner: a curry. My last cup of coffee was lunchtime - well over twelve hours ago. I'm in the middle of a book, and it's good, but not the sort of page-turner that keeps me up. So I don't really understand it. My head keeps fumbling with mental knots as soon as I shut my eyes. Then my bed feels too warm but it's chilly lying on top of the duvet. And so I sit here and am not surprised that the cat isn't lying at the bottom of my bed anymore. Restless bedfellows are no fun and he knows it. He must be tired because usually when I wake up at this hour he's here in a flash for a quick cuddle and probably the chance of a snack (he never gets the snack, not at this hour).

To be fair, it's not the latest I've been up of late. There's been the odd 4am and 6am finish, mostly seen along the way with copious quantities of Madeira, beer, whisky and whatever. Tequila too, though that was an early night. The bonfires have raged into the wee hours of the morning and I've still got the odd sand-coated, smoke-reeking article of clothing needing seen to. I've flown to Boston and back and Dublin and back since my last post, which was far too long ago. I've seen the odd sunrise and missed the odd sunset. I've not written any words of consequence, but I've thought of quite a few.

The cat's still hiding. Once I find my peace he'll pop in and pad my nose and purr and try to get comfortable. Until then I'm left with just my ponderings.

Sometimes there's clarity at this time of the night. Sometimes there's blurriness and confusion.

And sometimes there's just enough of both to keep you awake too long.

12 March 2010

a short march (following a long february)

February seems a long blur now. I didn't think it would end at the time. At the time there was only the endless list of stuff. Some of it was brilliant stuff. The stuff included skiing, drinking and tasting a lot of wine. There was a wedding: old friends by the dozen. There was also tequila & raw eggs. I'm sure other stuff happened too. I certainly managed an entry into my top 5 ever hangover list. I also took a lot of photos (most of which, at the time of writing, are unedited). I nearly threw up on a ski slope (that would be the top 5 ever hangover listing). I ate too much take-away food and didn't cook a single meal for myself. I enjoyed a rather spectacular Michelin star lunch and someone else picked up the bill. I missed a chance with a rather tasty Australian bridesmaid (well, I think I did anyway). I didn't run as much as I should have. I interviewed for a job. I drank fine wine and not-so-fine wine. I questioned my place in the universe with annoying regularity. Despite my oft-written preference for questions over answers, the lack of the latter has started to confound me. It's not really the whole universe I'm questioning my place in, but rather my place in my own personal universe. I'm a big believer in Dickens, and I feel I should be finding myself to be the hero of my own life. I think everyone should. I've written about it before but I've not the inclination to find it and link to it.

I'm not the hero of my own life at the moment; not after a long February with no days off. Not after chasing, half-heartedly, jobs that I don't really want. Not after hiding once again in the comfort of the safe, the familiar and the underpaid. Not after finding no answers to my questions.

When I first started taking this blog seriously (well, as seriously as I've ever taken it), I used it for optimistic assessments. To make promises that were grandiose, stoic and dogmatic, promises that I would find my discipline and chase my dreams, regardless. Whatever story I told, even if it was of failure, finished with some sort of hope for the future. Often I took small observations of the world around me and twisted them into some mantra of personal determination. This blog's tagline is still aspiring. It's a tagline I like. But I don't feel it. I'm not so much aspiring as waiting.

I keep thinking I've forgotten something, some sort of spark or inspiration. I must have. I must have written the book somehow. It didn't get written by waiting. It didn't write itself. Whatever's missing was there at one point, and in spite of the disheartened nature of this post, I don't think it's gone far. I just don't know where to look. And too often I don't bother trying.

I should probably work on that.

This is a fairly self-aware post. As far as I go, it's pretty much an over-share. Apologies.

01 February 2010

unticked boxes

It was a short-lived flash of productivity. At the moment, there are 11 unticked boxes on my snazzy to-do list software. The most overdate items are 7 days old and pertain to job and citizenship applications. Aside from a single home-baked loaf of bread (yesterday's effort), I can't say I've achieved a whole lot in the last week. In fact, the last thing ticked on my to-do list was something my flatmate did, as I was running late for work. So at the moment I'm pretending to do what I'm paid for and planning how to get all the stuff done that I don't get paid for, as well as some things that may lead to me getting paid a lot more. It's bitterly cold out and I've only had two coffees. I think and hope it may snow. The sky is still a pale grey; the days are getting longer, slowly but surely.

24 January 2010

another batch of sunday musings

Town seems quiet, though not necessarily hungover. It's damp but not really raining, though you still have to mind the puddles. People are buying whisky for their Burns Suppers and wondering what goes best with haggis. If you're curious, it's Talisker 10yo. Though I feel Ardbeg Uigeadail would also fit the bill. Today is a day of writing - CV, tasting notes and possibly something more interesting. I'm also mulling spending too much money on a bottle of wine to taste with Daniel. I have that urge to drink something that fuels the fire of wine-geekery.

Thus far my to-do list thing seems to be going ok. I've done the things, mostly, on the day I was meant to - so far. This is a great improvement on my previous strategy, which included semi-conscious panic attacks in the moments before sleep and then blissfully forgetting it all by the time I woke up. So not a lot got done.


So we've just sat in the shop today, tasted some wine, had some cheese, chatted to some customers, accidentally hit the panic button and brought the cops. I've got a pile of unopened notebooks sat next to me that will probably remain so. My RSS and Twitter feeds keep popping up with Leno/Conan shit that I couldn't care less about. The Beta Band's entire discography has been playing today and I've not gotten bored of it yet. Now it's dark and wet rather than grey and wet. Daniel's bouncing the tennis ball off the floor because it's his turn. I'll bounce it off the ceiling for a wee while.

Fighting the boredom of January Sundays seems to be a failed exercise. Instead I'm revelling in it, refilling my wine glass and slicing another small bite of cheese for a nibble, that sort of thing. I'll dodge the puddles on my way home tonight and hopefully tick another couple of to-do list items. It could be worse.

21 January 2010

older and up (just a little)

I felt my head slowly filling with cotton wool. It seemed directly related to my third or fourth gin martini, though I couldn't be sure. I sipped my beer to see if that helped - sipping beer always helps. The cotton wool still filled my head, but I didn't mind so much. Faces laughed in the candlelight while some fucking cool tunes blasted from the speakers. The waitress was totally unaware of how beautiful she was. I would head back to the bar and watch, mesmerised at the cocktails crafted. I ordered a beer with every cocktail, so as I could have something to nurse while my next martini or Butter-Scotch was being assembled. I got back to the table and never the same seat twice.

Two years ago it would have been a later night. I wouldn't remember as much as I do and there certainly would have been dancing. There would have been an after party, and possibly more, and that fluffy, cozy cotton wool would have changed during the resulting unconsciousness into a railroad spike driven directly into the centre of my skull.

Instead I stumbled, cotton-headed and before last orders, towards Sober Pete's car and he drove us back to Fife.

I don't know if it's a case of being overall more mature and more responsible. I think it's more a case of being more mature and more responsible more often. Indulgent, juvenile partying is still an important part of my life, I just can't indulge as frequently as I used to do it. Jimmy Buffett tells us he's growing 'older but not up' while Indy asserts that 'it's not the years, it's the mileage.' I think I'm going to have to side with Indy on that one.

Today I ticked a box on my brand-new digital to-do list. I bought the software as it was one of the indie+relief packages and some friends had recommended it. I've never been a big fan of to-do lists. Imposed organisation has always rubbed me the wrong way. My mother's a big list person. That may be part of their anathema to me. But I bought it and I've started using it and for my one completed task, it's worked. The box ticked was for paying off a two-year-old speeding ticket, thus avoiding prison or some outrageous further fine or both. That I'd left the fine for two years suggests I may need that little extra organisation, anathema or not. We'll see how it works out with the other tasks. I've put some writing goals on there.

It's cold but there's no snow. That always seems to be a bit of a rip-off.

Finally, if you haven't yet, give some money to the relief efforts in Haiti. Buy some cool software from indie+relief or one of the more involved charities. My personal choice tends towards Medecins Sans Frontieres. Or swear at Luvians - all proceeds from the Swear Box are going to Haitian Relief.

14 January 2010


So there have been a few days of busy life without a lot happening. I had a couple of hangovers - one quite spectacular, probably because it was so unexpected. It was also brought to my attention by the cat pouncing on my head at an hour unsuitable for consciousness. I flailed and swore and stole his toy and hid it under my pillow. Texts and missed calls started appearing on my phone and it occurred to me that, according to the rest of the world, the day was starting. It was cold and the smattering of snow from the day before hadn't melted. Two of the missed calls were about lunch.

So I entered the day. I drank coffee and pomegranate juice and showered and played with the cat. Broomie picked me up and we went to meet Afro-beard at the Jigger to have the largest burgers available in Fife. It was brisk and snowy and a small coal fire burned in the fireplace. The burgers arrived and looked for all the world like meteorites between toasted focaccia. The banter flowed, so much the couple at the booth behind ours started giggling at our chat. Burgers and beers imbibed, we slipped out onto the snow and the rest of the day.

There were snowball fights and snow angels last week. Layers of cotton and wool and scarves and gloves and that sort of stuff that's fun and tedious all at the same time. I staggered home from a party in the wee hours, down the Pends, its virgin snow glistening in the jaundiced streetlights.

Then the thaw came and it was just January again. Bitter and grey with a howling gale and mountains of debt, paperwork and unwritten pages kicking about. I'm watching lots of Simpsons episodes these days - familiarity and humour are most welcome this time of year. Usually I'll vacantly surf the net while keeping one eye on the TV.

Other times I'll play Tetris on my phone. That has become a great waste of spare time. Formerly, when faced with spare moments and only my phone for company, I would read a digital copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or tap out some thoughts on Simplenote. No more. Now, when that spare second or two appears, I launch Tetris and lose myself. Every day I tell myself, I plead with myself - DELETE IT. No good can come of it. My spacial and geometric awareness are on top form, of course, better than they've been since '94. The last time I was addicted to Tetris. So I shall probably delete it tomorrow, after my attempt to beat my current high score - a respectable 145,000-odd.

So tomorrow it's gone. Or the next day.

It's peculiar, worrying about what you're doing, rather than what you're not doing. I'm worrying about dropping shapes, zoning in front of the tube, balancing my caffeine intake with the odd dram in the late afternoon. It provides gentle preoccupation. It's easier to contemplate quitting something you know is superfluous than it is to resolve to do something you know is necessary. Especially when there are quite few somethings, and they're pretty fucking important.

06 January 2010


I walk to work now. When I was a sommelier, I drove. Now that I'm a wine merchant again (for the time-being), I walk. The only difference is maintaining the sanctity of an ironed shirt: impossible when walking, in Scotland, carrying said shirt. The wind simply won't allow it. I don't need an ironed shirt as a wine merchant. At least, not at this wine merchants. It's a nice walk. I pass the cathedral, the sea, and the oldest section of the town. It's stone, sea and sky. I breathe deep, listen close and gaze quite a bit, both to work and the voyage home. Nowadays there's snow or the remnants of it. I choose my route however the ice lays.

January could be busier in this trade. The world has a hangover. Scotland's is probably the worst. I've written about it before and will write it about it again. I love this time of year. The memories tumble and mix up. The years blend, like the vatting of a single malt. I'm the distillery; dreadful, yet apt, metaphor. But it's my fucking blog and my fucking business. I'm the distillery, the years are vatted and the result is me.

Today was quiet and I read. I read myself. Not the book, though it probably should have been, but me. My blog. The Belfry Chronicles. I perused my last year or so of the 'Chronicles as well, but mostly it was 2006. 2006 was an awful year. I had no job and the Red Sox didn't make the playoffs. I wrote it off as a terrible year. I had no book and no job.

But fuck me, I really knew how to blog. That's not the world's greatest skill, mind, but I had fucking banter. Casting all modesty aside, I was my favourite blogger of 2006 (aside, perhaps, from Lish). Granted, I don't really (and didn't really) read blogs, but if I had, I'd have read mine. And I wrote a LOT. And managed an unpublished novel in the meantime. How did I do that? Why did I do that?

Was it that good? No. To be fair, it wasn't universally loveable and it was galactically self-indulgent. But, and this is important, my friends read it. And chatted, and ranted/bitched about my Red Sox love or just said hi. I talked about my life. I chronicled my life. Nobody was sacred and banter truly abounded. I chatted about what I was feeling, even if it was only 'fuzzy'.

And 'fuzzy' I've been. I tried to raise this blog, in the meantime, to be a combination of a realtime and nonfiction version of my fictional/experimental blog. Sometimes it worked. In fact, a lot of the time it worked. I wrote a lot of stuff I'm hugely proud of. Proud of enough to end sentences with prepositions in their reference. Proud of enough to think some of it's the best I've ever written. But it's not my blog. It's a more grandiose exercise I meant to restrict to elsewhere. This... this is meant to be my chronicle. My diary online and my outpouring for all that I like to write but can't confine to fiction.

Which is a whole new story. As it should be. My fiction. I write fiction. This sort of wandering, meandering silliness that I tap out on my keyboard has no place there (except for the odd fun dialogue). It needs an outlet, which is what this is for; my whimsical chat.

I don't know why, but since I finished my first draft (more later), this became less of a chronicle and more of a narrative. Fuck personal narratives. I'm not dead yet and I don't plan to be anytime soon. It's all the fucking same anyway. I taste wine and fail to write. I watch DVDs and movies and fail to write. I taste wine, watch DVDs, take roles in student productions and fail to write.

I used to write so much.

So maybe it's because I lost some sort of sight. Maybe it's that, as a friend mentioned, I'd written so much I needed a break. Perhaps I just got bored of writing that way. Of saying what was going on in my life was important. Maybe I wasn't writing to the same person anymore. I chatted, bantered, discussed, argued, painted, snapped, brushed, hinted at what was going on and somehow that became wordplay. And I love wordplay. Maybe all that went away and nothing took the place of it.

I hadn't found some tome to scribble what I wasn't writing here - there was no confidant to bear the burden of my drivel. It just wasn't being said.

And I stumbled, slipped and possibly gripped the wrong sloppy metaphors on my way down the very large pile of unwritten stuff.

This is creaky, a little bit weepy. Look at the good old days, with pictures and everything. If you are really a lover of this blog, go back. Go back to here, and start the year of 2006. Scroll down to the bottom and start the year. Read it. It's not my best writing, but it's probably my best chronicling. It's where this blog is heading back towards. It's going back to the days of scratching my head and pondering hangovers, banter that approaches witty and a self-awareness of how silly it is to leave my person open to all and yet read by so few. So give me some chat back. Love, hate, revile or simply shrug - but share it.

I'm going to write something everyday. A lot of the time it will be here. Comments, love and words of utter disdain are welcomed. Regardless, my Belfry has returned.

05 January 2010

idiosyncratic crystals

The sky spat a few flakes out this evening, as I wandered back to the flat. It wasn't even a flurry; just one or two drifting crystals, idiosyncratic in nature. Patches of ice and trampled snow on its way to ice littered the walk home, mostly on the paths less-travelled. The night seemed still and my wellies chafed a bit, even through my beloved wellie socks.

I took the steps down the hill, rather than the slope, mindful that it's one of those less-travelled paths. I took my headphones out to listen to the winter night a bit. What little snow still lies managed to muffle the world regardless.

It's strange, time, in the hush of winter. It whispers in the stillness of the cold, the bitterness of the wind. All seems to be sleeping. Time hasn't stopped, or even slowed. It's not dormant, nor is it hibernating.

It's just an illusion. Time tumbles on through this cold, still darkness.

And change is afoot.

04 January 2010

some winter observations

I feel heavier in the mornings. It may be the cold. My eyes take longer to focus. My legs don't work properly. I massage my head and stumble towards the coffee machine. It's half caffeine and half ritual.
The Tube around Christmas time was ridiculous. So crammed that you share a look, a smile, a laugh at the stranger a few folks down. More than five stops together almost counts as a friendship. An anonymous bond formed by the unspoken joke of it all: the futility of resistance.
The snowflakes were huge. They fell on Trafalgar Square with a hushed thud. The yellow streetlights gave the winter a sepia filter. For a few brief and stolen moments, the city was blanketed: timeless and hushed. Then the shrieking, honking traffic shattered the Dickens of it all.
The cold is creeping, settling between the bones and flesh. And still I love this season; my breath drifting idly as my feet avoid the ice. Cold that brings tears to the eyes. The layers of cotton and wool, tucked in. The glory of an open fire and the comfort of a dram.
Scotland is, for the most part, covered in a white winter blanket. That is no bad thing.