Sunday, December 31, 2006

Drinking alone again, at the Bar Humbug

As some of my readers may have divined over the past week or so, I do have a big slushy soft spot for 'the spirit of Christmas'. I love all the unmotivated goodwill that slops around at this time of year; pity we can't keep it going into January.

On the other hand, I am a terrible curmudgeonly sceptic with regard to celebrating New Year's Eve. Now, New Year's Eve has produced a few of the best parties I've ever been to - but they were very much the exception rather than the rule. They only seem to happen once every 4 or 5 years, and almost always at a friend's house (hmmmmm - I am well overdue for such an experience, I suppose). Going out - what's the point??

I don't like crowds. I don't like doing what everybody else is doing. I don't like noisy, fashionable bars (I like little, out-of-the-way places frequented only by a select band of 'regulars'). Did I mention I don't like crowds?? I hate the 'traditional' Friday night out on the town for just the same reasons. And what is New Year's Eve but the biggest 'Friday night' of the year?!

No thanks. I'll pass. 4 years out of every 5, I just stay home with a good book. Really.

Tonight was to have been different. Great plans there were to assemble all 'the usual suspects' for a nice meal and then a long night of revelry and music and drinking (and drinking and drinking).... but the shitty weather has rather put the skids under all that: this city tends to grind to a halt in the snow (60% of taxis retire from service in a spirit of self-preservation; and the rest are busy crashing into each other). Everyone seems to be coming up with alternate schemes that don't involve them travelling too far from home.

It looks like I shall be drowning my New Year blues in the company of my pal The Barman..... and whatever random strangers have braved the icy weather to check out his little oasis of good cheer tonight.....

Anyway - I wish a grouchy Happy New Year to all of you!!

The Worthy Opponent

One of the great things that bonds me to my pal The Chairman is..... that he is a better pool player than me.

For the two years that he was living in the same city as me, we played each other pretty regularly - eventually developing a habit of meeting up for an extended pool session almost every week, sometimes twice a week.

Damn, he's good. I generally consider I'm doing quite well to take any games off him at all. If I manage to take much more than 30% of the games, it's a particularly strong showing from me. On the rare occasions when I have managed to take 50% of the games, I know with a horrible certainly that he is going to nick 'the decider'. The man's pretty much unbeatable. (On the very few occasions when I have come away from one of these sessions with a winning record, I feel strangely dissatisfied: it can only have happened because he wasn't quite on his game - even The Chairman loses his 'mojo' occasionally!)

Last Sunday, for instance, we played for nearly two hours, and The Chairman came out 6-3 ahead. And he won our final game of doubles when we each teamed up with one of the local hotshots who'd been watching us. I wasn't quite at the peak of my form, but I was playing pretty damned well. That really is a good record from me. There are lots of people who've fancied their chances against him, and gone whimpering home with their tail between their legs. There are at least a couple of occasions in this town where, with a 'winner stays on' table, The Chairman has successfully seen off all comers for some hours - including many players who appeared much younger, sharper, hungrier than him. Our pal Big Frank used to refer to these displays of crushing dominance as "a Chairmanizing".

The Chairman's big weapon is SURPRISE. (Well, amongst his weapons....) People underestimate him. He is such a bumbling, shambling, clumsy, diffident man: he looks completely out of place in a seedy bar; he looks as though he's never held a pool cue in his life before. The poor chap is nearly blind; he has a shaky technique (awkward, wobbly stance; not a particularly strong bridge hand); he can be woefully inconsistent at times, often 'going walkabout' and playing like a complete duffer for minutes at a time. It's easy to assume he's going to be a pushover..... right up until the moment that he 'Chairmanizes' you! People regularly walk away from the table shaking their heads in puzzlement, and assuming their defeat must have been just a 'fluke' - a freak, unrepeatable sequence of good or lucky shots. They think they'll beat him easily next time. But they never do.

I don't make that mistake any more. I know what he's capable of. And I have to produce my very best game to get anything off him. It helped my game enormously to have such a challenging regular opponent, and I've missed him (and the pool playing) bitterly over the past 2.5 years since he went away.

The curious (sometimes exasperating) thing is that he's really not that much better than me. In many respects, actually, he's probably not as good as me. He may have an edge in the smoothness, the consistency of his positional play (although, gallingly, this usually looks utterly unconsidered, accidental - though most of it, I'm sure, is worked out at some subconscious level, the benefit of his many hundreds of hours of experience in the pool dives of the West Midlands)..... but that's about all.

Well, the real secret of the 'Chairmanizing' phenomenon, I think, is his consistency and coolness under pressure. He really gets in the groove when the chips are down - even if he's been playing clumsily, crappily up until then. If you leave him any kind of opening to nick the game with a 3 or 4 ball clearance, he'll make it - every time. Even a tough clearance. He is quite devastating coming from behind. (I think it's actually good policy to let him get well ahead in a game; then his concentration falters, and you can frustrate him, wear him down with safety play. Well, in theory.)

And then there's the luck. He is an astonishingly lucky player. Of course, to a large extent you 'make your own luck' by being good (we all know that anecdote about Gary Player, who, saving par near the end of a major tournament by holing out from a bunker, was taunted by someone in the gallery that he "got lucky", and cheerfully replied: "Yes, I certainly did. Funny thing is, the more I practice, the luckier I get."). The Chairman, let me assure you, has a whole extra ration of luck which far exceeds any possible explanation by way of 'subconscious planning' or 'karmic deserts'. Even when he makes a complete pig's ear of a shot, you can guarantee that he will positively develop one or more of his balls while shifting one or more or yours to a shitty position on a cushion. Even when he pots the cue ball, you can guarantee that you will re-spot it in the 'D' (yes, we still play "80s English pub rules", as befits our age - none of this new-fangled "ball in hand/anywhere on the table" rubbish) to find all of your balls mysteriously obscured by his, or suddenly shunted away from the pockets they had been covering only moments before.

It is quite maddening. Big Frank could hardly bear to play him, so incensed was he by the constant sense of injustice.

It used to bother me, but I've learned to live with that too. Playing pool against The Chairman teaches self-restraint, patience, humility - he is a Bodhisattva of the baize.

But I will get the measure of him one day. Oh, yes.

Maybe soon - he's coming back to live here again in a month or so.....

Saturday, December 30, 2006

A suicidal seasonal song

Despite my decades of devotion to Tom Waits, I still from time to time come upon 'rarities' of his that I'd not previously heard, or even known about.

Just last week, I discovered that back in the '80s sometime he collaborated with Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy on this jokey seasonal offering, a kind of 'anti-Christmas' song. It's a slight, ramshackle thing - sounds as if it's hastily cobbled together, with each of them improvising verses or lines alternately (it's pretty easy to guess which are Tom's, which are Peter's). However, since I've only just discovered it, I am playing it to death. (The Canadian manager of the bar where I first heard it has just e-mailed an MP3 of it. Thanks, Dave!)

Alas, I don't have the wherewithal to upload the song file to this website. And I have tried - in vain - for the past 10 days to find this song (or any reference to it) on the Net. I have no idea where my buddy Dave can have dredged it up from!

So, for now, you'll have to make do with the lyrics. Enjoy.

Christmas Sucks

Oh, give me a noose I can hang from the tree
I need no excuse to end my misery
This holiday season is all the more reason
To die

Oh, pull up a stool and give ear to a fool
Who once found some solace in this season of Yule
Who now sees this season is all the more reason
To cry

I put on my mittens, one green and one red,
Then I walk alone where they bury the dead
The snow falls as I grieve
It's a gothic, death-raw Christmas Eve

The bottle is empty, the sleigh has a flat
The stripper in my bed is ugly and fat
Her tassels are tangled
And what's worse, my jingle won't jangle

This time of the year makes me sick to my guts
All this good cheer is a pain in the nuts
When it's your career to be down in the dumps
'Tidings of comfort & joy' really suck

I feel like St Nicholas is pulling my leg
This thing we call Christmas is a sorry black plague
This holiday season is all the more reason
All the more reason
To die
All the more reason to die
All the more reason to die

All the more reason to die

Friday, December 29, 2006

HBH 10

Where do I go now?
To the Haiku Bar, of course!
Wishing you were here.....

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Zen & the Art of Playing Pool

I've never been much of a man for playing games. Pool is the major exception.

I've never, in general, been any good at games. Pool is the major exception.

I don't usually get sentimental or philosphical or superstitious or mystical about games.

Pool is the major exception.

I have a strong basic technique (the result of being able to practise snooker free for many years - only for 10 minutes a day, but regularly throughout my childhood - since I assisted my mother in her early morning cleaning job at the premises of a local club). I have a decent tactical sense. I have, at times, an exuberant inventiveness in shotmaking (inspired by the grandstanding of the great, demented, self-destructive Irish snooker player, Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins, another of my unsuitable childhood idols). I am a good judge of the angles of the table ('doubles' - potting balls by bouncing them off one or more of the cushion rails - are my speciality). Best of all, I am a shrewd judge of my opponents' strengths and weaknesses, both technically and psychologically. And I can - on occasion - tap into a surprisingly ruthless vein of determination to win. (And to think The Artist was worried about the steeliness I sometimes show when quizzing! Ha!)

When I put all of that together - on the rare occasions when I do so - it somehow creates something more than the sum of the separate parts. Here's the astonishing thing: I can beat people who are better than me.

The trouble is that I don't often play people better than me. Well, these days, I don't play very often at all. And I've relatively seldom played against many people who could really give me a good game. Most of the time, I just play against my friends - who are, with a few exceptions, not quite at the same level as me. Sometimes I'll deliberately hold back a little, to encourage them, to make it more of a contest. I wouldn't say I'll actually 'throw' games, but I'll certainly rein myself in quite a bit..... maybe occasionally I'll even go so far as to 'throw' the odd shot or two. And even if these guys are capable of giving me a good game, even if I'm losing - somehow the fire just isn't there. I don't mind losing to my friends.

Ah, but when I play someone I don't really know (or even better, someone I take an instant dislike to), and they have a good game - then, something very spooky and mysterious happens: an ordinarily completely buried facet of my personality emerges..... I become "all business".

When you play the game at this level, it becomes very calm, meditative, transcendental - there is almost no conscious thought about anything.... no sense of self..... only the game, only the game.

It is a beautiful feeling to know - before you even get down over the shot - exactly what you are going to do, exactly what executing the shot will feel like..... to experience the satisfaction (perhaps in a slightly more muted way) of making the shot successfully before you have hit it. It's a curious blurring of the usual temporal boundaries: anticipation and reflection become fused with the event itself, almost indistinguishable from each other.

Of course, the flipside of this joy of knowing that you are going to make a shot is that, when your game isn't quite there, you also know that you are not going to make the shot.

It is a wretched feeling to lose your 'mojo' like this, to have almost all the elements of your 'game' still there in place, but just not be able to 'see' the shots. It feels like the very worst of 'bad karma'!! Sometimes you can overcome this through patience, perseverance, meditation, slowly get your head right and win your 'mojo' back. But, most of the time, with me, if it's gone, it's gone, and I'd be better off not playing on such days.

The really disturbing thing about these 'black days' is that they are uncannily diagnostic of my general levels of confidence, vigour.... and luck. Sometimes they will be obviously associated with my already feeling fatigued, stressed, depressed, or ill. But at other times, they will seem to be more subtly predictive of an only-just-emerging future trend. It is as if the desertion of my pool 'mojo' is a 'canary in the coalmine', a sensitive early warning of a plunge in my biorhythms, an obstruction of my qi, an inauspicious alignment of my karma.... or whatever it is that occasionally leads The Universe to shit on you from a great height for several days together.

Yep, although I am profoundly sceptical of most forms of divination and other such mumbo-jumbo, I have learned over the years to trust the signs I sense in my pool-playing. If my game is really there, then I can be confident that Luck will be a lady and that the world is my oyster for the rest of that evening, and probably for a few days to come. If, on the other hand, I can't hit for shit, then...... it will definitely be a bad time to apply for a new job, to ask a girl out, or to plan a long journey.....

Of course, you may say that the expectation engenders the reality, that I could avoid most of this 'bad luck' by refusing to believe in this personal horoscope of the pool table. It may be so, it may be so....


It just so happens that three of the coolest new little music bars in the city have opened up within walking distance of my apartment in the last few months (well, I think nothing of walking for an hour or more, but these joints are all under 30 minutes away - the nearest, barely 15 minutes).

I went to the nearest of these - the one that's really in my 'hood, my 'back yard' - last Friday, and caught probably the most interesting gig I've yet been to in this country (and I've been to a lot).

Words fail me. Well, very nearly. I am still playing the "Where in the world am I?" game, so I can't give too many details.

Two very fine acoustic guitar-players - virtuoso, in the best sense: not excessive intricacy, empty showing off; just being able, effortlessly, to nail anything they wanted to do with the instrument. Fine voices too, but very contrasting: one mostly ethereal falsetto, the other so deep and growly he was spitting out rocks. Most of the numbers were influenced by local traditional folk forms, but had more modern elements too. Many were antiphonal in form, with the two guys bantering away at each other (partly improvised?) in their contrasting vocal styles. And they were backed up by a bunch of traditional percussion players - weird sounds, but compelling rhythms!

It was absolutely electrifying. The only thing in Western music I can think of that is similarly joyously genre-splicing, so unashamedly sui generis, is Tom Waits - in his crazier moments..... I thought of 'Bone Machine' once or twice.

These guys should get a wider audience, and a recording contract. I am working on it!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Chairman goeth....

As ships, passing in the night.....

I didn't really see much of the notorious 'Chairman' during his recent visit: he spent most of his time catching up with local friends, and sorting out a new teaching contract for next semester. This was a process which entailed him spurning the rather excellent Christmas lunch party I'd wangled him an invitation to, because his new employer had supposed that Christmas day would be an ideal time for him to trek miles out of town for a contract-signing session; and The Chairman, who suffers (but in some ways also benefits) from being excessively meek and malleable in dealing with the locals, unaccountably omitted to tell him where to shove it. Galling for me, to say the least; but I am, sadly, quite used to it by now. This is the essence of 'Chairmanliness': you have take the bad along with the good.

Even when we did get to hang out together, a combination of heavy drinking and extreme fatigue (and more the latter, to be honest) has obscured my memory of whatever may have transpired. The poor Chairman, exhausted from his recent working schedule, fell asleep sitting bolt upright in a noisy bar at around 10.30pm on his first night.... and that pattern was often repeated by one or other or both of us throughout the weekend: having a 'quiet night in' on Christmas Eve, we tried to watch a film and a football game on TV, but neither of us made it through to the end!

I missed his departure also. Strange, because I almost never sleep in beyond 7am - and am often awake at 5am or 6am, regardless of how late I may have turned in - but on this occasion I snoozed heavily until nearly 10am, and rose to find that he had already slunk off stealthily to the airport for his return flight.

It was almost as though he had never been here. Except that he inadvertently 'stole' my toothbrush.....

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A tired & emotional Santa

A Merry Christmas, Happy Channukah, or whichever other holiday is closest to your heart.

Me, I prefer the Saturnalia. Tough to find appropriate pictures for that, though.

Ah, and here's one final little holiday treat for you - the White Trash Christmas song.

In praise of drunks

According to Shane MacGowan.....

"The most important thing to remember about drunks is that drunks are far more intelligent than non-drunks. They spend a lot of time talking in pubs, unlike workaholics who concentrate on their careers and ambitions, who never develop their higher spiritual values, who never explore the insides of their head like a drunk does."

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Chairman cometh....

My oldest, dearest Drinking Companion in this crazy country, Tony 'The Chairman', is coming up to stay with me over the holiday weekend.... so any vague thoughts I might have been entertaining of continence and sobriety must soon be abandoned.

Appearances are deceptive with The Chairman - he seems so mild-mannered, inoffensive, dithery, distracted.... a stereotypical 'Ivory Tower' academic. You'd expect him to be tucked up in bed with a volume of Wittgenstein and a mug of cocoa by 9.30 every night. But he has a wild side. He is surprisingly fond of the long and late drinking session. I'm sure it will not be long before I shall once again be hearing his disingenuous catchphrase: "Well, we could have just one more. The night is still young."

He is surely the most maddeningly disorganized, selfish, indecisive, inconsistent, unreliable man I've ever met - but we've been through a lot out here together; and I love him to pieces. I have missed the old bastard since he moved 'down south' a couple of years ago.

I am bracing myself for four days of late-nights and constant liver-battery.

A Christmas treat for my readers!

I just love this - it looks as though it must have been done by the 'South Park' boys, but in fact it's all too horribly genuine.

Doesn't the one on the right look like Bing Crosby??

This was sent to me recently by my former No. 1 Drinking Companion, Big Frank. It's from the website of an obscure British metal band called Deep Switch, which has a page devoted to
The World's Worst Album Covers. Many of them are from American religious bands. Others are... well, you'll just have to look for yourself. This is one of the funniest things I've seen on the Net in a long, long time.

Oh, and while I'm in such a generous and festive mood, here's a related link - the fantastically tasteless 'South Park' song 'Christmastime in Hell' on YouTube. Enjoy - and be damned.


Haiku Bar Christmas!
Barman in a Santa hat!!
Just one thing missing....

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Another Jamaican moment

Place, atmostphere, and the element of chance - the unexpected, serendipitous events that make the moment happen - are, for me, the key factors in creating a great drinking experience.

I have many fond memories (many fond drinking memories) of my time in Jamaica, but one of the very best concerns the day my host and I were journeying up into the Blue Mountains just outside Kingston (home to some of the world's finest, and most expensive coffee - my host, an old University buddy, was in fact working out there for a year on research into possible biological means of controlling a pest called the 'coffee leaf miner' [I can't remember the exact details, but I'm sure my friend will remind me], some sort of beetle or weevil
[NO - a moth!!] which, as its name suggests, used to chomp holes in the leaves of the coffee plants).

We had set out on one of the local minibuses, but had hopped off in a hurry only half-way up the mountain when we noticed a rather scary-looking guy get on who a) appeared to be completely out of it on drugs or booze, and b) had a large revolver hanging half-way out of his hip pocket. Jamaica was a bit gun-crazy in those days (gun crime still is a big problem there, I think, but better than it was; the place was really a bit of a war-zone back in the '80s, and there were parts of Trenchtown that were 'no-go areas' for foreigners, and probably for the police as well), and there had been a number of fatal incidents of banditry - or just random psychophathic violence - in the month or two before I arrived; so, we weren't taking any chances. We got off the bus at the next stop (and found a local police station where we dutifully reported the potential hazard - only to be met with magnificent unconcern by the cops).

We then faced a long trek up the mountain in the steamy late-morning heat. By noon or so (having been lucky enough to have been given a ride part of the way by a rather gorgeous young Desnoes & Geddes [one of the island's biggest companies - the makers of Red Stripe beer] executive in her BMW), we were ready to take a rest, and happened upon a roadside snack shop - just a corrugated tin hut, painted in peeling duck-egg blue and perched most precariously on the edge of a precipitous slope; but the deep shade inside was as refreshing as a cold shower, and through the window it offered us a breathtaking view of the densely-forested mountainside. Also, the meat pies were good, and the Red Stripe was ice cold.

We were, however, just going to stay for a quick refuel, because we were at last within striking distance of our destination. But then, looking out of the window, we saw that suddenly our view was progressively disappearing. A solid curtain of rain was advancing swiftly up the valley, a precisely defined barrier of water behind which the tropical forest vanished in a blur. Within a few minutes it had overtaken us, a torrential tropical downpour pummelling on the resonant roof of our little metal shack.

That drumbeat of the raindrops, though deafening and threatening at first, soon became strangely, magically restful. My friend and I turned to each other with a cheerfully resigned shrug: there was no way we could venture outside again in such a storm, so we would have to stay put on our barstools for a while until it had passed over, order another deliciously cool Red Stripe, and chew the fat with the owner and his wife and their solitary other customer.

The rain kept up for two or three hours - two or three of the most relaxed, blissed-out hours I have ever enjoyed.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Print the legend

My old pal, Ned, has e-mailed me to say that his recollection of the notorious 'Bolloms episide' I recounted last week does not quite agree with mine. Though he is unspecific on the details, it seems he believes the piece of soiled clothing that gave such offence to the sensitive dry cleaning man actually belonged to our other college contemporary and habitual partner-in-crime, The Bookseller.

Now, it is of course quite possible that faulty memory - or an irresistible, subconscious impulse towards improvement - has corrupted my recollection of these events. However, I have been telling this story (and - I'm fairly sure - in pretty much this version) for nearly 20 years now.... so corruption, if such it is, set in very early on.

I rather suspect, in fact, that it is Ned's recollection that is at fault, his doubts born of embarrassment: in sober middle-age, he would rather believe that he had never been involved in anything quite so unwholesome.

For me, the whole point of the story is the incongruousness of this rather proper, decorous, well-behaved young chap becoming embroiled in such uncharacteristic excess - and being so charmingly embarrassed by its consequences.

The Bookseller, on the other hand, was a complete reprobate, for whom such incidents were relatively commonplace; and who was quite beyond feeling any shame about them. There are many wonderful - terrible - stories I could recount about him.... but the starring role in this tale is just not appropriate to him.

If the truth and the legend disagree, print the legend.

The rolling English drunkard....

I began the week over on Froogville yesterday with a quotation from the English writer, G. K. Chesterton. I confess I don't know his work, apart from a few aphorisms and bits of doggerel verse. However, I was reminded of this, one of his best-known pieces, and thought it would be appropriate to 'Barstool Blues'.

The Rolling English Road

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road,
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire,
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread,
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.

His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

G. K Chesterton (1874-1936)

Note: For those of you unfamiliar with British geography, the alliterative pairings of place-names in the refrain are far distant from one another, and it is highly unlikely that anyone would include both in the same journey - certainly not if setting out from London. Kensal Green - as you might guess - is the site of one of London's cemeteries.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Swan postscript

The Black Swan - eulogised in my last post as one of my favourite pubs of all time - was also once home to (and possibly still is) the nastiest and most ill-conceived drink it has ever been my misfortune to encounter.

During my trip to Jamaica some years earlier I had discovered (and subsequently tried but failed to erase the traumatic memory of) Wray & Nephew's Overproof White Rum: its 100º proof rating was initially appealing, but the first sniff of it defused all such enthusiasm forever - it had an absolutely VILE smell, positively emetic (a chemist friend who had also tried it on a trip out there thought that it might be spiked with pyridine - a pungent chemical they use in methylated spirits). This disgusting, chemically smell - and taste - was so powerful, so pervasive that it was vain to try to dilute it; if you tried putting a lot of coke in it, you just got a big glass of coke that smelled and tasted every bit as foul as the neat rum had. This is definitely a drink to be avoided.

Which was easy enough, since it used to be only available in Jamaica, and was not even, I think, widely popular there. Then came Hurricane Gilbert: the island was devastated; and over the next couple of years, to try to fund the rebuilding, the country resorted to all sorts of strange initiatives to try to earn more money from its export trade..... including the promotion if W & N Overproof in England (very high profile advertising campaign on the London Underground for a while, I recall). I don't think that particular idea ever bore any fruit.

Jamaica's finest marketing brains were not to give up so easily, though. Some time later, they came up with a more sophisticated ploy to try to introduce the idiosyncratic Wray & Nephew product to the unsuspecting British drinker. They mixed it with cream (to ape the very successful Irish whiskey cream liqueur, Bailey's).... and sold it in little individual-serving bottles (like Babycham in the good old, bad old days..... ah, whatever happened to Babycham? I suppose it got killed by the French Champagne producers - bastards!).

This wasn't a great success either. The stuff actually curdled in the bottles. Eileen, the Black Swan's landlady, had a small stock - a case, I suppose - on display behind the bar throughout the time I was going there. Not even Glen, the mountainous Jamaican bar-prop there (a man who would eat or drink pretty much anything with very little prompting) would go near the stuff. I don't think anybody touched one bottle of it in those two or three years I was hanging out there.

No-one except me. The spirit of curiosity got the better of me. The self-destructive, thrill-seeking, better-to-burn-out-than-to-fade-away side of my personality got the better of me.

It was a mistake. It tasted BAD. Imagine advocaat mixed with petrol - and you're only just starting to get close.

I suspect the other 11 bottles might still be gathering dust behind the bar there.....

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Black Swan

I recently mentioned, over on Froogville, that I once used to play on a team in the local Oxford quiz league for a pub called 'The Black Swan'.

I don't think I'd discovered it (or dared to go in, if I had - it's in one of the dodgier areas of town, way out East, on one of the little streets linking the Iffley and Cowley Roads) during my student days, but when I was living in Oxford again in the early '90s, a friend who lived nearby (and was already established on the quiz team there) introduced me to it. It was, in fact, my occasional commenter, The British Cowboy.

I think I went along the first time as a one-off substitute on the quiz team, but they were - for some reason - basically a player short at that point, with the landlady's daughter often serving as a reluctant makeweight. Or else Glen, the landlady's huge and genial Jamaican friend, who was generally happier with the role of quizmaster (his heavy accent did occasionally give us something of an unfair advantage in home matches). I didn't feel I made that much of a contribution: The Cowboy is a far more earnest quizzer than me, and our fourth member (the honour of being 'the first member' of course went to the long-time team captain, although his main contribution to the cause was the use of his car when going to away matches.... and an occasional bit of specialist knowledge of horse-racing) was Roger the Oracle, a man who seemed to know everything about everything (this is the chap who would read dictionaries and encyclopedias over a pint in the Oxford Union bar). No, I tell a lie there. I think The Cowboy had already departed for America by this point; I believe it must have been our pal James (a.k.a. 'Statto' - i.e., a statistics freak, a repository of obscure facts and figures) who brought me aboard.

My 'specialities' were literature and cinema (also surprisingly good on old pop music, although I have really stopped taking any interest in most new stuff since the awful synthy decade of the '80s). Literature tended not to come up that much, but for several months the quiz invariably ended with a round of questions about classic films - so, if the scores were close, I would often bear the responsibility of securing victory.... after two hours of doing nothing more than eat the complimentary sandwiches and quaff pints. Oh yes, it's a surprisingly tactical 'sport'!

What a fine place The Swan was back then! A real Irish pub in the heart of England - the kind of place where they take 2 or 3 minutes to pour your Guinness, but it's really good Guinness. Always a meat raffle and an extended 'happy hour' on Sundays. Always a 'private party' on St Pat's. Often a 'lock-in' after hours on any of the other days of the year. The atmosphere of the place was entirely down to the benign, maternal presence of its charming and generous landlady, Eileen Doyle; when she went back to 'the old country' a few years ago, its character quite changed. Ah well, we had a few golden years.

Amongst its other idiosyncatic delights were that it still had a real jukebox - one of those wonderful old devices that actually selects your chosen 45rpm vinyl record from a stack and puts it on a turntable to play, visible behind a glass panel in the middle of the huge machine. I could watch that for hours - it's like staring into a log fire. CD-based (and now, I suppose, the wretched MP3 - is it all about 'convenience' these days? Does no-one ever mind that the sound quality is atrocious??) may offer huge playlists, but the overall experience isn't nearly as satisfying. And the selection was still pretty wide on this machine - and far more quirkily diverse than you usually find. Eileen's own taste, I suppose. Lots of almost-forgotten classics from the '50s and '60s; in fact, lots of the singles my parents had (They were desperately untrendy, my parents: they disapproved of The Beatles! Although Simon & Garfunkel had somehow found their way into their record collection....), and which had thus first inspired my love of music (even as a very young child, I used to spend hours listening to their collection on their vintage 'radiogram'). My particular favourites were Roger Miller's 'King Of The Road' (my personal "No. 1" from those far-off childhood days: I wonder how much the attitudes in that song may have shaped the course of my life subsequently? "I'm a 'man of means' by no means - just king of the road.")
and Perez Prado's deliciously 'drunken' instrumental 'Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White'. My pal The Bookseller (who, after duly serving a brief apprenticeship as the emergency substitute, became a mainstay of the quiz team after The Cowboy's departure for the States.... or was it after James's departure for London? My brain grows foggy....) favoured 'If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?' (I think he's tried out that line many times in his life, without a single success.) [I eventually got around to doing a post of YouTube clips of these highlights of the Swan's jukebox.]

Also, by some strange quirk of fate (perhaps no more than the circumstance of Eileen's friendship with Glen - who was himself the landlord of a pub, although he seemed to spend all his time in The Swan rather than at his own establishment), the place had become an Irish-Jamaican pub - a unique phenomenon so far in my experience, but a very appealing one. The two cultures marry remarkably well: both, after all, are islands; both have a rich musical tradition; both have a reputation for taking an unhurried approach to life and being fond of a party; both have a deep fondness for Guinness. It's almost a surprise that the two peoples don't mingle more often. There's certainly some good craic when they do.

Yes, we had some great times there. For a while, it was very close to becoming that elusive Grail, my lifelong quest: The Perfect Pub. It didn't quite achieve that pinnacle because it lacked something in character (largely down to the spartan interior decoration) and atmosphere, the custom being very thin other than on 'special occasion' nights. Some of those 'special occasions', though, rank among the best nights of my life. Thank you, Eileen.

Friday, December 15, 2006


Almost a habit,
Instinctual, beyond reason –
Haiku Bar again!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Vomit People

The mysterious 'Tom Bailey' (see previous post) made the rather disturbing comment that he didn't like the notion of combining a bar and a library because of the risk of finding the pages of your book stuck together with vomit.

I worry what kind of bars this man knows, where people actually vomit. I haven't vomited in years. I can't readily remember the last time I saw any of my friends vomit. And I can't imagine ever being so far gone that I would vomit on a book!

Even in my adopted 'third world' home, where people do vomit easily, routinely (most of the locals are cursed by a congenitally low capacity for metabolising alcohol - but that just doesn't stop them drinking!), they invariably manage to stagger outside into the street to do it; they don't just deposit their stomach contents wherever they happen to be drinking.... right there in the restaurant.... the bar.... the library.

These unsavoury reflections put me in mind of a favourite story from my Oxford student days.

One of the political clubs was holding its black-tie dinner for the end of term. I knew one or two of the organizers, so wangled an invite for myself, along with a few of my college drinking buddies (who, like me, had no particular political affiliation. It was all about the booze!). It was to be quite a cheap'n'cheerful affair, held in a private room at Maxwell's, a glorified burger joint on the High Street; and it promised to be a good piss-up.

Black-tie affairs were so common in that era - balls, dinners, cocktail parties, debates at The Union (if you were a paper speaker) - that almost everyone shelled out for an evening suit early in their undergraduate career. Many of us even raided the charity shops to find a cheap back-up suit (the so-called 'combat' dinner jacket) for use in ball-crashing, or at drinks parties that threatened to get messy.

Dinners didn't usually get messy. However, realising that this was to be cheaper and more alcoholic than the majority of dinners, and that there was a fairly wild and unrespectable crowd on the invitation list, most of us concluded that this might be an occasion to opt for the 'combat DJ'. Not my good friend, Ned, though. Perhaps he didn't have one. He was always one of my more affluent and stylishly turned out friends: his DJ was very sharp (a vintage one, handed down from his father, I think); and he had an outrageously snazzy pair of patent leather dress shoes; and an absolutely gorgeous cashmere overcoat.

These were not the kind of clothes he should have been wearing to Maxwell's that night. I'm not quite sure how it happened (something to do with the food being cheap, and not very palatable, I think - not very palatable, but extremely missile....), but the thing rapidly developed into a food fight. A really monstrous, unrestrained food fight. A Wild West Saloon bar brawl of a food fight.

One of the early courses featured baked potatoes - that was just asking for trouble. I remember, at one point, I had a baked potato skin adhering to each shoulder of my jacket.... rather like a pair of dead parrots.

Long before the dessert came, Ned had had the foresight to invert his cashmere overcoat, so that only the lining (watered silk - but still, less vulnerable than the fine woollen outer) was exposed (Maxwell's wasn't the kind of place to have a cloakroom, so he had had to drape the coat over the back of his chair). I think he may even have removed his jacket, and hidden it inside the coat.

It didn't do him a lot of good. When we made our escape, his jacket, trousers, shoes were all covered, nay, infused with various kinds of lurid, dubiously edible gunk. Over the next day or so, the poor boy spent quite some time sponging, brushing, chipping, and scraping away at all of this caked-on, soaked-in food debris, just to try to get his clothes to a state where he could present them, without too much shame, to a commercial dry cleaners.

When he was finally ready to do this, we chose a small chain called Bolloms, which had a branch up in Headington, not too far from the East Oxford house we were sharing that year. We were served by a world-weary, middle-aged man who'd obviously been in the business for years and had seen it all before (or, he thought he had; but he was about to get a shock!). Of course, he wasn't about to let us poncy student types off without a heavy display of disgust and scorn. Each new, soiled item Ned produced from his bag - the shirt, the trousers, the cummerbund, the jacket - produced even more sad, disbelieving shaking of the head, even more disapproving tut-tut-tutting. Finally, Ned reached hesitantly to the bottom of his big laundry bag for.... the cashmere coat. The coat appeared quite unscathed. The censorious dry cleaner appeared - very briefly - pleasantly surprised, bemused as to why we had brought it in. Slowly, delicately, nervously, he began to examine it on the counter. The outside was miraculously unsmirched. Then, he gingerly opened it up to look at the lining..... and found the smeary, desiccated remains of what had once been an entire banana split planted squarely between the shoulder blades!!

The poor man stared at this horrendous, swirly, stale dairy collage for a few moments in utter silence, his jaw sagging open in disbelief, incomprehension.

Then he said sternly, "It's not vomit, is it? We don't do vomit. Sketchley's are the vomit people!"

What a wonderful line! I wonder if Sketchley's (the dominant, almost ubiquitous dry cleaning chain in the UK) would ever consider using it in their advertising.

Footprints in the butter

There has been evidence of a visitation.

Some chap called 'Tom Bailey' left a comment on my Auden post on this site the other day.

This is a spooky moment. It is the first time I have encountered a commenter who is not known to me as a friend. Although I know this blogsite is open access, available to the whole world (or, at least, to those privileged segments of the world's population which enjoy [uncensored] Internet access), I tend to think of this as a 'private blog'. I thought only a few dozen drinking buddies, pen-pals, and other assorted hangers-on were reading this.

I notice that the number of my 'profile views' here on Blogspot is now nearly 160. I ponder the possible significance of this. I think I have, in fact, announced the existence of my blogs to very nearly that many people. Certainly, if you count a few 'second order referrals', friends-of-friends, the total should be around that, maybe even a little higher. And doubtless some people will have checked it more than once, to see if I've made any changes - added a photo or whatever. Heck, I have myself clicked on it quite a few times, just to see if it is displaying properly - I suppose all of those 'views' have been counted too.

That figure, then, is not any convincing evidence of there having been any casual visitors as yet.

Indeed, I'm not sure how anyone would ever find this site. I have been doing my best to register it on various search engines; and I have - finally - been starting to return some results for unique or distinctive phrases used on Google searches (not very consistently, though). But I really don't think I'm very 'visible' as yet.

I mean, I've tried Googling Auden, the name of the poem, and phrases from the excerpt I quoted - but I wasn't showing up in the first several pages of results.

'Tom', how did you find me?

Are any of my friends going to own up to having 'introduced' him??

Not that I object.

Well, I don't think I do. I suppose I do have slightly mixed feelings about it. I profess to a curiosity to see how far I can promote this site by 'viral marketing' (not vanity, I hope - just curiosity!); I would like to see the traffic stats on a steadily upward trend.

But that's not really happening as yet. So, the first 'unknown visitor' produces a strange sense of shock and discomfort - rather as though I'd suffered a very trivial species of burglary: someone making themselves a cup of tea in my kitchen, perhaps, without disturbing anything else; or even, just my noticing that someone had turned a page of my newspaper or magazine while I'd gone to the loo and left it unattended on a table.

Yes, yes, I'm odd, I know.

If I start getting hundreds of random drop-ins, I'll start to think of this site as a public meeting place rather than an intimate little salon. Perhaps that transformation has begun....

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Late night frivol

This is the kind of thing that occurs to me when I've been drinking too much and sleeping too little. At the moment, I rather like it.

I hope I'm not afflicted with 'writer's remorse' in the morning.

A Nightcap

The bottle now stands empty
On the table
Yet my head is still brimful
With thoughts of you

If I could pour those thoughts
Into the bottle
And put the stopper on
To keep them in

I'd keep them safe
For many years to treasure
Close to hand
For such a night as this

For when the wind blows
Cold around my heart

I know
That thoughts of you
Will warm me
More than whiskey ever can

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Victoria Arms

Another of the pubs which briefly held a place in my heart during my teacher training days in Durham was The Victoria Arms - a characterful little haunt in an obscure location, almost completely overlooked by the student crowd. It was an exquisite Victorian relic: a small red-brick corner house, with mostly (I think... I fondly imagine) original, very old bar furnishings - dark wood, silvered mirrors, frosted glass partitions, and a mosaic-tiled floor.

However, I confess it was not solely these charming decorative features which won my affection, but also the fact the landlord had instituted a very generously priced 'happy hour' on Tuesday evenings. Moreover, it was one of the few bars in the city to be stocking 'Diamond White', a super-strength but rather tasty dry cider (I was born in Hereford, and spent the first few years of my working life in Taunton, the two great cider-producing centres of England: so, I have a weakness for cider).

[I wonder - do they still make 'Diamond White'? It was something of a cult phenomenon for a few years at the end of the '80s. Budget drinkers like myself would always look for hints from the winos as to which beverage delivered the most alcohol-per-penny; and for a while DW was definitely the favoured tipple of the hardened street drinker.]

The good thing about these unusually potent drinks (I have long had a fondness for Tennent's Super as well) is that they can actually get me drunk, get me high. The keys to surviving alcohol (which I am extraordinarily good at) are pacing and psychological preparation. My body can process around 4 'units' of alcohol per hour (most people can metabolise at least 2 - but I'm a big lad, and I've got a well-trained liver); if I don't drink much faster than that, I never get significantly drunk. Moreover, even if that pacing limit is slightly exceeded, I can still maintain my composure, my self-control, if I am aware that this is happening and can brace myself for it. But when you have a lager or a cider which just happens to be 2 or 3 times as alcoholic as most drinks of its ilk, it is very easy to forget just how strong it is - and to start drinking it (almost) as fast as you would a regular-strength drink.

And that's how merriment and foolishness begin.

My core drinking buddies at that time were my fellow Classicists on the teacher training course. That course had started a couple of weeks earlier than the undergraduate teaching term, so we were already tightly bonded by the time most of the University students showed up in town. The Classics Faculty, hearing that there were Classics graduates from Bristol, London, Oxford, in town, were kind enough to invite us to the welcome party for the undergraduate Freshmen. 'Kind enough' or 'rash enough'. The event happened to be on a Tuesday evening, so we had all spent an hour or so caning the cheap 'Diamond White' in The Vic beforehand. And it was a very dull party. Career academics are not generally the most thrilling of company, especially not Classicists (god, I'm glad I escaped that career path myself!). But there were some very attractive girls there (one, in particular - ah, what was her name??) - whom we decided needed saving.... from the dullness of the party, from the tedium of a Classics degree, from the threat of a dry & dusty career in academe.

So - we, er, kidnapped these delightful young ladies. Carried them off over our shoulders (unresisting, conspiratorial, I must add) to a more interesting bar.

I think I was probably inspired by
The Schartz-Metterklume Method - a revolutionary technique for teaching history through re-enactment, promoted in a well-known short story by one of my very favourite humourists, Saki. Yes, the 'new governess's' review of Roman history was going so well.... until the children got to the rape of the "shabby women".

Lost in a haunted wood (another bar poem)

Or a portion of a poem, at least.

One of my favourite haunts these days is a bar that is also a lending library (what an excellent concept!). It's wonderful to have so much reading material available to while away the time when one is being kept waiting by one's friends!

A few days ago, I was dipping into a poetry anthology, and re-read for the first time in some years Auden's '1st September, 1939' (written - or at least conceived - when soused in a bar in Manhattan, pondering the imminent war in Europe, and reflecting sourly on the "low dishonest decade" almost over).

There's a particularly good verse about bars and barflies in it:

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

Is that us? Sometimes I fear it is.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Sanity Clause

I have just played Santa for the first time.

Well, not quite the very first time. I have done it once before for a class of students I was teaching.... but I'm used to making a tit of myself in front of my students: it's my job, after all. Rather a different proposition to do this before an audience of grown-ups, most of whom I'd never met before.

I am, I protest, not yet old enough for the role! Not old enough by a good 1,500 years!! And not fat enough, red-faced enough, or white-haired enough either.

And, well, my image of Santa is that he is played by your dad.... or by a pensioner in the local department store grotto. Santa should at least be stoutly middle-aged, if not borderline geriatric. I protest I am neither (although the carefully concealed DOB on my passport does suggest middle-aged as a fair description these days, I refuse to have any truck with that!).

Protest as I might, my friend Dishy Debs was immovable. She claimed I had 'volunteered' for the part (all I had done was to incautiously mention that I thought I had a Santa costume in storage somewhere), and she wasn't going to let me wriggle out of it.

It was actually quite a laugh. The best bit, in fact, was walking down the street in costume (I'd got changed half a mile up the road, in the Yacht Club, in order to generate more surprise, a greater sense of occasion). What should have been a 5-minute walk took me more like 15. Numerous people - both foreigners and locals - stopped to stare and snigger (a young couple in the Yacht Club insisted on getting a photo). My stopping to take a piss in a public toilet was especially fascinating: a small crowd gathered at the door to watch me. Back on the street a few minutes later, a guy passing on a bicycle did such an extravagant double-take at me that he almost fell off. Two cops in a passing patrol car stopped to eyeball me. A couple of other bars en route ushered me inside to bless their patrons with a quick "Ho, ho, ho".

Yes, that walk - and everything that followed it - is a happy blur. The boss of the Yacht Club had stood me a shooter of vodka to get me in the mood. My pal The Choirboy, lurking in a restaurant a few doors down, dragged me in there for another shot just moments later (I was getting quite appropriately ruddy-cheeked after that!).

And my present-distribution role did ensure that I got to speak - however briefly - to all 70 or 80 guests at Debbie's party.

A fine start to the festive season.

God, it did make me feel old, though. Santa Claus? Me?! Ask somebody else next year, please, Debbie.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Loves

I very nearly titled this 'My Favourite Year'. Perhaps I'll use that one another time.

My teacher training year in Durham was one of the best of my life. It's a ravishingly beautiful 'city' (one of those 'Top 800 World Heritage' sites - along with the likes of the Taj Mahal), yet it really has a homely, small-town feel. It's compact enough for you to swiftly become intimately familiar with it, and to be able to get around everywhere on foot (despite the challenging hills). I was fortunate to have an extremely warm, laid-back, winningly quirky supervisor who encouraged us to approach teaching as a journey of self-discovery rather than another arduous academic slog; so, the study was a refreshing change of pace from my years at Oxford (where I'd really become very unhappy, trapped doing a course I didn't like [thwarted in my initial plan to switch from Classics to Law], with tutors I didn't like, in a college that took its academic ranking way too seriously and needled its under-performing students rather viciously). And I soon found - as I had long suspected - that teaching was something I had a natural flair for, something I could do with ease and confidence. And the close community of the trainee teachers (sharing the same lectures every day, mostly living in the same college, having the same focus and the same concerns during our early teaching practices) produced some intense, if short-lived friendships. All in all, I had a whale of a time!

And then there were the pubs. Durham is a city of pubs - it has dozens of them, of many different sizes and styles, almost all of them (back then, anyway) pretty good in their own way.

I, however, could not afford to live in Durham itself; but I had been fortunate enough to find myself a little terraced house to rent in one of the old mining villages dotting the countryside around, Ushaw Moor. There were a couple of very passable pubs in the village itself, but the best and most interesting hostelry was a mile or two down the road - in the exact middle of nowhere! 'The Loves' (a strange, probably unique name amongst British pubs: it had a pair of love-birds on its sign) was a fairly unremarkable bar, but it had decent beer, a pool table, and a livelier atmosphere (it was once the scene of one of my greatest embarrassments in quizzing, as I recently reported on my brother-blog, Froogville) than the places closer to home. Its chief claim to fame, however, was that it was a favoured off-duty hangout for warders from the local prison and police officers. Hence, it was in effect exempted from any enforcement of the licensing laws: it would quite often, if custom was sufficient, stay open virtually all night (without even the need for declaring a 'lock-in' - the standard fallback for publicans [at least, before the recent liberalisation of the regime on opening hours], especially in remote country areas, who wanted to keep serving late; they'd have to close the front door, and put up the pretense that the drinking was now strictly a 'private party', with no money changing hands).

I remember particularly fondly one time when my parents came up to visit me (one of the advantages of renting a whole house - albeit a tiny one! - was that they could stay with me), and I took my dad down to 'The Loves' for a quick drink on Saturday evening. We fell to playing pool, and completely lost track of time (well, I didn't quite, but he evidently did). Ours was often a tense and difficult relationship, and this is one of the very few times that I can think of where we just enjoyed each other's company for several hours in a thoroughly relaxed way.

Then, I asked him if he would like "one more, for the road".

"Haven't we missed 'last orders'?" he queried, suddenly realising that it must be a bit late. 'Last orders' in those days was supposed to be at 10.58pm.

"Dad," I explained, "they don't really have 'last orders' in this place."

"Why, what time is it, then?" he asked, suddenly worried.

"It's about 2.30."

"Your mother," he observed ruefully, "is going to kill us." And then he accepted my offer of another drink.

That really is one of my happiest memories of him.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Haiku Bar haiku 7

My favourite haiku
Bar - again awaiting the
Final syllable

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Gig Too Far

Alas, poor Otway!

It seems his 'World Tour' plan was just a little too grandiose to be practicable after all, and the event was called off at the last minute. This wasn't very apparent from the tour website; and I'd never quite got around to signing up for the mailing-list; and my e-penpal on his "special friends" mailing-list had heard, but forgot to tell me. So, there I was, beating myself up about having missed his scheduled Asia gig, when the thing never actually happened.

I feel...... well, not sure quite what I feel: relieved for myself, but bad for him, I suppose. I hope the affair hasn't saddled him with huge debts. He seems to be bouncing back from the disappointment with superhuman resiliency, still gigging away crazily in the UK.

There's a rather fine article from The Independent about his life and work here.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Two fragments from long ago and far away

Years ago, when I was an undergraduate and first began writing (mostly anonymously, for the likes of Bogmopolitan and various other similarly ephemeral student rags), I created for myself the persona of 'The Vodka Poet', a man whose creative Muse was rather too dependent on the excessive consumption of alcohol (it was all just a literary conceit, I assure you - I was never that much of a drinker, and hardly ever touch vodka; somehow that spirit always seems to have been emblematic of the 'problem drinker' to me - "Look at the state of him! Looks like he puts vodka on his cornflakes for breakfast.").

Certain lines from those early 'vodka poems' have stayed with me down the years.

For instance:
Prometheus's liver grew again,
But I've seen the last of mine!
We, the thieves of heaven's fire,
Should expect no lesser fine.

I have always particularly liked that phrase "thieves of heaven's fire" to describe us creative, arty-farty types; and I felt even at the time that it really deserved a better home than that (deliberately!) bathetic stanza. I've been meaning to "do something with it" for nearly 20 years now, but I still haven't thought of what.

Another favourite line from that era (influenced, no doubt, by Wilde's famous epigram) was this:
There's a melancholy grandeur
In the view the gutter gives...

Strange how these trifles lodge so persistently in the memory, when so much else is lost.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Traffic Report - the blog story so far

I've just been conducting a brisk review of my output on these two blog pages of mine, and the findings are these:

Rather to my surprise (given my absurdly heavy workload of late, and my general disdain for the whole blogging concept), I have managed to develop a pretty regular blogging habit, adding something to one or other of the pages almost every day. With the exception of my recent out-of-town jaunt, which led to an interruption of nearly a week, I have rarely gone more than 24 hours without a post. (On the two or three occasions where Blogger asserts that I have gone three days without a post, this is down to a glitch in the site's clock/calendar: my posts are sometimes timed and/or dated somewhat inaccurately. I have never, in fact, gone more than 48 hours without a post. Well, not more 49 or 50 hours, anyway.)

The average frequency of contributions is 8-10 per week on Froogville, and 5-6 per week on Round-The-World Barstool Blues. However, since my pieces on the latter often tend to be more substantial, the overall word count is pretty similar on both blogs: around 8,000 to 9,000 words per month. At this rate, I'll soon have a book!!

In November, despite the unusual hiatus at the end of the month, there were 39 new posts on Froogville and 25 on Barstool Blues – almost identical to the preceding month.

By the end of November, there were 60 posts on Barstool Blues and 104 posts on Froogville (well, it did have a head start of 8 or 9 days on its brother). Not a bad total, considering I started them less than 3 months ago.

According to the Hit Counter I set up through, there have now been around 680 visits to each of the sites (in the 9 weeks since I installed the counters, that is; that was 2 or 3 weeks after I launched the blogs). Early on, I was registering a dozen or so hits a day, but that seems to have tapered off to 8 or 10 a day (although there is something of a peak at the weekends!). Tallies for the two blogs are uncannily identical: I can only assume that you are all loyally reading both together. Thank you.

Also, curiously, I am averaging nearly two page views per visit to each site. Since you can read almost everything on the main page, and nobody ever leaves me comments, I am somewhat mystified by this stat!!

Average page view time is around 4 minutes, so I guess you are taking the trouble to read quite a bit of what I'm putting up there. Again, thank you.

I'm not sure about this (how can I find out??), but I suspect visits through proxies are not registering on the counters – which could be quite a problem since, in my vexingly censorious country of residence, Blogspot has only been accessible via proxy sites like Anonymouse over the past month or so. And this isn't by any means the only country which suffers such problems.

There may also be a problem with Sitemeter itself. The counter has frequently been failing to appear on the bottom of the Froogville blog over the past couple of weeks, and my most recent weekly 'traffic report' recorded 0 visits to the site (although the counter itself – when it deigned to show itself again – showed 70-odd). I didn't receive a report for Barstool Blues at all this week.

Maybe I need to get some better traffic-monitoring toys……

Anyway, I deduce that I have a fairly solid readership base of somewhere between 30 and 60 – most of you already on my regular e-mailing list.

I hope you will stay with me, to see what else oozes out of my overfull cranium in the coming weeks and months.

And I hope you'll spread the word to your friends. It would be nice to see that weekly hit count going up rather than down!

And I do urge you to leave me a comment once in a while.

So far, only 6 people have done so. And one of them was me! Come on, people – let's get interactive!!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Philosophy 101

Another of the world's great excessive drinkers on whom I bestow rather too much adulation is Shane MacGowan - formerly the lead singer and principal songwriter with the fantastic Irish punk/folk band 'The Pogues' (who were, during my undergraduate days, just about the biggest band in the UK for a while).

One of my e-penpals a few years ago sent me the lovely gift of a biography of Shane, written by his long-term, long-suffering girlfriend, Victoria ('A Drink with Shane MacGowan' by Victoria Mary Clarke and Shane MacGowan).

In this very amusing - but occasionally horrifying - book (derived from a series of interviews taped with Shane over the course of a year or so, during some of his more sober and lucid moments), the 'great man' offers opinions on just about everything under the sun. I particularly enjoyed his terse, obscene dismissal of Plato - "Basically just some Greek c**t!" If only, I have often thought to myself, Mr MacGowan had been my philosophy tutor for Classics Mods at Oxford!

Ah, but then again, in a way he was.....

Friday, December 01, 2006

Haiku Bar haiku 6

Uh-oh, haiku bar!
Why do I keep doing this?
Mere perversity!!