Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Leave of absence

I am forced to abandon my blogs for a while.

Probably 3-4 weeks at least. Maybe longer.

I am hoping that my friend Tulsa will keep them 'alive' by continuing her recent prolific commenting habit.

Please see my recent posts on Froogville for more details.

I will be back, one day.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Not exactly a bon mot

"Why are you drinking?"

"I'm drinking to forget."

"Is it working?"

"Ask me tomorrow."

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Picturing A Hole In The Ground (Computer-Generated Images)

At last........ the CG pics of Jem Finer's "hole in the ground" music project. (I've been trying - and failing! - to upload these for the past 3 days.)

Sometimes larking, usually darkening

I always like to credit Philip Larkin (possibly my favourite modern poet) with my narrow escape from a threatened career of lucrative pomposity as a lawyer.

In England the final stage of qualifying as a barrister (a 'trial lawyer' to my American friends) is a period of apprenticeship known as a 'pupillage'. Pupillage openings are very limited; and in my Bar School year they were especially hard to come by (for reasons which I won't go into here): I only got one interview, and failed it fairly spectacularly. (I did subsequently undertake pupillage a year or two later, but ran out of bank loan before I could make the transition to independent practice.)

In the waiting room before the interview I was leafing through a copy of The Spectator (a favourite English political/literary weekly magazine - sometimes obnoxiously right-wing, but compellingly well-written). In the regular literary competition on the back pages (I have entered myself a handful of times, but without garnering any laurels) in that issue contributors had been challenged to produce a clerihew celebrating a great writer. One of the winning efforts printed was this:

Philip Larkin
Would close the blinds to let the dark in.
He always had room
For gloom.

A brilliant example of the form. A brilliant summation of the man and his work. And a brilliant image (I love the idea of 'letting the dark in').

I laughed until I cried. I had a stupid grin on my face throughout the interview, and was constantly on the brink of corpsing. That, or so I like to believe, is the reason why I didn't get that pupillage, didn't become a barrister.

Maybe it ain't so, but...... print the legend.

The greatest poem in the world

Well, that's a large claim - but, for me, it's certainly up there.... always among my personal top 5 or 10.

The Aubade, or 'morning song', is a poetic genre of some antiquity, but traditionally the theme is the forced parting of secret lovers at dawn. Here Larkin considers instead what a man alone thinks about in his bed when waking before dawn.

It's a great subject: the recognition of mortality that settles on us in middle life, the dread and incomprehension that evokes. And it's full of marvellous phrases: I once looted this for signature lines to my regular-ish e-mail 'bulletins' to the folks back home.... and came up with a new line or phrase (pithy and wonderful) to quote every week for three months.

I tossed the opening line of this at my favourite "cyber-stalker" (my new guerrilla blog-commenter, 'Tulsa') the other day to see if she'd recognise it; and she asked for more details. So, here you go: the full thing.

Dark it is. But I like dark.


I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare.
Not in remorse -
The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused - nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always.
Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die;
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape,
Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

Philip Larkin (1922-1985)

Picturing A Hole In The Ground (First Impression)

Brief apology/explanation for being techno-crass

I was being computer-dumb the other day (it happens, a lot). Jem Finer's back-of-a-napkin sketch of the 'automatic music' project I wanted to share with you - well, I had copied it into 'Word' and couldn't then copy on to the blog. Now I have downloaded it as a JPEG, it is easy-peasy. I'll also post some CG representations of the project from its very thorough website. Enjoy (next post).

Well, at least I will post them - when/if I get some workable connection speed from my Internet service again.....

Friday, January 19, 2007

HBH 13

Drinking at the bar,
Seeking safe oblivion
In a world of cares.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Warped Genius

While checking out the (short, but good) Wikipedia article on Jem Finer of The Pogues yesterday, I turned up this fascinating proposal for an 'automatic music' sculptural project - a conception of twisted brilliance. Apparently this won a funding award from the Performing Right Society's Foundation for New Music, and has now been constructed. There's more information on it here (including a fabulously scrawly diagram, which I am unable to reproduce here).

I'd love to go and see this one day.

In the temple gardens of Kyoto, suikinkutsu, water chimes, provide a meditative focus for the ambient sounds of the surroundings. Water, overflowing stone bowls, trickles down through a layer of loose packed stones until it drips into a buried bowl. The resonance of these drips is listened to through a bamboo tube or with the “naked ear”. It is this attention to the subtle and beautiful timbres of the drips within the resonant chamber that hones the concentration of the listener.

In my proposal, the suikinkutsu is the starting point for a trajectory that leads through John Cage and the experimental music of the latter half of the 20th century, to an early 21st century post digital return to a physical, indeterminate piece of music, sited within the landscape.

The countryside is shot through with holes in the ground; wells, mine shafts, fissures, bunkers, ventilation holes. In this piece of music the venue is a deep shaft in which there will be placed, at different heights, bowls of different sizes and tunings pivoted about their centre of gravity, the instruments. The players, the drips of water, will strike the bowls, ringing them like bells. As they fill with water their timbres will change, and the delicate equilibrium of their pivots will cause them to sway slightly, modulating the tones. Overflowing, a bowl will drip into ones below it.

Amplification will be facilitated by a tube rising up from within the shaft, into a brass horn twenty feet above the surface. Akin to the bamboo tube in the suikinkutsu, the horn not only amplifies the sounds but forms a sculptural object, a focus in the landscape.

The precise location is, as yet, unresolved. I am looking for a hole deep enough that it will take more than a lifetime to fill with drips, for a site removed from urban development, in the countryside, where the horn will harmonise with the surroundings.The performance therefore will be ongoing for decades if not centuries or millennia in a location tbc.

This piece of music depends neither on the longevity of any energy source or technology, only on the ongoing existence of the planet and its weather systems. In its reference to a history of music, as alluded to above, it's in a sense a completion of a cycle that has seen the increasingly digitized and expanded exploration of sound and music, indeed a disintegration of the boundary between the two, a return to the prehistoric roots of music, the harmonics of the environment.

To make any claims as to what this piece of music might do for the development of new music in the UK would be presumptuous. I can only say that I would hope it would have a resonance both within and beyond music, in its breaking with any use of technology, in its dimensions within sound, time and space.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Uncivilised Behaviour

And talking of Deans (as I was, in my last post).....

Well, this is the opening piece from one of John Julius Norwich's 'Christmas Cracker' commonplace selections (which I eulogised over on Froogville at the start of the month) - the 2002 edition, to be precise, a kind present from my pal The Bookseller on the occasion of my first Christmas 'abroad' (he used to do things like that occasionally - back in the days when he had the time to give me a second thought; nowadays he has a wife and haemorrhoids to occupy his every waking moment).

A century or so ago, the beleaguered Dean of Trinity College, Oxford (my pal Tim's alma mater), came up with this novel approach to trying to restrain the riotous behaviour of the undergraduates.


Gentlemen coming from homes where bread throwing at the dinner table is habitual, and finding a difficulty in conforming suddenly to the unfamiliar ways of a higher civilisation, will be permitted to continue their domestic pastime, on a payment of 5/- a throw, during their first year. After that, the charge will be doubled.

I love that phrase "the unfamiliar ways of a higher civilisation". We see a lot of that where I live now.

When Unsuitable Role Models Collide

At University, I became rather fond of the International Herald Tribune, and virtually gave up reading the English newspapers (too pompous, too long-winded, too Anglocentric). It was good to get a different perspective on domestic news, a broader sweep of world news, more depth on the American political scene - and all of it reported in a more concise and pithy form than we usually get in our overblown broadsheets.

But above all, the 'Entertainment' news was great because - back then in the '80s - in almost all important matters of popular culture, it happened in America 3-6 months earlier than in the UK. For instance, I well remember eagerly awaiting the arrival of Paul Simon's landmark 'Graceland' album after reading early reviews of it in the IHT - long before almost anyone else in England had heard of it.

It was also here that I read of The Pogues' early efforts to 'crack' America (they were my favourite band of the time), and was delighted to learn that my No. 1 musical hero, Tom Waits, was an early convert. He observed, teasingly: "I particularly enjoy the screaming." (Yes, indeed. I remember one bibulous afternoon in rooms in Christ Church when my buddy Matthew managed to provoke a formal complaint to The Dean from one of the offices across the street - after playing the opening few seconds of their instrumental track 'Wild Cats of Kilkenny' several times in succession, at maximum volume. It opens with a particularly deranged shriek.)

A few years ago, my delightful friend Lizzie - my No. 1 E-Penpal (well, back in the good old days, anyway), and still the only person to have visited me here in my Asian exile - sent me the excellent Christmas (or birthday?) gift of a secondhand copy of the (rare, out of print) biography, Small Change: A Life Of Tom Waits by Patrick Humphries. I had learned in a review of this when it first came out in the '80s (again, as like as not, in the Herald Trib) that Tom and the boys had hung out together drinking quite a few times back in their 'wild days' (I'm not at all sure that The Pogues aren't 'wild' still; but Tom has adopted a much more sedate lifestyle in his later years); and on one especially heavy evening, Jem Finer (the hopelessly alcoholic Shane MacGowan may have provided the lion's share of the lyrics, but Jem was the main creative force in the band musically) went on an all-night bar crawl around Chicago with Tom.... and Tom's mother!

That is one drinking session I've always wished I might have been a part of. In my dreams, at least, in my dreams.

The book, Small Change, is, as it turns out, a pretty thin biography, mostly cobbled together from existing interviews with the man in the music press rather than new research. However, since it is (STILL, I believe) about the only thing written on Tom's life and work, we have to be grateful for it. And it does include many, many small gems such as this:

"While scathing about his songwriting, Waits has expressed an admiration and even affection for the shoes of Neil Young."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Struggling to remember OR choosing to forget?

My (probably unduly frivolous) post on alcoholic amnesia last week brought to mind this piece of whimsy I composed early last year (unusually, on the way back home from a bar).

I confess to a bit of a weakness for playing games with conventional perceptions of time. I hope I don't overdo it.

Selective Amnesia

My uncle said he could remember the future.
He said it was a talent most of us had
in childhood,
but lost.

We try to forget the past if it is too painful.
How bad, then, must the future be?

My uncle was not a happy man.
And never will be – as far as I can remember.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A poetic postscript on 'my love life'

People often seem to be incredulous - or sometimes even critical - of the claim I made yesterday to have remained on good terms with all my ex-girlfriends.... even the ones who'd hurt me. It is quite true. Forgiveness is important, I think - for our own peace of mind as much as anything else, for spiritual well-being... and for progress to new loves.

I always try to understand why people have behaved as they have.... and, even when I cannot understand, I try to accept it.

As usual, one of my favourite poets, Robert Graves, said it better than I ever could.

In Her Only Way

When her need for you dies
And she wanders apart,
Never rhetoricize
On the faithless heart,

But with manlier virtue
Be content to say
She both loved you and hurt you
In her only way.

Robert Graves (1895-1985)

The new 'thought for the week'

"I'd rather have a bottle in front o' me than a frontal lobotomy."

Who said that?? My musical hero, Tom Waits, of course.

In defence of my 'love life'

Another, rather more vindictive comment from my recent 'troll' - presumably picking up on the line in my Profile about my tending to fall for women "who fail to appreciate me" - was her suggestion that women were smart to leave me (because I drink too much).

Now, I'm not about to let that pass without some attempt at a response.

For one thing, it betrays the fact that the commenter can never actually have read much of either of my blogs; indeed she can't even have read the Profile over there at the top of the right side-bar very carefully.

This remark in my Blogger Profile refers to my more recent experience since I have been living overseas - a long sequence of unrequited loves. These are not women who have left me, but women who have never gone out with me in the first place. And I lament the fact that this lack of interest on their part would appear to be down to a failure to recognise - or to be impressed by - any of my better qualities (not because of an aversion to any perceived faults). I have always suffered from this crazy obsession that a woman should be attracted to me by my intelligence, creativity, and humour - rather than sexual prowess, looks, or bank balance. Alas, this is not the way of the world.

Regarding the women I have had relationships with, I think the breakups have always been fairly painless, mutually negotiated affairs (mostly initiated by me), happening because of a recognition of diminishing passion or insufficient common interests once the initial excitement and novelty of attraction had worn off. Even on the two (heart-rending) occasions when I was the dumpee, there was a rational part of me that accepted the hopelessness of those relationships, was oddly relieved at their final failure (I had only been obstinately hanging in there by my fingernails, in defiance of my better judgement, because I was so ridiculously in love with those women). I have in all cases managed to remain on amicable terms with my girlfriends after splitting up from them. (Well, all bar one - and that was down to a rather viciously extreme 'clean slate' policy of hers, rather than any resentment against me.)

None of my girlfriends has ever found my fondness for drink to be a 'problem'.

I am happy (if not exactly proud) to declare myself a drinker. I admit - slightly defensively, but without shame - that I am on occasion a heavy drinker. But I very, very seldom get drunk. And even when drunk, I do not behave in any way badly. (Unless, dear reader, you consider maudlin philosophisizing and spouting poetry to be bad behaviour. In which case, I venture to say that you are unduly censorious of your fellow men, and somewhat lacking in an appropriate sense of perspective on the question of vices.)

I am decidedly not an alcoholic. I have, in general, a very non-addictive, nay, an anti-addictive personality. I am exaggeratedly wary of becoming too wedded to any single pleasure, and deliberately step back from anything that threatens to become too entrenched a habit, too defining a part of my life. (Ah, that may be the real reason why none of my relationships with women have endured...) For that reason - to assert, confirm my self-mastery - I frequently cut back dramatically on the booze, or give it up completely, for a few weeks, sometimes a month or more at a time.

No, I'm not an alcoholic. Nor a drunk. Nor a barfly. I just happen to enjoy drinking. A lot.

I know some people - many, perhaps most people - can't draw those lines and keep on the right side of them. That's very sad. I am all too aware of the problems that drink causes for individuals and for society at large, and I wouldn't wish to make light of that. I'm certainly not seeking to proselytize for the cause of alcoholism on this blog. I am merely seeking to record and examine - and, yes, celebrate - what is, for me, luckily, an innocent, (relatively) harmless pleasure.

In defence of bars

I had my first bona fide 'troll' a little while ago, commenting with some vitriol on my post 'Valuable Drinking Time'. An anti-drinking fanatic. It was bound to happen. I'm sure there will be others.

I do sympathisize with this poor unfortunate - a woman traumatised by the failure of a marriage, an unhappiness she blames on her husband's alcoholism. However, it seems a rather odd form of catharsis to purposefully seek out drinking-themed blogs so that she can heap abuse on their authors in lieu of her errant ex.

I have never been an advocate of anti-social drunkenness - quite the reverse (see my key early post, 'Two Kinds Of Drunk'). However, I do like drinking, and I like bars - and this blog attempts to celebrate some of the better things that can come out of these pastimes of mine (principally, friendship).

One of the troll's pieces of hectoring 'advice' was to remind me that there are "so many better things to do" than hang out in bars.

Well, yes, there are. And I do many other things with my time. I exercise frequently (running mostly, but also occasionally some light weights work; and I'm currently becoming tempted to revisit a childhood interest in martial arts). I enjoy eating out, and cooking for myself. I love the theatre and the cinema (though opportunities to indulge are somewhat limited here in my adopted home; 'topping up' on this is always a major part of any trip back to the UK or the US). I go to see some live music almost every week - sometimes two or three times a week.

But I wouldn't undervalue time spent in a bar either - this also has its delights, its benefits.

Often, there's just not much else to do in the evening around here. I've already done my 10-mile run for the day. I've been writing most of the day for work, so don't feel like doing any more. I'm too tired to read (although I often take a book of poems or short stories to a bar with me, to help pass the time on a slow night). The local TV is abysmal. Yes, I could just surf the Internet for hours or watch some DVDs - but I do rather too much of that anyway.

Going to a bar is an active, sociable option. It gets me out of the house, stops me being a recluse - helps ward off my tendency towards curmudgeonliness and depression. It gives me some decent exercise (I walk almost everywhere - certainly anywhere within 2 or 3 miles of my apartment, and sometimes much further). Above all, it gives me a chance to meet new people, hear new stories. That, for me, is the best of what life is about. And there's nowhere quite like a bar for doing that.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


I do hope my lovely friend The Artist will not be inappropriately discomfited by this, but.... on a Big Night Out last night with my current favourite Drinking Companion (The Choirboy, of course), we fell to contemplation of the subject of women and relationships.... and the strange joy of randomly, fleetingly fancying people where you know it's never going to lead anywhere.

Regarding the latter, I'm going cold turkey.... but sometimes it's hard, I do rather miss it. The Choirboy, I think, has reached a point in his life where he should give it up; but he needs some chivvying on the point.

Anyway, this reminded me that some time ago - quite some time ago - I wrote this brief (probably unfinished) piece on this topic:

When one has been always single
(Romantic ineptitude elevated
Above policy, to Art),
A relationship is a strange constraint:
One misses the endless vistas
Of imagined opportunity,
The freedom to fall idly in love
Twice or thrice nightly;
One misses the thrill of availability,
The perpetual flirting.
One even misses the rejections,
The habit of disappointment.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

HBH 12

A day early - but I fear I may never have regular Internet access again. (Is this it? Does my little blog die here??)

Life comes in focus
Through the bottom of a glass.
Insight, through the dregs.

It's happening again!!

NO INTERNET ACCESS at home for the last couple of days.

It's driving me MAD!!

You, on the other hand, may regard it as a welcome respite.

I'll be back. One day, oh yes, I'll be back.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Valuable Drinking Time

I mentioned in a comment-reply to my buddy, The British Cowboy, the other day that I considered tattooing "a waste of valuable drinking time".

I think all drinkers have some sense of "valuable drinking time" - time that they'd rather be spending drinking than doing anything else, time that seems somehow more intense and special and important because of that.

In the UK, this awareness of a dichotomy in the day, of two very different types of time, was all the more acute because of our out-moded, restrictive licensing laws (drinking was largely unregulated until the First World War - when the government suddenly became fearful that too many munitions factories were being blown up as a result of young Cockney lasses showing up to work still pissed in the morning and dropping artillery shells on each other). There has been a considerable liberalization of this regime in the last few years, but bars back home still mostly operate on far shorter hours than they do almost anywhere else in the world. When I was becoming a drinker back in the '80s, there was a long fallow period in the afternoon, between 2.30pm or 3pm and 5.30pm or 6pm, when the pubs were all closed - and you had to wander the streets, 'making your own entertainment' (as our forefathers used to say, in the days before television and game-consoles). The 4- or 5-hour period of drinking in the evening was appreciated all the more keenly because it was so woefully short, and circumscribed by dark voids of deprivation (like life itself, you may say).

Valuable Drinking Time (VDT) became a formal 'term of art' during a holiday I took in the middle of my undergraduate days, with my housemates of the time and a few other assorted hangers-on. We rented a narrowboat for 2 weeks, and went on a grand tour exploring the old industrial heartland of England via the canal network. We had set ourselves a formidable task: every day we had to cover a substantial mileage, and negotiate some of the tallest flights of locks in the country. Hard work! But every evening, we'd moor up, go and find the nearest pub, and salve our aching muscles with alcohol. During the day (although our exacting schedule meant that we had to start early every day, and keep up a pretty brisk tempo through the locks) we could cut ourselves a little slack here and there, and wouldn't fret too much if a shopping expedition took a little longer than expected, or we had to wait in a long queue at a lock. But as the day wore on towards 6pm, every action became far more anxiously hurried, and anyone who dawdled or dithered over something could expect to be roundly censured. When, on occasion, we were still underway beyond the magical hour of 'pub opening', then finding a suitable mooring - and all the other little chores associated with the end of the working day on a canal boat - became matters of frantic urgency, and we would exhort each other (well, the more hardened drinkers amongst us, anyway) to keep our focus with cries of: "Hurry up, people. We are wasting valuable drinking time."

The concept has stayed with me ever since.

Monday, January 08, 2007

A drinking bon mot

I recently turned up a rather good list of drinking quotations, and thought I would share a few of them with you - serially.

What better place to start than with Ambrose Bierce? This, in his 'Devil's Dictionary', is the definition of an 'Abstainer':

"A weak person who always yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure."

Sunday, January 07, 2007

'S Latin, innit?

A few people have asked me about the post-title of that picture of the spilled load of cases of Grolsch that I put up the other day.

"Sunt lacrimae rerum" is a famous line from Virgil's great epic poem 'The Aeneid'. Aeneas, the hero, refugee from the sack of Troy, is taken in by Dido, Queen of Carthage, after suffering the shipwreck of his fleet off the north African coast. He sees a mural in her palace depicting the fall of Troy, and mutters these words.

It means something like: "Here's something to cry over."

Except that it is so much more resonant and elusive than that. The verb, "there are", is placed (unusually for Latin) at the beginning of the sentence, making the statement all the more blunt and powerful. There is an inversion of the expected word order/grammatical relation of the two nouns, so that instead of "a matter of tears" we get "tears of things". It feels like a general statement rather than a particular observation: 'rerum' ("things") is such a broad, undefined concept that it can suggest not just the subject matter of the painting but all things - all human existence, the world. And there is a kind of implied equivalence between "things" and "tears", as if to say "everything is tears".

Latin is a wonderful language.

I've been noodling around with something on this incident for the past few days:

Aeneid, Book I

Aeneas saw a world of tears
In the paintings on the wall,
Wept his own tears
(Behind his hand, for shame)
Remembering real horrors
Behind the artist's quaint tableaux:
The city taken, comrades killed,
Home and history vanished
In a single night of slaughter,
Beginning a lifetime's exile.
For the Carthaginians it was only
A diverting tale; for him
His life, his loss.

And Dido, seeing his pain,
Wanted him all the more...

Footnote: I had originally (lazily) labelled this as 'Aeneid, Book IV' - because that's where the romance between Dido and Aeneas famously reaches its climax. However, the comment on the murals of the fall of Troy is the prelude to Aeneas' recounting his adventures to the queen in Books II and III, and actually takes place towards the end of Book I. I have (a month or two late!) corrected myself.

"I could have been a judge if I'd only had the Latin."


Wow! Who would have thought it?! 100 posts already!

I had expected that on this, the rather less prolific of my two blogs, it would take me perhaps 5 or 6 months to notch this total - but instead, the milestone has come around in just under 4 months!

Yes, quantity we have here on Round-The-World Barstool Blues. And regularity too. But quality....??

Well, I'm doing my best. Bear with me.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

"Sunt lacrimae rerum..."

And yet some have miraculously survived.....

Where are the hordes of scavengers, I wonder, the Barney Gumbels circling like vultures?

Friday, January 05, 2007

An apology, of sorts

The Choirboy has just discovered my blog - and does not like his nickname here.

Sorry, F.... but I think you will grow to accept it in time. The 'inappropriateness' of it is really the point. You DO look a lot younger than your years; you DO look kind of sweet & angelic & innocent..... BUT we know you're not!

Remember that it is shorthand for The Dissolute Choirboy!

Everyone else seems to think that it's spot on.

But I will entertain suggestions for something better....

HBH 11

The fear of aging
Salved once more with alcohol.
Another birthday!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

To be reborn

I don't very often suffer a complete alcohol-induced memory wipe.

In fact, I don't think I've ever suffered a classic 'blackout', which, I understand from doctor friends, only results from prolonged periods of self-destructive excess, and typically erases periods of at least several hours, if not whole days together, from the memory.

No, a slightly sketchy recall of the latter stages of the evening (when my brain is three-quarters shut down, and getting me home on 'auto-pilot') is the worst that I can usually claim.

More thoroughgoing memory-loss incidents happened to me a few times in my wild youth - and I somehow rather miss them. To wake up after a huge bender, convinced that you have probably done bad things the night before, but having no recollection whatsoever of what they were, was a strangely invigorating sensation. It was like being pardoned for your sins, being given a clean slate..... almost as though you could begin your whole life again anew from that point.

I have quite often fantasized about how liberating, how empowering a dose of total amnesia might be!

The only time I've had such an episode recently was at the going-away session for my pal Big Frank 10 or 11 months ago. Strangely enough, on that occasion, it was a segment from the middle of the evening that went missing (perhaps I had been caning the double JD & cokes a little too vigorously during the extended afternoon 'happy hour' in the bar where we kicked things off), but I got a 'second wind' later on..... and can remember the later parts of that long, long bar crawl in rather too much detail.

It's a strange business, to be sure.

I have - for some years now! - been playing around with a possible structure for a 'drinking' novel ('Barstool Blues'), in which the protagonist is perpetually waking up without a clue where he is, and - trying to reconstruct the memories of the previous day - finds himself reminiscing about things that may perhaps have happened years before.... or indeed, perhaps about things that have yet to happen. The same sort of time-jumping, reality-flipping, multi-strand narrative structure used by Vonnegut in 'Slaughterhouse 5', in fact - "Listen. Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time." No new thing under the sun.

What do you think, though? Any mileage in it??

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A surprisingly happy New Year

After all my Scrooge-like refusal-of-good-cheer on my New Year's Eve post, I am happy to report that I was very pleasantly surprised by how things turned out.

Around mid-afternoon, I had given up on 'the plan'. The weather was so bad that it seemed likely the airport would be closed. One friend, flying back with her family on a local flight the previous evening, had been delayed for several hours, and only made it home just before dawn. The Choirboy, en route back from his ancestral mansion in Dublin, might well have been lost in the skies for who-knows-how-long. So, anyway: many of my friends were out of town for the duration of the holidays; others were only due back that weekend, and might not make it because of the snow and the fog; those few that were in town were either being completely uncommunicative (ignoring my barrage of hopeful, chivvying text messages), or were wimpily suggesting that they'd stay put near home for their 'celebrating'. I collapsed into dismay and despair; I resigned myself to a lacklustre evening of solo drinking.

But then, all of a sudden, 'the plan' was resurrected. The Choirboy had indeed made it back safely (and had finally managed to recharge his phone battery); others in quick succession began to report that they too were game to meet up after all.

Well, the original 'plan' foundered - as plans tend to do (in this town, anyway). We discovered at the last minute that the gig I had persuaded everyone to join me for was cancelled.... because the bar it was happening in had been closed down for the night..... because the local TV station had decided to take over the little square in front of it for a live outside broadcast and was staging some cheesy little pageant, access to which was restricted to a handful of "VIP guests" (and denied to oiks like us; The Choirboy did try to blag his way in; and if he can't manage it, no-one can!). The affected businesses around the square had only been notified of this - as is almost invariably the way of things out here - a day or two beforehand.

This also meant that we were denied access to the only bell in town that rings in the New Year - another central plank of the 'plan' whisked from under our feet!

The initial restaurant 'plan' went west too: well, I had wanted to try out a well-spoken of but only intermittently open new Korean place in the neighbourhood, but I was unable to carry the vote on that one. Eventually - a bizarre committee compromise - we settled on a nearby English 'fish & chips' restaurant instead: filling food, very cosy (roaring log fire)..... and remarkably uncontaminated by other customers!

The weather conditions weren't too bad, either. Although still unpleasantly damp and overcast and misty, the temperature had shot up quite sharply in the second half of the day, and most of the snow and ice on the ground had melted - and so taxis were starting to operate fairly normally once more. Although it got chillier again in the evening, the air was nicely bracing rather than painful.

It was a fine mix of people too: some diehard expats like myself, some 'tourists', old friends and new, Brits and Americans, boys and girls. There was even a nice trans-generational mix, with the parents of a friend from the Brit Embassy joining us, and a young married couple threatening to sprog imminently (baby Henry politely held off making his entry into the world until Jan. 2nd).

And - instead of going to some huge, raucous 'party' where we wouldn't have been able to hear ourselves think - we hung out in our sociable little group in my two favourite quiet little bars: the Yacht Club and Zoo (with just a few interludes of wandering the streets betweentimes; and trying to crash the TV extravaganza in the square; and some brief bicycle-sled escapades on the frozen lakes at midnight!!).

Things came to a natural wind-up somewhere between 1am and 2am, and I would have been quite happy to stagger home to my bed at that point (ah, the joy of having such good bars within a 25-minute walk of my apartment!); but..... well, The Choirboy decided that he wanted to cab over to the main bar district in the centre of town (in pursuit of his elusive, challenging, on/off local girlfriend) and cajoled me into accompanying him as his 'wing man'. I didn't stay long, since it was quite apparent that on this occasion he was in need of no such help. However, once in the 'zone of many bars' I couldn't resist popping my head around the door of a few more, just to see who else that I knew might be out and about. So..... I didn't finally hit the sack until 4.30 or so. In fact, I crashed out on a sofa as soon as I got through my front door, and didn't actually get to bed properly until a few hours later. I still haven't fully recovered.

I think that definitely counts as one of my better New Years.

Next year: staying home with a good book again, obviously.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Traffic report: blog stats for December '06

There were 31 new posts on Round-The-World Barstool Blues last month - a new record! That's a total of nearly 12,000 words. Admittedly the previous month's output had been slightly restricted by a 5-day out-of-town jaunt, but that's still a rather big month-on-month increase. I think there has been a bit of a seasonal boost over the past week or so - too much time on my hands over the holidays!

Expect things from now on to be more like the 25 or so posts, 8,000-10,000 words per month that we saw in both October and November.

There were around 420 visits to the site, very slightly more than the previous month.

I've no idea about the pageview and visit length stats, since www.sitemeter.com seems to have given up sending me any information on this. I will try to install the monitoring package from www.statcounter.com that was recently recommended to me by my IT-geek penpal Livy, and see if that's any more helpful or reliable.

As at the beginning of the New Year, there were 91 posts on the site, and there had been 1,105 visitors.

Also [cue: portentous drumroll] we had our first casual visitors to the site: at least three people outside of my immediate circle of acquaintance left comments last month. (I think one of them counts as my first 'troll': I've taken to deleting his contributions - not because they're obnoxious, but just because they're gibberish.)

I hope these positive trends continue. I'm thinking of upgrading to the 'Beta' version of Blogger soon, which may enable me to add all sorts of new bells & whistles.

Anyway, I hope you've been enjoying my rants and reminiscences so far. Please keep reading.

Into the blue!!

On the brink of the New Year, The Choirboy dramatically points the way ahead, staring into the future with all the confidence and idealism of youth - damn him!!

It was a grand night out, though, despite my earlier pessimism about it. More on that at a later date, perhaps.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A Resolution (?!)


A friend just sent me a link to this article in the New York Sun (I have some strange friends), by a linguist called John McWhorter, on the dying out of minority languages around the world.

According to the article, in the language of the Inuktitut Eskimo this single word means:

"I should try not to become an alcoholic."

I couldn't make it up. Well, I could..... but, on this occasion, I didn't.