Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The 'Live Blog' idea

I need to do something to boost the readership on here - especially after the recent lull in posting - so I have formed a crazy notion of trying to make Barstool Blues fully interactive (for one day only).

Yes, I have decided to try to cajole each of my party guests this Saturday to leave a comment via my own computer at some point during our projected 5 or 6 hours of debauch.

I will also be encouraging friends who are unable to attend - friends elsewhere around the world! - to join in the fun, to be with us in spirit (pour yourself a large rum & coke if you really want to get the feel of it!) by contributing comments from wherever they are.

Expect the party to run from about 8am-2pm GMT, this Saturday (March 3rd).... but I'll probably open up the 'comments' page at around 4am GMT to give my friends in America the chance to get the ball rolling before they go to bed on Friday night.

I extend the same invitation/challenge to any blog readers out there who don't actually know me.... (There are a few of you, I'm sure.)

Yes, it is a grand experiment - and, like most experiments, probably doomed to ignominious failure. Doubtless we shall be too preoccupied with the important business of getting drunk to pay the blog any attention at all. At some stage a glass of Planter's Punch will almost certainly get emptied into my keyboard, short-circuiting my computer.....

Well, we shall see, we shall see.

"You gotta try, dontcha?"

Party ON!

I know, I know..... yesterday I was claiming to be "off parties", but now.... I'm fully committed to having another one. The following invitation just went out.

Come celebrate.....
Bob Marley's Birthday!!

(and MY return to **** after a month-long absence!)

OK, the reggae legend was actually born on February 6th – I was originally planning to do this at the beginning of this month, but had to make an unscheduled trip back to the UK. Better late than never!

This Saturday, March 3rd..... from about 3.30pm onwards

Please come early..... if you want food (I will be endeavouring to cook a few Jamaican dishes!)
[Note: In the interests of good relations with my neighbours, I generally aim to wrap my parties up by 9pm or 10pm; we will move on to a bar somewhere afterwards.]

Where: My place, of course (directions to follow)

Dress: Wear your natty dreads – or at least your nattiest threads

Bring: It'll be a drinking party, so please bring beer; or, if you're feeling generous – RUM (If you can get Jamaican rum anywhere, fantastic - but a word of warning: of the two brands I know, Appleton Estates Special Dark Rum is fine; Wray & Nephew's Overproof White Rum is VILE)

RSVP! (If I'm going to try to lay on Jerk Chicken and Planter's Punch for the masses.... it would be nice to know how massive those 'masses' are going to be.)

Cheers, Froog

One Love!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Early retirement

A friend of mine (a 'Lost Love', I confess) told me a while ago that she was "off parties" - which struck me as an improbable, inexplicable policy decision. I rather fear she just meant that she was off me.

I do go through spells of withdrawal from the mad social whirl myself, so my ex's renunciation of sociability prompted me to brood on the topic for a while.... and to write this.

Off Parties

I used to love the social round:
New people, new ideas;
And myself being new to others;
But now.... I'm off parties.

I used to harvest business cards,
Building my networks,
And plotting ever bigger deals;
But now, I'm off parties.

I used to thrive on the buzz,
The casual chat, the casual sex,
And staying up all night;
But now, I'm off parties.

I used to like meeting people,
Collecting friends (like postage stamps)
To populate my loneliness;
But now, I'm off parties.

I used to enjoy spending hours in a bar
With all the pretty strangers
Who pretended to find me interesting;
But now, I'm off parties.

I used to feed on the music,
The booze and cigarettes,
And the thrill of the unexpected;
But now, I'm off parties.

I used to know everyone,
And they all knew me
And kept me always "on the list";
But now, I'm off parties.

I used to do it all,
To live it up, to chase the dream,
To party like there was no tomorrow.
But tomorrow came.

And a postscript to that

Another of those engravings I mentioned in the 'thought for the week' showed an apothecary bragging:

"I have a secret Art to cure
Every ill that men endure."

One of the customers in his packed shop accidentally brushed aside a curtain and was confused and alarmed to discover the skeleton figure of Death working in a back room as the apothecary's assistant, diligently grinding away at a mortar labelled 'SLOW POISON'.

That pretty much sums up my attitude to medicine.

A thought for the week (poetic again)

While wandering the (dark!) streets of London last week, I was browsing in the window of a bookshop just off the Charing Cross Road (bookshop heaven - one of the bits of London I do really like) when I saw a set of late 18th Century engravings featuring the figure of Death in a variety of situations (not by Gillray, I don't think, but that kind of thing). One of the captions, in rhyming couplets, accompanying a hellish scene of a 'gin house', was:

"Some find Death through the sword and the bullet,
Others through the fluids they pour down their gullet."

Quite so.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Seven Stars

My last couple of days in London I revisited some of my stomping grounds from the days when I was trying (somewhat half-heartedly, I fear) to become a lawyer. The friends I made back then, and the places we drank together in, were the best part of the whole experience of those few years.

There are many fine, characterful, quirky pubs around the Inns of Court and Fleet Street - and I was lucky enough to receive a real "insider's" introduction to many of them from my Mooting Partner (mooting being a mock courtroom exercise, debating points of law). I mooted with a number of different people during those years, but my chosen team-mate for the really serious event, the Middle Temple Mooting Competition during our Bar School year, was something special, one of my closest and dearest friends for over a decade now. She still introduces me as "my mooting partner" - at least to her barrister chums - 10 years on. Quite charming, really.

Well, we did go into battle together a number of times rather than just the once, and had to prepare in some detail (I tended to prefer a more seat-of-the-pants style where possible: I once delighted in teasing a different partner of mine, in one of the more informal weekly moots we used to do on our Law Diploma course, by asking her, sotto voce, just as we were about to begin, "Which side are we on again?"); there was quite a bit of pressure on them. In the end, we wuz robbed quite egregiously: we got a particularly pompous and self-important QC judging our semi-final, who had decided the issues before we even began (which is plainly an improper thing to do; and, as it happens, he had decided the key issue wrongly!), and then decided the moot on the basis of the law rather the competitors' performances (which is a nonsense, quite contrary to the rules). So, despite being acclaimed for the best performance, we went down because Sir Haemorrhoid deemed one of the issues on our side to be 'unwinnable'. How sour are those grapes? Pretty darned sour! I was so incensed about it that I did argue the toss - gently - with him about it afterwards.... but it was a hopeless cause: his mind had been made up, the decision given.

That may have been another of the great 'what if' moments in my life. Victory in that competition was reputedly an assurance of multiple offers of pupillage in 'good sets', a springboard to a high-profile and lucrative career. I'm a little sceptical on that. I do however rather regret missing out on an opportunity to take part in the grand final of the competition - which is always held in Middle Temple's magnificent medieval dining hall, in front of numerous senior lawyers and judges.

The Mooting Partner and I sought comfort for our unjust elimination in the fact that the topic for the final was announced to be 'equitable subrogation', which is a thorny problem and a thoroughly daunting phrase - it is, as we still remind each other from time to time, "a very BIG word"! You see, at the time of our defeat, I had just passed on to her a particularly good, particularly gross joke (which I didn't think I'd dare to publish online - but now have) where that phrase featured in the punchline; and to this day we are still able to reduce each other to helpless fits of laughter by dropping the line into our conversation.

Forgive me, I digress. Funny how all of that 'lawyer stuff' comes rushing back when I hang out in the locale for a little while. I had been meaning to tell you about The Mooting Partner, not the moot. She was a Fleet Street gal through and through, having learned the ropes of journalism in the good old, bad old days of 'The Street of Shame' back in the '70s (before Rupert Murdoch broke the back of the print unions and all the national newspapers started moving out to new headquarters in places like Wapping). In her middle years she had grown disillusioned with journalism and was re-training for a new career at the Bar. Journalists, of course, love to drink (a sweeping generalisation, to be sure, but a remarkably fair one); so she knew every nook and cranny of the streets in that part of town, every pub and wine bar, and proved an excellent guide to the neighbourhood, a fine 'leader astray' (not that I've ever really needed one of those!).

Of all those fine bars, my abiding favourite is 'The Seven Stars' on Carey Street (and I'm not sure that I didn't introduce her to that one; or at least popularise it as our default rendezvous), directly opposite the back door of The Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand. It is thus a favoured lawyers' hangout, particularly in the afternoon, when barristers (and solicitors, and their clients) often repair there after the early conclusion of proceedings over the road: a great place for gossip from the legal world. It also boasts one of the best pints of Guinness in London, at least outside of obscure working-class Irish dives (well, it used to any rate: I thought the pour was a bit sloppy there last week...). And one of the best martinis (a huge glug of Bombay Sapphire, straight from the freezer). And some excellent bar snacks. And it still has a stopped clock (it used to be quite a common gag that a pub would have a clock that taunted and teased its customers by perpetually displaying a few minutes before closing time - but that's a quaint old tradition that's rapidly dying out). There are also eclectic displays of legal and other artefacts, and on the walls an amusing selection of vintage cinema posters for classic courtroom films.

Its most disinctive feature, though, is the loo, which is upstairs from the (tiny) bar, and barely distinguishable from the landlady's private accommodation. The staircase is terrifyingly steep and slippery, with very narrow and downward-sloping steps. It was only a few years ago that they finally got around to installing a brass handrail, but that's not really such a great help: it's still a death-trap. I suspect that only the fond support of eminent lawyers and judges amongst its clientele can have saved the pub from the wrath of the health & safety inspectors all these years. But, strangely enough, it presents such a vivid hazard that somehow you always negotiate that staircase with appropriate caution, no matter how pissed you are; I don't think they've ever had any major accidents.

Do go and check this place out the next time you are in London - but be careful on those stairs.

Friday, February 23, 2007


I somehow lived in ignorance of Bob Marley while he was alive. I didn't pay that much attention to popular music during my school days (and virtually none at all during my time at University - it was that dreadful 'New Romantics', synth-pop era), and the great man completely passed me by.

Even when I visited Jamaica at the end of the '80s he was little more than a name to me. I suppose it was on that trip that I first became fully aware of him, began to appreciate the enormity of his reputation. On the island, of course, he is regarded as a kind of demi-god.... and almost everyone I met there claimed some kind of relationship to him, however tenuous or improbable ("My sister used to date his bass-player", "My second cousin used to live next door to him when they were kids", "My brother was his driver", etc., etc.).

But even then, I didn't get to hear much of his music. The Marley Museum (the bungalow where he survived an assassination attempt) was cloaked in a reverential silence. Everywhere else there was music, LOUD music blaring from ghetto-blasters in every shop, on every bus, at every street corner.... but mostly pretty dire music. The island's musical culture, I fear, was already in thrall to America, and eager to take up all the least attractive trends in American music. At that point, it was rap and house. Soon after, it would be hip-hop and the modern reinvention of "R&B". Traditional reggae was withering away under the onslaught of these more aggressive, less melodic styles. I'd nearly used up my two weeks there before I got my one and only dose of Bob, on a taxi driver's cassette player..... and what a breath of fresh air that was, after all of that boom-boom-boom nonsense that had been oppressing my eardrums ever since I arrived. Very possibly a life-changing moment for me. My host and I tipped the driver generously in gratitude for his musical good taste.

It wasn't too long before I became a huge Marley fan, although the process was so slow and subtle that I barely noticed it - only that first encounter sticks in my memory as a significant step along the road (probably not really my very first experience of the music, in fact, but the first that made a lasting impression on me). Several years later, of course, his music was to play a big part in one of my wildest ever drinking sessions, the infamous two-man 'Jamaican Beach Party' I shared with Mad Irish Dave. Always 'good time' music - just the thing to chase away the blues of another dreary London day. It's very, very difficult to listen to Marley when depressed. Or rather, it's very, very difficult to stay depressed when listening to Marley. I could do with some with me at the moment!

Quite good for lifting downcast spirits in the often dreary surroundings of my adopted home, The Unnameable City, too.

I had been planning to have a big reggae-themed party in my apartment to mark Bob's birthday last month (February 6th.... though the party was to have been on the preceding Saturday), but my emergency return to the UK thwarted that plan. However, it seems to me that this would still be a suitable way to celebrate my return next week. And, after all, a party in honour of the late Bob Marley may as well be late.... so March 3rd is the date I'm now planning for. Watch out for further news on this blog!! And - if you too live in The Unnameable City - feel free to drop by.

HBH 17

This one in honour of one of my favourite drinks. Not that they serve it in the original 'Haiku Bar', alas - but I have been able to indulge once or twice during my recent travels in England.


The longest minute
As Guinness slowly settles:

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Wake

I'd never been to a proper wake before, but I went to my brother's a couple of weeks ago. And it was a fine affair, strangely beautiful; very alcoholic, of course, but also very cathartic.

We shouldn't have been having it just yet, of course. I'd always feared he'd check out a bit early: he didn't live healthily, didn't deal with stress well; and longevity doesn't seem to feature in my family's genes (bad history of heart attacks on my father's side, strokes on my mother's). But I thought he'd make it out of his forties. I proved wrong on that: Fate is a bastard.

I admit to a little trepidation beforehand. I was looking forward to it as a good chance to unwind after the emotional overload of the funeral, and the two weeks preceding it; but also I was fearful that it might prove to be a dangerous, self-destructive session - I was worried that I just wouldn't be able to keep up with the bro's old drinking cronies. They're a pretty hardcore bunch; and I really haven't done that drinking heavily for 6 or 8 hours on end thing for quite some time. I am become 'a lightweight'!

And I was concerned too that I might feel left out, out of place. They'd all known him for donkey's years, probably knew him far better than I did; they scarcely knew me at all. My brother had lived in the same small town - or at least in the vicinity - for his whole life, had been hanging out in the same bars with the same circles of people for decades. His oldest friend there (a friend of my late father's also) had been drinking with him, I learned, for over 30 years.

I needn't have worried. Though I've only been back a handful of times in the last half dozen years, I found I did know most of them by sight at least, was on nodding terms with several, knew a few of them slightly better than that. And they seemed to find me a welcome reminder of their missing friend, a useful catalyst for letting their grief out. During the course of the evening I went around most of his closest friends, having a drink and a chat with them one by one, listening to their memories of him, and sharing a little blub.

Yes, there were a lot of tears that night. The rest of the family had all gone home early in the evening (things got under way straight after the funeral at 4pm; in fact, several people who had not been able to travel to the crematorium 20 miles distant had been hard at it since noon); and the other ladies present, for various reasons (I would like to think it was tact), had all slipped away by 9pm or so, making it possible for all those hard-bitten macho men to let their defences down now and again.... and cry like babies for a few moments. The brother's oldest friend was the last to crack; but by 11.30pm - in the 'lock-in' zone - very, very pissed, he began weeping freely and muttering over and over again, with mantra-like simplicity, "I bloody loved that man, you know. I really loved him."

The music helped too. I learned that my brother, relatively late in life, had, like me, unearthed his inner 'Plastic Paddy' and developed a fondness for Celtic folk music. A rather decent local band came along to sing a selection of the old Irish classics, and we all joined in a circle to sing along with a couple of his particular favourites, 'Will ye go, laddie, go' and 'The Fields of Athenry'. There's a deep strain of melancholy in Irish music, even in the prettier, more upbeat songs - ideal for breaking down the emotional dams we build around our hearts.

This all took place in The Nag's Head - a pub I commemorated in one of my earliest posts on here. It seems that the event marked the end of an era. The landlady who had played host to my brother over the past 5 or 6 years, and who catered this farewell party for him so generously, was about to quit. Already the hardcore drinking fraternity had been dividing their loyalties, spending much of their time at other pubs in town. And a good few of my brother's oldest mates now seem to have moved a little way out of town, and to have - belatedly - embraced some seriousness and domesticity in their lives, cut back on the almost nightly drinking that used to prevail a few years ago. I went back to the place a couple of times a week or two later, and it was nearly deserted, the staff different, the atmosphere quite changed. I wonder if I'll ever go back there again.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

At last, another bar poem

A few days ago I happened upon this, and thought it another of those strange coincidences that have been dogging me recently, in that it is somewhat similar in mood and circumstance to the piece I unearthed from my old archives the other day.

I don't think it's very good really, but it does capture something of the self-indulgent, self-satisfied melancholy that we tend to practise in bars.

I am curious as where this place is. [Update: One of my correspondents informs me that there is a Milne's Bar on Hanover Street in Edinburgh. An extremely likely candidate! I must check it out the next time I'm up there.]

Milne's Bar

Cigarette smoke floated
in an Eastern way
a yard above the slopped tables.

The solid man thought
nothing could hurt him
as long as he didn't show it -

a stoicism of a kind, I
was inclined to agree with him,
having had a classical education.

To prove it, he went on telling
of terrible things that had
happened to him -

so boringly, my mind
skipped away among the glasses
and floated, in an Eastern way,

a yard above the slopped
table; when it looked down,
the solid man

was crying into his own mouth.
I caught sight of myself
in a mirror

and stared, rather admiring
the look of suffering
in my middle-aged eyes.

Norman MacCaig (1910-1996)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A blast from the past

A blast of very cold air, that is. "Into my heart an air that kills/ From yon far country blows..."

In the 'blog description' in the right sidebar I joke that I often write (brilliant?) stuff down on napkins.... but then lose the napkins. Well, it's true. I do. Not often, but I do.

I can only think of one occasion on which I managed to keep hold of the napkins long enough to transcribe my jottings from them into a more permanent record. I had thought even this 'permanent' record now lost (it is nearly 10 years since, after the most wrenching breakup of my life - my parting after nearly 6 months from the feisty Australian bluestocking [that I later dubbed The Evil One]), but I have just rediscovered it while rummaging through some old files back home.

It is a raw and 'unfinished' piece, but there are many moments in it I like a great deal (perhaps "great moments and awful quarter-hours", as someone - was it Sir Thomas Beecham? - once said of Wagner).

Anyway, I offer this up for your diversion now. I wonder if that bar is still there; I can't remember exactly where it was - somewhere on the 'A Line' in the 40s or 50s, I think.

(jottings on a succession of napkins
in a Manhattan bar of that name)

is very far away
and famously cold,
and that is where you've sent me
(not the real one, of course,
but a Siberia of the heart):
very far away from you,
denied the warmth of any contact;
a friendless waste,
and no hope of return.

So now I'm writing from Siberia
(not the real one, of course
- though how I wish my small rebellions
might deserve such persecution;
I know I lack the courage or the talent
of those dissident heroes of my youth) -
no, not the real one,
but some Mid-town bar
on a Russian theme:
a recent venture; tiny, bare and basic;
hidden in a subterranean arcade
beside a Subway station entrance;
imported beer, nasty but strong,
and 57 varieties
of frozen vodka.
The owner touts a myth
of Cold War connections for the place:
a rendezvous of spies long since,
surreptitious swapping of worthless secrets
amidst the rush-hour throng.
But now.... a haven for refugees
from the oppression of commuting,
where secrets are traded freely:
the lawyer on his seventh shot
discourses on his troubled marriage,
and a fat man in the corner observes
that mistresses are no better.
"Redheads are the worst of all."
We all concur with that,
and sigh, and sip in silence for a while;
and the enormous sound of ice
cracking in a glass
is somehow
inside my chest.

But this is just a staging-post,
a foretaste of the chill to come:
in fact I'm only en route to Siberia
(and not the real one, of course).
For the next nine months or more
Toronto will be a Siberia for me.
Oh, not such a bad place, after all
(not as bad as the real one, of course
- though Ivan Denisovich at least
had his stolen roofing-felt
to give him warmth and purpose);
not such a hard sentence to serve.
No, a jewel amongst cities,
so the guidebooks say:
young, vibrant, cosmopolitan,
a cultural mecca, a yuppie heaven.
Perhaps, perhaps - but they might have said
the same of Tomi
and Ovid would not have been consoled,
whether it were true or not.
It's not a case of how hot or how cold,
or how bleak or how dull,
it's not how bad or how far away
or even how long....
All exile is
a state of mind and heart,
a futile railing against the tyranny of circumstance
that takes us somewhere other
than we would choose to be;
a gnawing pain of separation
from the things we want;
a stubborn wistfulness to return
to where we were before.
Siberia is not so bad
(even the real one)
if you can embrace it as your home,
look on loss as purgation,
and view desolation as a clean slate.
But I cannot:
I have no wish to live beyond the ocean,
and I have no wish to live without your friendship.
For me, then, this is no holiday,
no new beginning,
no step up to a better career
and a brighter future;
it is a twofold exile, a compound pain.
The first of these, at least, may be endured,
because it is finite;
but not the second: it crushes the spirit,
smothers all frail hope
with its cruel song of forever.
If there is to be no way
of winning my recall....
I say, "The hell with Toronto!"
I will stay here, in Siberia,
and drink vodka.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A poetical bon mot for the week

"If all be true that I do think,
There are five reasons a man should drink:
Good wine, a friend, or being dry,
Or lest he should be by and by,
Or.... any other reason why."

Henry Aldrich (1647-1710)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Still thinking of New Orleans (HBH 16)

I haven't heard from my pal John how his Krewe du Vieux carnival parade went the other week; but I'm sure it was a blast.

I recall that I was feeling particularly wistful about missing the party last year. Well, I was particularly wistful about everything this time last year, having just gone through a soul-shredding breakup with one of the Great Loves Of My Life.... but I had decided to pass on K d V because, so soon after Hurricane Katrina, I feared I'd feel a little out of place as an outsider, as if I were intruding on a private, still raw grief. Last year, I felt, it would be polite to leave the Carnival celebrations to local residents, as a necessary catharsis of the trauma they'd been through.

That was why I was all the more determined to try to make it out there this year.... but events conspired against me once again.

Anyway, this time last year, I composed this haiku - relevant again the other week.

N'Awlins parade night:
There in spirit, body trapped on
Far side of the world.

The times, they are a-changing

At 'home' in Wales, in the small border town of Monmouth where I grew up, I have had the chance to revisit one of my favourite pubs of a decade or two (or three!) ago, The Vine Tree.

It is much changed. It is now proudly advertising itself as 'The First Smoke-Free Pub In Town'. In these parts, that's about as stigmatizing as being 'The Only Gay In The Village'. Doug, the moustachioed landlord of my youth, would have had nothing to do with such PC trendiness. However, it is probably a smart commercial move to get a jump on the competition, given that smoking in public places is shortly to be outlawed everywhere in England and Wales.

Actually, as pub 'makeovers' go, they haven't done at all a bad job on this. Yes, the furnishings are now a bit too cosy and living-room-ish for my preference, a bit more like a coffee shop than a proper bar; but I suppose it's in keeping with the new 'gastropub' image they're obviously going for (much the best food in town at the moment; I hope they can keep it up). Yes, it is now rather brightly lit, but not dazzlingly so; the spotlights have been very cannily arranged to provide consistent - but discreet - lighting throughout. Aside from this, the interior is just as it ever was; a long, narrow series of low-ceilinged rooms, with only fairly small windows at front and back, none within the body of the bar itself (it's in a terrace on the high street) - this, I think, helps to preserve some of the 'dingy' intimacy I expect from a bar.... even though you can now see where you're going in there.

Yep, rather to my surprise, I find that the 'new' Vine Tree holds a lot of promise - not just as a good 'foodie' pub in the old hometown, but more generally for the future trends of British pubs: it is possible to modernise without completely desecrating!

It's just unfortunate that the place is now indelibly associated in my memory with my breakup from my most recent girlfriend, The Artist.

Oh well, mustn't dwell on it. Hell, if I abandoned a decent bar just because I'd had a bad scene with a girl in it..... well, I wouldn't easily be able to get a drink in the West End of London, for a start!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

This week's bon mot

"A man starts to lose his sense of direction after four drinks.
A woman loses hers after four kisses."

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

HBH 15

Unwanted kittens
Escape their sack, swim ashore.
Drowning memories.

The point here being that when you try to lose bad memories in the bottle, sometimes all you'll do is piss them off.... and suddenly they'll come back at you..... bedraggled, enraged, mewling, clawing....

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Another thought for the week

"I pity people who don't drink: when they get up in the morning, that's as good as their day is going get."

This one attributed to Francis Albert Sinatra.

Friday, February 02, 2007

I Wish I Was In New Orleans

This weekend sees the beginning of the carnival parade season in New Orleans.

Yes, it gets underway some two or three weeks ahead of Mardi Gras proper, with the early parades being just for the locals, and devoid of the 'Spring Break' college co-ed boorishness which has rather taken over Mardi Gras week in recent years. The very first parade to roll is
'Krewe du Vieux' - one of the more recent events to be established, but also the most traditional in ethos: it is the only parade that still uses hand-drawn or mule-drawn floats, and is thus the only one able to follow a route through the narrow, picturesque streets of the Faubourg Marigny and Le Vieux Carré (the old 'French Quarter'); and it gleefully emphasises the satirical - often, indeed, downright lewd or scatological - origins of carnival (something that's largely lost from the grander, motorised processions later in the season).

I have been lucky enough to behold this spectacle a few times over the last 7 or 8 years, and it is a darned good party. I was introduced to it by my good buddy John (a one-time English solicitor that I happened to meet in a pub in Hampstead a decade ago; a long-time [and not always legal] American resident, he now enjoys an elegant retirement in N'Awlins [amongst other places], where he dips his toes in the water of the local music scene as an occasional producer, talent-spotter, radio presenter, and organizer of the annual JazzFest), a French Quarter resident who has long been closely involved in this. He was once the grand poo-bah (I forget what title they actually favour - Grand Marshal, possibly) of the Krewe de Craps (one of 17 sub-krewes in the parade which each builds a float, hires a small marching jazz band, and rallies a group of supporters in wackily themed costumes to march along).

I had been trying to cultivate a habit of joining the parade every 2 or 3 years.... and I was due!

Next year definitely, next year.....

My best wishes go out to John and all the other revellers - I'll be thinking of you on Saturday night.

HBH 14

Glass never empties;
Taste grows ever saltier.
Crying in my beer.