Saturday, March 31, 2007

Worthy endeavours

Or not, as the case may be.

Earlier this month, I quoted a 'Wizard of Id' cartoon in which the drunken court jester, propping up the bar, is goaded into declaring some goal or objective for himself in order to give his life 'meaning', and retorts:
"I'm aiming to be customer of the month."

The principal reason for the uncommonly prolific posting from the Barstool lately is that, at the start of the month, with no other motivation than a pure impulsive whim, I decided I'd see if I could post something every day this month.

And I think I've managed it. (I can be oddly obsessive once I've set my mind to something; it worries me at times!) But it was bloody exhausting.

Expect a return to the more usual 4 or 5 a week next month. Less tiring for you, less tiring for me - everybody's happy.

Hangovers from many countries

Just a quickie, this one.

One of my favourite, silly little anthologies, probably now lost (I have several boxes of books - jumbled, unknown - in storage with old college friend, The Egregious Dr P, but I fear I am unlikely ever to be reunited with them; and the vast majority of my library was abandoned long since) was a little paperback called The Hangover Handbook. [Oooh, thank heavens for Amazon! I think this is it - somebody please send me a copy.]

It's a random mix of literary excerpts (including Kingsley Amis' famous account of a hangover in 'Lucky Jim' - often reckoned to be the best literary description of the experience - which includes something like: "a small, furry creature had somehow crept into his mouth during the night, and died there."), hangover 'cures', and odd tidbits of information from around the world.

The French, I was charmed to learn, use the idiom 'guèle de bois' ('wooden snout') to describe this condition.

Better, better by far, though, was this - from Norway, I believe (Scandinavian readers, please forgive me if I have misattributed the country or horribly corrupted the language - I am working purely from decades old memory here):

jeg har tommermen

Which means - "I have carpenters in my head."

Such a vivid phrase! I'm not sure that I have ever felt that myself, not even on the hellish occasion I recounted in my last post; but I can so readily imagine what it must be like.

[At least it could, I suppose, be better than having Carpenters' songs in your head, which is what we so often suffer at unwanted times here in The Unnameable Country!!]

Hangovers & Me

This could be a short post.

I don't get them.


Well, not what I'd call a hangover.

I mean, yes, sometimes you wake up a bit dry-mouthed, perhaps with the suspicion of a headache, feeling that you've not had nearly enough sleep, heavily disinclined to get out of bed or do anything too strenuous for a few more hours yet.

That's called LIFE. Get over it. Hell, I feel like that almost every morning, whether I've been drinking a little, or a lot, or not at all. I wouldn't call that vague sense of fatigue or unease a hangover.

I think it's perhaps just a case of my pain threshold being set exceptionally high. I have suffered some of the most excruciating pain known to man. Ever since that experience, blisters, stubbed toes, headaches, even toothaches barely register with me. That's not PAIN.

And perhaps also, more specifically, my threshold for hangovers has been set exceptionally high.

I had a hangover once. It was the hangover to end all hangovers. Literally. I might have felt slightly rough after a serious overindulgence a few times since then, but I knew it wasn't a hangover because it didn't feel remotely as bad as that - so I just ignored it, and got up, and got on with my life.

My one-and-only hangover occurred after my brother's 21st Birthday Party. It was the only party of its kind my parents ever hosted at our home, and for the life of me, I still can't imagine why they chose to do it. The bro was nearly 7 years older than me, so I was still little more than a kid, and little experienced in the ways of alcohol (although I had been allowed small but steadily increasing amounts of wine and spirits at Christmas over the past few years, and generally had a couple of halves of bitter shandy or lager & lime whenever I went to a pub with my folks).

This was a whole new world to me. It should have been quite a staid party - small, mostly family (I'm sure my brother must have had the 'real' party in a pub with his mates on an adjacent weekend); but quite early on, things started to spiral strangely out of control. Everybody seemed to have gone there with the idea of drinking until they dropped, even people that - as far as I knew - didn't usually do that. My uncle (dad's elder brother) started the rot. He'd just come back from a Mediterranean holiday where he had discovered a new drink called 'the screwdriver', which he thought terribly sophisticated, and which he insisted on introducing me to. We finished a bottle of vodka between us. I think that's what really did the damage; to this day, I am exceedingly wary of Smirnoff. However, there was a lot of wine and beer as well; and maybe a little bit of gin and whisky.

There are two strange snapshots that linger in my mind from later in the evening. First, my brother's best friend of the time, a young trainee golf pro called Rob, claiming that he could no longer find any clean glasses, and so digging a large Pyrex pudding basin out of the kitchen and filling it with two or three cans of Newcastle Brown, which he then proceeded to drink, quickly but rather messily. Second, one of my brother's work colleagues, a vivacious young woman named Barbara whom I had met a few times before when visiting him at his office, arriving very late (after already spending most of the evening in the pub, I gathered; although in those days that didn't deter anyone from driving) sitting on the floor with me and urging me to share some of the full bottle of gin she had obtained from somewhere (yes, we were literally under the table - or at least, under my father's writing desk). This was, I suspect, the first time (but the first of many) that I have found myself fancying a woman but realising that the age gap made things indecent (she was at least 10 years older than me, alas; these days, of course, the age difference usually goes in the other direction!) and that I was really far too drunk to do anything about it anyway.

After that, I had a hangover. Well, what I had, I think, was full-on, honest-to-god, lucky-to-have-survived-that alcohol poisoning and acute dehydration.

I had all the classic symptoms: dry mouth, dry throat, cracked lips, freeze-dried tongue; sensitivity to light; sensitivity to noise; sensitivity to being awake; sensitivity to being alive; the strange sensation that the inside of my eyelids had been coated with coarse sandpaper; joint pain; muscle pain; HEADACHE; acute acid stomach; occasional loose bowels and projectile vomiting (though, mercifully, at least not at the same time). Yes, THAT was a hangover.

Oh yes, and I got about 5 or 6 hours of semi-delirious coma rather than sleep. The following day - a Wednesday, I think - was a school day. I got through lessons, just barely, by excusing myself to go the loo every half an hour or so, for about half an hour at a time; sometimes I shat, sometimes I vomited, sometimes I think I just slept with my head resting on the loo-roll holder. Probably I also prayed for death and swore that I would never touch strong drink again; it's the kind of thing you do when you're not thinking straight.

In the afternoon, it was Sports. Not quite as bad as it might have been, I suppose. God forbid that anyone should have asked me to start running around in that condition. It was the first week back after the Easter holidays, and for the summer term I had taken the option of signing up for some cheap golf lessons with the local pro (not my brother's pal, Rob, unfortunately [he was probably in the same condition as me that day, anyway], but his rather stern Scots boss).

I was dreading it. Funnily enough, that was about the best I ever played in my life. I was in so much discomfort that I didn't make any unnecessary movements. I sometimes wish I could mentally recreate that feeling, to recapture the 'secret' of the game. My swing may have been very stiff and rather slow, but for the first - and only - time in my life, it went straight back and straight forward, and I was knocking the ball plum down the middle of the notional fairway almost every time.

That was my brief shining moment in the game of golf. I got steadily worse at it throughout the term, as I slowly recovered a full range of movement - and discovered the exquisite horrors of hooking, slicing, sclaffing, etc. (Golf coaching always seems to be based on the dubious premise that every golfer has a characteristic swing which can be modified and improved with careful attention. A swing. Just the one. Not me. I have dozens. I can hit the ball wrong in any number of different ways. I am a golf coach's worst nightmare. Or, I would be - but I've only played twice in the 25 years or so since then.)

So, anyway, that, my friends, is a hangover.

Don't come whining to me about how that third bottle of retsina left you feeling "decidedly secondhand" the next day.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Perhaps I spoke too soon?

Within the last hour or so, the block on Blogspot here in The Fatuous Republic seems to have been reimposed.

I shouldn't have joked about it!

Was anyone actually placing bets on the Kafka Boys getting stroppy with us again SO soon??

Sometimes I despair of this country, I really do.

Haiku for an overcast day (HBH 22)

I was bantering with my buddy 'The Cowboy' a while back about Jimmy Buffett, which brought back wistful recollections of the concept of 'Boat Drinks' (used as a particularly poignant toast by the likeable crims in 'Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead', one of the best, quirkiest gangster films of the last 10 years). Since it is a dull, grey morning here in The Unnameable City, I give you this:

Escape from grey days
In daydreams of the tropics.
A tall rum and coke.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The London Inn

The London Inn is nowhere near London, and I really don't know how it came by its name.

It is in an obscure hamlet called Molland, in the middle of the county of Somerset, in south-west England. My parents discovered it by happy chance on one of our regular family holidays down in that area, and a trip there became one of the regular high points of my childhood summers.

At that time, back in the '70s, it was run by a charming old lady called - if memory serves - Mrs Buckingham, who claimed to be the oldest landlady in the country (although I don't know that anyone keeps records of such things; she was certainly well into her 70s). And there was an old codger who was always in there, her regular companion and helpmate (not sure that it was anything more intimate than friendship!), who was a great guy too, quite the raconteur.

In addition to all the things that generally win me over me in a pub (antiquity, low ceilings, dark interior, stone and/or wooden floors, dark wood bar), it boasted two unique attractions: a very old slot machine (a real "one-armed bandit", operated by a lever; I think it might actually have pre-dated decimal coinage, but had been modified to accept 2p pieces - very low stakes! I loved those lever-operated machines; you somehow feel much more virtuous, supposing that you are getting some physical exercise while pissing away your money; and you easily convince yourself that there is a knack, that your success or failure somehow depends on the way in which you haul on the lever each time.); and a small menagerie in the front garden (there were two squirrels, which were my favourites; I think also some rabbits, and maybe a tortoise; and some parrots and cockatoos, which I found rather scary and ugly!).

Ah, but the main appeal of the place was the Ploughman's Lunches they did there. I'm sure they did other snacks and sandwiches which were probably excellent as well, but their Ploughman's was so awesome we would rarely want to try anything else. The pub was adjacent to the village bakery, so the bread - individual cob loaves - was always fresh, and usually still just a little warm in the middle (from the baker's oven, not the microwave!), and the exquisite aromas of baking often drifted through the bar. The chutneys and pickled onions were homemade. The portions were enormous (at least to my child's eyes; although I think my parents always struggled to finish theirs too). I'm told the locally-made cheese was pretty darned good. I've never been a fan of cheese (not the hard ones, anyway), unfortunately; but for me they substituted thick wedges of the best ham I have ever tasted. My mouth is watering now at the recollection of it.

One of the few pure, perfect memories of my childhood. The picture in my mind is always that the pub was empty, or nearly so, but for us; that the sun was always bright; that our family dynamic was always happy and quarrel-free.

I went back there a few years later with a friend from college. Of course, Mrs Buckingham had passed on, the little zoo had been disbanded, the Ploughman's was not the same.

Perhaps you should never go back to the scenes of past happiness; it's better just to cherish the memories.

The lines are open again

After 10 days or so of being 'blocked' by government censors in my country of residence (a move which has severely interrupted traffic to this blog, since most of my handful of regular-ish readers are based here too, and many of them are insufficiently Net-savvy to know what a proxy server is), Blogspot is now restored to us.

Although posting has continued unabated via the uninterfered-with Blogger site, I am not sufficiently Net-savvy myself to have found a way of leaving comments during the period of this blog blockade (Hmm, a 'blogkade'? Oh, no, please no - horrible invention!); and neither has any of my commenters in this country (neither of them, that is). That is the reason for the deafening silence in the 'comments' sections of late. I hope we'll hear some lively babble there again soon.

And let's hope Blogspot remains free of any further such ridiculous suppression.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Or possibly 'Juvenalia'? No, probably not in this case.

And anyway, that gag's been done before (though I'm not sure if it was deliberate!) on the early Liz Phair EP which featured both spellings. I'm a long-time fan of Liz P, but perhaps that can wait until another post. Oddly enough - somewhat incongruously, perhaps, yet marvellously - she became the 'background' of my first visit here to The Unnameable Country more than a dozen years ago, when one of the people I visited generously gave me a tape of her recently-released 'Exile In Guyville' album (absolutely brilliant: one of the great albums of the '90s, and quite possibly the best debut album ever).

But, returning to the matter in hand, I have alluded on here once or twice before to the 'Vodka Poet' persona I created for myself back in my Oxford days so that I could anonymously contribute playful doggerel about drinking to various student magazines (the same era, in fact, in which I composed the Tom Waits homage I featured in this early post). I have just rediscovered one of the earliest of these silly poems, a kind of 'testament' or 'apologia' (though I don't think it ever had a title as such) attempting to explain what the 'Vodka Poet' was all about. Now I'm sending it out for a little sail around the shallow waters of this blog; I hope the winds of criticism won't blow too roughly on it! It was only ever meant to be a slight thing; and I was very young when I wrote it.

If it isn't received too savagely, I might share a few of his other works with you - mostly far shorter and (even) more flippant than this.

My Muse's name is Smirnoff;
I'll meet her late tonight
At the bottom of the bottle
Where I find my second sight.

Whether tossed on waves of ecstasy
Or in dark depression sunk,
I gain a newer vision
When I'm well and truly drunk.

As the body droops to slumber,
The inner voices rise.
Here I lie upon my back -
A watcher of the skies!

There's a melancholy wonder
In the view the gutter gives;
Among the lowest of the low
The poetic spirit lives.

As the bottle empties
And my mind begins to fill,
I gaze up at the distant stars
And try not to be ill.

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.

Many chide me as a pagan
And revile my Muse's name;
But I'll continue in my worship
Without an ounce of shame.

The favours of a goddess
Entail an early death;
But I shall make the most of them
As long as I still have breath.

I may well die young and lonely
In my squalid little room;
But let the drab teetotallers
Read this lesson on my tomb:

"I've lived, and loved life keenly,
Though dying sooner than I might;
I may have burned out very soon,
But I burned very bright."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Besting Eric (Yet another memory of The Temple)

I mentioned in my post last week about my all-time favourite pool-playing bar, The Temple, that the pockets on its tables were ferociously niggardly.

I also mentioned that the landlord, Eric, was quite a scary piece of work - short and fat, but solidly built; a certain impatience of manner that suggests he's permanently pissed off with something; and a look of unsettling intensity in his eyes which hints at an inner psychopath. Just your regular East London landlord, in fact; except that he had somehow been transplanted into the rather less stressful environs of Oxford.

He was a very good pool player too. And something of an unknown quantity, in that, compared to the other regulars who I locked horns with on the table on a weekly basis, he didn't play very often. I think I only played against him 3 or 4 times in the space of nearly a decade.

But.... on one of those occasions I pulled off probably the most amazing, uncanny, so-good-it's-unbelievable, so-good-I'm-almost-embarrassed, so-good-I'm-frightened-it'll-get-me-barred-from-here shots of my entire career.

I have described before how the tight pockets led to long, patient tactical exchanges, with both players vying to cover up as many pockets as possible before attempting a clearance. This was such a game. Neither of us had potted anything much, but Eric was playing well, and appeared to be developing a commanding tactical advantage. He had a ball wedged tight in the mouth of each of the top corner pockets. I had no obvious shot to go for. And I was cueing in an awkward position, having to play over a small cluster of balls in the centre of the table (the so-called 'Chinese snooker').

And yet.... I 'saw' a possible shot. I felt I had a pretty good angle on a plant (or, as our American friends say, a 'combination' - playing one ball on to another to try to make a pot), although there was a lot of space between the balls, and the ball I would be attempting to pot was tight on the side cushion - and the pocket I would be aiming to get it in was one of those comprehensively blocked by a ball of Eric's. However, I'd watched often enough before the behaviour of balls hit firmly into the jaws of these tight, tight pockets to know that - if you hit them just so - you could rattle them clear, bouncing them briskly from one jaw to the other and then rolling them out along the cushion rail. This was my primary objective. I didn't really want to pot my ball at this relatively early stage of the game. I wanted to get Eric's ball away from the pocket and leave mine in its place. That much I could certainly do. It was an extremely tough shot, but I felt a sudden wave of confidence about it. Then I started to get ambitious. I had another ball tight on the cushion in the middle of the top end, between Eric's two covered pockets. It began to occur to me that if I cleared Eric's ball from the first pocket hard enough, and it stuck right on the cushion, it would knock my ball towards the other corner pocket.... where it might just conceivably wobble Eric's ball out of the mouth of that pocket as well. I hardly really dared to hope for that; but at least there was a fair chance, the cut of these pockets being as unforgiving as it was, that I might at least avoid potting Eric's ball by mistake, and would 'develop' my ball into a more promising position - perhaps near-ish to that corner pocket, certainly a little away from the cushion.

Now, all things considered, this was an IMPOSSIBLE shot. Cushion-ball plant into a covered pocket from an awkward cueing position. CRAZY even to attempt it! There was a strong chance I would pot either or both of Eric's balls. If I managed to avoid that, there was still a significant chance that I would pot one or both of my balls - more by luck than anything else - and ruin most of the tactical value of the shot (I wanted to improve my game position at the expense of my opponent's, not pot something straight away!). The likeliest outcome was that I would just execute the shot imperfectly and achieve nothing very much by it: neither of Eric's balls dislodged from their pockets, none of my balls in an improved position.

What actually happened was that I executed the shot perfectly. I played the plant on to my ball on the side cushion, it struck Eric's ball out of the mouth of the pocket, and wedged itself tightly in the jaws in its place. Eric's ball fizzed smartly along the top cushion, cannoning into my ball half-way along; Eric's ball, of course, then stopped dead - so crisp and clean and full-on had been the contact - and my ball fizzed along the remainder of the cushion to the other corner pocket, where it dislodged Eric's other ball. Eric's other ball stuck tight to the side cushion, and came to a stop half-way along it. My ball stuck fast in the mouth of the second pocket.

I had in effect completely reversed the position: where Eric had had two pockets under his control, while I had been looking at two balls tight on the cushions which were effectively unpottable, now it was I who had the pockets tied up and Eric who had two balls in bad position. It was an almost inconceivably brilliant outcome. I could hardly believe it myself.

And the best (or worst!) of it was that Eric himself had missed it. He had been called away to attend to something at the bar for 30 seconds while I took my shot. He went away, comfortably ahead in the game, probably expecting that I would stuff up big time, perhaps commit a foul, certainly fail to do anything to redeem my position.... and might possibly even leave him an opening to attempt a winning break on his very next visit to the table. Instead he found himself up shit creek!

It was almost impossible to imagine how such a radical change of fortunes might have come about through a single shot. I could see him shaking his head in disbelief. I suspect he was questioning his recollection of the game position, wondering if perhaps he was on spots rather than stripes. "What did you do?" he murmured, as the full horror of it slowly sank in.

He was furious. He didn't let it explode, but I could see that he was. Of course, I went on to win the game. I don't think he ever played me again. I'm not sure that he ever spoke to me again....

Ah, but it was a wonderful shot. I think I could die happy, remembering moments like that.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Elements of the 'good life': perfect martinis and poisoning pigeons

I chose that line from the great Tom Lehrer (still with us, I'm glad to note, though soon to turn 79 - and having retired from satire in the 1960s) for this morning's 'bon mot of the week' largely as a reminder to my buddy The Choirboy that he has promised to start having start-the-weekend cocktail sessions round at his pad early on Friday evenings, once the weather starts getting warmer.

The dear boy mixes a fine martini, so this is a much-anticipated addition to the social calendar in these parts.

And the weather is now definitely getting warmer.....

PS I just used another Lehrer line over in my latest post on Froogville. I wonder how many people catch these passing references these days?

The important things....

"Hearts full of youth!
Hearts full of truth!
Six parts gin to one part vermouth!"

Tom Lehrer

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A dedicated follower of football

Well, I used to be. Not an obnoxious obsessive. Not a chauvinistic supporter of one particular club. But I do love the game. And I like to watch the big matches in the latter stages of the season. This is a busy couple of months we've just entered, with the knockout phase of the Champions League, the climax of the English league season, and the FA Cup coming up.

It's hard to keep up my enthusiasm and maintain my interest in the sport out here, though. Coverage on the local TV is erratic, and the presentation abysmal. {This probably merits a 'Where in the world am I?' post over on Froogville some time. [DONE!]) I don't have satellite TV. And the foreign sports bars where I could watch games (perhaps even with commentary in English!) are not at all my cup of tea. (Affluent expattery is not, in general, my cup of tea. Drunk, boisterous, partisan expats are espcially not.)

And worst of all, of course, the games are all on in the wee small hours of the morning local time. I almost killed myself trying to watch the European Championships in '04. (It didn't help that, hours after we had thrown away our game with France by letting Zidane score twice in the last few minutes, I had to endure a long cab ride out to the University district with a driver who had evidently been up all night watching the games also - and delighted in taunting me for the whole 30 minutes: "France, very strong, yes? Zidane, great player, yes?" I consoled myself that this teasing was the only thing keeping him awake, and me alive.) Last summer, I arranged to go for a holiday in the States during the second half of the World Cup. The first two weeks of trying to watch it out here had turned me into a zombie.

Amid the tribulations of these crazy viewing times and the attendant sleep-deprivation, I seem to have developed an unfortunate aversion to my national team. I noticed last summer that I had become incapable of staying awake during England games, though I could usually manage it without too much difficulty for France, Brazil, the Czech Republic, etc. I briefly tried to convince myself that this was actually a good thing because: a) we were playing appallingly, and were very boring to watch; and b) we seemed to score on the rare occasions when I woke up!

It seems that this habit still persists. Last night, after a heavy evening of beer & pool with Big Chris and The Chairman, I returned to Froog Towers to watch our European qualifier against Israel - and fell asleep on my infamous Man-Eating Sofa within seconds of switching the TV on. The Chairman tells me I didn't miss anything.

I hope I can keep my brain switched on long enough to enjoy at least a few of the late-night matches ahead.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Beermat Game (Another memory of The Temple)

My long-time drinking sidekick, The Bookseller, was a frequent companion on my visits to The Temple.

The regular dogs there that I mentioned in my first post on that great pub, three lovely border collies, used to enjoy playing with the customers. The favourite game was catching beermats frisbeed through the air. One of the dogs was particularly energetic, revelling in a long chase or a high jump before seizing the flying mat triumphantly in its teeth, sometimes pulling off fancy moves like over-the-shoulder catches and spinning jumps. The other, older dogs would tire of the game after 10 minutes or so, but this young, frisky, exuberant one would just go on and on. Generally, we punters would have to take it in turns to keep her happy until she'd had enough; it could be too time-consuming, too exhausting for one of us alone to keep her adequately entertained.

Well, all except the Bookseller, that is. His enthusiasm for the game exceeded that of the dogs. If, on certain evenings, they seemed disinclined to begin the game, he would chivvy them into taking part. Once they got going, he seemed quite immune to fatigue or boredom. He would quite happily keep at it for 15, 20, even 30 minutes without a break. He would tire the young dog out.

It was at this time that I became convinced that the Bookseller must have been a dog in his previous incarnation (and is evidently eager to return as a dog next time round!). It's a more carefree life, I suppose.

When I thought on it further, I realised that 'dogginess' is evident in every aspect of his personality: he is touchingly loyal, exuberantly affectionate, prone to getting over-excited about things (dashing around madly, clumsily, soiling the furniture), apt to snarl and sulk when offended.... quite incapable of being left alone in a car.

Mind you, I miss 'the beermat game' too. The richest pleasures are often the simplest.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Remembering Ivor Cutler

I found out by chance, just the other day, that one of the contemporary British writers I most cherish - the magnificently eccentric Scot, Ivor Cutler - was dead. He died over a year ago: the first anniversary of his passing, in fact, fell on the day of my party at the start of the month. It is so easy to lose touch with the news back home, particularly with events like this which are not seen as "world-shattering" by news editors and are given prominence only in the domestic arena, only for a few days.

Belatedly catching up on the obituaries, I found this one from The Guardian to be the best, though links to others on his official website are all worth checking out.

I'm not sure if he quite qualifies for inclusion on this site as an 'unsuitable role model', since all of those to win that accolade thus far have been distinguished by their heavy drinking: Brian O'Nolan, Jeffrey Bernard, Peter Cook (all avowed alcoholics), Shane MacGowan (and a druggie too), Jem Finer (not, so far as I can gather, a 'problem' drinker like Shane, but fond of one or two - all the Pogues could drink for Ireland in their heyday!), Charles Bukowski (perhaps not quite an alcoholic, but fond of painting himself as one in his literary persona), Tom Waits (a 'reformed' man now, but reputedly quite the boozehound back in the '70s).

I haven't read anything to suggest that Ivor suffered this vice. Then again, I haven't read anything to suggest he was a teetotaller either. Anyway, I am not inspired only by boozing prowess. Ivor was a kind, gentle, exquisitely funny man, with a uniquely skewed viewpoint on life (how can you not love someone who collects ivory-handled cutlery as a concrete pun on his name??). He was also a lifelong schoolteacher - brilliant, I'm sure, and adored by his pupils, but challengingly unconventional! Yes, there's much to admire in the man and his life, his performance and his writing. [There's a nice tribute show on Radio Clash, featuring a lot of Ivor's own recorded work and some covers of his songs by others, here.]

I especially love his fictionalized, surreal recollections of his impoverished Glasgow childhood in "Life In A Scotch Sitting-Room, Vol. 2", an excerpt from which I just posted over on Froogville.

He is perhaps best-known for pieces of whimsy like this:

If your breasts are too large
You will fall over
Unless you wear
A rucksack

Much of his poetry, though always winningly quirky, has considerably more depth to it than this. I must dig out some further examples.
RIP Ivor.

A haiku with a classical reference (HBH 21)


No future, no past -
Diet of lotus-flowers.
Ship rots at anchor.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Temple

I've commented before on my love of the game of pool, notably here and here.

The place where this Zen-like devotion, this quasi-religious awe I now have for the game first really crystallized was a pub in East Oxford called The Temple (yes, something very appropriate about the name, isn't there?).

In my first couple of years as an undergraduate, I lived in college, took a relatively serious (if never over-industrious) attitude toward my studies, and pursued a fairly conventional social life - dabbling in politics, debating, journalism, drama (in a barely-getting-the-toes-wet myself, but knowing-everybody-who-was-anybody kind of way). Then I just got terribly bored of it all (my studies especially; I had kept trying, and failing, to switch to a different course, and got miserably disillusioned with the whole business). Thereafter (and I managed to swing 4 more years there, since I was doing a 4-year undergraduate course, took a 'year out' to try to get my head together, and then went on to do a one-year teacher training course [in Durham, but it wasn't a very demanding programme, and I spent extended spells - including nearly the whole of the summer term - back in Oxford]), I lived in rented accommodation around the town, did just barely enough work to avoid being kicked out, renounced most of my former pursuits and the whole image of being "a student", and tried to live instead as a "townie" - hanging out in local pubs in rough parts of town most of the time rather than in college bars, or the Oxford Union Society, or town centre student-y bars, and making some local friends for the first time.

The Temple was the great discovery of this period, although I found it relatively late - I think, during the penultimate summer of my undergraduate career. I spent much of the following year there - visiting every week at least once, usually two or three times - and playing a lot of pool. It had all the elements of a great pub; it was almost, indeed, for me, The Perfect Pub: traditional decor, dark wood fittings & furniture, enfolding gloom (only one - frosted - bay window, right at the front of the very long bar area), wooden floorboards; a characterful landlord (a blunt, curmudgeonly Londoner called Eric, who ruled the place with a rod of iron; when he finally retired in the mid-90s, there was a sudden influx of unsavoury characters who had apparently been 'barred' by him during his reign); friendly dogs (in particular, a regular trio of beautiful border collies, one of them Eric's); excellent beer (the aptly-named 'Tanglefoot', an unusually light-coloured but exceptionally flavourful and deceptively strong bitter from a small brewery in Dorset, being my usual tipple of choice in those days; though there were other tempting options as well; Eric kept an excellent pint of Guinness...) and bar snacks (one of the few places where, in addition to the bog-standard crisps and nuts, you could reliably get very good pork scratchings and spicy poppadoms); a very fine juke-box selection (my favourite perk-me-up accompaniments to my pool-playing from those days were the inspiration for a number of my best compilation tapes); an engaging band of regulars (many of whom were in there pretty much every night; although I never really got to be on more than nodding terms with any of them, they did start to feel like "family" in a way: you observed their shifting fortunes with interest and sympathy [one couple split up, were apart for a long time, got back together again], felt the sense of loss when one of them moved away for good), most of whom came for the pool table.

Ah, that pool table. Wherever did they find it? Eric the landlord was himself, you see, a very keen player (although he would seldom allow himself a game during opening hours, other than sometimes very early or very late in the evening), and so, unlike with most pub tables that we have had to suffer over the years, he had taken great pains to find a really good one, to get it properly installed, to keep it reasonably well maintained, to make sure that it was level. It wasn't quite perfect, but it was streets ahead of almost any other pub table I've ever played on. And the really great thing about it was the cut of the pockets - god, they were tight! That was the really unusual thing, and I've no idea how Eric found such a table. Most pub tables, of course, are designed to be easy - the pockets gapingly wide and forgiving, so that games can be finished quickly. Well, these days, of course, most pub tables are coin-operated, which is driving that trend even further (and encouraging silly new 'rules' like being able to take the cueball 'in hand' after any foul!!). The Temple table was FREE. And it was bloody difficult. Even the most brilliant potters could rarely make shots into the corner unless the target ball was nicely placed on the mid-line of the pocket. 'Near misses' would look like embarrassingly huge cock-ups, the ball spilling way back out on to the table; 'very near misses' would stick fast in the jaws of the pocket, tying it up for you (usually!) until the 'endgame'. The tightness of the pockets dictated the tactics: it was unwise to go for big pots, to attempt large breaks; the winning approach was to be very, very patient, picking your balls off one at a time, developing your position slowly while frustrating your opponent with safety play, painstakingly seeking to cover each of the pockets in turn (or the corner ones at least) before attempting your final clearance. On most pub tables, good players can often finish a game in just a few minutes, and even duffers will rarely use up more than 10 minutes to conclude matters. In the Temple in those days, games regularly took 15-20 minutes to play out, and occasionally much longer even than that.

Those were some epic encounters. That is where I learned most of what I know about the game (until I met The Chairman, at least): about patience, self-discipline, determination, 'psychological warfare', about the importance of weighing up the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent's personality as well as his game. Those Temple regulars were a good test. They played more often than me. They knew the table far better than me. They knew each other far better than me. Most of them were better players than me (a few of them much better). But on my day, I could - and did - beat them all, because I learned how to out-think them, how to exploit their shortcomings (well, OK, yes, in many cases it was just a matter of waiting until drink took the edge off their concentration!).

It was a winner-stays-on table. I had a few good runs on there, but mostly against my student buddies who were not, for the most part, that good. I'd rarely managed to rack up more than 4 or 5 consecutive victories against the regulars. A couple of days before my Final exams, I arrived on the stroke of opening time at 7pm with three friends, and proceeded to 'warm up' by thrashing them a couple of times each. Then, after an hour or so the regulars started to show up - and I saw all of them off too. Just before closing time, we switched to playing doubles, and I still managed to win the final two games, the second of them against the intimidating landlord, Eric. I stayed on all night. I think that was 16 wins in all. 'Finals' seemed a complete irrelevance in comparison. That really was one of the greatest 'achievements', one of the most beautiful experiences in my life.

I suspect I shall return to reminiscences about The Temple again. It has an important place in my heart, in my soul. And there are so many great stories to tell about the place.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Messing with the Judge

I couldn't resist the temptation to post a little bit more on the late Peter Cook.

One of his 'finest hours' came in 1976 when he produced a scathing parody of Mr Justice Cantley. Cantley, a doddering old judge who had just presided over the trial of Jeremy Thorpe (a minor politician who had achieved huge notoriety when accused of conspiring to murder a man who had been attempting to blackmail him over his alleged homosexuality), had betrayed an outrageous personal bias in his summing up speech to the jury, and this had no doubt played some part in Thorpe's acquittal. Cook's rendition, hilarious though it is, is scarcely more extreme than Cantley's all-too-earnest original. (Either or both could be usefully studied at Bar School as examples of how not to address a jury.)

I seem to recall that the piece was performed at a charity concert for Amnesty International shortly afterwards; and it was supposedly composed on-the-spot, on the last day of the trial itself. (John Cleese once ruefully, enviously remarked that, whereas it could take him and his 'Monty Python' writing partner Graham Chapman a whole day of hard slog to work up a three-minute sketch, "it used to take Peter about three minutes".)

Cook's Cantley sketch - usually titled "Entirely A Matter For You", a standard judicial phrase which here acquired a heavy irony - begins:

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it is now my duty to advise you on how you should vote when you retire from this court.

In the last few weeks we have all heard some pretty extraordinary allegations...."

And it ends:

"You will probably have noticed that three of the defendants have very wisely chosen to exercise their inalienable right not to go into the witness box to answer a lot of impertinent questions. I will merely say that you are not to infer from this anything other than that they consider the evidence against them so flimsy that it was scarcely worth their while to rise from their seats and waste their breath denying these ludicrous charges....

And now, being mindful of the fact that the Prudential Cup begins on Saturday.... putting all such thoughts from your mind, you are now to retire (as indeed should I).... you are now to retire, carefully to consider your verdict of 'Not Guilty'."

Aha! At last the sketch has shown up on YouTube.

Persecution Blues

Life is once again being unfathomably and unreasonably - but not, alas, unexpectedly - frustrating here in my adopted home, The Unnameable Country.

Thanks to unwarranted Internet censorship by the powers-that-be here, my two little blogs are ever so slightly derailed at the moment. I can still post to them fine, but I can only read them with a modicum of difficulty (via proxies, and often very slow to download), and I can't currently access the 'comments' pages at all. Please see today's post on big brother blog Froogville for a slightly more extended whinge.

I am hoping that this interference will once again prove short-lived (like the last two or three times!). And please keep your comments coming, no matter what - I will read and reply to them one day.

"Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up sniffing glue!"

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Another comedy hero

Some time ago, I closed a post (featuring one of my poems - unusually, on a Classical theme) with the line: "I could have been a judge if I'd only had the Latin."

A wistful reflection on lost opportunities... or a useful excuse for a lifetime of under-achievement? The line has certainly always appealed to me!

I, in fact, do have the Latin (although it's been almost entirely phased out of the law in England in the last 10 years). And the law too, come to that. Alas, to become a judge in England you also need a lot of personal connections, family connections - or at least, the sort of personality that can cultivate such connections. I was never much good at schmoozing with the "upper reaches" of society, and thus always felt rather marginalized during my brief, unhappy attempt to gain acceptance at the Bar (NO, not a drinking bar; I mean, "to make my career as a lawyer", you fools!). I console myself with the thought that, as (I believe it was) H. L. Mencken once said, "A judge is just a law student who gets to mark his own exam-paper."

I am surprised that no-one has yet quizzed me on the reference, though. It's a famous line from E. L. Wisty, one of the distinctive comic characters created by Peter Cook, a giant figure in English comedy from the '60s through to the '90s. He is perhaps best remembered for his partnership with Dudley Moore, which began in the classic long-running stage revue 'Beyond The Fringe', continued on TV, most notably in the mid-60s BBC series 'Not Only, But Also', and even made a successful transition to the cinema in the original 'Bedazzled' (have no truck with the pointless Liz Hurley 'remake' of a few years ago).

I do remember a number of the 'Not Only' shows extremely vividly - though I was scarcely out of nappies when they were originally made. I wonder if there were re-runs of them at some point in the '70s? My childish mind particularly enjoyed what I think was a regular ending to the show (I hope I am not deluded on this point, or confusing it with another show) in which Pete and Dud and a guest star would take it in turns to improvise lines of comic doggerel. Whenever they hesitated too long, or missed the required rhyme, a spring under their chair would catapult them into a large tank of foam in front of them. Utterly silly - but they somehow made it seem like a matter of life-and-death, and their desperate fumbling for the rhyme that might save them was far funnier than the eventual inundation in the foam.

Another sketch that has haunted me down all these years was a particularly poignant fable about a medieval King (played by the diminutive Dudley) who was so paranoid about people stealing his gold and jewels that he wore them about his person permanently. In fact, all he wore was an enormous cubic brown-paper parcel (containing the crown jewels), with only his crowned head and his naked arms and legs protruding from it. I entirely forget what the outcome of the story was, but that image of Dudley Moore as a human parcel has never left me.

Some of the best stuff, though, was in their pub conversations as 'Pete & Dud', two slightly seedy, slightly simple-minded friends in identical raincoats and flat-caps, musing 'philosophically' over pints of beer. Some of these dialogues - almost entirely improvised - would take the most wonderful, surreal twists and turns. And a large part of their charm was that the pair so clearly had the time of their lives doing them; in fact, one or other of them (though more usually Dudley) would quite often be taken by surprise by his partner's comic inventiveness and lapse for a few moments into helpless corpsing (in one of the most famous ones, where Pete fantasises that he is being stalked by a lovelorn Greta Garbo, Dud at one point nearly chokes on his beer).

I also fondly remember being lucky enough to catch a few of his impromptu contributions to London's LBC Radio, where - intermittently through the early '90s - he would phone in to the wee small hours show purporting to be a Norwegian oil-rig worker called Sven, who would talk of his loneliness, his difficult relations with his wife Yuta, and his obsession with his pet fish. Some of these phone calls - and much of his other recorded output - are now available for download here, a site maintained by the Peter Cook Appreciation Society (they can't spell, but they do a good job of collating his work). The official Peter Cook website is here, and there is (of course) a very good bio of him on Wikipedia, here.

Sadly, Peter, like so many brilliantly funny men, was often seemingly rather troubled in his personal life, and suffered from alcoholism. Despite managing an extended spell on the wagon in the '80s, he relapsed again, and essentially drank himself into an early grave, dying while still in his middle 50s. Much missed.

Monday, March 19, 2007

In the words of.....

Jimmy Buffett:

"Some people claim there's a woman to blame,
But I know - it's my own damn fault."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Dialogue with a Search Engine

I've been idling away a half an hour trying to find some new poems on the theme of drink or drunkenness. Plagiarist and PoetryX seem to have remarkably little on this theme - perhaps it's a deliberate bowdlerization of the canon, a moral crusade against the evils of the demon drink on their part??

I just typed "dead drunk" into the Keywords box.

The reply I got was: "Did you mean 'determined'?"

Well, no. And I can't see any obvious connection between the two. Not even the number of 'd's.

However... the more I think on it, the more I feel there might be an idea for a poem hiding in there somewhere (like the Inuit soapstone carvers who can 'see' the animal imprisoned in the rock when they first pick it up).

'Determined' is so marvellously fraught with ambiguity in itself. How on earth did we end up with a word that means both 'strong-willed' and '(an issue, fate) decided by others'? And then how determined must we be to get dead drunk? And what is it, if anything, that we determine by getting dead drunk? And what is determined for us?

The way my mind works......

Don't try to understand it. Just be the seagull following the trawler.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Plastic Paddy

Celebrating St Patrick's Day in my Asian home, The Unnameable City, is a bit of a problem. There are, to my knowledge, only two Irish bars here, and neither of them is very good. When I went to check one of them out on this night a year or two ago, I was greeted by the incongruous spectacle of a Filipino cover band singing 'American Pie'. The Guinness (which, I think, has to be imported from Malaysia) is pretty average in taste and pour..... and prohibitively expensive.

So, not much cod Irishry for me tonight.

I am, though, I freely admit, a terrible 'Plastic Paddy'. My Irish heritage is limited to my surname - my father was pretty thoroughly 'English', his father having moved to England as a young man at the turn-of-the-century (and then having died young - a delayed effect, as I am told, of wounds received in the First World War - leaving my dad and his brothers to be brought up by an English stepfather); and yet, and yet..... show me damp green fields, wave-lashed coasts, a freckled, red-haired colleen, or a nice glass of stout; mention The Hunger or Bloody Cromwell; or let me hear the plaintive strains of a fiddle or the Uillean pipes.... and I feel a stirring in the blood, a shiver in the bone-marrow, a wistful tear forming in the corner of my eye.

A decade ago, when I was living in Toronto, I had the good fortune to have three of my musical heroes descend upon the city in quick succession in the last couple of months before I left: John Otway, Eric Bogle, and Shane MacGowan (I actually delayed my departure date by a few days to catch Shane, who was playing with his post-Pogues band 'The Popes'). Perhaps the most interesting of the lot was Bogle, who I'd never seen before and had only started to learn a little of when The Pogues had covered his 'And The Band Played "Waltzing Mathilda"....' for the last song on their landmark 'Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash' album in 1984. He played a fantastic little gig (a Sunday afternoon show, in the rather staid surroundings of Toronto's Anzac Club!) which has kept me on the lookout for his stuff ever since.

Bogle, a Scot who emigrated many years ago to Australia, is a folkie (not really my thing), mostly in a comedic vein, although he does do more serious stuff too, including some notable anti-war songs such as 'Mathilda' and 'The Green Fields of France'. However, the reason I mention him now is that the song that particularly caught my attention that first time I heard him was this:

Plastic Paddy

He's just a Plastic Paddy, singin' Plastic Paddy songs
In a Plastic Paddy pub that they call The Blarney Stone.
There's plastic shamrocks everywhere, there's Guinness and green beer,
And a sign in Gaelic above the bar which says "God Bless All Here".

His guitar sounds like a wardrobe, and it's out of tune at that.
His singin' voice it ranges from A-sharp to A-flat.
He's just desecrated "The Holy Ground", ripped apart "Black Velvet Band",
Sang some nights drunk, and now he's sunk "The Irish Rover" with all hands.

'Cause he's just a Plastic Paddy, singin' Plastic Paddy songs
In a Plastic Paddy pub that they call The Blarney Stone.
The publican's a Proddy Scot by the name of McIntyre
Who does not allow collections for the men behind the wire.

He's done awful things to "Molly Malone" and "The Farrows of Tralee";
He's murdered "Carach Fergus" and poor old "Mother Machree".
He's just thrashed his way through "Galway Bay" and "The Wild Irish Rose";
And if he starts singing "Danny Boy", I'm gonna punch him in the nose!

He's just a Plastic Paddy, singin' Plastic Paddy songs
In a Plastic Paddy pub that they call The Blarney Stone.
There's Aer Lingus posters everywhere showing pretty Irish scenes:
All peaceful and idyllic.... and very bloody green!

"When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and "The Mountains of Mourne":
In a central Celtic cliché, the man has left no stone unturned, '
Til he embarks upon the harp once heard through terraced halls,
Accompanying himself on the bodhrán, which takes a lot of... courage!

'Cause he's just a Plastic Paddy, singin' Plastic Paddy songs
In a Plastic Paddy pub that they call The Blarney Stone.
Now he's just sung in his mother tongue "The Ancient Irish Curse",
And cleared the pub completely by the forty-second verse!

'Cause he's just a Plastic Paddy, singin' Plastic Paddy songs.
He's started singin' "Danny Boy", so it's time that I was gone.
And just one thought comes to my mind, as I stagger through the door:
Where are you when we need you, Christy Moore?
Where are you when we need you, Christy Moore?

Eric Bogle

The Party Before Last

This time last year "the party" at my place was for St Pat's (not quite on St Pat's, because it fell on a Friday last year, and Saturday is always a better day for parties). And a fine time it was. My cooking endeavours (lamb stew and leek & potato soup) were extravagantly well-received (unlike this year's Jamaican efforts, which drew a little carping from some quarters!). I got very "tired & emotional", and attempted to sing 'The Wild Rover' down the phone to my absent friend, The Chairman. The party got a late 'second wind' when a couple of my stoner buddies turned up near the end with some very good weed, which we smoked out on the balcony, accompanied by a bottle of (fake, but what the hell?!) Jameson's. Even so, I managed to clear everyone out before my psycho neighbour downstairs could get around to complaining about the noise (he might have been away that night, I think). And - for some reason now forgotten, perhaps never understood even at the time - the last dozen or so of us to depart all wore flowers in our hair.

The year before that, the nominal excuse had been my girlfriend The Buddhist's birthday in April.... so the date for "the party" is creeping earlier every year. Hell, this year's was supposed to have been on February 3rd rather than March 3rd. I suppose next year I'll be looking at doing something in January.....

Luckily, someone else is throwing the party tonight. Plastic Paddy time again!!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Who's the lucky birthday blog?

Everybody's gonna sing!

A John Otway reference - in addition to his many other notable contributions to British music, the great man has penned probably the best-ever birthday song, "Who's the lucky birthday boy?"

Today, Barstool Blues comes of age. Well, it hits the 6-month mark anyway (a week or so behind its elder twin, Froogville).

Thank you for reading (both of you). Tell your friends (both of them).

Expect more of the same (and a little of the different) over the next six months.

HBH 20

This is actually quite an old one - inspired, I think, by memories of wild nights during or just after my college days (the reference to vinyl LPs dates it!); but the horrors of my recent Bob Marley party give it a kind of topicality.

After the party

Records out of sleeves,
Carpet stains and lost earrings.
Stale smoke aftertaste.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

World's worst Irish joke??

This could be taken as a challenge! I'm sure many potential commenters out there could put forward their own candidates.

But, in honour of the imminent St Patrick's Day, here is one of my favourites.....

An Irishman is marooned on a tiny desert island.

As he walks disconsolately around and around his tropical prison, he happens on a small, exotically-coloured bottle half-buried in the sand.

The Irishman picks it up and examines it, removes the cork - and, YES, out puffs a Genie!

"Thank you for releasing me, Paddy," says the Genie, with something less than the deference that is customary with his kind. "In accordance with tradition, I must now grant you three magical wishes. You may have whatever your heart desires."

"What - anything?" boggles the Irishman.

"Yes, anything," repeats the Genie patiently.

"Well," says the Irishman (who is desperately parched, after spending a couple of days on the island without attempting to find water),"I could murder a Guinness!"

"Your wish be granted," says the Genie. And out of thin air there appears in the Irishman's hand a perfectly-poured, ice-cold pint of the black stuff.

The Irishman eagerly glugs it down, and smacks his lips in appreciation.

He is about to toss the empty glass into the ocean.... when he notices that it is suddenly full again with another creamy-headed, velvety smooth pint of the black beer.

"Saints preserve us!" he cries. "What's going on here?"

"It is a magical beer glass," explains the Genie. "It will always be full again one second after you empty it."

"Ah, man, yer havin' me on!"

"No, really, the glass will always fill itself with Guinness again."

"What - really?"


"Sure, that's a marvellous thing! I never seen the like."

"Well, that's what we call 'magic'," says the Genie modestly. "Now, what would you like for your other two wishes?"

"I'll have two more of these!" shouts the Irishman delightedly.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Colton

I have been an irregular 'regular' at The Colton Arms in West London for, I suppose, a dozen or so years now. It is the local of an old Oxford buddy 'James the Nags' (or Billy Joe Jimbob, as the British Cowboy [alone] insists on calling him), who is usually kind enough to put me up on my occasional visits to the city.

It is directly behind the Queens tennis club, and opposite an upmarket apartment complex called Queens Club Gardens (a collection of elegant Victorian red-brick mansions surrounding a small private park), and is thus the sole high-tone enclave in what is otherwise a rather grim area of run-down council housing estates.

It is also what I call a Nexus Of Coincidence. Sure, everybody from The Gardens goes there; and they are mostly quite well-heeled, professional, University-educated types (like myself); and the number of friends and family visiting them casts the net even wider. But that does not adequately explain the experiences I've had there.

In that pub - I have run into a former Law School classmate (in fact, my partner for a major client interviewing competition); one of the kids I used to teach several years before in a private school down in Taunton (suddenly being called 'Sir!' in a crowded pub is a discombobulating experience); another old college chum, utterly unconnected to James; and a former girlfriend (who had subsequently 'gone over' to lesbianism - I swear it was nothing to do with me!). This is bizarre. It's not as if I go in there very often. And I think, for each of those chance encounters, it was their one and only visit to the place. Strange, strange.....

Disconcerting coincidences aside, it is a good pub (if fearfully expensive), and James - a bar prop there most nights - has been one of my most dependable friends for many years.

Also..... the canny landlord, John, has a shrewd eye for a barmaid. For a while he was recruiting them from the Medical School at St Mary's Hospital. Latterly, it's been all Polish girls (love the cheekbones!). Pretty, vivacious, and full of interesting conversation.... and they serve you beer. I have been 'in love' there many times!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The elements of a Good Night Out

Last Thursday was threatening to be a pretty dismal night out. Most of the people I'd been trying to round up to come out with me were unavailable. The one guy who did show wasn't able to make it till 9pm and had already eaten.... so, I was forced to eat alone at home. And then I discovered that my favourite jazz guitar duo, who were the planned centrepiece of the evening, were not playing after all. (Apparently, one of them may have told me at my Marley party the previous weekend that he was about to head back to the States for a month or so; but if he did, I had quite forgotten that in the alcohol & marijuana fug which ensued; no, I only discovered their regular Thursday night gig was suspended when I got to the venue....)

No, not at all a promising start.

But then..... well, Big Chris, the new American buddy who was free to join me, managed to travel down here from his University in the north of the city rather quicker than he'd anticipated, so we were able to kick our evening off at a reasonable time of 8.30ish.

Our first port of call was another favourite recent discovery of mine, an agreeably divey neighbourhood bar that has a half-way decent (FREE) pool table. Neither of us were quite on our game (The Chairman has been his sensei for the last year, so he's pretty damn good), but we had an enjoyable - if comprehensively defeated - few jousts with the formidable local sharks. And the beer was very cheap.

Then, an envigorating short walk to the music bar a mile or so away, where the beer is also cheap (though not quite AS cheap as in the Pool Bar). My guitar-playing buddies were disappointingly absent, and the place was quite deserted.... but we did get to hang with the replacement guitarist for the evening, an amiable young Quebecois. He couldn't actually be bothered to play his guitar - since we were the only punters in the place - but we did shoot the breeze for an hour or so, sharing numerous anecdotes and recommendations about the local music scene. Big Chris was particularly enthusiastic about all this because he is quite the music aficionado, a musician himself indeed - and eager to get back into his drumming.

Then, feeling suddenly peckish, we nipped into one of my favourite hole-in-the-wall restaurants for some cheap snacks and even cheaper beers.

Then we returned to the pool bar - which, we discovered, has become a favoured "after-hours" hangout (not that there are any "hours" around here, but you catch my drift) for various local bigwigs; to wit, the bar and restaurant owners from the 'strip' just around the corner. Good craic. More pool (we may even have won a few games this time - but damn, those 'regulars' are good). Many more cheap beers.

And a new musical discovery: at one point, the bar's boss was playing on the sound system a marvellously husky-voiced and soulful American female singer I'd never heard before, but who Big Chris immediately identified for me as Cat Power (stage name, of course!). Got to check out more of her stuff.

And so, despite all the initially unfavourable omens, it turned out to be a thoroughly Good Night Out. I didn't stagger home till 2.30 or 3.00am - and only quit that early because I'd been feeling ill and short of sleep for so long. Big Chris was still going strong when I left him there.....

I have had many such nights in this crazy city..... but this, this was one of them.....

Monday, March 12, 2007

Hot off the press.....

This morning's little frippery, result of a few moments' noodling in that strangely productive half-awake state.

musical history

I started playing truant
from my early years at school
then I moved on
to playing the fool
with a band of mates

for several years
I duetted with a girl
I played tough
while she played hard-to-get
then she switched
to playing away
and broke
our partnership up
citing 'artistic differences'

I went back
to playing the fool mostly
and moved
around the country a lot

now I play old fart most nights
in local bars
the regulars seem to like
my performances
they buy me drinks
they make requests
they say:
"play 'Solitude' again.
we never get tired
of that." or
"what's that one
about the redhead?
that's good."
they even flatter me
they say: "wow, man,
you really got something,
you could've been
one of the greats."
I tell them
they're too kind
I say
I've only been playing old fart
a few years...
but I guess
I've been practising
all my life

Many a true word....

This week's 'bon mot':

"A beer makes everything OK. A woman makes everything a problem."

Yes, all right, I'm sorry - I did lift that from one of those '20 Reasons Why A Beer Is Better Than A Woman' gag lists, but.... just because it's on a poster in some sleazy bar doesn't mean it ain't true!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Another bench statue

This is Glenn Gould, on Front Street in Toronto, during the recent snow. I wonder when this was erected. I don't remember him being there when I was living in TO nearly a decade ago.

As well as being a wonderful - if considerably more eccentric-than-average - pianist (his recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations is a must-have), GG was of course also immortalised by '32 Short Films About Glenn Gould', surely the weirdest tribute film ever made, but quite fascinating. This in turn inspired one of the greatest-ever Simpson's episodes, '22 Short Films About Springfield' (I particularly like the 'Pulp Fiction' pastiche in the KrustyBurger, and Apu's 'Bollywood' pool party scene).

However, I'm free-associating here..... brainfogged by a long and tedious afternoon of editing. I put this picture up purely as a comparison with the one below of Patrick Kavanagh's statue in Dublin.

The Gould picture comes from a favourite photoblog, Daily Dose Of Imagery - which, rather as you'd expect from the title, puts up one new picture each day. It's the baby of Sam Javanrouh, a professional photographer, originally from Iran but now living and working in Toronto. Well worth a look.

A bench beside the canal (that Kavanagh statue)

I think my favourite line in that Dublin poem of mine I posted the other day is the one about this statue on the banks of the Grand Canal - "And Kavanagh on his bench.... waiting patiently for the next poem, as if for a bus". (I am currently the top Google return for "Kavanagh on his bench" - I wonder if that will bring me any new readers?)

I believe the idea for this statue was inspired by one of Kavanagh's own poems, written for another commemorative bench by the canal.

Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin

'Erected to the memory of Mrs. Dermot O'Brien'

O commemorate me where there is water,
Canal water, preferably, so stilly
Greeny at the heart of summer. Brother,
Commemorate me thus beautifully
Where by a lock niagarously roars
The falls for those who sit in the tremendous silence
Of mid-July. No one will speak in prose
Who finds his way to these Parnassian islands.
A swan goes by head low with many apologies,
Fantastic light looks through the eyes of bridges -
And look! a barge comes bringing from Athy
And other far-flung towns mythologies.
O commemorate me with no hero-courageous
Tomb - just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by.

Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Wistful, Waits-ful

Lazy morning, slow start to the day, listening to Tom Waits's 'Closing Time' for the first time in quite a while. God, I love this album. This is a perfect account of thwarted flirting in a bar, of fantasising about a woman and doing nothing about it. And then having another drink by way of consolation. A feeling I know only too well.

I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You

Well, I hope that I don't fall in love with you,
'Cause falling in love just makes me blue.
Well, the music plays and you display
Your heart for me to see.
I had a beer and now I hear you
Calling out for me.
And I hope that I don't fall in love with you.

Well, the room is crowded, people everywhere,
And I wonder, should I offer you a chair?
Well, if you sit down with this old clown,
Take that frown and break it,
Before the evening's gone away,
I think that we could make it.
And I hope that I don't fall in love with you.

Well, the night does funny things inside a man:
These old tomcat feelings you don't understand.
Well, I turn around to look at you;
You light a cigarette.
I wish I had the guts to bum one,
But we've never met.
And I hope that I don't fall in love with you.

I can see that you are lonesome just like me;
And it being late, you'd like some company.
Well, I turn around to look at you,
And you look back at me.
The guy you're with has up and split;
The chair next to you's free.
And I hope that you don't fall in love with me.

Now it's closing time; the music's fading out.
Last call for drinks - I'll have another stout.
Well, I turn around to look at you;
You're nowhere to be found.
I search the place for your lost face....
Guess I'll have another round.
And I think that I just fell in love with you.

Friday, March 09, 2007

HBH 19

Journey back in Time
Through meditative beer trance.
Drinking memories.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


On my first visit to Ireland, many years ago, I asked someone on my travels in the South and West if he would recommend a really good bar in Dublin (the city has a bewilderingly huge selection of them, but many of them are rather generic, soulless). And he said: Mulligan's - on Poolbeg Street, just behind TCD, around the corner from the Irish Times offices. It might have been a bum steer, a random recollection, a flawed recommendation - but it wasn't! I have since passed on the same advice a number of times to friends. And I make a point of always trying to nip back there for a quick visit whenever I am passing through (which, alas, has been only a very few times since).

It has a cosy intimacy - a small space divided up into lots of little nooks and corners by wooden partitions and booths. It has genuine, unreconstructed Victorian-era decor - dark wood, frosted windows, tiled floors. It has an interesting, garrulous, disreputable gaggle of regulars - many of them skiving journalists from the Times, one suspects. There always seems to be The Prettiest Girl In Ireland behind the bar or waiting on the tables. And the Guinness is perfection (it probably helps that they are only minutes away from the brewery; but they also do a very slow pour...).

Unfortunately, the place is now inextricably tied up in my mind with a Lost Love - a one-night stand (I don't do those!) that should have been something much more, but went disastrously wrong; though at least I have the recollection of one gorgeously romantic weekend spent with perhaps the most beautiful girl I have ever known.

Last Sunday

I have a camera in my head
Which keeps the snapshots
Of a strange weekend.

You, jogging across the street
To fetch the milk and papers,
Bowing your head into the gale.

And Kavanagh on his bench,
Haloed by the dazzle of the canal,
Waiting resignedly for the next poem
As if for a bus.

The sudden kiss
On Stephen's Green,
And passing strangers smiling
At the tenderness of it.

But most of all, a corner table in Mulligan's:
A glimpse of the blue morning behind,
As spring sunshine teemed through the frosted window
Finding strands of gold and copper in your hair;
And the light reflected back from the newspaper,
An amber glow, showing your face
More beautiful than I had ever seen.

But your thoughts, your troubled thoughts
Hung heavy about your head,
Visible as blue billows of cigarette smoke
Swirling in the slanted sunshafts....

While I sipped my Guinness slowly
To extend these moments,
This ecstasy of happy-sadness.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Wine Lake

Another of the things about the business of giving parties - apart from the enormity of the cleaning-up operations entailed afterwards - that tends to discourage me from continuing to throw them (and indeed somewhat saps the will to live altogether) is what we might broadly categorize as "bad guest behaviour". I have several gripes under this heading, but I'll let them lie.... or at least vent about them in some other forum.... except for:

People who bring wine to my parties.

There should be a special circle of hell for people who bring wine to my parties. Ideally, it should contain a wine lake (I could supply the wine to fill it!), in which they would be made to wallow for all eternity; a lake of wine so disgusting they could never hope to drain the lake and win their freedom by drinking the wretched stuff, no matter how hard they might try; wine so acidic that it sears their skin; wine so rife with dodgy chemicals and colourings that it stains their piss purple; wine like the wine they brought me, the c***s!

Am I being unreasonable, over-touchy? I don't think so!

Most of the people who came to the party on Saturday should have been aware that I scarcely drink wine myself any more - due to a worsening allergy, to red wine in particular. Furthermore, all guests had been expressly asked to bring beer or rum (or, in a few cases, some more specific party requirement such as ice or additional plastic cutlery) - not wine! And the local wine here - with a very few exceptions - is ABSOLUTELY FOUL. And you can be pretty sure that most of the people bringing wine were 're-gifting' an unwanted bottle that someone had brought to their home - so, in addition to their thoughtlessness and party-pooping, they were being cheap bastards as well.

You know who you are, cheap bastards! Luckily for you, I've forgotten. (Well, no, Chairman - I haven't forgotten you! You've got some major amends-making to do!!)

But please, PLEASE, if I ever have a party again and you are invited - DO NOT BRING ME A CHEAP BOTTLE OF LOCAL RED WINE..... unless you are fully prepared to have it smashed over your forehead! You have been warned.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Never again!!!

Every time I throw a party here (that one this weekend was my 4th in the two-and-a-half years I've been in my current apartment), I say it is going to be MY LAST - but this time I think I really mean it. The efforts involved beforehand wore me down too much; the mess left afterwards seems neverending.....

I have just left two posts, two looooonnng and anquished posts over on Froogville, explaining why it was all just so much more hassle than readers elsewhere might have realised owing to particular local circumstances.

And the final straw that snaps the spine of this overstressed camel - every glass, EVERY glass, every single bloody glass (about 80 of 'em, although at least nearly all of them were those disposable plastic jobs) was left one-third-full. Oh well, at least I don't have that old half-full/half-empty debate on my hands again. Funny how we don't say "two-thirds empty"; not often, anyway - is it an unsuspected core of optimism buried deep in our natures??

80 glasses with something left in them (oh, yeah, and the beer cans and the wine bottles too!)!!! Do you have any idea how much more difficult that makes the clean-up?! Can't just toss them straight in trash bags, have to gingerly ferry them in batches to a sink or a loo first to empty them: seems to make the process of rounding them all up about a million times more time-consuming!!!!

What's the matter with you people?? Drink up, for heaven's sake!!!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Traffic report - belated blog stats for Jan, Feb

Despite my taking a leave of absence towards the end of the month, January saw a freakishly high number of new posts here on Barstool Blues (a record 31). The wordcount, however, was only around 7,500, very slightly lower than in previous months. Hence we conclude that there were more short posts - partly down to the new "bon mot of the week" strand, and partly down to the series of pictures I posted of Jem Finer's wacky music/sculpture project. There were a paltry 237 'unique visitors'. Hmmm, I guess for half a month, that's not bad, but.......

In February, I was silent for the first half of the month, but have begun blogging in earnest again over the past couple of weeks - 19 posts and nearly 6,000 words. 'Unique visitors' recorded (by Statcounter) as 288.... picking up sharply at the end of the month.

What will March have in store?

Another 'day after' picture

The vanity of ambitions

I have mentioned before my once-upon-a-time weakness for the International Herald Tribune.... I had a particular fondness for the 'funny page'. One of the regular cartoons was 'The Wizard of Id', a strip by a couple of guys called Parker & Hart, set in medieval times. One of the stock characters was the court jester - who was a hopeless lush and spent his whole time in a bar.

One day the burly barman is chiding him, "You need to set goals and objectives to give your life meaning. What are yours?"

The jester looks up from his drink and says hopefully, "To be 'Customer of the Month'!"

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Snapshot of a fleeting brainstate

I am not a fan of the 'diaristic' school of blogging - or of blogging in general, come to that.

However...... I find myself now in a dreamily-inattentive-yet-oddly-fixational kind of mood (rather like being stoned, in fact - perhaps it's just the lingering effects of Nico's A-grade cigarettes from last night...), analysing the pictures I just took of my trashed apartment, sipping a very large rum&coke, listening to Ella singing "I'm gonna wash that man right out of my hair".... This is a very mellow feeling.

One of those things we keep on living for.