And another thing…

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

I was supposed to go for another run today but I’m going down with something – nasty cough, dry throat, shortage of breath – that seesm to be a contraindication to running. And my tummy has been playing up a bit lately too. I feel a bit rotten, to tell the truth.

Coffee time

Wednesday, 23 April 2008


This morning I ground the last spoonful of Bruzzi beans and cooked them up in the Moka – simply the best way to make coffee, by the way. Ask any Italian mamma! So it’s time to catch the train to Lancaster again, and enjoy the delights of my favourite coffee and tea shop.

I had a chat with the proprietor because it’s that kind of place, and rather than my usual half kilo of Bruzzi beans I when for 250 g of Bruzzi and 250 g of the New Guinea ‘Y’ that was commended to me. We shall see. Also, because I’ve been right out of tea, I got myself some of the excellent Nilgiri BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe).

And as it’s Lancaster it’s the chance to pick up stuff from the Single Step Wholefood Cooperative

Single Step

Also, it was a nice sunny day and no more excuse is needed to visit Cuthbert the Clown.

Cuthbert the Clown

Cuthbert runs a nice little children’s toy emporium, but it’s not that I’m going for. Cuthbert also happens to sell the best ice cream in the known universe, made locally from the cream of Lune Valley cows.

Usually when I visit Lancaster I have a beer and a bite to eat at Ye Olde John of Gaunt, but I didn’t have time today. Maybe it’s just as well, as I was alarmed to see this in the window,,,


I’m not reassured – would you be? If there’s nothing to worry about in this most excellent of city-centre pubs anywhere, why put up a notice like that? And the right and proper person to be in charge of an English pub is a guv’nor, not a “designated premises supervisor”, whatever that might mean. I fear the worst; the bean-counters have struck at another priceless institution.

I couldn’t believe it – I was passing my time while I waited to get the train to Lancaster by mooching in Waterstones in Portland Walk. All right, it’s a poxy branch of a poxy (but once amazingly brilliant!) chain, and it’s all the poxier since it ceased to be an Ottakars, which provided seats and took an interest in local writers instead of simply relying on piling up populist tosh and selling it cheap, but it’s the only one in town. Anything of any interest is banished upstairs, and I was up there browsing amongst the drama, the poetry, the pop science, the travel, and the polemic. Oh, and the single small shelf of “Classics” which covers everything from Homer to E M Forster (but missing most of it). And the half-price section of course. In the drama section I found a Penguin copy of Keith Waterhouse’s Billy Liar and took it over to the rather gormless young man behind the counter to point out that this was in fact a novel, not a play, and should in fact be shelved downstairs with the general fiction (though being fifty years old I strongly suspect that it had been ordered in error; after all, today’s readers won’t ‘identify’ with Billy Fisher.) Gormless young man seemed disappointed that I didn’t want to buy it, perhaps because he really didn’t have very much to do, but I poited out that I had read it years ago and although I love the film, the novel is not one I feel much inclination to read twice. And I carried on browsing.

A little while later gormless young man – who looked like he hadn’t shaved for a week, hadn’t briushed his hair, and was wearing a shirt that looked as though he had grabbed it from the laundry just as he was rushing out of the front door – stomped over and said, huffily, that “this isn’t a library, you know!” I pointed out, politely, that this was a bookshop and browsing was what you do in bookshops, and the one advantage a high street bookshop has over Amazon is that you can browse the books, and besides, what were these Ottakars-provided window seats for? Piling up surplus stock? Whereupon gormless young man became surly. Discretion being the better part of valour (another Shakespeare phrase!) I withdrew from the fray. It just wasn’t worth it. But I will be writing to Waterstones HQ to ask what happened to Tim Waterstone’s ideals and try to ensure a bollocking for gormless young man.

I’ll stick to Amazon in future. At least Amazon has what I want to buy; trying to get anything from somebody else’s wishlist from Barrow Waterstones is a nightmare (I could usually get at least some from the Broad Street, Reading, branch.)

Is it time to call for a boycott of big corporate bully Waterstones, do you think?

Shakespeare Day

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Lend me your ears. We have come full circle, and having cast dear old St George into thin air we are now full of the sound and fury of the good dragon-slayer. But we have seen better days, and this fatal vision makes a laughing stock of us around the world. For goodness’ sake, we are hoist with our own petard, and playing fast and loose with the truth. But every dog will have his day, the devil will have his due and a dragon-slaying Turkish saint is not the be all and end all of national pride. Perhaps we could have something better; a dish fit for the gods. One to whom George can’t can’t hold a candle. You see, the play’s the thing, and one English person did that better than anybody else. Good riddance, George!

The idea of St George’s Day makes me squeamish. National days are for downtrodden people to make a splash of pride, not for a display of hubris. But St George seems to be making a comeback. I’ve seen St George’s Day cards on sale, for heaven’s sake, although I can’t imagine anybody I know sendfing them (but then, nobody I knew voted for Maggie Thatcher, or at least admitted to such an act of folly.) It’s supposed to be a celebration of English values, but I can’t think of particularly worthwhile values held by the English that are unique to them. It tends to descent into a celebration of values that this English person doesn’t hold, such as

a) The Bulldog Breed (small, ugly and pugnacious)

b) Stiff Upper Lip (emotional repression)

c) Tally Ho! (delighting in the slaughter of sentient beings, including extinct species like Draco nobilis

St George may or not have existed, and probably didn’t, and if he did he was Turkish not English, and anyway we share him with half the world including Greece and Russia. William Shakespeare may or may not have existed (but almost certainly did.) He was certainly English, he wasn’t an aristocrat but the child of an artisan, and however fashionable it is now to say “I hate Shakespeare” (and most people don’t, they just hate having him badly taught), he stands for something great and beautiful, peaceful and universally acknowledged.

So, who will join me in celebrating Shakespeare Day? If enough of us do it, it may catch on!