Please note: The blog has now moved over to www.rickiejosen.co.uk
If you subscribe, I’d appreciate it if you kindly subscribe on the new site (WIP).
See you over there!
Please note: The blog has now moved over to www.rickiejosen.co.uk
If you subscribe, I’d appreciate it if you kindly subscribe on the new site (WIP).
See you over there!
A writers club based in the city centre, we have informal get togethers for a coffee on regular Saturday afternoons (at the moment) to share advice, tips and generally support each other.
I waited for a year after arriving in Birmingham and no amount of searching unveiled a writers club so here we are, greeting all comers!
Anyone who writes or is looking to start; whether you’re in the middle of writing a comedy film script, an avid poet, a novelist, a freelancer or a journalist, all of you have valuable knowledge to share with the rest of us. Please do.
There’s a link on how to RSVP to each meeting. We only have a maximum of 12 so we can all talk and get something out of the afternoon so please reserve your place early (and let me know if you change your mind!)
April 2nd 2011 3pm (Church St)
April 17th 3pm (Big Peg, Jewellery Quarter)
Sat May 14th 3pm (Church St)
Sun June 12th (Big Peg, Jewellery Quarter)
Urban Coffee Co locations
Please RSVP by email or adding a comment
Links for writers page
Daily Science Fiction (via Simon Stanford)
Celtx is the world’s first all-in-one media pre-production system. It replaces ‘paper & binder’ pre-production with a digital approach that’s more complete, simpler to work with, and easier to share. (via Simon Stanford)
Powder Room Graffiti (women’s website)
Fuel My Blog (review on blog)
Bash Bosh submit your blog to search engines (via Seeyam)
Ok it’s not Gratitude for December this month mainly as I was uncharacteristically ill over Christmas and while I was in one of my top three favourite countries, Italy. Hey ho.
So let’s give some love to all of 2010 instead.
I finished my very first draft of my very first book. I have lots to do now but I have adored working on it and look forward to organising it and rewriting it, possibly into two books.
For this I’m grateful to my school English teachers, Mr Thomas and Ms French, Rosa Guy, Kimmi, my writing tutor in New York, AA Gill, India Knight, Jeremy Clarkson and lately Matt Rudd of the Sunday Times and loads of authors, brilliant ones and ones I haven’t enjoyed for inspiring me one way or another. Finally I’m grateful to Marsha Moore for her advice and encouragement.
Mostly, I’m grateful to Zoe Heller who inspired me to write articles when she was a Sunday Times columnist based in New York, way before she became a novelist.
A few highlights of 2010
Birmingham Jazz Festival. I fully embraced and loved every second of it and can’t wait for this year. I think I’ll be taking a few days of during that week.
Brumnotes Christmas Party
Tom Peel. I saw twice for which I‘m grateful to Lyle Bignon for the heads up. I still owe this man a drink.
And the absolute highlight, seeing my favourite band of the last few years not once but twice, Cherry Ghost. A massive bonus was that on one of the occasions they supported the rather excellent, The Coral.
I didn’t get my three trips abroad this year just because I was so busy but this will be rectified in 2011 with at least two trips to Canada. I did get to see Scotland for the first time for a few book writing jaunts so I appreciate Bean Scene in Glasgow and Peters Yard in Edinburgh. Thanks for the coffee.
I did make a return trip to Milan and Verona at Christmas. I was ill to start with but definitely perked up when I got to Verona, prettier than I remember it from 11 years ago.
I went to my first and only book signing, Dara O’Briain to sign one of favourite books of the year, ’Tickling the English’.
Grateful to Springboard for giving me lots of lovely projects to work on (and some horrid ones but makes me appreciate the lovely ones more).
On that note, I’m grateful to Kiss Me CupCakes who lent me spare car to run events across the country.
I’m grateful to have the friends I have known for 5, 10, 15, 20 + years but also to MeetUp for all the new ones I have made this year with whom I’ve had so much fun, frolics and shared new experiences.
Of course I’m grateful for Urban, for the friendliness and particularly for opening a long awaited second coffee shop 10 minutes walk in the other direction from my house.
It’s been lovely to visit some new to me restaurants this year, the gorgeous Opus from which I have developed a serious risotto addiction, the friendly and value for money Syriana and of course the luxurious Purnells for the birthday dinner. I am indeed truly blessed.
The World Cup; I love World Cup years and I’m contented with Spain winning.
Pretty in Pink (the girlie stuff)
Grateful for India Knight for introducing me to the Babyliss hot brush. I had a hot brush years ago and was not impressed and have only thrown it out a couple of years ago but on her say so, I buy this new one. It’s the ceramic coating that makes 100% difference. I don’t compare washing my hair to the nightmare of being locked in a room with Cheryl Cole and/or Robbie Williams now. In fact, I quite look forward to ‘doing my hair’.
For my hairdresser of two decades (even when I was in New York) Franco Russo in Bedford for introducing me to the wonder product that is Argan oil; sounds horrid but is a dream. Between these two introductions, no more bad hair days
I’m truly grateful for another year on this fine planet and to celebrate by visiting another new city; Milan.
September 20th 2010
My fondness for Urban Coffee Co is very well documented. Nevertheless, particularly when I’m having a full on writing day (that is a short day with two breaks) the day is generally more productive with a change of scene so 2-3 coffee shops is ideal.
In Glasgow and Edinburgh where until now I have gone for all my full on booking writing jaunts it’s easy as each has two or three of the fabulous Bean Scenes plus a couple of other places for lunch. In Birmingham, as yet, there is only one Urban so when I’m recommended Cafe Blend by two people, I decide to go and investigate.
My first guess that this is going to pricier because it’s opposite Harvey Nicholls is correct.
Con – View is the car park opposite and it’s on a very busy road near a very busy New Street Station
Pro – nice vibe
Con – Unsatisfactory service; I’m assuming the young lady was an untrained student but the words ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ didn’t trouble her lips once. My planned greeting of ‘here you are, I’ve heard all about you!’ seemed inappropriate. The student never offered me any choice and I was automatically served a small coffee.
Pro – they offer NY cheesecake
Con – they don’t stock Kissme CupCakes (but hopefully will do soon)
Pro – I love the comfortable bench seating with a table by the window. It’s a huge plus to have comfort and a desk
Con – the coffee is average but I get used to it
Pro or Con – Cafe Blend is way too close to Harvey Nicks
Wow, it’s a hard month to be grateful but alas, there is always something:
Sunday I miss breakfast at the hotel. I don’t like eating early, before 9am but it’s there for the taking. I just don’t know where the time goes.
I’m looking forward to Sunday afternoon tea today at Cup, scene of gorgeous lunch last time but I’m not hungry enough. I delay until Monday, when it’s quieter I reason and then promptly forget.
Instead I pay a short visit to Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery, opposite the local Bean Scene (and what I am looking at as I write this. Well obviously not that precise moment or everything would be spelt incorrectly)
I don’t fancy spoiling the day by going downtown to the cinema tonight so stay west and complete my word target
Words up to 5000
Lunch: Off Shore
Cupcake: 1, Waitrose
A bonus day. Same as yesterday, miss breakfast, go to Cresswell St Bean Scene and write 1000 words. It’s a struggle to reach the word target for the second day running.
Yes I have been to the same coffee place each morning and it’s absolutely nothing to do with the guy who works there. Nothing, I tell you, it’s simply my favourite Bean Scene.
I finish early and the vintage place is still not open at 12.10 so I take a little, OK quite a big walk into Partick and back to the museum for more Glasgow story gazing. It’s really quite good in there.
I didn’t go to Cup today either; maybe I know it will never be as magical as the first time. I’ll go on my next Glaswegian visit.
After buying my movie ticket, my plan is to take a look at the ‘other side’ of Glasgow where Caledonia University is. There is nothing there, not even a coffee shop. Where do these students go? There are hundreds – OK many many places around University of Glasgow.
Cupcake: 1 Waitrose lemon & lime 7½/10 photo
Movie Grown Ups 7½/10
Words up to 6500
My last morning visit to the morning Bean Scene and they remember my order! I managed to get the same seat each time too; I’m beginning to wonder why no-one wants to sit there but I do arrive early so there are not many customers around.
What I’ve noticed on this trip
People just take up the whole pavement and many times I’ve had to wait until they move out of the way for me to pass or more often, I just step into the road. This isn’t just once or twice but several times on a walk. Why?
There is definitely a divide between attitudes; warmth towards a stranger in the West End rather than anywhere else. I know my place.
Big plus is there was no rain to speak off. The umbrella didn’t come out once. In fact we had glorious sunshine most days.
Another jaunt to Glasgow for book writing, this time for 4 nights so word target is 7000.
Bean Scene visits
Cresswell Lane, West End 4 (each morning)
Kelvin Grove 2 (nearest to hotel)
Which one do I love most?
I think it’s fair to say I love Glasgow now.
It’s because I stay away from the city centre and only spend time in the areas I like, namely the West End and a little bit of Woodlands. I delve into the city centre twice to get to the cinema and both times, whilst the films are worth seeing, I dislike being there.
If only they built a Cineworld at the other end of town – or will that spoil it?
It’s a rare occurrence that there’s no rain when I arrive on Friday afternoon so I decide to walk to the hotel, with a stop at M&S for hotel room goodies to break up the journey. A random few drops of rain arrive during the final leg of the walk but nothing to wet the umbrella over. I’m home and dry.
There’s something very pleasing about familiarity so walking into the hotel is like coming home. I even recognise the guy on the desk although I’m guessing his recognition of me is politeness.
Early Friday evening is to achieve the word target in the local Bean Scene and then fish and chips. This time I have everything sussed for a traditional Friday – bar the cinema, I give that a miss for tonight.
Saturday Straight to the West End for writing at Bean Scene in Cresswell Lane. Next door I discover De Courcey’s Arcade, which contains a now obligatory cupcake bakery. The staff reveal that it may not have opened when I last visited.
The best sighting is yet another vintage clothes store in Glasgow. However, I do like Just for You because I receive personal shopper service. Almost immediately the owner begins collecting frocks for me to try whilst insisting throughout I’m a size 8 and me arguing I’m 10-12. Also, her stock ranges between Karen Millen and designer – no Top Shop in here (how is that vintage anyway?). Obviously I love Top Shop, even though I should have grown out of it at least ten years ago but there’s not an awful lot of point in buying second hand Top Shop or Miss Selfridge.
The lady does me a deal so I buy the second dress that I love but don’t need along with the first dress that will be very handy indeed for all these functions I have to go to for my charity project work. We become ‘firm friends’ and I go back each day just to say hello – not to see what else has been bought in, honest guv.
Cupcake: De Courcey’s Arcade strawberry & vanilla 7½/10
Lunch: Off Shore near the university again (I keep wanting to spell it Off Sure)
Movie – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – 8/10
Words up to 3000
Part 2 to follow
Breakfast is included and although I’m not one for early eating, I’m not one than can resist food either. I feel a little self-conscious walking into breakfast with a kilt-like skirt, probably not the best choice for an English girl in Glasgow. I’m a little irked that the waitress assumed I did not want haggis but it’s a pleasant enough experience and demonstrates even better value for money. Scottish breakfast minus haggis apparently equals Irish breakfast, complete with potato scone. Or bread as I know it.
Light rain is projected and I find myself pulling on my in case it’s really cold, roll neck sweater. The strange this is last night I was cold coming back from the coffee shop but I knew I would be. Glaswegians were walking around like it was summer without coats. Curious.
The rain is mightily strange; there’s one drop every six seconds and it feels like walking under a shop canopy and drops fall of the end so hardly worth bothering with.
I’m too full for more coffee so a walk is called for, past Bean Scene, clocking potential coffee shops in the West End, specifically in area called Partick although of course I thought it was Patrick for first 20 minutes.
With the rain coming I settle for Big Mouth Coffee Co and finally get cracking on the book before discovering a bit more of the West End. I lunch at Off Shore by Glasgow University. More book is written accompanied by lovely sweet potato, coconut and something soup and big chunks of brown bread. It was just what I needed both the meal and discovering this area. Glasgow is looking up and when I get back, I have a new attic room, twice the size with a decent bathroom. Although it’s another floor up, I have a bath.
I stroll the shops and grab a cinema ticket for later. After 2 weeks without a film to watch, I’m left with CopOut with Bruce Willis which is actually very funny and a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours.
I head back to pick up recharged laptop and head out for night cap and heading towards my word target at the local Bean Scene.
Sunday is a gorgeous day and I set off after a lovely bath and light breakfast to another Bean Scene in the Hillside area of the West End. Glasgow doesn’t seem to have many road signs and my map had a big subway line going over all the main road names. I didn’t even realise there was a subway until I saw an entrance this morning. Eventually I get there; it’s hidden away in a lane. Another thing that Glasgow has lots of and explains where people walking in front of me disappear into.
I love this neighbourhood. There is a Marks & Spencer Simply Foods and a Waitrose which I went in just for the fun of it. They have St Georges flag cakes just randomly placed in bakery. Un-sold I may add. Even though there is a Waitrose a couple of miles from my home and another 20 minutes drive away, I don’t have a car so it’s the novelty value. I saw someone carry a Waitrose bag the other day and assumed then there must be one in the city centre John Lewis. Disappointedly not but I found this when I took a wrong turn this morning. That’s pretty much how I discover most things; walking onwards even when I’m not where I thought I was going to be, what’s to lose?
That’s how I finally realised the steeple of the church like building I have been looking at from afar was indeed part of glamorous Glasgow university. Actually the rest of it composed of horrid 1970s tower blocks and more pleasant modern buildings but it is the size of a small village.
Hillhead also has a delightful place called Cup which offered afternoon tea but it’s a little early for that so I have soup; pea & mint with cheese scones. I’m able to sit upstairs which I note is quieter and thought it was as good as place as any to carry on writing so ordered a long cold drink to sip on. An hour later, it got much busier for late lunchers and it was time for me to get to the cinema for the only other film that I want to watch, the Bad Lieutenant with Nicholas Cage. Bad indeed. That’s 2 hours I’ll never get back.
I needed cheering up after that. I could have stayed in a gorgeous part of Glasgow, enjoying both the sun and the scenery whilst cracking on with the writing. I catch the last rays whilst walking back and get to the local Bean Scene again.
Sun with no rain
On the last, the warmest day I skip breakfast and have a bagel at one of the two final Bean Scenes. I just love this place and it has made my trips to Scotland all the more worthwhile. I found it strange that both wide doors at Bean Scene were open and they felt the need to put a fan on too. It’s 9 in the morning and barely 10c!!
Glasgow had emptied the ATMs on Saturday night at I had to visit three to get some cash, which it only dispensed in £20 denominations.
Still, I love this area. It reminds me of New York in that the houses are similar, with stoops and basements but then we have that in London. There’s a big social culture in NYC but the Scottish version involves drinking. Best of all, the decent coffee shops (the now famous on this blog, Bean Scene) open till late but not till midnight as they do in NYC. Just like one of my early visits to Starbucks (I know, gahhh!) in 2000 on Broadway that featured live music. This was my first solo visit to NYC so it was nice to hang out till way past 10pm and feel both safe and entertained. I was unfortunate not to experience such melodic pleasure in Bean Scenes either here in Glasgow or previously in Edinburgh.
I notice a fair few recycling points in Glasgow and it feels like there is one for glass on every corner. I‘m surprised they are not next to every regular trash bin given the amount of merry people in the streets each night. I have to say, it’s the drinking that made me slightly uncomfortable in Edinburgh and more so here.
Given the number of friendly Glaswegians I have met, heard, listened to and ready about over the years, I didn’t get the warmth I’d expected from the local people.
I imagine I will one day, but at the moment, I’m not sure when I may be back.
Book Writing, Round Two
It’s a bank holiday so I must be in Scotland.
I’m going for my second book writing trip (that’s first book, second trip). The train is just as busy and this time I have a table seat but quickly realise there’s three distractions on three seats right there. Unfortunately that wasn’t all. There is only one thing louder than a noisy child and that’s a hen night. They were polite enough talking to us civvies but as loud and colourful as you would expect otherwise when conversing with each other. I was just grateful not be going to Blackpool.
Not much writing gets done. Instead I’m defending the otherwise excellent Virgin Trains to a couple who live in Spain as for some reason, there were problems reserving seats. I had to be persistent to get mine but still bought rare full price tickets.
I’m not looking forward to Glasgow as I had Edinburgh and have already lowered my expectations after that primary Scottish adventure. The taxi driver who stays silent throughout the £5, not £3-4 journey I had been lead to believe didn’t change my opinion.
After checking in and realising I was on the third floor of walk-up, I discovered there was no bath. It was an even smaller room than Edinburgh but less than half the price so it’s still fantastic value but no bath. Noooo!
Luckily, they are able to move me but not till tomorrow so I don’t unpack but step out into the street to get acclimatised. Turn left for city centre and right for the West End were my instructions from the staff, who I’m warming to now. I have a good feeling for going right as that’s where the university is and experience has told me, universities equal lots of coffee shops of the non-Starbucks variety.
However, already feeling weary, I went to investigate the city centre first.
It’s a standard city centre, with more bars. Many, many more bars, right there amongst the shops.
Having got a good grip of where everything is; cinema, train station for return and Marks and Spencer, I turn back to find the recommended fish & chip place. There are the standard amount of outlets in Glasgow, compared to none in Edinburgh so as much as I’m not a fan of chip shop chips; fish is my Friday tradition whenever possible and the salmon sandwich on the train doesn’t really count.
The Sandyford Hotel is an old fashioned family run hotel and they have real keys that actually work every time complete with a huge tag so you cannot walk out of the hotel with it and have to hand it in. It’s quaint and it also forces the staff to talk to you each time so they quickly got to remember my room number.
As I walk, I’m thinking about the fantastic music scene that was so persistent in the 1980s and still plentiful now. The BBITW, GUN came from here and I go past the well known small, live music venue, King Tuts that everyone plays at.
When I return to the hotel, I check on the status of El Presidente, the band formed by ex-bassist who I loved but hadn’t heard anything form since the brilliant first album in 2006. I had looked up El Pres recently and there was still no word on any new material. Back in the day, junior members of my staff were riotous in their collective jibes of my supposed shrine to them. Brilliant new bands only come along once every few years and perhaps I was a little over excited and imitated a slightly younger music fan.
Things I learnt: Mark Rankin, former singer of BBITW is the cousin of Sharlene Spitteri of Texas, El Pres are still not ready with a second album and GUN have reformed.
I said Gun reformed!
Wikipedia of all places told me Gun had reformed and started playing gigs last year and despite my listening to the radio all day and paying close attention to social media, OK just Twitter, no-one had told me!
However, excitement was quickly over as they are without, although with the blessing, of their lead singer. Could you have the Stones without Jagger, Beatles without McCartney, Guns N Roses without Axel Rose? No.
So whilst they will play the old stuff and the new tracks are so far so good, I’m taking the attitude it’s a new band and I’ll follow with interest. They have got an established new singer, Toby, who used to be with Little Angels and is voice is nicely similar so he can cover the old classics. I could probably cope with that but of course we’re all 10 years older and Joolz the guitarist, who I rate being up there with the best and certainly a mesmerising musician to watch used to have de rigueur long messed up hair as befits a guitarist of such stature. Sadly he is now shaven headed but it is the first time I have actually seen his face! And he looks happy.
Boy it was exciting for a while there.
I learn I’m staying in the right area as I can walk to all three Bean Scenes, my favoured discovery in Edinburgh. This small independent chain promises coffee, food and music. I never got to hear any live music but what they played was always excellent. And they open until at least 10pm which is great for the solo traveller in a city that likes to DRINK alcohol.
The nearest one was around 10 minutes walk in the West End direction, opposite a lovely looking, but un-attempted museum and park. That was my destination each evening until around closing time.
Project – my first project with Springboard was a bigger challenge than anyone expected and in different ways. Thankfully it launched and I’m 70% through training the group.
I’m also grateful to the staff of the Y Centre, the community centre where I am training a group of long term/disadvantaged unemployed. Not only is finding the building a stroke of luck, but the staff are unbelievably lovely.
All this made me even more grateful for a long weekend to Edinburgh. After all these years of transatlantic holidays, I finally jump on a train for the five hours to Scotland. Admittedly I can get to New York in six but that’s after the journey to the airport and the three hours waiting at both ends not to mention baggage reclaim and delays. This little trip meant walking 15 minutes to the train station, jumping on a train, seeing the also undiscovered north east of England and jumping off 5 hours later, having written 700 words and straight into the Edinburgh sunshine for the two minute walk to the hotel. It was glorious.
Book The point of disappearing for a long weekend was to start on the long awaited – by me, anyway – book. The target 5000 words duly achieved against a magnificent backdrop of discovering yet another city on this fine planet.
There’s also one more thing; I’m grateful for a little crush I have developed. There is nothing to tell, I am blissfully ignorant of his situation and not looking for anything to happen. I’m just grateful to have my mind taken off the ex-BF. At least for some of the time.
I find the last coffee shop on the list, Kilimanjaro which was only a little further up from where I finished yesterday but I couldn’t see any breakfast dishes and so just have coffee and scone to keep me going. It was some while later when I looked at the menu on my table and realise I could have had Eggs Benedict, something I have had a craving for months, the last I had being on my birthday in Montreal. Afterwards I walk towards the other favourite coffee place, the Elephant Cafe when I hit upon a lovely looking Italian restaurant just before it, serving all day breakfast, including Eggs Benedict.
I would never have come across this place if I’d already eaten but I needed a long walk to get over the two, yes two cups of delicious standard white coffee and let me tell you, there was nothing standard about it. A lovely place with great service and productive writing time. I may go back.
By now I was full so went past the Elephant and discovered a gorgeous park with the brand new Quartermile development on the edge. I’m not sure if it’s for students although it seems a like more luxury than they need. I didn’t want to walk too far from civilisation with the morning’s three consumed coffees at the forefront of my mind but I loved the look of this neighbourhood despite the Starbucks, it also had a another cafe and the now thankfully ubiquitous mini city style Sainsbury’s.
Despite my plans, I did manage to lose my bearings in the park and instead of heading towards another undiscovered neighbourhood, West End, I came back to where I had started the day but sprinted back to the hotel, via a shopping centre I had noticed a few doors down for quicker bathroom access. These ladies had a coin operated GHD hair straightner machine; a genius idea although probably more welcome in late night establishments.
Having refreshed and dropped my unnecessary belongings at the hotel, I walked purposefully to the other end of town. What is this West End they speak of?
The shops lined the street pretty much all the way although the big stores ceased just before it became a tiny bit more residential, I’m guessing more for students as having of course bypassed Starbucks, I found an almost camouflaged, Bean Scene. I’d seen of these before in the old town near the coffee shops and loving the idea of ‘music and coffee’ and the fact that this seemed like the edge of the city, went in. It’s another great discovery; they do bagels, chai, proper big slices of cake and music with a variety of seating. This being the end of the day, there were plenty of seats and as my lemon cake and chai were being bought to me, I sunk down into a big sofa area all to myself and got the laptop out. Sadly no live music but I love this place!
Sunday night was a bit dull in that shops closed at 6, an hour later than England and this being a bank holiday; the streets were still full of drinkers. The Scottish reputation proceeded in that even when I spotted an organised Literary Walk being advertised in Robert Burns land, it turned out to be a literary pub crawl. Maybe not right for me but for any return trip, I will need to pre-organise some evening entertainment.
A Taste of New York
Once again I set out for the Elephant Cafe but with nought pounds in my purse, Scottish or otherwise (I love having Scottish money, it still feels like I’m abroad) I stopped at the Bank of Scotland on Bank Street, all names that lead me into believing I was going to obtain some cash here. I swear this is true; the cash point would only give me notes divisible by £200 so not the £20 I asked for.
As I didn’t see any other cash points, for the second time this weekend I go past the intended, Elephant Cafe and towards the park and on to a cash point next to Starbucks. Money in hand, I go past the second Starbucks and Sainsbury’s into the enticing looking cafe I saw yesterday. Again my first impression was right; it’s exactly like my favourite little chain in New York, Dean & Deluca.
Peter’s Yard seems to be modelled on the Dean & Deluca look, very high ceilings, bare metal pipes elevated over head, ridiculously expensive branded souvenir goodies displayed minimally on chrome wire shelving and well trained staff. There has to be a connection.
I spot a corner table right at the back so the stools at the front weren’t necessary although almost every seat here is by a window and once again, I take my cinnamon pastry whilst my drink is freshly made and bought to me. Quite honestly I wanted to move in. I start spotting the few residents that already occupy the buildings on the shiny new complex outside amongst all the advertising signs for homes, offices and retail spaces. When I walked past yesterday I thought it was odd that they put shiny tower blocks next to the gorgeous old gothic style buildings and didn’t make them blend in but I do surprise myself by falling for it all. Despite spotting a young woman clearly coming back from the gym on a bank holiday Monday and the Starbucks two doors down, I am not put off.
I go past my target of 5000 words for the weekend on the new love of my life, the Samsung netbook, (and a couple of thousand on this journal in between times) and decided not to move in right now but go and explore a little more, this time going straight towards the West End and then back to do some window shopping on the way to the hotel and the train home.
I walk the way I should have gone yesterday and pass two Premier Inns which didn’t come up on my search for a hotel but were a welcome sight. I walk through what appears to be more of the business district with many shiny new buildings and a huge Bank of Scotland (how do they dispense the money at this cash point, in £500 increments?) but not far from the Bean Scene I was in yesterday, just as the few spots of forecast rain start so a perfect time to stop for a light lunch before heading back.
It may have been just the moment I was enjoying but quite frankly it was the most beautiful tomato and basil soup I have tasted, and tomato soup isn’t a favourite of mine.
It came hot in a large mug with spoon and deliciously hot Panini bread with butter. It was just gorgeous and a wonderful end to my trip.
I’ll be back.
I only spotted one potential coffee shop so researched more whilst watching Jonathan Ross last night. By the way, this is the first hotel in many years I have stayed where there were only five channels on TV, remembering that I mostly go to America.
I found four coffee shops in 2 adjoining neighbourhoods in the old town which I though gives me the reason to explore this ancient city. What I hadn’t reckoned on is that J K Rowling author of the uber-successful Harry Potter is from these parts and lo and behold, there is a coffee shop to recognise that she frequented it, The Elephant Cafe. Just as I added that one to my list, I had a tweet from @kissmecupcakes to tell me so. This was just meant to be so is my first point of call this morning for breakfast and first writing stint – the reason for this long weekend of solitude.
I do like a window seat and this is one of those narrow establishments so there were only 2 window bar stools, of which I grabbed one whilst waiting for my sausage (in a) roll. The view of the castle they speak of Ms Rowling enjoying must have been at the back somewhere but I wasn’t going to risk losing my window seat to find out. Plus I am not writing about mystical worlds so don’t need the castle as inspiration.
I took a break in the National Gallery of Scotland and noted their Cupcake bakery before heading to no: 2 in the coffee shop list, Chocolate Soup, for lunch. My hunch was right and I enjoyed a little writing with some potato and leek soup with tomato bread before moving onto no: 3. I had a window seat but I didn’t feel too comfortable writing with a laptop actually on my lap plus I was hogging a table made for four and now really fancied a decent coffee, something I imagined the chocolate connoisseur wasn’t going to be as good at so I quickly moved onto the Medicine Coffee Company and the first disappointment of the day.
I didn’t plan on visiting three of the coffee shops in one day but it gave me a chance to see which I wanted to return to. I found it easily enough and even though there was no-one in front of me and three members of ‘busy’ staff, it took a few minutes for me to be served. Then I was told I couldn’t have my coffee in a takeout cup, inside, – a first for me and I visit a lot, I mean a lot of coffee shops. Even though I offered to pay whatever the extra charge is to ‘eat in’, it was the owners policy. So it’s the owner’s policy to a) make me drink my coffee quickly before it gets cold and order more or vacate my chair b) make me have cold coffee at my leisure.
This should have been quaint and old worldly, as the name suggests but was uncomfortable as I find cold coffee and productive writing are not a match. I got a cute but rough window nook and as sitting on a tree trunk is never easy for a long time, a decent hot coffee would have made it infinitely better. There is no customer care here but they did warm up the milk for me. Still half way through the measly little cup, its cold.
I wonder back via a little look at Edinburgh Castle, or more importantly, a little retail discovery called Ness that sells all things tartan. In all the excitement of the dual first of starting my book and coming to Scotland, I forgot one my old loves, tartan. As both my kilt and tartan trousers are currently residing in New York, I should have one memento of this occasion and set about finding a kilt in another colour.
As I have done on many a trip, I swap the Friday fish and chips to Saturday and pop to Harry Ramsden’s for an accompaniment to Dr Who. Later I do watch Match of The Day despite the big end of season games being played tomorrow.
For some reason I had, as it turns out, the whimsical idea that my train to Edinburgh would be luxurious, or at worst comfortable.
For a Friday lunchtime departure, it was full, standing room only which indeed was the only option for some. Not all the way to Scotland, as it stopped in many counties; Derbyshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, North Yorkshire and Durham are the ones I recall.
The most exciting for me was the realisation that Newcastle wasn’t a northern myth but a real city, exactly as perpetuated on TV, bridge across the Tyne and everything. This was late afternoon on a fairly cool spring day but I did see a young woman wearing shorts and t-shirt on the platform although to be fair that wasn’t Newcastle but somewhere close by. In her defence, the sun was shining, more so in the north than in the Midlands I left behind as the train bought me ever closer to a new country. Well, a very old country but after all these years of loving the Scots, the tartan and most of all, the music scene, it’s all new to me.
But just like the first time I was driven into Connecticut and out of New York State, there was disappointingly no announcement upon entering Scotland. My only realisation that I was in Scotland is that the country appeared to be an open green land and in England we build wherever we can.
I knew my hotel was a few steps from the train station – I don’t just throw this together – and I was on the world famous Princess Street so guaranteed to a. find food and replenishments and b. find my way back.
This was the reason I didn’t fly; by the time I have got to and from the airport and the waiting at both ends, it just seemed a lot easier to walk out of my house and jump on train to bonny Scotland. I was going to decide on cost but it was roughly the same, plus getting the cost of getting to the airports, however, when I actually came to the train cost had come down by some 70%. Result!
I didn’t bother looking too carefully for the hotel so went past it and all the way to Marks and Spencer just to stroll in the gorgeous early evening sun before deciding I should really go and check in, lose the little case and then come out for exploration. It was only on approaching I recalled the receptionist telling me it was by the Disney Store. And that it will be covered in scaffolding due to external refurbishments. The Royal British Hotel is just as it sounds, old fashioned, British and cute, not luxurious but everything I need to rest and repair ready for a days’ writing target of 2000 words; the same as Stephen King according to my Twitter friend @marshawrites. I had already made a head start with over 700 words on the cramped train before I’d gone over the River Tyne so I was feeling optimistic.
I realised I should have bought my cardi as I came back out into the sunshine and went for walkabout to discover coffee shops and somewhere to eat. My Friday tradition is fish but I find that almost impossible when I’ve landed abroad and not had a chance to explore fish serving establishments. I came across a potential coffee shop overlooking a deep-set park and no less than three parked Aston Martins. Aston spotting is one of my favourite waste of times but I don’t recall ever seeing three in one day never mind in one short walk.
Next day I saw one on the move. If I see an Aston, it means I’m going to have a good day.
I did see a fish and chips place, not my favourite way to eat fish but needs must, but alas it was closed and although I meant to ask reception when I came out, there were a lot of people checking in and the lady that had checked me was not in evidence there so I decided on the mini Sainsbury’s I had spotted. If there’s nothing there, there’s always the McDonalds opposite but I did now begin to wonder if there was a Harry Ramsden’s in the shopping centre at the train station opposite as there appeared to be other down scale establishments. Next day I read there is.
Still I got a generous portion of hot chilli con carne, remembering this was my first hot meal of the day, of which 5 hours were spent immobile on a train and selected a bag full of treats and refreshments and got back in time for Ashes to Ashes. It’s all going well.
Saturday morning threatened rain so the brolly had to go in the bottom of the bag under my new teeny tiny Netbook bought especially for this inaugural book writing occasion.
As has been the case all this extremely busy week, I was exasperatingly awake before dawn but unlike the rest of the week, I got out of bed to look out of the window, realising my first impression of Edinburgh is correct; the city does remind me of Montreal.
Upon further research, they even divide it up into ‘old town’ and ‘new town’ with the other major part being ‘West End’ but I haven’t discovered that yet. Just like in Montreal, my hotel is on the southern most part of the new town, overlooking the old town, although this older town has many more old buildings, pretty much all of them are. It’s definitely feels like I’ve wondered back in time especially with the pedestrianised cobbled streets.
As a constant reminder that I’m in Scotland, apart from the local accent, men hunting (drinking) in packs and the whisky stores, there is a Scottish shop on every street. By Scottish I mean they sell kilts. Each one has loud traditional music as if that will entice you in although it sounded like Irish music to me. I reasoned its all Celtic, until I hear the bagpipes.
And then there’s the royal influence; the Royal Mile, the castle, the residence. I can only guess but my bet is it’s not the same in Glasgow. I’ll let you know when I get there and forward the verdict on which is the best Scottish city
Part 2 follows
Love – Home – Work – Social – Passion
I find it difficult to write my journal these days, not because life isn’t eventful, on the contrary, but life is serious and you’re used to me writing about the light side, the exciting side, the new experiences; apart from losing my right to travel to the USA, being estranged from all my belongings currently in New York and breaking up with the BF, apart from that, that is.
I’ve been back from New York exactly a year now and since then, there have been no first time visits to the opera, Carnegie Hall, BB Kings or indeed discovering the house band at Cafe Wha! or the live music at Café Vivaldi. There has been no witnessing the Empire State building turn blue for President Obama’s election victory, no going to the recording of Martha Stewart’s Christmas special or passing Kevin Bacon in the street going to my favourite Upper West food store, Zabars. There have been no snowy walks across central park to report, no new dates, restaurants or friends or discovering that the café across the street from my coffee shop is Tom’s Diner, as featured in Seinfeld. Nope, I never watched it either.
Since taking on my first job in 6 years, a first flat in nearly 2 years and singledom all in the same month, it’s been tough.
I love having my own place again instead of sharing even though it feels extravagant and empty. It’s more like a holiday apartment but with more of my stuff in it. Well the stuff that isn’t in New York, which is definitely in the majority. I have no idea where I’m going to put eight large boxes of belongings collected over a lifetime plus a triple wardrobe of winter clothes and all the stuff I had in the apartment share. With the split from the BF, there is no reason for it to be in New York anymore as it could be 1, 2, 3 or more years till I make my way back there. The question remains, how will I get it back?
Cold winter in New York
Every day I remember something else I’m looking forward to seeing again; my luxurious silver cashmere throw and cushion, my years’ supply of gorgeous toiletries from Bath & Body Works and of course my CDs. I’m not as bothered about the clothes at the moment as the city virtually holds for ransom all my cold winter in New York attire.
I love my new dream job that encompasses pretty much everything I have learnt over the last 25 years of working but the project I’m managing is hard. Who’d have thought I’d have trouble finding unemployed/disadvantaged people in Kidderminster, a town which includes one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country? I envisaged the hardest part would have been the actual training, keeping 15 people who are not used to corporate discipline entertained and interested in skills that will help them both find and keep a job in the hospitality, travel and leisure industries.
Switch off, switch on
In a strange way it feels like I have pressed the re-boot button in breaking up with the BF. I miss him terribly and feel like I’m running around town without ear rings – not essential but I don’t feel like myself without them. It’s one thing less to worry about, although try telling that to the part of my brain that pops him into my thoughts approximately every 57 seconds. It saves me time in calling and emailing him not to mention an absolute fortune in travel, socialising and treats and a significantly smaller amount for a Skype subscription.
At the risk of sounding like a SATC sap, even though he broke my heart, I miss him. This week I was in London, staying in a fancy hotel in an area we spent time in when he came over last summer, Soho and Marble Arch. I walked around the block once as I really fancied noodles but settled for a burger joint as I was starving. I sat down in Guerrilla Burgers, ordered, then looked down James Street and there were loads of restaurants! Not noodles but 2 Italian choices. Still my burger was interesting; I ordered goats cheese and aubergine burger and wondered why the youthful waitress didn’t ask me how I wanted the meat cooked, burnt. It turns out the cheese was the burger – no meat. I chose sweet potato fries to accompany and although the burger was on the cold side and I like my hot food to be steaming hot, the service was good.
Good enough for me to go back having walked half way round the block towards Selfridges and to my hotel and one, ask for the receipt I forgot and two, a slice of baked cheesecake to go. Ridiculously expensive buying one portion from a restaurant for more than the price of 2 slices, or indeed a whole cheesecake from Marks & Spencer.
The BF and I did the exact same thing, buying 2 slices ‘to go’ on our last night of the Christmas break in Montreal. Turns out, that was our last night together, ever.
NB I miss the him that I spent 14 months with, not the him that broke my heart.
Out with the girls
I’ve added two areas to the Love-Home-Work triangle, Social and Passion. I’ll think of better names later but my social life seems to have all but disappeared. My good friends are mostly far away or the local ones are too busy for socialising so after being repeatedly asked why I don’t set up Meet Up group, out of desperation, I have. After less than a week Out with the Girls already has 23 members and the first event, a brunch of course, is full. I hope it’s as good as the MeetUps in New York that literally saved my social life.
Passion is things we care about, for me that is in the main music, writing, reading, delicious food and football. And my work but only until 5pm after which I’m throwing myself into the aforementioned list. As soon as work gets less busy that is.