Adventures in Scotland – Aug 2011

It fits that I should start the editing process of my book in the same city I start writing it, 16 months ago. Having said that, these few days are more of a ‘Worliday’ as coined by San Sharma of Enterprise Nation fame. This is a perfect mix of work and play or in my case editing, going on coffee shop crawls and taking in an Edinburgh Fringe show. Even though I go to Scotland for solid writing days, I always come back refreshed and raring to go as if I’ve been on holiday.

It’s the first time I’m going to Scotland in a car so I can delight in the ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign that I had hoped for by train, not to views of the rolling hillside as we go through the Pennines. You know, the view the Americans think the whole of England sees every day out of their window.

Apart from being able to shop at Ness for my beloved tartan flavoured clothes, the highlight is not just being in the city for the Edinburgh Fringe but catching a show too. It’s the last day and we hover at the half price ticket stand just long enough for one of the artist’s to pimp his show to us. We buy. The show was as funny and silly as I had hoped and all I can say is I will never look at a red sofa the same again.

The coffee crawl over two days in the city included two Bean Scenes, Peters Yard, Kilmanjaro and a new one on me, the Wellington – all fantastic experiences.

CUP

There are also two great meals in Edinburgh but I am looking forward to lunch at Cup when we hit Glasgow’s West End; same table, same view and two cupcakes to go as always.

Of the three Glasgow Bean Scenes’ I write in, my favourite has gone. It’s still there as a similar independent coffee shop named Rudi’s but it’s slightly smarter, more bar than coffee house. If I wasn’t looking I may not have noticed but despite similar ideas and almost identical menu, it’s not Bean Scene. It’s the reason I discover my favourite vintage shop, more because the lady who runs it – who always remembers me – inspired me to run Birmingham Vintage Festival.

I didn’t make a purchase alas, having already bought Victoriana boots in Glasgow but we did find the men’s paisley shirt I’d been looking for in the shop opposite.

Lakes

On the long and beautiful detour towards Lake Windermere where I, mentally at least, have bought a cottage on the main road, in ‘Black Moss’ which I run as a boutique bed & breakfast filled with vintage finds as I write my (next) book overlooking the fields at the back of the house. Very Miss Potter.

I rarely eat ice cream but the draw of the 99 cone as we pull up to take in Lake Windermere is too much. As if this isn’t perfect enough, on the way back the planned stop is Westmorland services which everyone I have mentioned to since has been to but a new heavenly discovery for me. A glorious lunch with a view and a week’s shopping money spent in the farm store before we finally return home to Birmingham.

Adventures in Birmingham – introduction

Possibly the first in a series to remind us of what makes Birmingham a great place to be.

Before I begin, if you are new to me, my blog or to planet earth, this is what I’m about.
Originally from Bedford (c45 miles north of London, don’t mention Luton) I moved to Birmingham a year ago but it’s my 3rd stint of living here. This time, I came via a period in New York, my 2nd home of 2 decades standing where I attended writing school (no, I know, you wouldn’t think it). This time round the US immigrations department have taken it upon themselves to believe that I worked there illegally but of course I didn’t. (I think that’s the reason but I’ve never had anything in writing, they don’t have to give me that, it is America). Still I’m locked out of the USA until they change their mind.

Why would I work if I didn’t have to? In any case I was far too busy going to see Martha Stewart’s TV recording in the morning, bumping into Kevin Bacon in the afternoon, waiting in line at Staples whilst they printed 200 ‘no parking – filming’ signs for the latest Angelina Jolie movie being shot, deliberately walking past the school around the corner every day where John McEnroe sent his kids, just in case and manoeuvring around the red carpeted streets where there was a new SJP film premiere. Not all in one day but that’s how it is and I’m far too exhausted to work after all that.

In any case, 4 years as a freelance consultant (really, it’s not that interesting to talk about here) working 18 hour days, pretty much 7 days a week just to keep going, I had a stash of cash, the UK was going to the dogs (#skyfail, #BTfail) and I left.

I’ve been writing for 2 years now (yes I know, you wouldn’t know it) and whilst I was in New York, started a blog where amongst other things, I posted a weekly journal for my friends back home.
I thought it would be fun to do that now, albeit a lot shorter as I do work, blog, write articles for other websites and oh, I’m in the middle of writing my first memoir-based book.

If writing this helps (local) people realise why when I come back from NYC, I feel Birmingham is the place to live and not a little place called London village.

All roads lead to cake.

First adventures in Birmingham post follows

Gratitude list – July

This month, I’m grateful for:

Birmingham Jazz Festival
Another training project completed (although always continual follow up to do)
50 Things That Make Me Smile in Birmingham – there’s 50 things to be grateful for right there
Spain winning the World Cup (if it’s not to be England (ha) or Italy, Spain are deserved world champions)
My friends coming to stay for the weekend
Thank heavens for Meet Up, saving my ‘life’ for a second time! I’m grateful for making new localised friends.
20,000 words of the book written, or is it books?

Glasgow May 28-31st 2010 (Part One)

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.

No Smoking Sign

No Smoking Sign

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.

BBITW

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.

West End

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.

Bad Service