Musings on two Things…

4 06 2015

Good morrow, fair readers! Look out, this is a long one – accidentally long, not intentionally long in a vague attempt to make up for not posting for over a year.

Every now and then, my work travels put me in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. In the last couple of weeks this has happened not once, but twice. Cor! There was a certain amount of stress involved, in that my work roster is published a couple of months in advance and is Subject To Change (cue ominous flourishes from the brass section), and that I’d need to do some pretty intensive sucking-up to The Train Gods to make sure I didn’t get delayed on my travels and end up not in the right place at the right time, but I went ahead and bought tickets for Two Things anyway, and much to my hurrahment the shifts in question didn’t change, and The Train Gods were kind.

One shift involved a 3.45am start from London, finishing in Exeter and getting back to a hotel in London about 12 hours later on 28th May.

The other, on 1st June, involved a more sociable 9.15am start in Newcastle, finishing back in Newcastle at 5ish and travelling up to Edinburgh ready for a shift starting at lunchtime the next day

And the Two Things?

An Evening With Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer at Hackney Empire in London on 28th May, and an Amanda Palmer solo gig at Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh on 1st June

So there I was on 28th May, back in my hotel room in Ealing, installing some serious matchsticks into my eyes and consuming large amounts of a caffeine based liquid before heading off to Hackney to meet one of my oldest and bestest of pals at the hostelry opposite Hackney Empire. This was an excellent added bonus – her work schedule is about as random and unpredictable as mine (actually, more so) so we don’t get the chance to get together very often. Just before 6.30pm we headed across the road, waved our tickets at the tickety people, and entered Hackney Empire.

Ooooh, it’s a grand old place! We were seated in the circle, slap bang in the middle, with an excellent view of the stage (and near the loos, which is always handy, because You Never Know). Much of the hour or so before the show started was spent admiring the ornateness of the theatre, wondering if those two big vaguely egg-shaped things high up either side of the stage opened up to reveal anything exciting* (like extra-special privileged seats, or a naked Neil and Amanda dancing to the Tales of the Unexpected theme tune) and realizing that we hadn’t really needed to go in when the doors opened because we had tickets so could have just arrived a few minutes before the show was due to start (my excitement was probably to blame for that). Also – and I can’t remember why now – we discussed heckling, and decided that shouting “Show us your willie!” to Neil Gaiman when he came on stage would be hilariously funny. In our defence, we’ve known each other since school so there’s always a certain amount of silly schoolgirlness involved when we meet up. And neither of us has really grown up properly yet.

Anyway. The lights dimmed, and look – there’s that brilliant writer bloke and his musical wife! The show nearly didn’t go on when an innocent looking comfy chair on stage turned nasty and tried to swallow Amanda whole, but she’s a fighter and managed to escape. And that turned out for the best, as it meant they got to snuggle up together on the chaise longue, which was rather sweet.

The evening consisted of Neil reading stuff, Amanda playing stuff (on piano and ukulele), them nattering, and some special guests popping in to do stuff too. And it rather felt like we were all just hanging out at their house with their friends popping in to say hi every now and then. It was hugely cosy. Mitch Benn popped in to borrow a cup of sugar and sang a song. Roz Kaveney dropped in twice (once by mistake) to return the lawnmower and read a poem. Hayley Campbell turned up to have a root around in the attic and told a story, and Andrew O’Neill blew in on the wind to borrow a pint of (vegan) milk and made us laugh lots. Finally, because Neil and Amanda are such pleasant hosts, they all came back together for a general natter, and did actions whilst Amanda played her Ukulele Anthem (which even their imminent baby got involved in by causing an acid reflux moment). I wonder if the vibrations of the uke resting on the baby set if off? Will it be born holding a teeny uke? Will it pick one up at a year old and delight its parents with renditions of all Amanda’s songs, learned by heart after having been to so many gigs and having the songs vibrate their way into its musical nodes?

It was a delightful and extraordinary evening, based around the theme of “Saying the Unsayable”, which also happened to be the theme of that month’s issue of The New Statesman which Neil and Amanda had guest-edited. So there were some pretty powerful subjects discussed. Neil’s “Credo” was beautiful and right. Amanda’s performance of “Bigger on the Inside” made our eyes leak. Andrew O’Neill’s timing was spot on (neither of us had heard of him before, but we’ll be keeping our eyes open for him now). Hayley Campbell’s story was delightfully dark and amusing. And hey, guess what – you can read them all in that issue of the New Statesman! But not Amanda songs, because no-one’s worked out yet how to print songs in a magazine so you can hear them properly. And oh, how could I forget! Neil sang a delightfully-dark (I’ve used those words before but I’ll use them again because I can because I’m writing this so there) song about googling, accompanied by Amanda, which was funny and sad and he sounded a bit like Leonard Cohen would sound if he was Neil Gaiman. Which was nice.

So that was about the size of it. A lovely evening, and we both managed to catch our last trains home/hotelward, which was a relief. Oh, and the next day I realized the copy of the New Statesman I bought was signed by them both, so that was a nice little added bonus.

And now I’ll move on to the 1st June, and once again the Train Gods smiled on me and I got to Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh by about 7pm, having had just enough time to change out of my orange hi-visibility railway gear and into something a little less ridiculous and, er, orange. Once inside and after finding my seat, I went to say hello to Claire, who I don’t know. But I do. If you see what I mean. Let me explain. When the tickets went on pre-sale, you had to be with a certain mobile phone network to get them. Handily, I was so I got one. Then I noticed a tweet from Claire asking nicely if anyone could help because she wasn’t with that certain mobile phone network and desperately wanted a ticket before all the good seats went. Seeing as the event was based around Amanda’s book, “The Art of Asking”, there was only one thing I could do when I saw someone ask, which was to help. So I bought a ticket for Claire and posted it to her when it arrived. We had a little natter and a hug (she has gorgeous hair, by the way!), then I settled back into my seat

Oh wait – I forgot something! I had no idea really on the size of the venue, and thought that a seat near the middle on row C might not be too bad. It was actually the second row (row A either didn’t exist, or it was an invisible row for magical fairy folk, or Frodos with their rings on) and if I’d been much closer to the stage I’d have been on it. So that was good!

And oh! Suddenly there was a real live Amanda Palmer, just a few feet away, sporting her baby proudly under her frock, standing at the front of the stage, singing “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” a capella, un-miked and lovelyly

Let me just stop the review a moment and tell you a few reasons why I like Amanda Palmer

1. Her voice. It’s low, rough, sweet, imperfect (I mean that in the nicest possible way. I prefer voices that have a bit of roughness – and oddness – to them). I also like the way it quite often breaks – be it because she giggles, or because of the emotion of the song.

2. Her songs. Just go listen.

3. Her performances. She’s cracking live. You kind of have to be there, although you can get an idea from watching the numerous clips on t’internet. But nothing, NOTHING prepares you for actually seeing her live.

4. She says what she thinks. And does what she thinks. Sometimes, probably, without thinking, which is hugely endearing. Yes, this sometimes gets her into bother, but I admire her all the more for that.

4. Her general disheveledness. And her penchant for big boots and long coats.

There’s more, but that’ll do for starters! And back to the gig…

I hadn’t seen her play piano live before until Hackney, and the couple of songs she did there on it blew me away a bit. Foot-stampingly, delicately, poundingly ecstatic and heartbreakingly sad (I’m talking about her piano playing). So it was a proper treat in Edinburgh to have a whole evening of her piano playing (with some ukulele thrown in). Add a number 5 to the above list – her piano playing. Love it

The gig continued (for nearly three hours), during which she made us laugh lots with inter-song banter, cry to some songs, laugh during others, and generally just love her to bits. Janey Godley appeared for a short comedy interlude, and Amanda’s doula and right-hand-tour-person, Whitney Moses, came on stage and sang two songs with her – the hilarious “Pregnant Women Are Smug” (by Garfunkel and Oates) which was hilarious, and Delilah (the Dresden Dolls one, not the Tom Jones one) which was heartbreakingly beautiful and made even better by their voices being perfectly matched.

Just before the gig, Amanda had worked out a piano arrangement for a new song in her repertoire, the fabulous “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” by Richard Thompson. If you haven’t heard of him (shame on you!), he’s a stunningly brilliant acoustic guitar player and singer/songwriter. He’s won awards for his guitar playing. He’s Proper good. So translating such incredible, intricate guitar playing to piano – and doing it just before your gig – is no mean feat. And it was a stunning arrangement too. Eeeeeh, she’s a clever lass is that Amanda Palmer

Other covers were by Momus (who I’d never heard of), a delicious, bitter-sweet waltz called “I Want You, But I Don’t Need You”, Kimya Dawson’s “All I Could Do”, and in honour of Morrissey (who she’s supporting in the US in July), The Smiths’ “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”.

Not sure if there was a dry eye in the house when she picked up her ukulele and played her achingly sad yet comforting “Bigger On The Inside”, or a chuckle-free face when she closed the evening with the cannily clockwork “Coin Operated Boy”.

For those interested in what else she played, I could pretend that my memory is amazing, or admit that a fellow concert-goer had the presence of mind to make a note of the set list and tweet it after the gig. Thank you @JP2796, whoever you may be! We were also treated to Astronaut, Ampersand, Vegemite, The Bed Song, Map of Tasmania, The Thing About Things, and a couple of readings from her book, “The Art of Asking”, chosen at random by a member of the audience.

Obviously, I bought a t-shirt. And a pen, which I forgot about until I opened my pencil case on the train on the way home and was confronted by a tiny naked Amanda Palmer, which made me giggle

And then I went back to my hotel.

And now, because I couldn’t go to the book signing in Edinburgh the next day as I was working, I’m on a train to Manchester where she’s doing a signing at Waterstones. Haven’t quite worked out yet how she’ll sign my audiobook, but I’m sure she’ll manage – as I said before, she’s a clever lass is that Amanda Palmer.
* They didn’t. Which was a bit of a shame.


Rose’s BookCross – The Second…

11 08 2013


I’ve just liberated the second book in my bookcrossing experiment! I wonder if anyone will pick it up? And I wonder if anyone will let me know if they have? Will they read it? Will they like it? Will they keep it, or pass it on? Or will it just get swept up with the rubbish by the cleaners? I hope not…

The second book I’m releasing into the wild is… *drum roll…*


Ta daaaaah! George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake. King of writers, and master of illustration! Who remembers Quentin Blake on Jackanory in the 1970s? I loved it when he was on – it fascinated me to see him creating characters in front of our very eyes! If you fancy a trip down memory lane, watch this!

I set it free on the 1330 East Coast London King’s Cross to Edinburgh train, somewhere between Doncaster and Newcastle.

Goodbye book, I hope you get read and enjoyed…!

Edinburgh ramblings…

9 04 2013

I’m in Edinburgh again, hurrah!

On my last two visits here (both one-night stopovers for work) I headed straight for The Oxford Bar, so I’ve kind of got my bearings in the Rose Street area; this time I wanted to use my free afternoon to pay a visit to Looking Glass Books in Quartermile too, a rather cool looking bookshop-come-cafe I came across on Twitter. My trusty phone told me it was about half an hour’s walk from the hotel, so I plotted myself a route and off I went.

Now then. When I’m let loose on my own there are couple of problems that sometimes crop up.

Firstly, I tend to get a bit, er, directionally challenged. Maybe ‘a bit’ is a slight understatement. Often I’ll got into a shop and when I come out I have absolutely no idea which direction I’d been walking in, so I’ll frequently head off jauntily, only to have to turn round and go back the other way. Whilst trying to make it look as if I meant to do that all along. An interesting shop window to look into always comes in rather handy in these situations.

Secondly, if I’m looking at a map that I can’t turn round (I mean the sort on phones that turn as you turn them – static paper ones are easy!) I get a bit confused if I should be turning left or right, unless the map is orientated in the direction I’m going. And I get a bit embarrassed waving my phone around in a figure of eight when it tells me too, so tend not to bother with the direction-pointy-thing. Again, interesting shop windows come in handy…

Consequently I headed off boldly down High Street, then had to pause to look at some interesting kilts before going back the other way. Further on I stopped to admire Parliament Square before doubling back on myself again.

And then… I found somewhere I knew!

A few years back, I came to Edinburgh with my other half and some friends to see Leonard Cohen perform at the castle. We stayed for a couple of nights, and rented a flat rather than stay in a hotel – all the better for some gentle post-concert partying! The flat was in a tall, skinny, modern, woody building on Old Fishmarket Close just off High Street, and I remembered it being on a very steep hill – but luckily today I was at the top end, and needed to be at the bottom, so off I scooted downwards. I’m pleased to report the tall, skinny, modern, woody building is still there.

Needless to say there were a couple more directionally challenging moments before I found Quartermile, but find it I did…

Looking Glass Books has definitely been added to my Best Boltholes to Visit in Edinburgh When I Have a Work Stopover Here list. Smiley welcoming staff, drinks and nibbles, and books galore. Old favourites and obscure, unheard of titles, displayed beautifully and many with delightful hand-written mini-reviews wrapped around their covers – I love that!

I settled down with a coffee, bought to my table by a smiley welcoming lass, and read through the first draft of a manuscript for one of my children’s books I’d plonked onto my iPad yesterday (the first of The Shed stories). It’s gone through a lot of changes since that first draft, but on reading the latest version last week I decided to go back to the beginning again to see how it had looked before all that tweaking. I found a few things that I’d changed or taken out in later drafts that I actually rather liked, realised a tiny bit I’d removed would give a much more logical ‘lead’ into a bit I’d added later, made a few notes, cringed on more than one occasion, and thoroughly enjoyed the coffee.

As I was reading, I was reminded of a recent tweet from Mr Ian Rankin about the bit of novel-writing he likes least – trying alternatives for all the he said’s and she said’s. I got the impression that he tends to use the ‘s‘ word in first drafts, then tweaks them in later drafts – and I was rather impressed with that. I tend to get bogged down looking for alternatives for the ‘s‘ word, and after reading his tweet I have resolved not to stress over it in first drafts ever again in order to keep the flow of ideas going. Cheers for that Mr R!

The dregs of my lovely latte coincided with the end of the manuscript, so I then went for a wander through the books shelves. I didn’t buy anything (which I felt rather guilty about) but I added quite a few titles and authors to my ‘to read‘ list, so next time I’m there I’ll definitely be making a purchase or two. Hopefully by then they’ll have their new book bags printed too!

Looking Glass Books has such a lovely, cosy, ready-writey atmosphere, quite a surprise considering its modern surroundings; I’d highly recommend it for any ready-writey folk visiting Edinburgh. The children’s section is excellent – a really interesting blend of classics, modern favourites and unusual unexplored titles. Well, for me anyway!

Oh yes – and they also serve cake… 🙂

On leaving, I plotted a little route to the Oxford Bar, which took me round the back of the castle, and past an interesting antiquey-curioey-booky shop called Cabaret on the corner of Lady Lawson Street and West Port. The tiny first floor is filled to bursting with curios, jewellery, bits and bobs and lovely glassware, and down The Stairs they have a good collection of old books. The Stairs deserve initial capitals as they’re extremely steep, very narrow, very wooden, and rather spiral. I have tiny feet and they only just fitted on the treads! A very interesting little place which I’m sure I’ll be popping into again on future visits.

A pause by St John’s church on the corner of Lothian Road and Princes Street to marvel at a lovely monument in the churchyard in the form of a huge Celtic cross (me and my Celtic crosses!) and to get growled at by a rather worse-for-wear old fella. I think in his mind he sounded perfectly coherent, but somewhere between his mind and his mouth things had got a bit confused. He was also having a bit of a gravity issue, canting at about 75 degrees. I christened him The St John’s Growler. Might have to use that somewhere…

Then suddenly I was at the top of Rose Street (Me Street!), and a bit further down there was Young Street, and the lovely Oxford Bar. Which is where I am now, writing this, sitting in the back room by the log fire. It’s a rare find these days – a Proper Pub, with none of your fancy pub-come-restaurant pretensions. Just a wee bar, and a wee back room with a few tables and a fire, well kept ale, friendly locals (and not-so-locals) and cheery bar staff – even the notorious Harry, though I’ve only had the pleasure of him being behind the bar on my first visit back in February. You remember, that time I ended up meeting that writer bloke… watzisname… Ian something? I was so overwhelmed I named a dragon after him

And now it’s later, and I’m taking advantage of the hotel’s free wifi to post this before turning in. Despite having to get up at 4am this morning, I’ve had a rather lovely day!

Just a few people in a pub…

26 02 2013

Evening all!

Well. I’d intended today’s post to be a new rough chapter of the ongoing saga of Granny Battle and Ellis, but I’m afraid I got a bit sidetracked.

No reason, really. Just something took my mind of stuff a bit.

Nothing special.

Although I did rather wish I’d known it was going to happen before packing a scuzzy jumper and jeans, no make-up, and no miraculous hair-tarter-upper before this overnighter in Edinburgh.

I had a little plan, you see.

Just a silly, self-indulgent one.

As I’d be finishing my shift in Edinburgh in the afternoon, I thought I’d take a wander to The Oxford Bar and have a wee pint of Deuchars there, in honour of Inspector Rebus. For the non-Rebus fans out there, The Oxford Bar is Rebus’ local in the books by Ian Rankin. It’s a real pub, not a made-up one, and even “Harry, the grumpiest barman in the world” * is real, although he’s now the landlord.

So I was all ready to potter to the hotel after my shift, get changed out of my orange-hued clobber, wander down to said pub, sit there with a pint and write today’s blog post, with a little note in it about writing it from The Oxford Bar. With a pint of Deuchars. After possibly having been grumped at by Harry.

But it all went a bit pear-shaped.

To cut a long story short…

Today I met Ian Rankin. Not at a book signing, but in a pub, at the bar. I said hello. He said hello. I think we shook hands. We talked about a bit of stuff. Then he, a lovely German lady who had been interviewing him, a few locals and Harry bantered at the bar, and occasionally – when I could unstick my tongue from the top of my mouth and squish the shyness down right into the toes of my boots out of the way – I joined in a bit, and felt like part of a small group of everyday people enjoying a bit of idle banter at a bar, in a pub. Then, after a while, he politely left to hurry off to his next engagement.

I’ll just permit myself a small squee here…


I then lingered at the bar, chatting to the lovely interviewer lady, Harry, and the locals, about life, music, guitars, and just stuff in general.

An utterly wonderful couple of hours with perfect strangers, in a smashing wee pub that felt as if Rebus himself was just around the corner in the back room, working on his latest case…

Oh, I did make one Granny Battle decision today though. I think the little orange dragon now has a name.

I think he might be called Ian…

*That’s an Ian Rankin quote. I know that because I read it. But I also know that because he told me today that he’d written that once. Eeeep!