Archive | Reviews RSS feed for this section

Robin Hood on the Other Side

20 Nov

I recently had a cross-timezone Skype chat with Mike Huberty, a rock musician who also runs a podcast called See You on the Other Side. The podcast deals with pop culture and the paranormal (fairly interesting, right?) and I was talking to him, naturally enough, about Robin Hood in connection with my new book, Why Everything You Know about Robin Hood Is Wrong.

If you want to listen into to our conversation, and find out my fun facts about Will Scarlett and the dodginess of medieval May Games, you can listen to the podcast on Mike’s site, or on Podbean, or iTunes.

Happy listening!

My Top Ten Films

13 Nov

I’m not much into vlogs, but one thing I do enjoy watching on YouTube is videos about films – best ofs, worst ofs, critiques, techniques. I watched the recent(ish) Mark Kermode documentary, Secrets of Cinema, too, and very much enjoyed it (apart from its obsession with Moonlight, which still doesn’t appeal to me at all).


In short, I’m an armchair cinephile, which is great because an armchair is a very good place to watch films from. So I thought I’d share with you a list of my top ten favourite films (as they stand now), and what I like about them, and hope that it doesn’t reveal anything too disturbing about my personality.

There will be everything from rom-coms to cult classics to Cold-War-era sci fi; films everyone has seen, and probably some that you’ve never heard of. The oldest film on the list harks from the 1930s, the newest from 2010. This will be a long read, so grab a coffee, or alternatively a pair of sunglasses and half a packet of cigarettes, and let’s hit it.

Continue reading

See Paris and Diet

1 Mar

The other weekend, hubbie and I went to Paris for the first time, to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Paris in the springtime is supposed to be very romantic. Of course, we are still in the Never Ending Winter® so it wasn’t really like that, but despite the gloves and big coats, we had a good time. Here are a collection of impressions and musings about Paris, for you to be enlightened by or disagree with, interspersed with random photos of Paris Metro signs, because I just really liked them. (My husband didn’t. In one of the photos you can see him hiding his face in embarrassment at my touristy snapping.)

You can get surprisingly far with schoolgirl French

In fact, I topped up my half-forgotten French with a quick Memrise course, but even so, I was astonished how much of it I was able to use. I had heard that people in Paris just take one sniffy look at you trying to speak French and then reply in English, and there were a couple of those, but mostly people were perfectly happy, even pleased, that I was trying to speak their language. And at least two people we dealt with didn’t actually speak English. Yes, even in Paris.

Paris is not as lovely as I had hoped

Probably most of the top tourist destinations are over-hyped (except Rome – Rome is amazing), but it was still a bit of a disappointment to find at the end of the trip that I didn’t really like Paris. I was disappointed in the city and also kind of disappointed in myself because I really wanted to like it. But…

  • it was pretty dirty and smelly;
  • lots of people were rude and pushy – literally, in the context of public transport;
  • waiting staff take your drinks when you’re not finished. Just because I’ve asked for the wine list, that doesn’t mean I’ve finished with my champagne. It’s called planning;
  • waiting staff make you move seats for no reason at all. Seriously, in an empty cafe they will come up and tell you that you must move one chair to the left, or you must sit facing your date instead of beside him. In one case my coffee ended up all over the floor because of an unnecessary move and I was fumingIf I’m in Paris again and asked to move, I may just say ‘non’ and see what they do about it.

It’s not all waiters, waitresses and shop staff who are condescending and pushy, but enough to leave a bad taste in the mouth. I should say, though, that most of the time we received decent, friendly service. Just keep a firm hold on your drink.

The food was amazing

Whatever we may have disliked about the weekend, the food was definitely the bit we liked best. From a seriously stuffed bagel, eaten at a grubby outdoor table, to a cosy little restaurant (Un Air de Famille – strongly recommended), to the various chocolate shops peppered around central Paris, we scoffed with abandon. The coffee was also uniformly good. I discovered that the way I take my coffee (with a splash of milk) is called noisette  in Paris (maybe the rest of France too), which saved time. The length of the coffee varied from barely more than espresso to proper coffee-cupful, but the quality was unfailing. A place with good coffee and good food can’t be all bad 🙂

But now I’m back in Glasgow, where we’re no slouch at metro signs ourselves (okay, it’s the subway, but you know what I mean), so here’s a lovely picture of Cessnock Underground. And my husband thinks I’m weird…

Cessnock Underground Station

Four things that are wrong with The Dark Tower film (and one thing that’s right)

9 Sep

This is one for the fans, as I’m afraid this post is going to be a bit of a moan about the new Dark Tower film. It’s not a bad film, as it happens, although it’s not good either, but the issue I take with it is that it is supposed to be “based on the Dark Tower series of novels by Stephen King”, and that is only very loosely true.

I am a big fan of that series, you see, and it is AMAZING. Epic in scope, exciting, moving, meaningful – one of those books/series that stays with you and becomes part of how you think about the world. I more or less had to see the film, since I’m such a fan of the books, even though I knew from the trailers that I wasn’t happy with the casting of two out of three of the main characters. And I was disappointed, as I expected to be. (But is it disappointment if you expected it? Hmm.) So after a bit of rumination, here are the things I objected to (and one thing I liked):

1. It’s not about Roland

The main character in the Dark Tower books is Roland Deschain, a gunslinger (a bit like a knight of the Round Table, but with guns). Other people come and go through the stories, including a young boy called Jake, but it is essentially a story about Roland’s personal quest for the Tower.

In the film, the main character is Jake. The story is about how Jake is unhappy at home, how Jake dreams of the gunslinger and his world, and how he meets and eventually saves Roland. Maybe this was a marketing ploy, since dystopian sci-fi/fantasy is so big amongst young adults at the moment, but given that the most book readers are in their 30s or older (the books were published between 1982 and 2004), that was probably a mistake. Plus, an unhappy tween is just not as interesting as an ages-old questing knight steeped in ancient lore and with some incredible skills to boot.

2. It’s not even about the Tower

Roland is defined by his single-minded pursuit of the Tower. It is his monomania, and he will let nothing and no one get in the way of that. That’s part of what makes Roland’s character interesting: he’s basically very decent, but that’s sometimes overridden by his obsession with reaching the Dark Tower.

In the film, Roland doesn’t give a stuff about the Tower. The idea of reaching it doesn’t seem to have entered his mind, and even when the thing appears to stand in imminent danger of being destroyed, he’s not that bothered. He only cares about killing the Man in Black. (They make a big deal of this in the film, about how Roland is deserting his duty towards the Tower in order to instead kill the Man in Black, apparently unaware that there is no conflict between those objectives, since the Man in Black is the one threatening the Tower. That somewhat undermines the narrative tension.)

Now I realise that this is a reboot (I won’t go into the reasons for that here, though it makes sense in the context of the books) but there is no iteration of reality in which Roland is not in pursuit of the Tower, otherwise the ‘reboot’ thing couldn’t make sense. (I know that this point is very obscure if you haven’t read the books, but I refuse to spoil the ending for you!) If they make a sequel to this film it shouldn’t be called ‘The Dark Tower’, but ‘Jake and his Pal Roland Wander Aimlessly around Midworld’.

3. There’s no emotional weight

The Dark Tower series is full of flawed, broken people in difficult circumstances, mostly (though not always) trying to do some version of the right thing. Roland’s relationships with his companions are hard-earned and deep. His relationship with Jake is particularly special, as he has no children of his own, which makes it all the more excruciating when his obsession with the Tower leads him to betray the boy. Nobody is safe in the books. You can lose fingers, toes, legs, or your life. Main characters die. One main character dies twice (in different worlds) within one book.

In the film, all the main characters are basically going to be okay. Other, hastily-drawn characters (especially parents) are in danger so that the heroes can suffer manfully, and obviously a few baddies and randoms have to die to prove it’s serious, but you know that for Jake and Roland, there will always be a handy portal or other deus ex machina when they need it. Roland receives injuries that are not only life-threatening but inescapably life-ending, but just gets up and dusts himself down. It’s cartoonish, it doesn’t hurt, and it doesn’t matter.

4. It’s actually a mash up of The Dark Tower, The Shining and Monsters Inc.

I very much like the Jake of the books, and I like the kid from The Shining too. However, if you combine the two and add on a couple of extra years so he’s a gawky tween, I do not like him much at all. If you’re coming to the film cold, you’ll assume Jake has psychic powers, since it’s a crucial part of the plot. I have no recollection of Jake having psychic powers. I’d have to re-read all the books to swear that he has none at all (and I’ve only re-read the first two so far) but it’s safe to say it’s not a major plot point.

In The Shining, it’s pretty much the whole plot, and the Dark Tower film makers must have liked this so much that they decided to incorporate it. Now it’s true that Stephen King’s literary worlds have lots of connections (and the Dark Tower stands at the centre, naturally, since it is supposed to be the lynchpin of reality) but a sneaky photo of the Overlook hotel doesn’t mean you can just switch characters around at random. Not without incurring my wrath, at any rate.

And then Monsters Inc. Oh dear. If any of you saw King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (and if you didn’t, don’t) you’ll know that the CGI battles are exceptionally silly, making serious scenes laughable. The Dark Tower is a bit that way, too, since the screams of children being converted into a CGI weapon to attack the Tower just made me think of Sully and co. from Monsters Inc collecting screams. And that’s not a good thing in a fantasy film that’s trying to take itself seriously. It’s also irritating, because efforts to destroy the Tower in the books are a good deal more subtle and insidious than shooting it with a big blue light.

5. But it’s a good advert for the books

Here’s where I am prepared to admit that there was something good about the film (other than the casting of Matthew McConaughey, which I thought was perfect): it makes viewers want to read the books.

I watched a number of reviews when I was formulating my thoughts for this post, partly to see what people thought if they hadn’t read the books, and many of those people commented that it had made them want to read the books. There are things mentioned in the film that are never followed up, things that hint at a much larger mythology. Who on earth are the gunslingers, and why is Roland the last? Why does the Man in Black want to destroy the Tower? And why does Roland hate him so much? The reviewers supposed that these things must have been explained in the books, and they are, apart from the things in the film that are wrong – but let’s not get into geeky nitpicking when we’ve almost reached the end 😉

So I can’t recommend the film, not even as an hors d’oeuvre for the books, since so much of it is so far out of bounds that it will just confuse you. But I can’t recommend the books highly enough. So do yourself a favour and spend your ticket money on the first book, The Gunslinger, instead. It’s your passport to other worlds than these.

I’m happy to admit the poster’s cool, though.

A-maze-ing Graffiti Art at SWG3

3 Jul

Another photo post – give the people what they want.

The story behind this is that I was at ‘Hypermarket’ this weekend at SWG3, an arts space behind the railway arches off the Expressway (if you know Glasgow at all). It wasn’t terribly ‘hyper’ – in fact it was a small-to-medium craft fair marooned in an over-large space, with a half-hearted selection of overpriced “street food” outside in the courtyard, under a dull grey sky.

I didn’t stay long, but while I was there I took the opportunity to photograph the one stand-out item of this whole setup: the graffiti art. There were walls and walls of it, freestanding, arranged into a sort of not-very-challenging maze, as you can probably see from this picture.

My favourite was this picture of ?vultures, painted on sheets of metal – appropriate for an old galvanizing yard.

I liked the joke on this Billy Connolly one. There’s a lot of Billy Connolly art around Glasgow at the moment, since he’s just turned 75.

This fish took me a wee moment to work out at first.

And I still haven’t worked this one out.

Or this. It really looks like a word, but I don’t know what it says. Answers on a postcard (or in the comments below).

There were others, if you want to pop along (check the SWG3 website for events) but these were my favourites.

And finally, the credits (I don’t know which name applies to which artwork, but I’m sure you know how search engines work.):

How Not to Read Books

12 May

A shipment of freshly-printed copies of The Talisman

This week, with some relief, I returned The Talisman to the library. It’s a fantasy novel by Stephen King and Peter Straub, roughly the size of a breeze block – and I hadn’t finished it.

There was a time when I hardly ever left a book unfinished, no matter how little I was enjoying it (I’m looking at you, The Lord of the Rings) and when I did, I felt bad about it. I’m a quick reader, so it was usually a case of lack of desire rather than lack of time. These days, time is harder to come by so the quality of the book (or to be fairer, my enjoyment of it) have become more important.

I’ve recently got into the KonMari school of tidying and organising, and discovered the deeply soothing quality of an organised sock drawer. One of the ideas of KonMari is that you should throw out books, which sounds scandalous to a book lover, but when I read on, I could see Marie Kondo’s point. Why keep books you are never going to read (or re-read) and that just stare at you sadly from the bookshelves? If it’s because just seeing them makes you happy, great. But if it doesn’t, why are they taking up valuable bookshelf space?

My sock drawer is a small oasis of order

So quite a lot of my books recently went off to Music Magpie, and others are going to find their way to charity shops in the near future. Some of them I had started but never read. Some of them I hadn’t even started, and knew I probably never would. Getting rid of them is not failure; it is liberation.

In that spirit, here are some books I have left part-read, and the reasons why. Feel free to use the comments to give me your own list.


The Talisman, Stephen King & Peter Straub

It is just. Too. Long. That’s not a problem in itself, but when nothing much happens for several hundred pages, and what happens is fairly repetitive, it is a problem. This is especially true when any action present has an unsettlingly sadistic feeling to it. I’ve never failed to finish a Stephen King book before, but this just wasn’t worth the effort. The addition of a semi-human bit of – what? comic relief? – doesn’t improve a long book either, whether it’s a werewolf or an anthropomorphic countryside spirit. (Yes, I’m looking at you again, LOTR. Tom Bombadil should never have made the final edit.)


The Lemon Tree, Sandy Tolan

This is not a bad book. In fact it’s very informative, and quite well written. But the author’s insistence on not straying beyond the recorded evidence at all, even for emotions and motivations, eventually makes this non-fiction, novel-ish book unengaging. I know it’s trying to keep cool about an inflammatory subject (the Israel-Palestine conflict) but in the end it was just too cold to hold my attention. Non-fiction novels can be done better than this; just see Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. That leaves you chilled, not frigid.


The Celestine Prophecy, James Redfield

This was only vaguely interesting at the start, and became less so as it disappeared deeper up its own worldview. The protagonist experiences spiritual and psychological insights which don’t seem to amount to much in terms of a system of universal truth (spot my western post-Enlightenment bias there) but are so enthralling to him that he must talk about them, at length, while nothing much happens. Then men with guns turn up, he escapes, goes somewhere else and has another insight. Repeat ad nauseam. Real psychological and spiritual insights, I like (try looking up Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning lectures on YouTube for that sort of thing) but this was not my cup of enlightened tea at all.


The Fall of Lucifer, Wendy Alec; The Shack, William Paul Young

I’m lumping these ones together because, while they’re dissimilar in some ways, they are both based on Christian (or thereabouts) theology, and they are both really bad. I mean truly, truly appalling. I couldn’t get further than the first chapter of either of them. The writing was so bad it was almost physically painful. I may be a bit hypersensitive when it comes to bad writing, but the very thought of reading these books makes me shudder.

Again, this can actually be done well. This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti is about a hundred times better than The Fall of Lucifer – and that’s a modest estimate.


I don’t think these are the only books I’ve rejected. I have a strong memory of throwing a book across the room when it irritated me one time too many, not so long ago (I know, I know, violence against books should never be condoned), but I can’t remember which one it was. Maybe it will come back to me, and I will add it to my list. In the meantime, let me know which books you have rejected, and why, in the comments below.

Albania 2015 – just the best bits

8 Aug

I have recently returned from my other reality, aka Albania, where I have a different name, a different language, different clothes (well it is 20 degrees hotter) and to some extent a different personality. I was going to blog about how strange it is to suddenly be bad at things that you are usually good at – things like baking, dancing and writing, in my case – because you’re in a different culture where all the rules are changed.

However, I feel like I have encountered quite enough negativity recently, with people talking down Albania, or Scotland, or just generally moaning about how hard life is, so I don’t want to add to it. However hard life is, and whatever problems there are in both my countries, I had a fantastic month, so I will choose the share the best parts. If that makes you nauseous, look away now.

1. I went to a museum in Lushnjë where I was the only person there, so I got a personal guided tour, and unlike most museums where you are told very firmly not to touch, this museum positively encourages you to! I was handed a two-and-a-half-thousand-year-old perfume pot (which I took extreme care not to drop) as if it were just a mug of coffee, and the tour guide passed me an 18th century sword to hold while he took a phone call. For a history nut like me, it was amazing!


Look at the colour of that sea!

2. The sea was beautiful, and so different from the North Sea and the Atlantic that I grew up with. It’s so clear you can see the tiny fish, and it’s warm (or no colder than cool, at worst) so you can get right in there without fear of losing a toe to frostbite. My eyes are the colour of the sea and, bizarrely, while they are North Sea blue-grey here in Scotland, they were Mediterranean blue-green the entire time I was in Albania.

3. Being outdoors so much was great. I like being outdoors in Scotland, too, but there are not that many days you can do it without suffering from mild exposure, if not from the temperature then from the wind. In Albania (and Greece) we ate outside (breakfast, lunch and supper), socialised outside, went to outdoor bars, and I even slept outside, on the balcony outside my room, when the temperature got a bit too ridiculous. Waking up to blue sky and swallows overhead sets you up for a great day.


My bed on the balcony

4. My husband gets irritated by this one, but I love being mistaken for an Albanian! I talk with an accent of course, but millions of Albanians live abroad, so they pick up accents too. Sometimes people have a little debate in front of me about whether I’m foreign or not! It’s very funny, and quite reassuring when I have an Albanian exam coming up later this year.

5. I enjoyed bonding with my mother-in-law over telenovele, the überdramatic soap operas they show in Albania. They used to be mainly from South America, but now there’s a glut of Turkish ones, which are a bit more serious, and very good. The latest was Diamantë dhe Dashuri (Diamonds and Love). There’s lots of mortal peril and complicated love triangles / hexagons, and I am happy to throw myself right in there for as long as I’m staying. They also don’t go on forever, like British soap operas, so you’re not in danger of losing your whole life to them.

6. I also enjoyed dressing up. This can be a hassle if you’re not in the right mood, but I was on holiday so I was very happy to only take my prettiest clothes, and then to wear all the new pretty clothes that my mother-in-law had collected for me too. Most of the time in Britain I slob around in jeans and a t-shirt, so it’s fun to take a break from that and wear heels and dresses. I didn’t wear trousers for the entire holiday, and it was with great reluctance that I put them back on for the flight home.

7. The ice cream was so cheap! Lots of things are cheaper in Albania, but ice cream is so expensive here in Britain that it’s really noticeable. In Albania it ranged from about 30p for a cheap one to £1.30 for an individual tub of Skandal, the equivalent of Häagen Dazs. My young nieces, who accompanied me for the first part of the holiday, weren’t used to the heat so I insisted that we stabilised their temperature with regular applications of ice cream. They didn’t seem to mind.

8. Catching up with friends was a highlight – and not just friends in Albania, but those in Greece and Italy too! Because almost everyone in Albania has relatives abroad, standard mobile phone packages include overseas minutes. For about £8 for the whole month I got hundreds of minutes to Europe, as well as huge amounts of data and messages. Not bad.

9. This one is from Greece rather than Albania. I stayed in a hotel with a pool on my way back, since I had to spend a night in Corfu. (It was the Anita, in case you’re interested, and it’s very good and extremely friendly, though not as handy for the airport as the Arion.) One of my favourite memories is standing up to my neck in the pool, alone, watching brightly coloured dragonflies playing over the water. Idyllic.

Sunny enough for bananas!

Sunny enough for bananas!

10. Sunshine. Sorry, but it has to be said. In Scotland we throw ourselves onto the nearest patch of grass whenever the sun comes out, because who knows how long it will last? In Albania you can predict that it will last roughly from the start of May to the end of September. It was sunny every day, it was hot every day, it was cloudless all but two days. It was paradise.

My mother-in-law will hopefully be visiting in October, her first time in Scotland, so it will be interesting to get her perspective. Maybe she will see wonderful things that I don’t notice because I’m so used to them. I have a nasty feeling that she won’t like it at all, actually, but until she casts her verdict – let’s stay positive. 🙂

Coffee Quest

26 May

coffee quest

I have just completed a small but quite satisfying quest, which took me all over Glasgow. A month or two ago I was having coffee with a friend in the Glad Cafe, near where I live on the south side of Glasgow, and I saw some little loyalty cards. Never one to pass up the chance of something free, I picked one up and discovered that it wasn’t for the Glad Cafe itself, but for ten different independent coffee shops, all of which use Dear Green coffee, roasted in Glasgow.

People who succeed in collecting stamps from all ten are entitled to claim a free coffee at any of the cafes on the list, but it would clearly involve a lot of effort. At this point I suppose people either shrug and put the card back, or decide to go for it. I chose to take up the challenge, and my not particularly hazardous quest was born. I discovered some gems, had some less positive experiences, and drank a lot of curdled soya milk. Here are my impressions in order of visit:

Glad Cafe

Where it all started, and a place I’m very familiar with. Situated on Pollokshaws Road, opposite Queens Park, ‘The Glad’ serves decent coffee and great cake, but the service is sometimes slow. It’s a bit of an arts and music venue on the side, and rather “right on”, but not too aggressively. I like it, and often pop in just to get a loaf of the gorgeous Crossmyloof bread to take away. This is actually the most far-flung of all the cafes on the list, from the city centre at least, so it was handy that it’s one of my locals.

Laboratorio Espresso

A wee gem hidden away on West Nile Street, behind Forever 21. It is very Italian in the best way. It reminded me a little of the coffee shop where my Italian niece works, where men drop by in the morning to have their espresso in two gulps before going to work. I had an espresso and it was perfect, not bitter at all. There were little Italian snacklets to buy, just the right size to accompany an espresso, and newspapers lying about to read. My favourite of the new cafes I tried, and the one I now keep recommending to people.

Avenue G

In the west end to do some research at Glasgow University library, and just a little too hungry to wait for lunch, I took the opportunity to tick another coffee shop off my list. I had an americano (I think – I didn’t take notes) and a slice of carrot cake that came with a deliciously boozy chocolate sauce. The place was stuffed but I was pointed to a seat on their tiny balcony. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular. The coffee was good, the cake was good, the service was too, and the place smelt of bacon and chocolate – a wonderful brunch time aroma. I was at the branch on Byres Road, but they also have one on Great Western Road.


It was at this point that I started making an effort to work through the list instead of just relying on happenstance, which could take a lifetime. I arranged with my friend Ann to take a trip to the West End on what turned out to be a horrific day of weather. Papercup is on Great Western Road, not too far from Kelvinbridge underground. It is very far from Gartnavel, where we ended up walking to afterwards, but that’s another story. Papercup wasn’t really worth the effort, I’m afraid. The stripped back look has been taken so far that you would think the place was derelict if there hadn’t been staff at the counter. They had some nice little cakes and colourful macaroons, but the coffee was only ok, and I think this was one of the places where the soya milk curdled, making the coffee taste black when I take it white. I don’t think I’ll be back.


Anyone who has scrolled down will realise that there are 11 coffee shops on this list, not ten, and this relates to the scribbled out entry on the loyalty card. I got it into my head that Riverhill Coffee Bar was directly opposite Central Station, and when I didn’t see it there, assumed it had closed. In fact it’s a block further along Gordon Street, and has been open all the time, but labouring under this misapprehension, and sad that I wouldn’t be able to complete my card, I decided to substitute another independent coffee shop I been meaning to go to.

I have often passed Tapa on the bus and seen its claim to have “the best coffee on Glasgow by a country mile” so one pleasant day I walked down beyond Queens Park to try it out. The claim is a bit exaggerated, but the coffee was good, and there was a wide choice. I had a cafetiere of something interesting and wondered why I had never been before. It’s not that far from where I live.

Riverhill Coffee Bar

Of course, immediately after scoring it off the list, I discovered the real location of Riverhill. In need of a quick coffee, I popped in and discovered that at least one of my friends already knew about it, since he was sitting on one of the few available chairs. (This is a bit of a theme with the independent cafes – not much seating at all.) I had an espresso and a nice crackly biscuit, but nearly got charged for something completely different by the friendly guy on the till. Paying when you order might be safer. The coffee and biscuit were good, but I did feel a little cramped, and certainly couldn’t have done much work on my laptop there. Even so, I’m glad it’s not really closed.

McCune Smith

Off to the east end for the next one, with a friend who lives round the corner from this cafe but had never been. Another horrible day, raining sideways, but it was good to go back to my old stomping ground and see how much the High Street area has been improved. There was some great graffiti art covering the whole sides of buildings, and I would have taken some pictures, but I wanted to get out of the rain.

McCune Smith is a strange place, like a cross between an eighteenth century coffee house and the tenement flat of someone you don’t know very well. A trip to the toilet involved going through an unmarked door and then choosing between a further three unmarked doors. It also charges west end prices in an east end location, which was a surprise, and shows how much the area is going up. The coffee was good (though the soya milk curdled) and there was a good choice on the menu. The staff were extremely helpful, even swiping my Swiipi card for me, repeatedly, when it wouldn’t work.

Dr James McCune Smith, by the way, was the first black man to study medicine at the University of Glasgow, back when it used to be located near High Street, so I learnt something while I was there.

Siempre Bicycle Cafe

The low point of my quest. I’m glad I didn’t make a special trip to this cafe on Dumbarton Road, because it would have added to my annoyance. Instead, I just popped in on my way to a friend’s house, and ordered an espresso – but didn’t drink it. It was that bad. I took two sips, and the second was only to confirm that it really was as bad as all that. All the seating was at long benches, which isn’t great if you’re not feeling sociable, and the place is covered in bikes, bits of bikes, and books about bikes. I don’t like bikes (nasty accident as a child) and I don’t like bad coffee. I won’t be back.

Artisan Roast


The end was in sight now, so I arranged with a west end friend to try out this cool student dive on Gibson Street. (There was cool graffiti on the way once again, and this time I did stop to take a photo.) The ambience was great, with quirky tables and nice little nooks, and cushions made out of coffee sacks. In fact, all the coffee-related stuff made me think I might be in for a treat. I asked for a recommendation, took it, and didn’t baulk at the somewhat elevated price. However, the service was very slow (my friend had to chase hers up and still didn’t get it for a good 15 minutes) and the coffee, when it came, was rather bitter and served in a glass jug. Maybe that fits nicely with the quirkiness, but it’s a terrible way to serve coffee. Cafetiere to cold jug, jug to cold cup, and my coffee was tepid before I even started it, and stone cold long before the end. Cool coffee is not cool, Artisan Roast – not in my book, anyway.

All That Is Coffee

Another dud , I’m afraid. This cafe is in the achingly hip bit of central Glasgow behind Argyle Street, where if you throw a music technician he’ll probably hit a graphic design studio. It is based in a…something. I couldn’t really tell what it was or did, even after bypassing security and wandering round the building in search of the toilet. The building plan was full of cool and ironic non-literal descriptions, so that was no help. My best guess is that it’s some kind of design college, but who knows? It’s that kind of area, even the shops won’t say what they’re selling. If you have to ask, you’re not hip enough.

Normally I would feel very out of place, but in fact I had just bought new, bright blue over-ear headphones so I put them on like armour and listened to OMD – unironically.

As for the coffee, it was OK, but when I asked for a recommendation the woman looked at me as if I was mad and said, “I don’t know how you like your coffee.” Not confidence-inspiring. I had had enough of curdled soya milk, and it was 40p extra anyway (Really ? These days?) so I helped myself from the communal milk jug, examined the design work (Earrings the size of golf balls, made of unworked ores. Why?), listened to my music and got out of there, retreating to the cool-but-not-confusing Parnie Street by way of Mr Ben’s vintage clothing shop.

Veldt Deli

Last one! And a good one. Ann, who should get at least half a free coffee for her efforts, came with me again to Great Western Road, this time the other side of Kelvinbridge, to try out this South African themed cafe. The decor is stripped back but not excessively, and although there was one big bench, there were also a couple of tables. There was South African food on the menu and on the shelves to take home. I had an unpronounceable type of pasty and a lovely coconut and vanilla cake. The coffee was good, the soya only very slightly uncooperative, and the prices were reasonable too.

I don’t know if I’m the only one who has ever finished this coffee quest, but there some confusion at Veldt about the free coffee, whether it was the tenth one or the one after the tenth. The wording on the card seemed to imply the latter so I chose to return to my favourite for another espresso at the Laboratorio. It was very strong, but still good, and there was just room to squeeze in me and my multi-lingual friends for a confusing conversation about comparative grammar. ‘Cause that’s just how I roll.

So if you’re looking for a new coffee shop, here they are in order from best to worst. But don’t take my word for it, pick up a card and go questing yourself.

  1. Laboratorio Espresso
  2. Avenue G
  3. Glad Cafe
  4. Riverhill
  5. Tapa
  6. McCune Smith
  7. Veldt Deli
  8. Papercup
  9. Artisan Roast
  10. All That Is Coffee
  11. Siempre Bicycle Cafe

All’s Well That’s As You Like It

13 Aug

My good friend Rebekah Holden (who is the same person as the actress Rebekah Harvey, since actors are supposed to have unique names) had kindly posted guest post by me on her lovely blog. It is a simple, 5-step guide to writing a brilliant Shakespeare comedy. Just add genius. And comedy.

All’s Well That’s As You Like It; How to write a Shakespeare comedy

An Unexpected Guest

1 Aug

One of the things I love about the internet are the random connections it throws up. I clicked through from Twitter to a list about books that are better than the films (as a writer and a film fan that’s the kind of clickbait I’m very vulnerable to.) Of course, one of the things that is very irritating about the internet is the difficulty in finding anything again, unless you’ve bookmarked it, so I can’t give you the link to the list, I’m afraid.

Anyway, there were two books on the list that I hadn’t read. One was Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, which I have ordered from the library, and the other one was I am Legend by Richard Matheson. And just like that, I have added a name to my list of favourite authors, because it turns out that this man, whom I thought I’d never heard of, not only wrote the story Somewhere in Time (or Bid Time Return), which I really enjoyed but had completely forgot the title and author of, but he also wrote the screenplay of one of my favourite films, The Incredible Shrinking Man! (Yes, it sounds awful, but it’s actually a very thoughtful and touching film. And the fight with the giant spider is great!)

Continuing the theme of random connections, in the book I am Legend the narrator makes a joke about the last man on Earth being Edgar Guest. Not having the first clue who Edgar Guest was (although I could tell from the context he was probably a wordsmith of some kind), I naturally reached for my smartphone and looked him up. He was a poet, as it turned out, and the first poem of his that I turned up (courtesy of the Poetry Foundation), I rather liked. It’s also a very good fit for the book, in which a man keeps going in almost overwhelming circumstances. So here it is for you to enjoy, and I hope that my blog will also be a source of serendipitous connections in the vast internet.

It Couldn’t Be Done


Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it!

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it;”
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.