Mar 4 2015

Steaming Labradors in Gastropubs in Keswick.

20150228_161759It smells of wet pedigree and everyone rustles briskly in brightly hued waterproofs.



The fabric bunting capital of England.20150228_161759


The quaint little cottages are blank eyed and empty with a ‘Holiday Home To Let’ sign prominently displayed in cursive script.


Everything is fifty shades of grey. The cottages are stone and slate, the sky a glowering ‘Off Black’, and the pubs and restaurants all clad in  Farrow and Ball ‘Murky Gusset.’

Two Lotuses parked cheerily  close in a pub car park make me dwell on if the plural is ‘Lotii’, something thats never had occasion to bother me before visiting Keswick.


It’s a genial friendly place- a middle class frontier town where the gold seam never diminishes- a place to chortle over a long lunch, not to peer and say ‘how much?’ at a price. There are no e-cig shops here but all the whimsical china sheep one could ever possibly desire. It’s like something Cath Kidston vomited up in a wet dream.


I’m having the best time ever of course. Pretending I’m au-fait with the price of the wine, reading the Times in a corner and pretending I have been for an actual walk in some never ending stretch of blasted bogland peppered by multi million pound crofts and venomous hills.


I’m just pretending it’s shit outside for pure inertia driven guilt of course. There is a hole at the heart of my being that has plumped for grilled halloumi and dukkah over climbing a mountain.


Or indeed a small incline. I did try. I chose the path that didn’t go Up because I don’t like Up and then followed the wide gravelled track  right along the side of the surprisingly busy road until after a mile I found a tea room and purchased a 7 Up for £1.80.  Alfred Wainwright, eat your heart out.

In a horrible fake gastropub ( clearly Wilkinson’s  ‘Found Dead in a Bedsit Grey’) they don’t serve chips unless as part of a meal. You are a small pub with uncomfortable seats and last October’s tattered Cumbria Life, not L’Enclume. Oh do piss off.


It’s a theme park of what it means to be English- the ‘locals’ starring roles played by people who live in the Midlands or London happily jollying it up in a pub with staggering priced wine and a wet dog fug.


It was brilliant. I love a bit of commodified selling of Nature with some avocado and panki fries and a large house red. I love the fact that teenagers don’t appear to exist and you are either in five and in Boden or forty in Trespass. It was a retreat from the confines of Town with all the all the attractions of Town and a staggering backdrop of actual Nature.
Sorry Nature. Next time I will walk in you until I see a dead pheasant or there’s a slight incline. Then I will retreat in indignity to a place with no primary colours and demand a Pot Noodle ‘Bombay Bad Boy’ in my poshest voice.

Jan 10 2015

The Co-Op is the New Country Pub. Discuss.

Oh stop it, you. It will probably be fine once you’re in there. It will be better than this lashing January sideways rain of misery and despair  and the next train is not for another hour. To walk slowly around the Co-Op one more time just in case the white chocolate cookies  have been reduced by another 10p is not ‘cool’ either.

Oh. ok then, me. But a Co-op in the rain in a small provincial Northern town is somehow strangely soothing.

Five Minutes Later

Oh carpet. Generic pub carpet from decades ago. One day you will rise again due to a hipster from Bristol with a twinkle in his eye, an ironic retro vision in his head and a trust-fund.

Now I sink my feet into your red, pink and orange overlapping flowers and smell Dog. No, Dogs. Dead Dogs. Dead Dogs on an eternal slobbery march through the aforementioned carpet. They also had a jolly Dead Zombie Dog Romp in a stagnant mire beforehand and made sure they never achieved dryness. It’s a good life for Undead Zombie Dogs here.

Last week, I walked into a nice looking country pub and then left in disgust at its ‘locally sourced’ smugness, size six staff wearing smart black, bespoke ‘ olde’ floorboards and ‘LOOK AT ME- DEFINITELY FUCKING  FARROW AND BALL’ muted undertones. Other people might say I left because there was not a table. They are of course wrong. I yearned for a generic pub in the countryside unbesmirched by menus with a ‘to begin’ option.

There is no other female here. There may never have been. Around eight men sit around a table and stop swearing briefly to stare at me before reinvigorating their candid talking with extra vigour. The racing is on. I suspect the racing is always on.  An elderly man on his own picks up a tiny leather dog toy in the shape of a shoe and comes up to me with it as he thinks it might belong to me then retreats to his lonely table to listen to the vigorous swearing.

There are pinstripes on the walls and a corniced ceiling. Dry pot plants point crispily towards the floor. The rain slaps against the stained glass of the windows.

Last week, I was the hoi-polloi, thrown out on the  flagstone pavement, sneering bitterly at the Barbour clad over loud and over confident ‘country’ people shrieking to each other over professionally battered old oak tables.

Today I slink out, after retrieving my sleeve from the sticky Melamine surface. No-one says goodbye but I’m sure I hear a burst of laughter when I leave.

I’m not sure where ‘real country’ lies anymore.

But I liked it when I was in the Co-Op buying reduced coleslaw.




Nov 3 2014

I have not taken a photo of the egg in the cafe at Asda. Sorry.

‘Tinned mushrooms or fresh?’ she asks. ‘Err, ‘fresh’ I answer wondering if this is a quick stealthy question to ascertain my class. Then I realise that is unlikely.

She slops the mushrooms onto my plate, the mushrooms from the same stainless steel vat, the only stainless steel vat containing mushrooms. I feel I have only been given the illusion of choice. I am already angry about the mushrooms. More angry than the situation merits.


Starving on the outside of an industrial estate at 9am on a Sunday due to an ill-fated walk to a car boot sale means I am here. Being angry about a meat- free breakfast in Asda as an unsteady queue forms behind me and a beautiful morning forms outside.


I refuse to ask if the eggs are free-range in case I sound poncy.  Instead I ask for mushrooms instead of the clammy looking eggs.

‘Can’t do that, mushrooms are extra.’

‘But it is instead of the egg- I don’t want the egg.’

‘Mushrooms are extra.’

‘Ok, I’ll have no egg and extra mushrooms.’

Then I stew in middle-class annoyance, spite, pettiness and thrift.’

‘Actually, I’ll have the egg then IF I HAVE TO PAY FOR IT’.


Then I realise I have the egg.


It bleeds anaemically through a snotty white viscous.  I try to shove it away from my shockingly highly priced tinned/fresh ‘extra’ mushrooms ( I do not want to pay four pounds for a meal under this level of light) but it spurts a sad yellow pus with the fury of a bad horror film from Mexico over my lurid tepid beans, my ‘Glamorgan’ sausages and a hard half of raw tomato.

And how much pus there is! The yellow fingers slide and seep under every item, veritably lift it up and sweep it along in congealing tentacles. It is the colour, the just off white Dulux ‘ Jaundice Dawn’ seeping towards me in jellyfish waves, flecks of raw albulum floating like jetsam to come to break gently on the wreckage of the slimy mushrooms.

I wish I did not have to pay for toast.

I wish I had not walked two miles with a three year old to have nothing but this and a scratched DVD of Fireman Sam to show for it.

I wish I had not eaten it.

Oct 23 2014

I am not allowed to take photos of ghosts

I am not allowed to take photographs in Lancaster Castle.

I have taken a photograph.

Because I was not allowed to take a photograph all I thought about was taking a photograph. Amazing photographic opportunities swam before my eyes. My elderly Samsung 3 was getting moist in my hands. Gargoyles leapt, angles pointed towards an obvious frame with a definite Interesting Thing inside it. But I am not allowed to take a photograph.

I am about to witness some ghost stories inside Lancaster Castle. I love any opportunity to be in Lancaster Castle in the dark. I also love ghost stories. The crowd annoys me as I feel I am the only person in the world to love ghost stories and also Lancaster Castle and the crowd do not treat the experience with the relevance the occasion deserves. Some of them are with friends. Some of them smile and joke.

We are split into separate groups and we go to the a room where people were hanged to hear some ghost stories. This seems strange to me. Here, in a room where so many people shuffled through in mortal terror to die a horrible death, where so many stories and lives are left dangling, we listen to ghost stories about somewhere else.

But, but but- a fictionalised account of a hanging would make a mockery of the suffering that has actually occurred and a true account would nullify a jolly evening of ghost stories because the actual truth of death and suffering is not something to spend seven pounds on-especially on a first date.


I think the woman opposite me is on a first date. Her pure exquisite boredom rolls off her in impressive sneering waves. Her  slightly awkward but pleasant young ‘partner’ puts a comforting hand around her. I feel her flinch from across the room. Her eyes roll like waves, the whites a flash of ocean. She slumps further and further towards the cold stone floor. I have forgotten what the story is about and probably look a bit stalkerish.


A jolly lady with white hair informs me she is related to Alice Nutter. This impresses me more than it should.


There are no MR James stories this year. This saddens me more than it should.

A well read story surrounded by instruments of torture about a couple going to a Cornish village  and finding it strangely deserted and empty makes me want to leap up and shout ‘That’ll be the second homers, lol!’


Fortunately I don’t.


The eye rolling woman has collapsed extravelently yet taughtly in her nervous paramour’s arms.


I become mildly xenophobic when an American woman reads a ghost story. No ghost stories should be read in an ancient crumbling haunted castle and feature fucking Cape Cod. Yes, I am channeling the spirit of Nigel Farage right now. A sentence I never thought I would say. The eye rolling girl is slumped somehow sarcastically grimly defying the nervous arm of the nice man. I suspect if an actual spectre appeared, she would sneer at it and say something sarcastic.

I wish I was her. But instead of a spectre, I have taken a sneaky picture fortified by a 125 ml glass of wine in a plastic cup of a ceiling. A ceiling in the castle.

This may be the last thing I ever write.
Anyway, got to go- someone is knocking in the door.


Oct 1 2014

Don’t Insert Hand

dont insert

All I want to do right now is insert my hand. I need to. I am in a slightly sticky pub somewhere near Lancaster, I hear the slight suck of my hand leaving the table and wonder at who wants to spend £13.99 on Gammon and Pineapple here. Maybe to read last Tuesday’s i paper. I suddenly feel depressed and think of all the things and places in the world I have not seen because I am in a slightly sticky pub near Lancaster. I have ennui but I cannot revel or drown in it because someone is trying to chat to me. He looks a bit BNP. Meanwhile my child is trying to insert his hand in the machine.  I wait to see what occurs.


Sep 20 2014

I have a Booths card- bow before me peasants. Oh.

I’ve just paid £2.20 for a hot chocolate, a cup of premium tea and a glass of wine in an artisan cafe in Garstang. This is it, the pinnacle of my life, there is no going back now. I have jumped the shark of my life.


Booths  ( or Boobs as my three year old keeps ‘hilariously’ calling it loudly in front of teenage boys) makes Waitrose seem a bit on the slummy side. In fact, I heard once on Radio Four on one of those mid- afternoon programmes that nobody actually listens to unless they’ve got crippling Norovirus, a hangover, bad reception or are retired that Booths is actually posher because they stock more types of expensive caviar than Waitrose.  This has become one of my ‘Actually I’ll think you find..’ quotes about the North  I repeat like a pub bore every time  I go down South.

Being the owner of a black embossed Booths card (free when you enter your email address into the website form) makes me feel a bit special. I hold it out casually with a smile, a triumphant smile like somehow I have made it into that special club. That special club where you have to write your email address into an online form.

It is quite sad my life has become to this really. BUT ACTUALLY NO!  Because with the Booths card comes free hot drinks-even hot chocolate. Yes, even hot chocolate.  EVEN FUCKING HOT CHOCOLATE! It’s the beverage equivalent of climbing Mount Everest but without the death and stuff.


So the hot beverages are free so I can absolutely justify a small bottle of wine for two pounds whilst I sit in laminated splendour, the queen of my brightly yet attractively lit domain.

Until the random envy and spite directed at the other plebs with their free hot beverages.

I go downstairs and pretend to think about purchasing luxury pickles. That’ll learn em. I accidentally purchase a luxury pickle.
I think I understand how marketing works.



Aug 12 2014

Listening to Bryan Adams in Ayr

ayr 2

The worst music in the world is to be found in Ayr. Maybe they haven’t paid their licence. Maybe the only music in Ayr is an old Now 47 double cassette tape. But the fact remains that the worst music in the world is to be found in Ayr.


Actually I do the World a disservice. Sorry, World. When I say World, I mean bad chart records from the UK that you had forgotten had actually existed.


I sit in an otherwise quite pleasant pub. There has been an effort to make it look old but the beams may not be real. We are told sternly to use the beermats. The wine comes in miniature bottles. We are in Scotland. ‘Everything I Do I Do It For You’ is playing and I am suddenly reminded of my horrid first kiss at a teen disco in Barnstaple.

ayr 3

There is a sudden fury of a gale outside. It is August. Rain smatters furiously at the windows. On Facebook, people are complaining it is too hot. They are not in Ayr.

There are moments of bombastic glory, an ancient yellowing neo-Baronial building toppling gently towards a barbers. The old, the new and the simply a bit broken sliding haphazardly along the same street.

My boyfriend who has driven a considerable way for this glumly declares it ‘Bolton.’

a 4

Songs from Now 47 plaintively bleat in the charity shops. I had forgotten about Chesney Hawkes.

In the ancient thatched Tam O’ Shanter inn, Robbie Burn’s pub of choice apparently, stalwarts of heavy day-time drinking lean against the timeless bar muttering incomprehensibly against a backdrop of Something Bad from the Eighties as bemused American tourists wonder if this is a living recreation. I yearn to tell them not to try a Macaroni Cheese Pie from anyone, anywhere but I am left silent and floundering due to a large vodka and mixer for £1.60. I definitely preferred it to the Red Hot Chilli Pipers CD and six  pound large vodka of olde Edinburgh hostelries, mind.

a 5

Next, a place recommended by Trip Advisor as being excellent for vegetarians. I ask for lentil soup. Then to a backdrop of Cher, I ask if I have just eaten bacon. I am informed it is probably beans. She goes to check. I have eaten bacon. Nice soup though and it is wiped from my bill. I suddenly have a huge desire to go on a mad bacon rampage through Ayr whilst listening to Sinitta.


Another bar, an Alternative bar and I sadly realise that I look like a mum waiting to pick her kids up when they are finished on the pool table. I never thought I would be so glad to hear some Sisters of Mercy B-sides in my life. I think about having a Macaroni Cheese pie and am frightened by myself.


Last port of call, an accidental discovery of a cocktail bar on the way back to the car. The designated driver sighs heavily at this point. It seems to be populated by actual people from the eighties which is an exciting change but we leave when I start having Delerium Tremens about MC Hammer offering me a Bramble Gin.

I quite like Ayr.

ayr 1


Jul 22 2014

The Best Pub In The World (made up for camping)

ravenstonedale 1

I hate camping. The waking up at a 90 degree slant with a dry mouth, an over- full bladder and a hairbrush molded painfully into your pelvis after someone on ketamine called Ketamine Pete stumbles over your tent-pegs repeatedly and his mate, Si, laughs with a really annoying high pitched burst  at irregular short spaced intervals all night long.

Then you semi-wake from drifting uncomfortable burning/broiling hellish semi-consciousness with either the unrelenting sound of rain smashing against the sagging flaccid Ketamine Pete shaped dome of your Eurohike or burning relentless sun making you feel like an unappetising hairbrush and stale alcohol flavoured pizza in a sagging burning  Eurohike topping.

It will be 5.35 am at this point and you will NOT get back to sleep.


And if you piss in the saucepan, the saucepan is always too suddenly too tragically too late small for the surprise enormous piss and you discover the hurriedly  emptied by being splashed outside the tent saucepan being used to make baked beans by a cheery eyed fellow tent-person who loves camping.


This cheers you up.


I hate camping. I have only ever done it at festivals  for the pure reason to be gruesomely debauched at a  festival and certainly never ever considered it festival-less with a small child. I’m not an idiot.


It is festival season now and I am with a small child in a campsite minus a festival. It is a very pleasant campsite, Low Greenside Farm, hill and field ringed and pleasingly free from the sea of irritatingly jolly expensively water-proofed campers I was fearing wide-eyed at four am the previous morning. I’m not a general fan of people. Especially when they rustle.


Tragically, I greatly enjoy researching holidays on the internet. Since the decline of cash and the arrival of the child, the excited search for the best deal on boutique hotels in Edinburgh ( ‘well someone on Tripadvisor said the lavender chocolates on the pillow were the same for two days running!’) has been sadly discontinued.

Now I am looking for cheap campsites in a safe proximity  to our house.

I try to utilise  this to my advantage and look for campsites near good pubs. The Lake District is out because our only view would be the kayak on top of the car that is worth more than our house in the queue in front on the M6.


Hmmm,  Ravenstonedale- 45 minutes away and two good pubs, the campsite looks refreshingly deserted of hoards of ruddy faced pains (who might even sing in a jolly fashion-that has been another major concern )  in Hunter wellies, indeed pleasantly free of anything apart from toilets.

I approve of toilets. They are better than people.


Ravenstonedale itself (and is that not the best name for a place ever? You think of err, ravens, stones and even dales if you have a particularly imaginative frame of mind. Often places called things like Cherry Tree Orchard have been named by Persimmon or Barrat Homes to replace what was previously there but here in Ravenstonedale ( say it again and it’s all Tolkien) there are no Barrat homes, just jovial people who beam at you and give a jolly ‘hello’ and a coment on the weather before touching up the Tudor exterior timber on their annoyingly ancient beautiful house like that is a totally normal thing to be doing in 2014. In a recession. In the North.


It is a village that time and Barrats Home forgot. Apart from the prices of a large red wine. And we all know that is a major theme of Unicycle Emptiness.

However and you will probably all faint at this. I have finally been to the BEST PUB IN THE WORLD.

good p

That’s it now. I have jumped the shark. Life is now meaningless. My search for the best pub in the world (well within a close proximity to the North West of England) is over. It is the Black Swan. I feel a bit like Edmund Hillary.

If Edmund’s main endeavour had been sitting getting slightly drunk in a massive pub garden that he discovered on Tripadvisor.


It is a particularly massive beer garden though with all the things I am doomed to never discover in a beer garden again- a stream with a tyre swing over it,  a friendly cat, red squirrels, a hammock, trees, garden games such as quits and skittles, a bbq hut and bbq selling for a reasonable price freshly grilled local meat or in my case a portobello and halloumi burger with watercress (£4)

Oh and the camping? Reader, I managed it.

Despite the five am rain.



Jun 8 2014

Appleby Horse Fair 2014

An elderly female volunteer looks out of the window of the charity shop and her eyes fall on a Traveller girl wearing approximately eight inches of platform wedge and six inches of neon nylon.

‘ Aww, she looks likes she’s dressed for a night out’, she beams in delight.

It is 11am at Appleby Horse Fair and I am in a slight state of shock and awe.

And annoyingly fear.


totness better 20130413_124357tree

I am on my own as deciding the three year old bolter was probably not suited to a place featuring fast moving horses, I have left him and his dad at Kirkby Stephen to wholesomely look at trains.



The train from Kirkby Stephen to Appleby is surely the best ever way to spend four pounds (return fare) Fifteen minutes of mountains, packhorse bridges and fields slide past in a happy glow. The man sitting opposite me with the Sunday Times and a real ale ( it is not yet 11am at the point) is probably in even more of a happy glow.


Then suddenly Appleby, a small quaint town normally sitting in a homemade snug smug nest  of pastel bunting and Very Nice Cake.



I am suddenly the only person on my own. People seems to be travelling in herds, laughing, swearing and joking. I go to cross the road then seeing the horses and traps whizz past, wonder if it is viable to just stay on the same side of the road all day.


I feel pale and old compared to the vibrant throng around me, the Spectre at the feast. The feast I can’t eat as the smell of meat permeates the air. There seem to be no other pale mid- thirties single vegetarian Goths here. I don’t normally define myself as a Goth but compared to everyone else’s skin tones, I appear to have been recently exhumed.


It is of course utterly brilliant. I have heard about the fair, seen the horses and bowtops traverse through Lancaster, romantic and timeless (‘unless you’re stuck behind one’, I hear an angry voice from the Daily Mail shout)

Now I am bedazzled by primary coloured throngs, snatches of equally colourful banter and the horses, the only staid placid things in this merry carnival. Until you try to cross the road.


Oh and just as an aside to the imaginary Daily Mail reader shouting at the back, they are all in fantastic condition. Glossy eyed and haired, well kept coats and no signs of neglect. And today I learn the Fairy Liquid is the best horse shampoo ever. You would be an idiot to mistreat an animal here anyway as the RSPCA, the police and Blue Cross are out in force.

In fact I am probably the only thing in Appleby without glossy eyes and a thick mane of hair.


Snatches of conversation drift past (‘sure they may be beautiful girls but..’) intangible and alien accents when trying to decipher through a cloud of whinneys, splashes, shouts and car stereo bass.


Some Traveller girls step out of a cafe into the path of  a mobility scooter plowing through the crowds. They apologise. She stares at them angrily and silently before continuing her constantly thwarted quest along the pavements of Appleby.

I’m still hungry but the pubs and cafes are rammed and either there has been a massive VAT rise since I last came to Appleby several months ago or cafes are cashing in Glastonbury style- a fiver for a bowl of bloody soup from a distinctly average slightly sticky cafe? i decide to just not eat. That’ll show them.

I queue in a smart polite line for the cash machine. You don’t see that sort of thing on ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.’ Then someone throws a bottle out of a 4×4 whilst laughing. Bugger. I hope no-one from the Daily Mail notices. But  a thousand telescopic lenses flash around me in a cacophony of glee and spite. Possibly.


Dyspraxia means I walk around the town three times looking for the market until someone tells me the actual directions and I realise I don’t have time to go. Or indeed to look at the rows of ancient gypsy caravans which was my original intention.

I have just spent three hours trying to cross the road to be cross about the price of soup and envying teenagers thighs instead.


For fucks sake.

Next year will be very different.










May 31 2014

Steampunk in Morecambe- a beginners guide.

Q. What is steampunk?
A. It is Goth in the future from the past. Octopuses also feature.

I hope that has been of help.

If you want your child to stay off depravity and vice, I thoroughly recommend you getting them obsessed with death. A penchant for skulls and Victorian mourning jewellery normally seamlessly melds into a liking for a nice cake and a cup of tea from a pleasing vintage cup. There is no bar but in the Wacky Warehouse next door, there is no-one to be seen in seventeen petticoats apart from me.Looking like a Victorian prostitute whilst sitting on your own in a chain family pub in Morecambe is strangely edifying.

The market consists of very very lovely things sold by very very lovely people. If you don’t consider ‘very very lovely’ things made from glass eyeballs,cogs and superglue, then you have wasted the two pounds entrance fee. And I pity you.

When watching Ash Mandrake perform, I yearn to have the power to make him attend every primary school in the country instead of the general insipid live performances of Robin Hood. He is a one man band, storyteller and singer featuring satanic eyes, murky folk tunes, hypnotic loops and a double necked guitar. Genial Men with purple hair and waistcoats eat strawberry cake and clap politely.

It is not raucous here.

Carlisle Clog and Sword performers dance around with swords without killing anyone, an amazing feat for this card carrying dyspraxic to watch in-between working out how many petticoats are still in her pants after having a post Wacky Warehouse Echo Falls related wee. This is a sentence I never thought I would have to say.

I buy hairclips with ravens on in a post Echo Falls/ petticoats in pants haze from women in full Victorian attire.

It has been a splendid day out.