Monday, 29 April 2013

Our Day Out

In those rare weeks when we seem to have a free weekend, The Boy and I seek to explore uncovered English ground. Last weekend, we planned a day trip to Barnsley, Worksop and Doncaster and like good tourists prepared for our outing by researching our route and reading some background information about each potential destination.

Barnsley boasted the promise of a Saturday market while Worksop's title “The Gateway to the Dukeries” suggested majesty and Doncaster promised “Delicious home-made baked goods” at its branch of Cooplands. Tempted by Wiki's blurbs, we decided to stop in Barnsley first and were instantly impressed by its bustling atmosphere and tempting continental market.

Barnsley was somewhat larger than we expected and many of its buildings reminded us of Huddersfield's grand stonework. Even more surprising was the insane police presence in the town centre with at least thirty officers (including additional horses and several parked vans) positioned outside the entrance of one pub, pre-empting the actions of potentially disgruntled football fans and apparently attempting to keep the peace after an earlier “Bedroom Tax” protest.

The sun shone and there were charity shops a-plenty, perhaps giving us a more favourable opinion of the town's centre. Returning to the car as we left the market, we passed yet more police circling the perimeter of a Polish food stall and had to wonder if taxpayers should be footing this bill?

Worksop was certainly not to be “confused with workshop” as Wikipedia helpfully pointed out. We parked up in the late afternoon just as the rain arrived, resulting in a much quieter town centre than Barnsley's. Unfortunately many of the charity shops we'd targeted were already shut for the day and and the steady downpour made extensive exploration an unattractive prospect.

As Barnsley far exceeded our expectations, we spent much longer than intended perusing its delights and had to abandon our Doncaster stop as a result. One day, I'm looking forward to sampling their local variety of Cooplands' pasty and some of the many “daytime drinking” establishments tellingly mentioned on its Wikitravel page. Now, I just need to pencil in a free weekend...

Monday, 22 April 2013

Fifty Synonyms Short

I must confess I've slated popular books in the past without actually having ever read them, basing all my criticism on preconceived notions. Around the time Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code came out, I decided I ought to perhaps take a less blinkered approach and try to objectively read said literature in order to more fairly argue my point.

Although The Da Vinci Code explores subject-matter I'd rarely been drawn to, is no linguistic master piece and is rather predictable at times, Brown's breakthrough novel is certainly a page-turner. It's short cliff-hanger filled chapters make it easily digestible, clearly appealing to action film fans who need a quick hit without investing too much of their concentration or time.

Twilight was the next hugely successful series I decided to read before I'd already formed an opinion. Back in 2008 when I was travelling, I came across a copy of Meyer's first novel in a book exchange, documenting Edward and Bella beginnings. I'd somehow managed to miss the hype around the series and read this blindly. I almost immediately found Meyer's first person narrative irritating thanks to the infuriatingly whiny tone of her female protagonist. In a rare exception to the rule, for this reason, the Twilight films are actually more enjoyable than the books, although laughably bad at times.

Having been bombarded with what seems like years of “mummy porn” features, I finally recently completed Fifty Shades Of Grey. I'd been told to be amazed at the lead having any lips left at the end of the book so audibly laughed at repeated descriptions of Ana munching on said lips. I wanted to hate Fifty Shades but found myself transported to my more romantic teenage years and reminded of a trilogy I read written by one of the Sweet Valley High series' regulars, Caitlin: Love Trilogy by Francine Pascal.

Yes, Fifty Shades is badly written. There are times I dismayed at exactly what E.L. James' editors were up to allowing her to blatantly overuse certain words and write a lead with such irritating linguistic characteristics. Ana Steele unrealistically reacts to any vaguely surprising events described in the novel with a series of stock exclamations, including, “Holy cow”, “Holy shit”, “Jeez” “Double crap” and “Oh my”. I can't say I've ever met a 21 year-old who repeatedly churns out such mild interjections. Maybe that's because I'm not American where the "novel" is set?

And I'm not even going to delve too far into James' infuriating tendency to repeatedly describe Ana's vagina as her “sex” (Come on! Even D.H. Lawrence was more inventive in Lady Chatterley's Lover and he was writing at a time his content truly shocked.) or personify Ana's inner thoughts through references to an “inner goddess” or her sub-conscious (“My subconscious is frantically fanning herself, and my inner goddess is swaying and writhing to some primal carnal rhythm...” ).

In addition, I can't say I ever recall meeting anyone who bites their lip quite so much as Ana (I can't quantify this but there's an amusing Amazon review that manages to). Better still, though, are her hero's chiding reactions to the lip-biting. In response to Ana's supposedly sexy lip nibbling, Christian Grey is described on several occasions thinning or narrowing his lips ("pressed his lips into a hard thin line...") and somehow looking sexy. Testing out this rather puzzling facial expression, I attempted to look alluring while thinning my lips and the results were pretty hilarious.

Fifty Shades is predictable, repetitive and badly written at times but like Brown's Da Vinci Code knows the power of hook chapter endings. It certainly doesn't deserve to be on any “Essential Reading” lists but has at least given me a mood-lifting thought for any occasion. If you're ever feeling down, try to look sexy with thinned lips and look in the mirror. Or even better, get someone else to try...

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Appearances Are Indeed Deceptive

Having lived in Leeds on and off now for almost fourteen years, I recently decided it was high time I finally brave the many city centre pubs deemed “scary”. There are 10 pubs that others and I had, perhaps a little unfairly, previously believed to be establishments to be entered with caution. I've always been one to initially judge a book by its cover and then by the blurb but without trying, it's impossible to ever really know...

Last weekend for the Grand National, a group of us ended up near The Templar Hotel on Templar Street and as it advertised sport being shown, decided to go in. I've always liked its tiled exterior and inside it had a worn charm. As the cider selection was exceedingly limited, it is not a place I'm likely to return to but is exactly the kind of pub you could effortlessly make both friends and enemies in.

This weekend a group of us embarked on a “scary pub crawl” and took out the remaining nine pubs we'd all previously eye-balled suspiciously. Beginning at The Prince Of Wales on Mill Hill, we were amazed by the near empty fridges behind the bar and lack of clientele. Half a pint down and it started to fill up with regulars chatting to bar staff, revealing it is soon to shut down. Hearing this explained the lack of drink selection and means a repeat visit is unlikely.

Across the road Spencer's was a pleasant surprise. Mildly disturbed by the bouncers standing outside (at 2pm!) and police vans parked out front (pre-empting post-match trouble), we entered with trepidation and were met by the sweet promise of Farmhouse Pyder on tap, making a return visit highly likely.

Lacking obvious signage outside, The Duncan on Duncan Street can easily be missed. This is the pub I'm most fearful of. A friend due to meet us has seen its exterior and texted me to say she's decided to join us later. Once inside, we're instantly heartened to discover it's a Sam Smith pub with Cider Reserve on tap and bottles of their organic variety, folk are friendly and it's atmospheric (there's a rowdy group celebratorily singing).

Number four is The Regent on Kirkgate. I've been in this pub once many years ago when a friend craved a post-Mega Bus pint and remember someone trying to sell us make-up from a carrier bag. On this return visit, there are no hard sells and I end up chatting to an amicable regular who's a fan of karaoke. Although the crowd is friendly, as Strongbow is the only cider on offer, I'm unlikely to frequently drink in The Regent.

Across the road on Vicar Lane, The General Eliott turns out to be yet another ridiculously cheap Sam Smith pub, selling Cider Reserve on tap. It is cosy and once again welcoming, making return visits a possibility.

Hoagys on Eastgate is our next stop and where we're banking on food. Opting for a selection of ten snacks to share, we're disturbed by the apple crunch but happy with the price and rapidly chow it all down. For cider drinkers, the selection is disappointing but it's atmospheric and somewhere to go if you fancy a dance without paying for club entrance.

A little further up the road on The Headrow, The Three Legs is another pub I've been into before, merely to use their toilets when waiting for a bus. It is again, entirely unscary and not the best place for cider fans but anyone into karaoke will like it here.

The final stop for the night, is The Horse And Trumpet further along The Headrow. It turns out to also serve food at cheap prices but have little on offer in terms of cider. This is a pub I may well return to for quick pre-cinema/theatre food.

Crawl done and we haven't witnessed a single fight, antagonised anyone or been offended. No-one has stared at us or tried to sell us anything and we haven't been in a single place that has gone quiet on our entrance like the pub near my parents' house. The night is still young and we're already craving another Pyder so return to Spencer's, now armed with a plethora of previously uncharted pubs we'd happily frequent.  

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Ode To An Easter Missed

It's been a week since Easter's passed and we've returned from our Icelandic jaunt. On the way out going through security in Manchester airport we were held up in enormous queues of people fleeing the country, seeking solace from the UK's unsavoury and uncharacteristic Spring climate. Passing the time faithfully trawling through my copy of Metro I read the world's oldest Creme Egg has been discovered in Cadbury's vaults 50 years after it rolled off the production line but as a Creme Egg fan, I'm even more interested by a cocktail recipe that will eat up almost half my daily calorie intake:

Like Christmas, Easter is a time of family get-togethers and this is only the second one I've ever missed in my 33 plus years of existence. While I travel around the Snafellsness Peninsula, my family will meet for lunch after various groups attend different church services. The most amazing roast you'll ever taste will be followed by the exchange of Easter eggs or gifts, an Easter egg hunt in my Nan's garden and either games of Tennis on the local courts or a walk around the grounds of one of the many local National Trust or English Heritage properties.

As the country's capital city Reykjavik was surprisingly deserted on Good Friday with many shops closed and on Easter Sunday the tiny settlements around the West Coast are eerily quiet. We've had the two Creme Eggs I packed to mark the occasion and are later given a complimentary chocolate egg after dining in a restaurant in Borganes. It is not as impressively ornate as the traditional candy-filled eggs we saw on sale in central Reykjavik's Bonus supermarket. Inside the egg is an indecipherable message in Icelandic I later discover is similarly mystical in tone to those found in Chinese fortune cookies.

I may have missed Easter this year but I've had an awesome holiday and know it'll be the season of the egg on my return to the UK; Creme Eggs will start to appear in abundance in Leeds Market at reduced cost, ready to stock our fridge for the coming months. Bring on their chocolatey goodness...