Tuesday, 26 January 2010



Most of the waitresses here are foreign, some vague accent that
suggests a more Easterly part of Europe, names that start with K
instead of C and the like. But the little blonde one is local, could
be described as plain compared to some of the more exotic beauties, or
the wiry tattooed ones. She is petite, straight forward, at least one
assumes. Tonight she is trying to show other wise. Half her hair is in
braids, patches of black mixed in with the blonde. Through a pinch of
skin at the back of her neck a piercing, two balls on either side of
the raised flesh. Then, on her wrist, a stud gem - not seen that
before, and I kind of stare at it at every opportunity, trying to work
out how that works - I mean I can't see the other end, for it to be a
piercing I expect another end. Oh well, its a new one to me. Having
asked for another glass of water from two different waitresses, she
finally gets the job and delivers it after I've already finished
eating. I smile and say thanks, glancing again at that gem on the back
of her wrist.



A woman and her daughter go round the supermarket together. She leaves
the trolley at the end of an aisle and nips down to grab something
from a shelf. She reaches pulls out a tin. Her daughter reaches pulls
out air. She walks back to the trolley, her daughter careful to follow
every footstep, to try and adopt the same posture. The woman is
scowling as she places the tin in the trolley, her daughter
practically pushing her out the way so she can place her tightly held
handful of nothing beside the first tin. Stop that, her mother says.
Stop that, the daughter echoes. The mother tries again, the daughter
copies. Ok, she offers, if you want we'll put your pens back - a
packet of coloured felt tipped pens sit on top of a cereal box. Ok,
the daughter strays towards the edge, if you want we'll put your pens
back. The mother shrugs, the daughter shrugs, the mother lifts the
pens out of the trolley to put them on the shelf where they stand, the
daughter relents, please, no. The mother goes to get something else.
Can we get a packet of these? The daughter indicates a packet of
chocolate biscuits, I miss the reply, but its clearly no. The daughter
tips the packet into the trolley - oops, they've fallen in on their
own, I guess we'll just need to buy them. The mother sighs, its one of
those days clearly - put them back. I go down another aisle, leaving
them behind.

Monday, 25 January 2010


In Memory Of?

I've parked in the car park where the ticket costs £5 for 24 hours,
one of those deals where the car can happily be left there and you
don't have to worry. We parked there just before 11am, and its about
9pm when we return. The car park is now mostly empty, a few cars, as
usual, scattered around. There is a mobile police station just at the
exit to the car park, which throws me, because it kind of makes it
more difficult to get out, given where it is placed. As I ease round I
spot the flowers at the base of the lamp post, the cards. Someone died

This time the week before. I was out with other people, out for S's
birthday, we were up at "gourmet burger" place in Ingram Street,
before coming down to Mono for a drink or two. It was probably, more
or less, the same time when we left there to call it a night. I was
bemused then to see a police van parked across the road, blocking
traffic. As we walked towards the corner, we spotted another police
van blocking the other end. Between, a man on the road, spread eagled.
Two people in bright yellow jackets crouched by his side, one pumping
at his chest. There are a couple of people standing, at the lamp post,
the one where the flowers are now, looking distressed, like they are
about to cry. Across the road, outside the 13th Note, a group of
people smoking outside the pub, watching what is going on. Then
another couple of officers, surrounding another man.

The woman pumping at the chest turns round, shouts - mouth piece,
anyone got a mouth piece!? One of the officers at the Note shouts he
has one, tells people to support the other man, and as he steps away
we can see blood running down his face, the man looking dazed. We only
pause a moment, nothing we can do, trains to catch, police on the
scene. We move on, leave it all behind us.

It had already happened by the time we came out, whatever it was that
had happened. A car accident? A disagreement gone horribly wrong? We
don't know. But a week later I learn that the man died here, that the
police have their mobile incident room - did you see anything? Do you
know anything? They wait for answers, across the road from the
makeshift memorial.


Howl's Moving Castle

Saturday morning at the GFT is kid's morning, they show a film for a cheap rate aimed at kids. It is a classic thing, in the past kids used to be able to pay in for the price of an empty jam jar, but that is a thing from my parent's generation. Friends up from London, S and D, and looking for things to do, I spot that Howl's Moving Castle is this week's choice. So we meet L and A there, and the five of us go to see the film.

When we arrive there is quite a queue, more than I had really thought to expect, and for a moment I wonder whether we'll actually get in. But we do get tickets, and even for adults the price is a good incentive, coming as a nice surprise to us all. The film is in Screen 1, though there is a large group of children waiting beside the corridor to Screen 2, so for a moment I am unsure which screen it is on. But it turns out they are only standing there to keep track of them all.

The GFT is one of the few surviving old cinemas in Glasgow, it celebrated it's anniversary last year, though the previous cinema it took over from was even older than that, which makes it even more interesting. Its small, it only has the two screens, it tends to show world films and indie films, for the most part - though definitions aren't a clear cut thing.

A and I go to the gents before the film starts, when we come out there is no sign of the girls. Have they gone to the ladies? Have they gone in? We wait a moment, half expecting them to emerge. Then shrug and decide we will go in and find them inside, but in that moment the biggest group of children has appeared and they get in front of us. The girls are inside, and have taken seats, and though none of them have been here before they have taken what I judge to be the best seats in the screen. Unfortunately, to a degree, we also now have two rows of small children right behind us.

The audience is a mix, as one might expect for Miyazaki film. There are a couple of big guys with beards who sit down the front. A girl with a tight pink OSAKA t-shirt bounces down the steps, sashays out of the hall, comes back with a strolling girl in a hat with cat ears, with dangling bits which provide chunky cat gloves with claws, and the pair join a row of 20-somethings up the back. A Japanese man arrives with two children, a boy and a girl, and they sit at the end of our row, one on either side of him. A pair of Japanese girls arrive, teenagers, one with glasses, one without.

Waiting for the film to start the children are restless. One boy in particular shouts out - this film is boring! Isn't it boring? He looks for support, deliberately trying to be funny since nothing has happened yet, while also telegraphing the fact he is in fact bored. However the film starts soon enough, accompanied almost immediately by a mass of rustling sounds as dozens of bags of sweets are simultaneously opened. As black gloopy monsters roam the screen I wonder what they will make of it all. But there are constantly little things that have the whole audience laughing.

The group behind us is obviously an organised event. I'm not sure what kind of group, but obviously parents arrive, drop off their kids, and leave them to the designated adults to take care of. As such, in what is apparently the way of these things these days, kids arrive at all kinds of times. So that even once the film has started there are stragglers arriving, and all fitting themselves somehow into the row behind us. Adults having conversations, issuing instructions - you, pass the drink to that boy that just arrived. One adult suggests they should make less noise, another says something like well its a film for kids, they'll just need to understand we are going to make noise! To a degree this is true, though 15 minutes into the film might be pushing it.

At one point the Japanese man heads out - I don't notice him going, I guess to the toilet, to make a call? But his daughter gets restless, obviously not liking his absence, her brother trying to calm her, to encourage her to sit back down again. Just before she starts to get worked up, the father returns, and everything is fine again. One of the women with the big group announces - does anyone else need the toilet? And she works her way out with a handful of little boys.

Sometimes seeing films where there are a lot of kids it can end up being quite off putting. But actually, once they are settled down, the kids are all pretty well behaved. In fact they kind of make the experience, a comedy dog running around and they all laugh and giggle. The enjoyment is contagious and we are all getting into the fun of the experience.

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Friday, 22 January 2010


Calling it an early night.

We’ve come out from the noodle place, its just past seven on a Friday night. Its been a good day, easy going, but we're all tired, so we're calling it an early night for now. The fog that had been haunting the area round my work has crept into the city centre, giving everything a haze. Not the only thing which changes the mood of the city. Three people walk closely behind our group, eventually slipping by, chattering and shouting the whole time. There is a couple and their friend, the friend making the bulk of the noise, though both of the guys are happy to shout and swagger and be threatening. That window, he shouts, indicating the supermarket fronting, smashed and cracked, we did that last weekend didn’t we! The girl turns, shush, you can go the jail for that, don’t be stupid. How about Primark, he responds, let do their window now, we’ll get you a dress! We’re walking slower, so they continue on. We get to the corner with Argyle Street, there is so much noise, kids howling and screaming at each other towards Central Station, carrying on, out to enjoy themselves, cause a little trouble. We turn away, towards Argyle Street station, making plans for the morning as we split up. As we stop a hard looking man steps up, calling, loudly, EXCUSE ME! Can you help me out with something? We pause, silent, waiting to hear what he is going to ask, though inevitably it will be money. He drags the moment out, before saying, I’m homeless, can I have some money for food? L engages him conversation, about how she might have given him food if she had any, but not money. He seems only interested in money. We split up here, they go for their train, we return to my car, so I can drop them off at their hotel. We walk behind an old couple, moving slow motion, smoke wafting back from them both, before we get by and into the car park, a mostly empty space by now, the fog thicker here, so the whole thing feels particularly weird. I drop them at their hotel, and on the drive home the fog just keeps getting worse, the world disappearing.

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Thursday, 21 January 2010


Paris - Return

As if to prove that Paris is a time eating monster we arrive back in
the city at 10am, an early departure from Lyon and falling asleep on
the train. By the time we get from Garre de Lyon to Garre de Nor and
get our bags stowed in left luggage, its gone noon. What did we do?
One station, to another, though getting tickets was time consuming,
and the lack of signs to luggage, or at least correct signs hinder.

What do you want to do with our day in Paris, I asked her. I want to
do stuff, to shop, to go to Muji, she tells me. I want to go to
Mariage Freres, so I suggest we hit the Marais, knowing that we will
find both there. The old routine, out with the pocket map, and tracing
lines. We pick a station, get out there, straight away I spot my first
space invader of the day, though there are more to come. Its across
the road and I want a picture from here, but a lorry gets in the way,
we wait, but the lorry makes a real meal of the manoeuvre. Did you get
an address for Muji, she asks, concerned that we’ll get lost. My
memory is that its hard to miss, but I’ve texted someone in the know,
though my assurance is that we will find it by zen navigation and not
to worry. We turn a corner, and I point, what, she asks, there, on the
corner, the red sign? Muji! And as expected, we find it without
guidance. We go in, and she struggles to side how much to buy, I’m not
devout myself – my bag is from here, from that New Year trip when I
had luggage issues, a good bag I use still and every day.

After that we have lunch, we pick a café across the road from Muji,
discussing how depending on time maybe we’ll check out the falafel
place we’d been to on New Year’s Day. We ask for a menu, he points at
the chalk board on the wall, a handful of things, we look at each
other and shrug, both ordering the chicken salad. The food looked good
from what we were seeing other people eat, but the place leaves a
little to be desired – the plank of wood put up on the wall behind
her, the holes cut for cables, gaping holes, wires dangling
worryingly. Mounted above that are three mirrored frames, with light
fittings, only one of which looks anything like functional. The food
arrives, and it is good, decent portion, pretty edible. Outside there
is one parking space, well a space big enough for a car even if it’s
not a legal space. These big Mercedes jeep things take turns parking
there, and they each must have parking sensors, given the metal
bollards along the pavement edge, that they get within a hair’s width
of, but never hit. The first guy is an older guy, looks like the
clichéd used car sales man, slumped shoulders, camel coat, I think
they call it. He is here and gone. Next one is a couple of Jewish
guys, one of the things the Marais is known for – having been hit on
by a Greek guy in the street the last time I was in the area, I can
tell you what the other thing is. They sit there in the car, with the
skull caps, and the curled hair, chatting to each other. One of them
has a camcorder, which he uses to film the street. They climb out, and
film up and down, there is nothing touristy about this, much more
intent and deliberate, which is what I find odd about the whole thing.
She points out, it’s a British vehicle, I hadn’t noticed, the steering
wheel is on the other side, she says, and of course to me it’s exactly
where I’d expect it.

After lunch, our next mission is to find the tea shop. This is
trickier, the picture in my head of the street, it matches too many of
the winding side streets. It’s a maze in some small way. The last time
I tried to find it using my map, I ended up in the other branch, the
one across the river, that’s the one that’s listed. But we check the
map, perhaps this one is still shown, it is, so we are tracing
streets, and wandering – back this way, along this one, down that one,
that sign there, no the next. Along the way, another couple of space
invaders, and a stencil of someone holding a pink balloon, I take
pictures of about a half dozen of those along the pavement, along the
road. I take a look at all the teas, and as usual I can’t decide where
to start. So I suggest we sit in, have tea, after all we are both
tired and the real aim of the day is to take it easy before she goes
back to Greece and I to Scotland.

Its an old colonial type of place, like a time warp. Waiters in white
suits, open spaces, palm leaves. A menu full of teas, laid out by
country for your exploratory needs. We decide to go with the cake
deal, a couple of bits of cake to go with our tea. We get big pots,
she gets red tea, I get blue, clad in mirrored shells round the pot to
keep them hot. We eat cake, chat, and watch the people, but soon
enough we are full, too soon after lunch, full of cake, and full of
tea, and shifting leads to discomfort. Perhaps we’ll give the falafel
a miss. By now its getting towards three, my flight is a bit earlier
than hers, but we’ve decided to head out to CDG together, and to allow
plenty of time for the monster city to consume and not be delayed. Of
course, when we get back to the station, grab our bags, and head for
the train, we get an express, and are there in no time.

We both manage to get checked in, but are kind of under whelmed by
this part of the airport – where are the shops, the cafés? Do we take
the minimum option or go through security and hope that we can hang
out in sprawling luxurious departure lounge till we need to go in
opposite directions for completely different gates. We go with the
departure area, but there is nothing there, its just a lead way to
your next part, with no return. So that’s how it ends, forced to say
our goodbyes, head through our gates and wait alone till take off.
Though I think we are both ok with that, both tired, both with books
to read, and happy to take a seat, put our feet up, and wait for our
flights to be called.

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Paris - Outbound.

Paris is one of those old cities, one of those sprawling cities. One
of those cities which is a monster, inevitably eating time. I arrive
from Beauvais, and like every time I do I swear I’ll never travel that
route again. Landed about 5, its closer to 9 by the time I check in to
the hotel. The train station, from hard earned experience is close to
the bus station, even if I got totally thrown off by following a bunch
of lazy tourists to the nearest taxi rank the 1st time I tried this
out. But even once in the station its that trick of deciphering the
ticket machine, I’m sure it was clearer the last time I was here, I am
sure I managed to do it myself. Eventually I have to give in, stumble
through a conversation with the guy at the ticket desk. Even then,
ticket in hand, its one of those layered stations, where you need to
spiral down the labyrinth, go through tunnels before you get to the
platform you actually want. And somewhere along that trip down,
through gateways, my ticket gets all glitchy, there is a massive queue
at the ticket machine here (how did they get to this level without
one?), and no one at this ticket desk. Fortunately someone appears,
and I try to explain the problem, he lets me through, and it seems to
be solved from there. For my next trick I get on the line and go the
wrong way, now that is a first, I guess flustered by the ticket
incident I got turned around, or something. I have to get off as soon
as I realise, and cross over, and board again, and back again. And of
course, somewhere along the way, change to another line, a different
colour, a different number.

At last I arrive at the station that is nearest the hotel that I am
looking for, stagger into the street with a bag which seems to have
tripled in weight since I packed it that morning. I come to the corner
and already I’m wandering if booking almost the cheapest room I can
get, since I’m only here a night, has actually been a bad idea. There
are a lot of men standing around, groups of men, loitering, smoking,
looking around, watching everyone, as though waiting for something to
happen. Something I have no idea about. Weaving through, I get up a
side street and find the hotel easily. It actually looks ok from the
outside, but then appearances, and all that. I get checked in, and
have four flights of stairs to climb. The room is basic, serviceable,
I drop my bag, but my first question is – where are the power points?
I’d gotten half way to the airport before realising my phone needed
charged, it had been a busy week, and I hadn’t really thought how much
I’d used the thing. However, there aren’t any power points. I’m moving
furniture around with an increasing incredulity. Not a single power
point! This isn’t good. I perhaps have friends to meet tonight, or if
not then we are certainly meeting in the morning. I recall spotting a
power point on the stair well, on the landing, at the opposite end
from where my room is. I get into my luggage, I get out the charger,
and adaptor. I open the door, and I listen, trying to gauge whether
anyone is about, who is in rooms, what movement can I hear, what
conversation? I creep across the landing and plug in the phone.
Charging. Well. That’s something. But I can’t leave it here, in the
middle of the corridor, and I can’t wait here, not long enough to get
a full charge. Its one of those places where the lights go off after a
while, where the one switch lights up the entire stair well. So either
the light is on, and everyone knows about it, or I’m standing in
darkness, and someone gets a hell of a fright when they come out their

I decide I’ll try the toilet. Its one of those places with a communal
toilet on each stair well, yes, I really broke the bank here. I push
my phone into the corner, trying to make it as unobvious as possible
for the quick moment. I close the door, and turn around, and around,
there is no light. The toilet is tiny, there is no light, but hey,
there is a window, with no glass, so its open to the outside, in
December. Great. Through the course of the night I steal moments of
electricity. Five minutes at a time, standing in the dark. And this
way my phone carries on long enough to send some messages, to take
some calls and to get me up in the morning. And that lets me get out
for a while.

I’m just along the road from Montmartre, Sacre Couer, that kind of
thing, I figure I’ll take a walk along, see how it is at night, maybe
take some pictures. Along the street, more strange groups loitering.
Clubs opening, gigs starting, night life of a Thursday night getting
lively. Find the street that leads up, I can see the lit up building
up there, little shops along the way, tourist things, nick nacks.
Another thing I realised, while waiting for the train to the airport,
wind blowing, I’d forgotten my hat. So when I spot a shop selling red
woolly hats I check them out. Maybe. I continue up the way, glancing
at other shops. At the end of the street I find myself disappointed,
the gates are closed to the grass and stairs, and the place is
deserted. I take a couple pictures and turn back. I stop at the first
shop again, a red woolly hat, for only 3 euro, to play substitute for
the duration of the trip. Deal. I wander in, pleased the place is
still open, while others are pulling down shutters. A handful of
Italian girls buy trinkets before I get served, I hand over the coins,
and thank him, then my sleeve catches on a box of lighters and sends
them crashing to the floor. We agree that I’ll let him deal with them,
and leave with my apologies, watching my feet as I go, knowing that it
is definitely ones of those days.

I decide to head further along, beyond Anvers, towards Pigalle,
conscious as I do of its reputation. The thought in my head at the
same time that I really should eat something, when a menu outside a
café bar catches my eye – its in English, which is an immediate help,
since, of course, I also forgot to bring one of my phrase books
(though at least I had my map!). The duck with blueberries and
potatoes catches me eye, so I go in and that’s what I order. I sit and
read the book I’ve been carrying with me all day, Chris Beckett’s
“Marcher”, and eat the duck, thinly sliced, smothered in the brown
sauce which has the little berries in it, with a generous portion of
thinly sliced potatoes, cooked in garlic butter, with a side of green
beans. There are groups of 20 somethings sat outside, with cool
haircuts, cigarettes, little jugs of wine, and blankets. There is a
couple at the next table who return after a cigarette, surprised to
see my appearance since they went out, and as far as I can tell
looking at my food with a jealousy that quickly makes them order their
own. There is tall waiter, long dark hair, receding at the front, tied
at the back, two waitresses – one 20 something the other 30 something,
the difference showing in more than years - hair styles and clothes.
After dinner I have a coffee, forgetting that it’ll be one of those
absurd tiny cups that won’t last me a page, let alone a chapter, but
shrug when it arrives. And the phone rings, and it’s at that point I
realise just how loud the place is, the background chatter, the low
hum of music. So I leave my stuff at the table and step outside,
having to retreat a little up the side street before I can actually
hear. The call I’ve been waiting for, we arrange to meet at the
station nearest to them, a place I know from past trips. I return, I
pay, I leave.

Back into the underground once more. Pocket map out of the pocket,
tracing coloured lines for intersections Pigalle to Grenelle. When I
emerge at the other end, on this so familiar cross roads, its raining.
We spent New Year here, a group of us, a few years before, there is a
café here, one across the road, we spent several mornings in those,
including a solemn New Year’s Day. I can’t see them, start to text
while standing under the awning, but they spot me first, them having
gone unseen with their hoods up to shelter against the weather. Its
late, we’re all tired from travels, but we go in here, remembering
when we last here, who was here that last time, and we order 3 pots of
tea and chatter for an hour or so. Form plans for the morning, out to
the airport to pick up arrivals, have lunch, then hit the road. And we
call it a night, retracing my route back to Pigalle, might as well
walk rather than change line again for two stops. Another 10 minutes
in the corridor charging, then into bed, the room is fine enough, for
what it is, and I’ll be out early come morning.

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