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St Helens

29 January 2006

Went to St Helens this week (y'know, it is just so hard to type that without an apostrophe...) for a TWF gig with m'friend'n'colleague Juliet. That's four hours on the train, plus hanging around on a v cold station waiting to be picked up, in order for the two of us to talk to eight people in a library, and one of them was - well, let's say eccentric. Sometimes I wonder why they do this. Not us, I know why we do it, we do it for the compensations; but why the library would pay out all that money - fees and travel and two rooms in the Hilton, it ain't cheap - and judge the result worthwhile. That's assuming that they do, of course; but they did seem pleased, and they did invite us back.

Mind you, they should have been pleased; it was a good gig. Jules and I spark off each other very nicely. Which is one of the aforementioned compensations; it's always worth travelling to do a session with Jules. And the travelling is another, for me at least, because I actively enjoy being on trains. Not 'cos I'm a train buff, because I'm not; but it's like flying, once you're aboard there's really nothing you can do, except just sit quietly and read. I like reading, and I don't often get the opportunity to read that intensively, undisturbed and at length. Just now, I have a lot of urgent reading to get through; it's a consequence of having said yes to editing an issue of that online magazine. They have a big review section, so Ive scrounged some books from my favourite crime & fantasy editors. Most I'm parcelling out to reliable & critical friends, but one in particular I'm keeping to myself: viz A Feast for Crows, vol 4 of George R R Martin's massive, spectacular, Shakespearean fantasy sequence. Trouble is, I hadn't actually read vol 3 yet, so I have nine hundred pages of that to absorb before I can tackle the one that's up for review. Not a problem, rather an absolute pleasure - but I was glad to have eight hours of sitting on trains, with the prospect of more travel upcoming.

After the gig, we asked the librarians where was good to eat in St Helens. They sent us to Mr Chan's, &quo;the best Chinese in town" - which turned out to be another of the compensations, and not only for the food. That was excellent, but the craic was better yet. Mr Chan - Charlie, as it happens - came over himself to apologise that he didn't have the bottle of wine we'd asked for; he talked us through the rest of the wine list, but actually recommended the house red, and gave us half a glass each to try. That was fine, so we got a bottle - and then when wed finished eating he came over for a chat, and took an open bottle from the bar and topped us up; and we talked of martial arts and Chinese history and books and other stuff, and before we left we'd finished that bottle too, all on the house. If you're ever in St Helens, look him up - Mr Chans, on North Road.

And all of this good Chinoiserie reminded me that it's Chinese New Year today (Sunday), and this year coming is the Year of the Dog. I am myself a dog, as it happens, so this is my year, and will obviously be full of good luck all twelve months long. So I thought it needed celebrating, so a few friends are coming round to eat, which means that I get to spend all weekend cooking. That's what I call a compensation.

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© Chaz Brenchley 2006
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.