19 May 2006
...and this brings you up to date.
I do like Lincoln - largely because every time I go there, I just have a good time. As this week, which was not exactly the perfect gig, but very much my favourite kind of gig, and just so much a contrast to Saturday in Birmingham. I suppose to some extent it's about funds - these people were paying us, and that does make a difference to how they treat you: they're invested, and so they care - but it's mostly organisation.
For those of you who don't know, Lincoln is a small and rather lovely city, flat all around its edges, with one sudden hill at the centre; usefully, this is called Steep Hill, for the benefit of the locals who frankly wouldn't recognise it otherwise, they're so unused to such a thing. At the top of the hill is the famous mediaeval cathedral; pity the poor guys who had to haul the stone up, but of course they did, where else are you going to put it?
Also at the top of the hill is my hotel. Fine view of the cathedral, but you do have to get there. And the railway station, of course, is way down on the flat bit, where trains do like to be.
Never mind. I had plenty of time, half the afternoon; and I'd spent the first half working on the train, so I was feeling thoroughly good about myself. Up the hill I went, found the hotel, registered, giggled a little at my room (very modernist - square toilet, desk built of glass and chickenwire, moulded chairs - but also just a little cheap; and as Dolly Parton said to Janis Ian, 'Honey, it costs a lot of money to look this cheap') and wandered back down the hill. Halfway down my tea-elf has his shop, so I whiled a time away in there; and then on to Ottakar's (a bookshop, and perhaps the last good chain in the country) where there is a coffee concession that I know of old. Some few pages of 'Bridge of Dreams' were written there, and now a few of 'River of the World' also.
Then I stood in the rain for forty minutes, waiting to meet a man who never came. This is always a bind for me: when you're waiting, and they're late, how long do you wait? Too long, always, in my case, but once I've engaged with the waiting process it gets increasingly hard to break away. You wait five minutes, you wait ten; once you've waited ten, you may as well give it a quarter of an hour; and so on, by increments, until I suppose it is finally obvious that he really isn't coming. In this case, it took me half an hour to decide. Then I went to the venue by myself, and there he was. Warm, dry, with coffee in hand. Ooh, I so very much didn't care...
But the gig was good: Juliet and Mark and me, talking about how fantasy isn't all elves and dragons any more. As though it ever was, but hey, you've got to start from somewhere. It was the kind of gig I really enjoy: an informal conversation, very little structure, eventually heading into territory we hadn't discussed before. And sensible input from the audience, and lots of books for sale, and what more do you want? I suppose we could have wished for more people - we had twenty upstairs, while Jilly Cooper had who knows how many downstairs - but then it wouldn't have, couldn't have been that kind of gig.
Then everyone went home, and I idled my evening away in restaurants and pubs, slept so badly I might as well not have bothered, and took my time coming home next day. Did the bookshop run in Lincoln, which can take a long time (it has more secondhand bookshops per square foot than any city I know - and I grew up in Oxford), and found a copy of Joanna Lloyd's 'Jane Runs Away From School'. Now, you all know that I have a fetish for girls' school stories; Joanna Lloyd is exceptional, on account of being genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. There is a famous scene with parsnips that still cracks me up simply at the memory, I don't have to read it. So, happy me.
But shopping for books, I didn't shop for food; nor at this end, either. So I played a rare game, cooking from the store cupboard. Specifically, I fried an onion from the veg basket with a chilli from last year's crop and smoked garlic from the plait hanging up. Into that went spring onions from the fridge, a handful of my own dried mushrooms and another of dried shrimps from a jar (with a judicious scatter onto the floor for Barry, who thinks they're sweeties), and then four big tiger prawns from the freezer. I added boiled rice and soy sauce, stir-fried that for a couple of minutes and then plonked it on a plate and made a quick one-egg omelette in garlic oil in the same wok to top it off. I learned that from my mother, way back thirty years ago, when she first cooked nasi goreng, and it's a taste that adheres.
And the whole assemblage was so nice, I'm going to do it again tonight. With fresh mushrooms, because they were cheap in the market today; and maybe I'll steam-and-soy some broccoli to go with, only because I have some, see what that's like...
© Chaz Brenchley 2006
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.