A.J. Walker

writerer

liverpool

The New Normal (Not So Much)

What's the new normal going to be like? Clue: it’s not.

So this weekend, on the 4th July, a normality is to return. With pubs and restaurants to reopen. And almost more importantly... barbers. I for one can’t wait. 

Or can I? It’s been over three months since the pubs closed the door because of Covid-19 and one of my major pastimes was given the heave-ho. Have I got into drinking at home instead? Will I stay in and save money with a few bottles rather than going down the pub for a couple? Will I hell.

I love my beer, don’t get me wrong. But beer comes with the pub, it's not for watching the TV. Not in my book at any rate. Can’t wait to get back to doing little five or six pub crawls around Liverpool city centre. Or getting on the train for the Southport run, or a CAMRA coach trip to Derby or Leicester (?).

Apart from it’s not going to be normal yet at all. If you live in a village with a lovely old coaching inn with big gardens then you’ll be okay, maybe you won’t notice much difference at all. But for the 99% of us who live in an urban area–particularly a city–we are going to be buggered. Or, more importantly, the pubs are. 

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The rules are such that there can’t be more than 30 people in a pub–however big it is. I mean one size does not fit all. Asking pubs to serve outside where it is safer is all well and good, but how can a little pub on a city street accommodate that? Taking names and details from all the customers is going to be fun. Minimise contact with the staff, but take their life story (okay, not life story–and it does make sense). No live music, or football to be shown: nothing to get the customers excited lest they spit out their germs everywhere. Then there's the PPE, the hand-washing and the one way system and one in/one out to the toilet. No standing at the bar chatting to the staff. No... well no anything.

So pubs are reopening and normality is returning. Apart from the pubs can’t attract enough people to survive. Can’t generate atmosphere. Can’t entertain. Can’t make their customers feel comfortable. Oh yes, definitely back to normal.

How can the pubs survive with so few customers? Without the joy of a group of friends out for the evening? How can the music economy (the proper gig economy) survive this? It's all a matter of time before more and more establishments fall at the wayside. This will damage individuals who work or own these businesses and harm the towns and cities we live in. The impact of this virus is going to go on for years even if a cure falls into our laps this year.


We put a lot of faith in everyone not to catch and spread this most strange of viruses. And seeing the recent footage from parks, beaches and of course our Pier Head, that faith is not held tightly. If we look at what happened in the US where hardly anyone wears masks, and they opened up businesses as if there was no virus, it is rampant like never before. Trump's inability to say 'Wear a mask' has fucked them. They opened bars like they were normal in many respects so it was no surprise what has happened, and we are not doing that so maybe we will be a lot better of in terms of the virus. But in terms of the business it is untenable without government support.

Whenever you do go out, be sensible. Follow the guidance. Because if the Covid-19 numbers get out of control or even just take longer to come down then it'll be a longer time before the new normal becomes the old normal. It's simple folks:
keep your distance; keep your hands clean; limit touching your face; wear a mask in enclosed areas or in close proximity to others. That's it. It ain't rocket science. Be calm and patient and be very, very nice to all the staff looking after you.

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So far I’m not sure which if any pubs are open on Saturday–obviously when I say pubs I mean real ale pubs and not the Concert Square or Wetherspoons variety. I want to give my custom to my favourite pubs that I used to go to: they deserve it, even if I don’t. I am going to head into town first thing though to see if I can find a barbers to deal with my problem and then I’ll see if I can find a pint in an environment that doesn’t make me want to cry.  I may well come back with no luck on any front at all. Watch this space.
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There Is No Sanctuary Anymore 

Well this weekend brought the news that the Sanctuary on Lime Street is to close its doors permanently. One of the first confirmations of pubs in Liverpool to be closing as a result of the damnable pandemic: it won't be the last.

It goes without saying that I wish the owners and all the staff all the best at this time.

It has been a great little boozer for the last few years for me. One of my most regular haunts. Often I would pop in at the start or the end of a wee crawl–or even both ends of one. It was always laid back. There was always music on (I’m not saying it was always to my taste, but hell yeah. Music!). The decor was ‘interesting’ if built-in distressed is your thing. From outside if looked like it could be a wine bar with the logo on the window, whilst inside it was spit & sawdust. It was a contradiction in many ways.

Beer choice could be a little up and down, but usually there was one or two–sometimes even three–that were worth staying for–or else I wouldn’t have, would I?

There wasn’t a big turnover of staff. And all of them were friendly and outgoing. Going out of their way to look after the customers (even giving me control of the music on several occasions. Yeah, an evening of Frank Turner, Wilco or Magic Numbers anyone?). One of last year's highlights was going in there for a few pints whilst waiting for the parade for the European Cup. We watched the progress of the parade on my phone so knew exactly when to leave to catch the buses, got some fab photos and then went back into the Sanctuary within about twenty minutes or so. A perfect afternoon, which unfortunately we won't be able to repeat for any parade for winning the league.–more's the pity.

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Best of all I was in one Thursday evening reading a book when I noticed someone walk upstairs with a guitar and found out it was Open Mic. I popped up to watch, telling myself if they weren’t all shit hot I’d get up and play a song–partly on the basis that I didn’t know any of them and I need not show my face again if it all went tits up. I nervously strummed a couple of songs in super fast time and sweated like a pig… and since then I’ve hardly missed any. I hadn’t played in front of anyone for about twenty years. Unfortunately I hadn’t been practicing much either. But rediscovering the guitar was great and it has been the highlight of many a week since.

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The continuation over recent weeks of the Open Mic online has been a lovely way to break up the week, especially the monotonous evenings (so much TV watched). Our little Zoom Sanctuary has been great, but it’s not a pub. It’s not the same.

It won’t be the last pub to go and I’m fearful for which of my other favourites may not survive this most painful of years. I’ll miss meeting up with the Open Mic crew at the Sanctuary. I’ll miss the banter with the staff and customers. I’ll miss sitting there reading or writing. Hell, I’ll just miss the Sanctuary.

RIP The Sanctuary. It was good to be in you.
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A Very Good Evening

Last night was Open Mic #4 of the Sanctuary Zoom Open Mics. It was the oddest one. Lots of people couldn't be there due to life commitments and/or watching Chelski v Man City. So as it was there were only three of us online rather than the usual nine or so. In addition to myself there was Matt Holland (.author.com) and Rebecca. Matt does stories and Rebecca does audience–and does it very well. Yeah, I was the only 'musician'. At least until the end of the night.

It was almost nine when I logged in. Despite the low attendance there was never the question of cancelling it and we had a good night. Matt read a couple of old stories and gave us a trial run of a new one he's working on. And I did at least eight songs, which I'll list below. Other than that we reminisced about pubs and drunken exploits and talked about if and when we'd go back to the pub again.

All this with one eye on our phones to see how the footy was going. When I left the commentary after twenty odd minutes City had been on top. But football is a funny old game and if they failed to win Liverpool, after their 4-0 thrashing of Palace the day before, would be Champions for the first time in thirty years. As the designated old git at Open Mic I'm one of the only ones who was alive and going to watch Liverpool back in the 1980's when we won all that came before us. I could understand the excitement of the youngsters not there at the evening's possibilities.

As it was, of course, Chelski scored first and it was 1-0 at half time. City equalised with a worldy free kick… and then a sending off and a penalty gave Chelski the game. Liverpool were fucking Champions of absolutely everything (currently holding the European Cup, the Super Cup, the World Club Cup and now the Premier League Champions): it's not been a bad year. If you discount the coronavirus (or indeed only count the footy).

At this point the Zoomers all left to go to their doors or windows to hear the singing, watch the fireworks and hear the street noise. It was brilliant. I just wish my dad was here to have shared in it. A day so long in the waiting. Back in the early 80s before I had a Season Ticket myself my mum and dad would take it turns to take me to the game with the parent and child ticket. As well as going to several games with both mum and dad. Mum was a red, dad was a fans of the Sons (Dumbarton to you). He'd have enjoyed the day and celebrations immensely.

Getting back onto Zoom it was time for another bottle of beer (I was drinking Platform 6.1 and Oakham Citra) and I played another song or two.

Niall came on from Dublin looking suitably very happy and gave us a rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone–which the rest of us did our utter best not to wreck, but probably failed. The night ended after much talk about football, beer, celebrations, fireworks, car horns and the wish to be able to celebrate it properly at some point.

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We all decided 1:30am was late enough and called it quits. We'll probably change the day next week as next Thursday it is the Man City game–guard of honour and all that. So maybe it'll be on Wednesday or Friday. Either way I'm sure there will be more than three of us (with a late a guest appearance). We shall see.

My setlist (for it must be as set once you're over five songs, surely?) comprised:

  • Homeward Boud
  • You Ain't Going Nowhere
  • Down By the Water
  • Congratulations
  • N17
  • Hotel California
  • Somewhere Down the Road
  • Sweet Carolina
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Footy is Back (and I need to watch some)

Well hello, it’s 17th June and it’s been so many long days since the last Premier League game (they say it’s been only three months but bloody hell it seems much longer). This morning I was thinking I’ll get Sky Sports for the month. Liverpool are on Sky a minimum of three times and at the moment just the first one - the derby on Sunday - is Free to View. 

Assuming that there will be at least four Liverpool matches on Sky over the month and then there are other interesting matches so I may end up watching six to ten games for £18 not bad; so £2-3 is a no brainier really. I’m not one for using dodgy streaming sites unless I’m full on desperate.

It’ll be strange to watch without an atmosphere from the fans. But we are in a strange place in all walks of life. I’d rather the league continued this way than  it be sorted by Points Per Game.  

We’re going to win the league one way or another but not being able to celebrate it like we did last year for the Champion’s League will be the strangest thing. Having a parade when it is safe to do so will be well weird. Can you postpone euphoria?

So it’s not going to be normal but boy I can’t wait for the build up, the matches and the post match autopsies of every game. Bring it on.

FirmSal

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Update: looked up offer and it’s £18 for Sky Sports and then
another £18 for the football. And the website is so damn unclear about it all. Grrr. Maybe I’ll just for for a Now TV pass when I want one instead. Umm,,, then again that’s £10 for a day pass, or £25 a month, but for that you need a three month subscription. Grrr… Maybe I’ll go for the NowTV mobile phone option, which is £6. Can only watch on phone - and not cast it anywhere.
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Decision made. Went for the phone option. Went smoothly enough adding the pass and app to my phone, so I'm good to go. It'll be just like being there… not. Better than nowt and all for the price of a pint and a half. Wonder whether the sound will play through my bluetooth speaker. That'd be a bonus.

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Calexico and Iron & Wine Gig

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Went to the third gig of the last month. Wow! I say wow because it's also the third gig of the year too (discounting pub bands). Following Kathryn Williams in the Liverpool Philharmonic Music Room and Rival Sons at De Montford Hall at the Liverpool Uni a couple of weeks ago it was time for another class act (or two really): Calexico and Iron & Wine.

I'd last seen them together years ago but seen them separately several times in Liverpool, Manchester and at festivals. And I have even seen Iron & Wine (aka Sam Beam) at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall before with my sister several years ago. The album they are touring with is Years to Burn and is absolutely beautiful. If you haven't got it, what's stopping you? (Okay, stream it if you must)

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I had an eventful time getting to the gig. Having a late start at work meant I didn't get home until 18:58. I managed to get showered, changed and out of the house by 19:10 and to the bus stop for 19:14, with the bus due at 19:17. Brilliant. Come 19:30 still no sign of bus and me getting anxious. What this time? It wasn't like there was a big footy match on or anything. Oh no. Theres always something with the infamous No.17. What could it be this time? Well a lady got of a 62 and asked us if we were waiting for the 17, for if we were we'd be waiting a long time as the woman driving it had crashed into A&E at Fazakerley Hospital. I mean, WTF? How do you not see a hospital? Still, I suppose dispensing any injured passengers would be handy and wouldn't tie up any ambulances.

So I had to get to the next bus stop to double my chance of getting a bus - with both a 19 and 17 a possibility. The next 17 was late so I ended up on a 19 and running about 45 minutes late. Meaning I'd get to the Phil about 20:20. I checked on Twitter for stage times… Calexico and Iron & Wine due on at… yep, 20:20.

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Dispensed out of the bus at London Road and took the ten minute walk to the Phil. I realised I was parched after the long wait and realised I hadn't drunk much at work either. I decided I'd throw myself into the Pen Factory for a very speedy pint. Took me about three mins, including ordering, to get a pint of Dark Star 'Hophead' down. It hit the spot. I speedily passed on down Hope Street arriving at 20:20. Get in! The bar in the foyer had a queue but was handily placed. I needed one to last through the 1.5 hours of the gig (as the bar was closed during the performance (shocking state of affairs). A security guy said 'Sorry, the bar is shut' - my face fell and I blurted out the tale of woe getting there and the hospital jumping in front of my bus and a lovely lady (the loveliest) said 'Go on, get in the queue.' Woo hoo! So five minutes later I had a pint of Love Lane Pale Ale and then went through to my seat. As it happened they didn't start until about 20:35 or so, so I didn't miss a note (though I missed the support, Lisa O'Neill).

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Sam, Joey Burns and Lisa O'Neill performing 'Dreams'

I was sat downstairs in the stalls on Row L. Not a bad spot to be in; that said to be fair anywhere in the Phil would be a good place to see a gig. Of course, I'd much rather stand than sit through music but sometimes you don't have a choice. From the first notes of Father Mountain through so many of their songs, and some of the Calexico's and Iron & Wine's, and several great covers; including the Everly Brothers' 'Dream' (sung with Lisa McNeill), and Echo and the Bunnymen's 'Bring on the Dancing Horses', it was musicianship of the highest quality. The level didn't drop.

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Accordion Solo

Only slightly negative thing for me occurred when three late arrivals, all guys in their sixties, sat down and talked through parts of several songs. And then did some American style Whooping. I mean, NO! I was half expecting a 'Get in the hole'.

They played around an hour and half before I plodded of with a large grin on my face to the merchandise where I got a tour T-shirt and a signed poster. Bit odd this, as I never used to buy merchandise at all - despite years and hundreds of gigs I only have tour T-shirts from Ryan Adams, Wilco, and Frank Turner. I think a Calexico and Iron & Wine T-shirt is a mighty fine addition to the not-even-collection.

If you can get to see them: do so. If you don't know them and are interested in finding out what they are like here's a link to a live performance of 'Bring on the Dancing Horses'.

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Finally I got back home on the No.17 and it managed to get back without hitting any buildings, well not so you'd notice anyway.
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The (New) Dispensary

HaircutMe

It's been an interesting couple of weeks seeing how the Dispensary transitions after the long reign from Pauline and Dave came to a quite abrupt end. It is understood that the tenancy came to an end on the 15th September and they decided not to renew it. The Dispensary under their stewardship won the Liverpool CAMRA branch Pub of the Year on multiple occasions and the beer choice and quality was never less than exceptional. They kept their decision to leave pretty quiet and it was only in the last ten days of their rule that it became common knowledge. Wherever they end up going and whatever they end up doing I wish them the best of luck.

In the meantime the new managers of the Dispensary require luck and hard work to maintain the tradition of the excellent cellar here, lest it become just another pub. I've been in a few times since the change of the guard and although it's very early days things are looking good. There have been a few changes which are mostly positive or at least neutral. The board with the beers on now has prices on it which is always handy in decision making and getting your money ready at the bar. And talking of money they have entered the 21st century and like many of the other nearby pubs now take card payments. Yay!

The beer choices so far comprise the same breweries that Dave and Pauline took, including Titanic, Ossett and Rat. Definitely a great big plus. Got to be good to have White Rat still available.

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WhiteRat

There is now no fear of the answer at the bar if you ask for a coke (not that I ever would) but sometimes people require a soft drink. Here is my mate with half a coke…

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They still have TVs and the footy channels (BT and Sky) for those interested. And Liverpool are still winning. They've retained the bar staff too.

They also now sell Guinness. It is a drink from my past, but I have often heard people ask for it here and been disappointed not to find it. Not a big fan these days but hey, at least they've got themselves a nice old school pump display for it. They also have a small heater perched at the end of the bar for pies and whatnot. Food in the Dizzy! What next…?

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… well, toilet roll in the toilets for a start which is nice.

In the last few days there have been returning customers who were previously banned or at least felt unwelcome. No doubt the customer base will settle down in the coming weeks when the novelty value has ended.

So, in summary, a positive start for the new guys. The key to its continued success will be all about the cellar and the bar staff.
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Eight Pubs

On Saturday, as I mentioned on my previous post, I decided in the absence of the North Wales CAMRA coach trip to go on a local jaunt around many of the Liverpool hostelries I enjoy. Here is how the afternoon transpired.

I got the infamous No. 17 into town and got off on London Road. My route for the day was undecided at that point, but it was best place to get off and get some cash out by the Tesco. I took out thirty quid and then made the happy mistake to go into Henry Bohn's - a wonderful second hand bookshop at the bottom of London Road by the Empire.

Twenty minutes later I came out with a much heavier bag (and eleven quid lighter) having bought two Terry Pratchett's: The Wee Free Men and Nation, and an Olaf Stapledon: Last and First Men. However the day transpired this would make it a good one.

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I was in the process of reading 'Moscow Drive' by a local guy, Mark Porter, who I'd met on the aforesaid infamous 17, in which he name checks lots of Liverpool hostelries I have been know to frequent, including the Raven at Walton Vale, and in town the White Star, Lion, and Ma Egertons (which I'd just got up to in the book). Ma Egerton's is behind the Empire so it seemed the obvious place to start in a way. Unfortunately it hadn't crossed my mind that it was only around an hour or so before kick-off and Everton had their first home game of the season at 3pm. Egerton's was an obvious meeting place, being next to Lime Street Station and a taxi rank. So it was packed. I walked in and then out. Ma, I'll catch you another time. Instead I went to the Crown. It too was busy with a fair few fans, but I'd timed it to perfection as far as service was concerned. Sizing up the selection I went for a beer (and brewery) I hadn't had before, a 'Sunshine IPA' from Wooha Brewing Company. A decent, hoppy, low abv pint for the start of a session. I drank it in the backroom, the only place I could find a seat, and perused my new old books surrounded by people eating massive coronary inducing platters (looked good).

Next up was only a hundred metres down the road and one of my regulars, The Sanctuary. Here I bumped into a Twitter friend I've never met before, but knew was a regular at the Sanctuary, Stephen Ackers aka @beefynets. He has got into doing VSS365, which - as well as liking ale - makes him mighty fine. Here I went for an Adnams 'Mosaic'. Whilst it is a bit of a large brewery for me I do like the single hop brews, and it was a nice (hoppy again) choice. After bidding farewell to Ackers, whose bags were heavier than mine thanks to Lidl's 'beer festival', I went on to number three. The area of attack was now clear - I couldn't be out for too long (having work on Sunday) and I never want to miss the Grapes, when I have the choice, so basically I knew I was bound to continue around the Hardman group of hostelries. Therefore next up was the Dispensary.

Say what you like about the Dizzy (and boy people do) the cellar is the best kept there is. They had White Rat and King Rat on from Rat Brewery. Whilst not ideal for a session I went for the stronger (5%) King Rat for the extra oomf. Was not a mistake. Gorgeous. Got into conversations with Dave, the landlord's husband, about things football and CAMRA related. We agreed to disagree on some and agreed to agree on others. Liverpool scored against the run of play whilst I was there (not on telly) whilst Archer was beating the daylights out of Steve Smith (also not on telly).

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Next up was the Roscoe Head, one of only five (who knows, maybe fewer now) pubs in the entire country to have been in every edition of the Good Beer Guide. I'd bumped into Carol (the landlady) on Wednesday in the Fly and said I'd pop in soon. She wasn't in, but I bumped into a couple of people I knew. After the heavier abv. in the Dizzy I went for another light one and the Red Willow Brewery 'Effort Less', whilst I continued to read some more of Moscow Drive.
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(the Strawberries and Cream was from a different day - these images are from my @realeliverpool Instagram account)

Got a quick bite of something and nothing from the Co-op before heading on to The Grapes. It's a wonderful pub and one of the most improved over the last couple of years - just be careful if you are visiting Liverpool not to mistake it for the aberration (at least from a beer perspective) for the Grapes on Mathew Street. Here it was time for a local brew from Neptune Brewery (I think the best brewery on Merseyside, but there are lots of great ones these days) and another new beer for me, the Cabo Baja Sur. Sat in the bar on the right I got chatting to another reader (she was reading the Time Traveller's Wife, but was not over enamoured with it). Good beer, nice chat. Excellent. But I couldn't be resting up, as I'd intended to make eight different pubs and time and beer was of the essence.

I headed next back over Hardman Street and up to the Hard Times & Misery, which is now called the Dicken's and King. I was happy to see they had another Mosaic on and, even better, it was from Neptune. It was lovely. Probably my Beer of the Day, if I was handing out awards. Again bumped into a couple of people for chats about things beer, football and writing related.


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The late kick off was Man City v Spurs and as a Liverpool fan I had a little interest in it, even if it is so bloody early in the season (Liverpool had beaten Southampton in the 3 o'clock kick off, after apparently playing pretty poorly). Anyway, it made sense to head next to the Fly in the Loaf and catch a beer and the end of the game there. It was 2-2, then Man City scored in injury time to get the winner. A big cheer went up as there were Evertonians in the house post their game and they already want City to win the league - can't think why. Thankfully VAR stepped in (ridiculously) and disappointed blue noses of several persuasions. I enjoyed it muchly with an Ilkley Brewery 'Summer Golden Ale'.

That was pub number seven. So where for eight? There were plenty of good local options including the Pen Factory, the Belvedere, even the Phil, but I went for the Caledonia. They've had an Americana festival on all month, and there was a chance I could catch some music. As it happened I did catch a couple of tunes from Alex Gavaghan all accompanied with another local brew a 'Session IPA' (words that really shouldn't go together in my view) from Liverpool Brewing Company.

Good beer, fine music, interesting conversations and reading. All in all a damn good crawl.

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Alex Gavaghan in the Caledonia
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Pub Crawl

Time has been a bit short this week, with the new routes in Wales I've been given one of the short straws with Llanwrst and Trefriw. Bugger of a route with narrow roads, one ways, wrong geocodes, named houses and some very isolated properties – even deeper into Snowdonia, past old lead mines, deep in forest and into hiking territories. With up to 80 drops a day a single drop that takes 30 minutes is very frustrating - however beautiful the locality. I was lucky to just get back in time to watch the UEFA Super Cup on Wednesday, which has been the highlight of the week.

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Isolated walking territory, Snowdonia

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Hafna Lead Mine, Snowdonia

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Maenan Hall Folly

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Gwydir Castle, Llanwrst

Was originally hoping to be on a real ale trip to Conwy and Colwyn Bay today with the Wirral Branch of CAMRA, but the coach was booked up. Meanwhile my usual couple of cohorts went on a last minute holiday up to the Isle of Bute, which looked lovely. So I have been left to my own devices. Um'd and ah'd about going to Manchester, or doing the Southport Run or maybe Chester or a Wirral trip. But hell I've opted for closer to home and a go-with-the-flow wander around Liverpool hostelries. Will try to get to a few more than usual, which means shorter stops and quicker drinks. Unfortunately I'm working tomorrow, which means I can't be out this evening.

Will see how it goes. Will try and take some photos and make a few notes to turn into a blog - partly because I haven't done any blogs this week. I'll also try and do my
Seedling Challenge.

Have a good weekend folks.
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Fantasy Footy's Nearly Back

The football season is almost upon us–I know, it already is for some none Premiership footy fans, but I'm talking Liverpool. Anyway, I'm also talking Fantasy Footy. I've done it the last few years. Generally the better Liverpool do, the better my team does. Stands to reason with the reliance on three players from Liverpool every time. Just put up my provisional team and the most difficult thing was picking which Liverpool players to pick (on the Fantasy Footy League I'm in you can only pick a maximum of three from any one club; I do the fantasy.premierleague.com one).

How could I not pick Robertson or Allison? I ended up going for Salah, Firmino and Keita. I wanted Mane but couldn't afford him, and maybe Origi is worth a punt or Ox; this football management lark is quite difficult.



It asks you to select colours for a kit. Of course you could ignore it. But then again you could just select: red, red, red, red.

Kit


May set up a league for VSSers. But not sure how many would be interested. Need at least eight to make the league look like a league and not just a match.

I've selected a crap team name. And defo need to change that before the season starts–now that's not a problem a manager usually has (unless he's at Hull). Something based around Six probably.
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Some Parade!

Well, what a weekend. Had to go to the parade, of course, to soak in some of the colour and noise, but most of all to welcome the boys back. Town was heaving with something like 750,000 people out to see them, so it was a bit of a headache to decide where best to watch them. The last time me and the lads went to greet them was after we beat West Ham in the FA Cup Final in 2006 and I decided (for it was my call) to watch it around the same place again. That time we had quite a long time waiting around, but this time we the advantage of being able to watch the stream of the parade live, so we could watch it to see where they were up to and leave in good time to watch them.

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As it was up behind the Walker Art Gallery it was only up the road from the Sanctuary, so it was a no brainer to get a nice couple of ales in there then walk up when they looked about ready to make it down the road. My only fear (being the one making the call) was there was a delay on the stream and as we walked up past Lime Street Station I did think it seemed remarkably quiet and wondered for a moment. But I needn't have worried. As it happened we walked off the closed fly-over on to the dual carriageway, where there were plenty of people about but lots of room too. We were only there for a couple of minutes before the motorbike police came down to clear the way, followed by police on foot - we could not have timed it better. We were close enough to touch the buses as they went past. Brilliant.

SteandMe

The Liverpool boys were all up for it, swinging their scarves, singing, banging the side of the bus. Milner and Robertson looked particularly energetic. Maybe it's the Ribena (or lime and soda) but I don't know where Milner gets his energy. All the guys were obviously loving it - especially Klopp.

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Got some fab photos. Shouted and sung a bit. Followed the bus down to the bottom of the road. And basically loved it.

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Then was back in the Sanctuary within about 45 minutes of leaving it! Win-win-win!!
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Number Six - On The Fly

Oh Happy Days! Yep, yesterday Liverpool got to Number 6 with that loverly cup which we have that love affair with. Not the bestest match but who the hell gives a toss about that?

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I've been lucky enough in the past to go the UEFA Cup Final in 2001 in Dortmund, which Liverpool won 5-4 on a Golden Goal against Alaves, and then again in Istanbul for the miracle, 3-3 and then winning on penalties v Milan. In 2007 I went to Athens but didn't get a ticket (or get in) but had a great time with the build up and watched the match in the Craft Beer Bar (where else?). I also went to Paris for the European Cup when Arsenal got beat by Barcelona as I'd booked flights and a hotel 'in case' Liverpool got there, which I had done for Athens.

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Anyway, I am not in a situation now where I can currently follow Liverpool like that (money - I'm not banned from travelling or anything) so for the last couple of years I've been following Liverpool in the pubs and bars of Liverpool. Usually this is in the Dispensary or the Fly in the Loaf, and this season it's largely been the latter. For the second leg of the semifinal versus Barcelona there was just me and me mate on a table in the Fly. The pub was not heaving at all. Not enough belief in our brand of European brilliance! But yesterday it was bound to be mad in town, and it was. Needless to say we had to get into town early and grab a spot to watch it, whilst leaving enough time to find somewhere else to go if it was already full. As it happened me and Ste got in the Fly for 4pm and grabbed the last couple of seats. Yes! Other mates risked it getting in an hour or so later and we all managed to watch it together perched on tables or against the walls.

In summary, the atmosphere was great. The beer was great. The result was great. And the Fly was great.

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Managed a celebratory pint in the Sanctuary after the match and more incredibly got the last bus home!

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Now got to go off into to town for the parade. There will be oceans of beautiful red everywhere. Bring it on.
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We Are Liverpool

On Wednesday I had to put the van in for servicing. Was a little painful in terms of waiting and finding it wasn't done on the day. In the end I walked bloody miles all the way from Stanley Dock to the Baltic Triangle and back then back again. A lot of walking. Still, it was a beautiful day and I had my camera with me so took a few nice shots around the city. Including talking the opportunity to get the Klopp mural and angel wings in the Baltic Triangle. With beautiful architecture throughout and public art around it's a very photogenic city at any time - but on a blue sky day it's even better. And the start of the this week, including Wednesday, was an absolute belter.

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Klopp, our wonderful manager.

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I put quite a few on Instagram the other day (as you can see above). I also put photos up there from my travels around the north west and Wales - as well as Liverpool. Click on the photos and take a look.

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Former Adelphi Bank Building, Castle Street, Liverpool.
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Liverpool Beer Fest

Made it to the Liverpool Beer Festival last night after work - a little later than I would have liked. Thursday night is the opening session and has the advantage of being the cheapest ticketed session (a bargain £3) and of course all the beers are available - come Saturday afternoon and evening the cask choice will be getting limited.

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It was a nice session, busy but not so much that you couldn't walk around. Didn't have any beers that made me go "Wow!" but certainly had some nice ones. Liked a couple of the local ones including the Ad Hop 'Robusta' and the Liverpool Brewing Co/Team Toxic 'Koheutek'. The Hawkshead '5 Hop' went down well. But I was disappointed with my beloved 'Jaipur.' There was some talk that the beers were not at the best and that that maybe partly because of the unseasonably warm weather (it was T-Shirt weather yesterday, which is ridiculous for February). There is no entertainment on the Thursday which is a bit of a shame (particularly with me missing the Open Mic night). Still, it was a good night. And anyone heading there will no doubt have a great time.

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No guitars, but a Liverpool Supergroup.

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Of Mics and Men

Open Mic at the Sanctuary last night actually had a mic and multiple guitars. Huzzah! There were multiple singers as well as poetry and short story readings. Excellent, as ever. Not sure why but all the open mic'ers are men. Come on ladies, bring your plectrums.

I didn't play Shed a Tear, which I was working on this week, in the end I went for my current favourites:

  • You Couldn't Get Arrested
  • Somewhere Down the Road
  • Sweet Carolina, and
  • Heart Breaks Like the Dawn

I sing most each song with my eyes closed. Don't know why or how I stop that - or even whether I should. That said a brief video has emerged on Instagram showing that maybe they're not quite as closed as I thought they were... click on the photo.

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Couple of mates turned up, including one who doesn't have a musical bone. Not sure he'll be back often unless it's just for the beer (didn't like the stories or poetry either). It takes all sorts to make a world.

I was made 'spare' on Friday so at least it meant I could have a couple of drinks. Unfortunately there weren't extended drinks in the bar so had to settle for one in the Fall Well (Wetherspoon) here I had a lovely Peerless Oatmeal Stout whilst I waited for the bus (not even the last bus).

Plans re the guitar playing include in order: work on strumming patterns; write some songs! Then maybe get into scales and riffs. Strumming and songs very much first though.

In other news I have a beta reader of my first six chapters of the 'book' I wrote for NaNoWriMo in November and it's getting to the point where I should get on with writing the rest of it. I reckon it should be another 30-40k words. If I did 50k in one month then I should be able to do that in a month too should I? It's all about motivation and getting in the groove again with it. Having not touched it since getting to the 50k at the end of NaNo I need to finish reading where I'm up to and get writing.

I'll give myself six weeks (I have the guitar to work with too - which I wasn't playing until the second part of November). So watch this space. Could I finish my first whole book?
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Open Mic 2

Yesterday I went to play a few songs at the Open Mic in the Sanctuary Bar on Lime Street. It was the second time after playing three songs there a couple of weeks ago. Last time there were fewer people in attendance which made it easier to play after I'd heard a couple of people playing. This time there were more singer guitarists I'm not sure if I hadn't played the other week whether I would have got up in front of them.

I was second up and played three songs: Van Diemen's Land, the One I Love and Better Be Home Soon. Struggled a bit with the One I Love which is daft, because its the easiest one to play - or at least the one I've played the most. I think the nerves of like playing probably made me play it too quickly. Still I managed to force myself into the high notes and then did the Crowded House number. It's the first time I've played that in front of anyone and it wasn't too bad.

Following me on to the mic was Dave Glyn Jones, who I've never seen before and bloody hell he was good. If he'd come on before me there is no way I would have gone up and played. Very very accomplished. Great guitar and a gravelly blues voice and funny with it. Damn talented. The next two came up, who I didn't catch the names of, and they were great too. It was an enjoyable night and my mate who had never seen me play before had come along. Surprisingly he really enjoyed the night as he's not really into bands that much, but he found it all excellent (especially Dave).

Dave spoke to me afterwards and kindly told me not to be so self deprecating up there and that I had a nice voice (?) and good musical taste. I'll take that. Just need to play the guitar a lot more often and learn some new tunes. I know if I keep at it and keep throwing myself in front of an audience I should get more confidence and with that get better at the whole thing. It's been a nice distraction to start doing this and I'm looking forward to seeing where it will go.
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Giant's Farewell

I was off on Friday so took the chance to go hunting for Xolo and the young boy Giants in Liverpool's 2018 Giant Spectacular: Dream.

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These humongous marionettes are something else. It's difficult to describe how good they are if you haven't seen them for yourself (a bit like trying to describe what Glastonbury Festival is like to someone who's only ever been to V or Reading). The point is they are incredible and the who shebang that goes with it makes it seem more than the sum of its parts. Liverpool is lucky enough to have had three visits now from these wacky French guys and of course we had La Princesse (the amazing spider) too.

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Last time they were here was the summer and a ridiculous hot opening day, which meant that they ended up running very late. This time the weather was cool, grey and overcast and so the running was not delayed at all. My tardy arrival meant that I got there with a requirement to play catch up and I did over toward the Anglican cathedral. At that point I only caught the rear end of Xolo bouncing up the road and then waiting for the young boy who was travelling up in an open car. He only started walking again further up the road on the way to Prince's Park. After that it was breakfast, reading and writing and a couple of beers before catching them back on the way down.

In the afternoon I caught up with them on Duke Street. I stood on a bit of street furniture for a better view and this time caught Xolo and the lad. Xolo at one point running past before going to investigate a group of people sat atop a container. The controllers of these marionettes do a brilliant job of animating the character out of them. It does really do the movements you'd expect of a dog (giant or otherwise). Once more the boy was sat in the back of a car, but just after he passed me he was hooked up on the following contraption to begin the walk down the lower half of Duke Street.

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The crowds were enthralled and I met and chatted with people who'd travelled from all over the UK to see them. The hotels and restaurants must have had a boss weekend.

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Yesterday I was working (and had a horror of a day). The pictures of the crowds on the Strand looked incredible, but have made me have second thoughts about going down to see them this time - I'll never get a spot like I did last time they were here and in any case I'd have to pop away pretty early to get to a pub to watch the Man City match. So unless I have a last minute change of heart (or the company does and they return) then on Friday I saw the last of these wonderful creations. Incredible art and entertainment for the young and old. Thanks to all involved for this year and all the previous ones. Wonderful.

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The Weekend Starts and Ends Here

I've got me a one day weekend. Back in tomorrow. So will be out for beers later in Liverpool for a wee crawl, after buying a few bits and bobs, then it'll be time to catch some footy. Should be another great game between Liverpool and that Chelski shower with a quick retribution in mind following Wednesday night. May even catch some of the Mancs match. Expect I'll get to five or six top hostelries - you'll have to check out Twitter to see how I do.

Started beta-reading a FlashDog novel this morning. Up to the third chapter and it's really good so far. I shouldn't be surprised by now that there are such accomplished writerers within the FlashDog community. After meeting everyone via the very short stories we composed in Flash Fiction Friday and Angry Hourglass it is with great respect I see all these guys stepping on up and out to novels. Hoping to finish the book this week and get my comments out by next weekend.

In the meantime it is anticipated that 'DeadCades' will be released this week. Exciting stuff. And releasing a horror book in October... seems like it's almost by design. Many thanks to Steph and David in advance for all their work on getting to this point. Definitely top dogs (in a good way).

Went to the PO earlier to pick up a parcel from a couple of weeks ago. Er, I'd been sent me some cheese and biscuits. I wish I'd known I'd have made an effort to pick it up earlier. Not sure if the cheese is supposed to be this stinky. Will report back later... many more thanks for the surprising gift! You know who you are ;-)

Apparently it's World Guitar Day - who the hell makes all these things up? - perhaps I'll strum a little later. Made me think who are some of my favourite guitarists. It's a tough call, and if I thought longer or on a different day, my top picks (no pun intended) would no doubt be different and just as defendable. Here's today's top four anyway: Ry Cooder, Chuck Prophet, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

RyCooder Chuck

Jimi SRV


As for guitars, I have two; a lovely dark green Telecaster (I know three of the four above are on Strats, but hey I love a Tele) and a Takamine 363 semi-acoustic.

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Museum of the Moon, Liverpool

On the morning of the European Cup Final before popping to Southport for a couple of beers with me da I took the opportunity to go and see the Museum of the Moon which was in the Anglican Cathedral. I'm glad I did.

Really impressive considering it's just a big balloon. Made from the Nasa photos it is the whole moon in glorious detail at 1:500,000 scale It is lit from within, which obviously works well in the enclosed space of the cathedral. The 'art' was created by Luke Jerram and has been touring the country and indeed the world. Looking at photos from other locations it has been in it clearly is a knockout wherever it goes.

It's on in the Anglican until the end of the month, so you've a few more days to catch it if you fancy it. Take your camera!

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On the Shoulders of Giants

There was fab news this week in Liverpool about the fantastic French Giants returning once more. Who'd have thought 'big puppets' could be so enthralling and illicit such emotions. But if you haven't seen them live then you'll be in for a treat if you do get to see them this time. We were lucky with the weather in June 2014. In fact it was so hot the puppeteers had to keep stopping to keep hydrated (it is heavy manual work moving these lovable monsters).

Took lots of shots and some came out okay. But it is difficult getting a good position with such enormous crowds. I was made up to get one of my photographs in the official book about the event 'On the Shoulders of Giants' (the fourth photo below).

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Gran Boat

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Winter(ish)

Not managed any writing this week yet. Been reading Calendark though - it's excellent! Should finish it tomorrow and aim to get a review on to Amazon and/or Goodreads during the week ahead. In the meantime I've been reading Sal's chosen sentences from each story on Twitter. These extra 140 characters are giving her more options aren't they!

The week at work has been a mixture of fences and ditches. Well, cold weather and breakdowns. Was fearful of the snow and ice in Snowdonia today when I was handed that route, but it didn't turn out to be the hospital pass I thought it would be. Ye haw! Just a wee bit of snow and no slip-sliding away into ditches or trees - always a bonus!

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Last night the forecast for tomorrow was heavy, heavy snow across Liverpool and the north west, and whilst I am off for the day I had two concerns 1) it better not bloody mean the Liverpool v Everton derby gets called off and 2) better charge my camera so I can get some nice pics of Liverpool in the snow.

That said, Snowmageddon has now been un-forecast and Liverpool is forecast to be a bit nippy but not under feet of snow. At least that means the game will defo be on, but the chance of getting some nice snowy photos looks to be postponed.

Really looking forward to the match, will get a few choice beers in Liverpool too - and finish off Calendark. At some point I need to do this week's FlashFeed; haven't even checked out the photo prompt yet.

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Photos from a Liverpool Day Off

My one day off this three day weekend and I went into a sunny Liverpool on Sunday to catch a bit of Folk on the Dock around the Albert Dock and popped into the Baltic Fleet to catch some singing there.

Glad I remembered to take my camera with me as it was a lovely day and there was loads of great stuff to see. It helps because this fair city is so photogenic. Here's a few of them. Many more on Flickr of course...


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And then I got to watch Liverpool smash a bizarrely poor performing Arsenal 4-0 in the Dispensary with a couple of pints of Rat Brewery 'Lab Rat'.

All in all a cool day on a warm day.




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A Different Day Today

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Last week I picked my Day to attempt to write a story for, for Shakes' CalenDark and then came up with a germ of an idea - I even wrote some words (really, I did). Today I've changed my mind and chosen another day. As soon as I picked it an idea formed more completely in my mind and it should be easier to write it with the story arc pretty well defined. Of course now I have 'just ' to write the fucker. A month to go: No problem. Err... anyway the aim is to get a couple of thousand words done over the next week - as a minimum. Will report back by this time next week.

Baltic

Of course this weekend it's a Bank Holiday and that means more time for writing with a three day weekend, right? Wrong. Worked Saturday and working Monday. So only off today. May get a few words down, but main thing was getting this idea sketched out - an achievement in itself. Liverpool being Liverpool there is loads on at the moment. Disappointed to miss the Mad Hatter Brewery Yard Party yesterday, but today I think I'll go and check out the folk festival at the Albert Dock and/or the shanty groups down at the Baltic Fleet for a bit this afternoon.

Salah

Then of course there will be a few choice ales watching the Liverpool v Arsenal match. Come on you mighty reds!


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