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Posts Tagged ‘Grateful Dead’


One of these days I might manage to walk past this place.

But it’s not likely to be anytime soon.

For a start, you can’t miss it. The attractive magenta, cyan and yellow (you can tell I use Epson printer cartridges) frontage in itself will cause all but the most rushed tourist or day tripper to stop momentarily, smile and ponder whether they should while away an hour inside.

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Ready for the Big Switch On!

The huge picture window of the upper (magenta) level of this independent coffee house near the top of the Old High Street in Folkestone allows that unsuspecting passer by to peer more closely at the interior, and marvel at the walls crammed with books of all ages and sizes. They will also observe the VIPs among the clientele who have snagged the settee and armchair in that window. Despite the fact that many complain that they feel in a goldfish bowl once they are ensconced there, they are never in a hurry to vacate the space, and when they do, there is always a civilised clamour to assume residency.

And after all, it is the best people watching spot in Folkestone!

The scholarly feel continues when you place your order with the welcoming staff. You become temporary custodian of part of the book collection with a number on the cover to identify your order, a twist on the ubiquitous wooden spoon. This morning I am handed a copy of The Faithless Lover and other Poems by Leonard Ley – no intended reflection, I’m sure, on my character, but, nonetheless, I shall move swiftly on.

I take my seat at the small table behind the settee. This is the best place to write as it provides an element of privacy and just enough space for laptop, phone, coffee and plate. And there is a tasteful lamp for reading purposes and the beautiful double-sided screen made exclusively for Steep Street by Zimbabwean born local artist Thurle Wright to stare at for inspiration and worth the visit alone – perfect.

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Beautiful centrepiece

I await my ethnically sourced cappuccino and brie, parmesan and tomato quiche, just one scrumptious item on a menu that includes the most luscious cakes as well as tasty paninis, salads and sandwiches, all  prepared, baked and cooked on the premises. There are plenty of vegan options too.

I spot a small girl, maybe three years old, dressed head to toe in pink, hurtling excitedly down the cobbled hill, while her frantic father strains to grasp her hand before she rolls down into the harbour. Should he fail, I am at least reassured that it is low tide at the moment.

Civilised, animated conversation is another attractive feature of life at Steep Street, and today is no different as it reverberates around the split level layout. Leonard Cohen’s untimely death, announced earlier this morning, vies with Trump, Brexit and the imminent new series of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here (I made this last one up) as the main topics of discourse. All is calm and unhurried. Even the background music (Paul Simon as I write this) is soulful and unobtrusive.

A bedraggled mutt (I think he must have been for an early morning dip in the Pent Stream) sidles up to me and engages in a couple of minutes’ foreplay that entails the licking of hands and coyly turning its head away when I try to stroke it, before settling at my feet and catching the crumbs of my quiche as they – accidentally on purpose – escape from my plate.

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Gates of Paradise!

Spotting the Grateful Dead lightning bolt and teddy bear stickers on my laptop, his owner begins to reminisce (as far as he can remember) about his involvement with the Deadhead community in the U.S. in the eighties. This leads to a conversation about his attempts to bring traditional Irish music to the town. We debate the respective merits as venues of the Leas Cliff Hall, with whom he already has a meeting arranged, and the Quarterhouse on Tontine Street. I assure him that there is an audience within Kent and recommend the latter as the more appropriate (and crucially smaller) venue.

On his departure, his place at the adjoining table is taken by the Member of Parliament for Folkestone and Hythe, Damian Collins, whom I had only come across the previous day at the Folkestone Jobs Fair. I introduce myself as one of his new constituents and exchange a few words about the recently launched business hub on West Terrace.

As a fellow devotee of Steep Street the man clearly has some taste, and his campaigning for Remain in the EU Referendum endears him to me still further.

But I wouldn’t vote for him.

A young couple with extensive facial piercings sit at the corner table and extract their laptops from their satchels, rendering the upper level a scene from an Apple interns’ breakout room. Or at least it would if Mr Collins, and especially I, didn’t double the average age.

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A great study space

As I stand and rummage in my trouser pockets for £2.60 for another cappuccino, one of the young women serving behind the counter informs me (and the customers around me) that the man that I had been talking to previously had, on leaving the cafe, paid for a large drink for me. I am delighted and humbled by the gesture, or at least I would be if I weren’t so darn embarrassed too.

The charming owners, Stephen and Alice, are committed supporters of the upcoming Folkestone Book Festival, sponsoring illustration, flash fiction and “short and tweet” competitions, as well as publishing a magazine containing the best five entries in each category. During the event itself, they are hosting creative writing and poetry workshops. In many ways they will be the epicentre of the entire festival.

Steep Street’s reputation as literary linchpin of a town increasingly defined by its artistic offering (the next internationally celebrated Triennial is scheduled for next year), is enhanced by the provision of “blackboard” tables upon which customers, primarily, but not exclusively of the milkshake rather than flat white persuasion, can chalk their own artworks.

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A rare opportunity to nab the best people watching seats!

The same pink-spattered child observed earlier had thankfully avoided a watery, or rather muddy, grave following her hair raising downhill run on the cobbles, courtesy of a relieved Daddy carrying her back up the hill. In celebration, she tips the tumbler of coloured crayons on the table and sets to work.

Witnessing the resulting, naturally pink (or is it magenta?), Christmas tree exposes my own artistic shortcomings and I resolve to offer to pay a surcharge next time I’m obliged to sit at that table. My signature art piece since the age of three, and still serving me well / ill (delete as appropriate) are matchstick men and women wearing top hats, and in the case of the latter, the additional, creative touch of equilateral triangle shaped skirts.

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My book is in there somewhere!

The self-styled Folkestone Poet stands stoically in his accustomed spot outside the Big Boys Fine Burger Co. restaurant directly opposite Steep Street. His sales technique entails whispering to passers by while waving three copies of his verse collections gently in the air, hardly likely to secure him a retail job, but quietly appropriate for his role in the town’s life . Most of those who stop tend to smile sheepishly and scurry off without making a purchase, deterred by a combination of price and content, but I find his work refreshingly direct, full of gallows humour and the most idiosyncratic spelling. And there are occasional flashes of heart rending poignancy.

My incipient bromance with Damian Collins attains a new level of intimacy as he buys a copy, though a cynical fellow patron speculates loudly whether he will claim the £3 back on his parliamentary expenses.

Oh ye of little faith.

But he could be right.

Regardless, I think he’s a “top bloke”.

But I still wouldn’t vote for him.

After two large cappuccinos and a (small) bottle of Pinot Grigio, I resolve to take advantage of the fast improving weather outside and drag myself away. My decision is rendered even  easier by the arrival of three young mothers with babies and associated paraphernalia who pounce on the settee / armchair combination in the window vacated by an elderly couple and begin to spread out.

It may be a long time before those coveted seats become available again.

Stephen and Alice

My final duty is to adjudicate among two middle aged ladies who cannot decide which of the enticing cakes adorning the counter they should indulge in. After some discussion about the relative merits of the blueberry vanilla sponge and raspberry and chocolate cake, they take my advice and plump for the lemon cheesecake, which, judging by the moaning and smacking of lips I hear as I open the door to leave, has been one of my better decisions.

If you live in or near Folkestone, are a young mum, aspiring writer or lady that lunches (other socio-economic groups are available), and have not tottered down the Old High Street in the past year, you are missing a treat.

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I first met Martin at the T20 Quarter-Final between Leicestershire and Kent at Grace Road in 2011. This was to be the venue for the inaugural meeting of the Kent Reform Group whose stated aims were to bring greater transparency and accountability to the county club than was felt to be evident at the time.

I arrived first and parked myself at an empty table in the corner of the bar. I was shortly followed by Graham Holland, senior civil servant, former Mayor and prospective Kent County Cricket Club committee member. Graham and I exchanged pleasantries over a glass of sauvignon blanc while we awaited the arrival of the other two core members of the group.

After a quarter of an hour, the double doors swung open to reveal a tall, imposing figure dressed in a green and blue striped blazer with matching tie on a salmon coloured shirt, red slacks, scrubbed brown brogues and a boater sporting the black and Kentish grey colours of the Band of Brothers Cricket Club. He carried over his shoulder a faded brown leather satchel that looked at any moment about to spill its hefty contents. A crumpled packet of cigarettes protruded from the top pocket of the blazer. The only thing that would have completed this curiously Western scene (the meagre population of the bar to a man and woman had turned in his direction), would have been for the stranger to brandish a brace of six shooters from his hip.

Martin Moseling was in the building!

Graham introduced us and we got down to business, though not before Martin had dropped the satchel to the floor and sent the first of what seemed dozens of text messages to the fourth member of the group who had decided at the last minute to remain in Kent.

Throughout that ultimately depressing afternoon, in which Kent contrived to throw away a winning position in intermittent drizzle, he paced up and down replaying every boundary and dismissal by text with the absent colleague watching the game on TV back in his Wealden retreat.

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We met occasionally at cricket over the next twelve months, standing and chatting aimlessly on the Old Dover Road banking or in the Chiesman pavilion for hours on end, only partly conscious of the performance of the “flannelled fools” out in the middle. With that heavy, faded satchel still hanging from one shoulder, Martin would hold court, offering a wealth of historical and technical insights on the game while a growing audience of his peers nodded sagely in response.

It became clear that, despite our political and social differences – he revered Margaret Thatcher and was at home at hunt balls, whereas my political hero was Dennis Skinner and I was more comfortable in tie-dye at a Grateful Dead concert – we still had a lot in common, notably a mutual affection for Kent cricketing history and the “Golden Age” immediately before the Great War in particular. But there was something else we shared, an ambition that had been unfulfilled for more than half a century – that of writing at least one book and getting it published.

But the 2012 season ended and we went our separate ways.

Until, on one dank, dismal December morning, he rang me to ask whether I was interested in writing a book with him on Kent’s 1913 County Championship winning side to commemorate the upcoming centenary. My response – something along the lines of “yeah, why not” – was hardly enthusiastic, but enough for us to spend the next hour scoping out structure, style and themes. We were off and running before my customary eleven o’clock coffee break.

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What had we let ourselves in for? It is difficult enough to write a book on one’s own, but to do it with someone else whom they still barely knew and who lived a hundred and twenty miles away, and had, as we soon discovered, a different writing style, would surely be impossible. But, having agreed a workable division of labour at the outset, we spent the next six months working separately on different chapters and sending drafts to each other before picking up the telephone and painstakingly working through every letter and punctuation mark. We didn’t always see eye to eye, of course – he was over fond of words like “rather” and “somewhat” and I drove him to distraction with my obsession with punctuation – but the system worked.

We spoke many times a day. Martin invariably initiated the discussions, telephoning to urge me to peruse a new draft chapter or an alteration in the design that he had been working on during the night while I was asleep! In fact, he often rang at the most inconvenient times, either just before I was leaving the house or about to cook my wife’s dinner. It became a standing joke between us, rather like the one my wife and I shared when we listened to our daily answerphone messages and heard the immortal phrase “hello Tony, it’s Martin, give me a call”.

We met only three times over that period, twice when I travelled down to the Cotswolds for a couple of days each time and when we made a joint visit to the MCC library at Lord’s from which we witnessed a spectacular snow blizzard envelopping the hallowed ground. I also visited the principal libraries around the county to research the newspapers of the day. This provided us with a great deal of reportage to supplement the official scorecards for each game that were available on the Cricinfo website. But the feature of the published book that received the most plaudits were the contemporary photographs, many of which had not seen the light of day since that fateful final full season before the Great War, that he had sourced from both his own impressive collection and other publications. His contacts in the game, not least in his adopted county of Gloucestershire, provided many priceless images too.  

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Had he not been so persistent, we may never have finished the book. I am eternally grateful to him for not only coming up with the idea but motivating me along the way when my natural indolence took hold (and I like to think I did the same for him).

With the demise of the Kent Reform Group in early 2012, it was clear that the county club was not going to trust offers of assistance or criticism from individuals or members’ groups for the foreseeable future. However, by quiet diplomacy and patient relationship building, Martin was able to extract a number of concessions over the next three years, for example in overturning a ban on fans bringing even a modest amount of alcohol into the grounds for forty over games.

His legacy, however, will be the pivotal role he played in the establishment of the Kent Cricket Heritage Trust. Firstly, virtually single-handedly, he persuaded the Club of the value of creating a trust to protect and promote its proud heritage, and then drove through the implementation. His stunning timeline of the Great War which was displayed in the Chiesman Pavilion during the 2014 Canterbury Week, and the photographic montages of two historic run chases against Gloucestershire and Lancashire, were praised widely. Both were produced at his own expense. He also gave of his own time in keeping a watching eye on cricket auctions around the country, identifying items that the Club might be interested in purchasing.

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The fact that the Kent Cricket Heritage Trust is now established, and there are visible signs around the ground of its work, notably the new display cases in the Chiesman Pavilion, is largely attributable to Martin.

Any doubts that the Club might not have fully appreciated his contribution were quickly dispelled when they flew the official flag (white horse on red background) at half mast at the St Lawrence Ground on the day following his death. I cannot recall this being done for someone who neither played in the first XI (and oh how he wished he could have), nor served on the committee before. Martin would have been humbled and hugely proud of such a gesture.

As testimonials since his untimely passing have illustrated, he was admired and respected for his detailed knowledge of cricketing history, especially during the era covered by A-Half Forgotten Triumph. 

He had a patrician but nonetheless kindly demeanour which gave his utterances on the game an almost Swanton-like character, an impression reinforced by a build that resembled in later years that of the former journalist and president of the county club.

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As “Kentish Exile” he was prolific and authoritative. It was his opinion that many of his fellow posters looked for first on all cricketing issues for a combination of insider understanding and common sense. His style was measured, urbane and often sprayed with references and quotes from history, literature and music. It was this that led one wag from Chatham on the Old Dover Road seating at Canterbury one afternoon to declaim:

That Kentish Exile, ‘e’s a bit upmarket ‘e is.

Martin’s reaction to this statement when I relayed it to him that evening was a customary chuckle. I think he was rather flattered.

Despite his achievements – he was a fine horseman, golfer and guitar player, amongst other talents I may not have discovered in the short time I knew him, in addition to being a good enough cricketer to play not only for the MCC for many years, but also the Band of Brothers, Cross Arrows and a variety of teams in Gloucestershire – he was essentially a modest man. Few of his cricketing acquaintances will be aware that he maintained a blog – entitled A Cricket Sort of Chap: A sideways look at all kinds of cricket but especially the cricket of Kent – in which he brought his wit, wisdom and experience to bear on cricketing issues as diverse as being taken to the Bat and Ball Ground in Gravesend as a small boy by his father, the history of round arm bowling and a series of articles on Kevin Pieterson. I urged him constantly to notify his fellow Kent followers when he had published a new piece, but he preferred to manage it for his own amusement.

I’m afraid I’ve now let the cat out of the bag, but I’m sure he would forgive me as the articles are as good examples of cricket writing as you would find anywhere today,  and cry out to be be read by a wider audience.

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We had spoken of collaborating again in the future and mulled over the worth of writing reappraisals of the life and career of three of the most influential figures of Kent cricket – Frank Woolley, Les Ames and Lord Harris. But I wanted to take a break from cricket writing, not sharing his all-consuming passion for the sport. Before his illness cruelly began to affect his capacity to concentrate, he was working on a book about James Seymour, one of the powerful top order in Kent’s first period of glory. During the writing of our book he had met with the Seymour family who had kindly made a voluminous scrapbook of cuttings, photographs and scorecards available to him. He spoke enthusiastically too of writing a book about the seasons in which Kent finished second in the County Championship (of which there are too many).

On the all too rare days that we watched Kent play together (Martin tended, understandably, to visit the Midlands away grounds more than Kent), he was invariably accompanied by his beloved flat coated retriever, Bear, who he had had for nearly nine years (“the best friend I could ever want”). Bear sadly died in February of last year when Martin wrote “I do not know what I will do without him”. Shortly after, however, he acquired Bear’s nephew, Alfie, and was still in the process of breaking him in and preparing to introduce him to the world of cricket in the near future.

He was immensely proud of his son and daughter, and the successful careers they had carved out for each other, and despite the rapid deterioration in his health, it must have been a joyous occasion to have Emma and Mark and his grandchildren all together at his home.

It is difficult to know how to finish this piece other than to say that I accounted him a friend, not only for his rich well of cricketing anecdotes and knowledge, but also for his wise counsel (something others commented upon in the days following his death). He was not just “a cricket sort of chap”, but someone whose intelligence, humour and understanding ranged across every imaginable subject. He even helped me to make (some) sense of the San Francisco rental market!

But I’ll leave the final words to the man himself:

I have become resigned to the fact that Kent cricket was always in my blood. Although the past few years have been endlessly frustrating, they have also been rewarding. Friendships made within cricket are necessarily transitory but they are enduring. I have re-established contact with people I played with and against 30/40 years ago and I have made new friends. The really great thing about it is that those friends share my love of the greatest game of all – cricket and, in particular, the love of the cricket of the county of Kent.

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I blame it, of course, on Scott McKenzie.

And Alan Whicker.

Now I trust that many readers, notably those of a certain age and transatlantic disposition, will recall that Scott McKenzie was the singer who advised the world in 1967 that, if they were going to San Francisco, they should “be sure to wear some flowers in their hair”. That song alone had a searing impact on an impressionable fourteen year old boy living five and a half thousand miles away.

But Alan Whicker?

In appearance, with his English grammar school upbringing, clipped accent, Saville Row suit, slicked back hair, thick-set glasses and brisk moustache, he was the antithesis of the young people flocking to the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood at the time.

Whicker was an English journalist and broadcaster who forged a career spanning nearly sixty years until his death in 2013. His finest work was Whicker’s World which he presented for thirty years, travelling the world and commenting in an inimitable ironic fashion on society, and interviewing many prominent figures of the time, including the Sultan of Brunei, reputedly the richest man in the world at the time, the Haitian dictator, “Papa Doc” Duvalier and numerous high profile actors and aristocrats.

His stiff upper-lip style made him the affectionate butt of many comedians, none more memorably than the Monty Python team who delivered a sketch entitled Whicker’s Island, in which a succession of Whickers would walk on and off the screen uttering in his customary hushed tones, the catchphrase “here on Whicker’s Island”.

On 9th September 1967, the day that Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Byrds headlined at the Family Dog and Fillmore Auditorium, two of the emerging and competing concert venues in San Francisco,  Whicker broadcast a programme on the BBC entitled Love Generation. The episode was groundbreaking not least for the fact that it showed scenes of drug taking, despite the corporation’s “horror” of the practice, for the first time on British television, notably in 710 Ashbury, the Grateful Dead house (Phil Lesh and Bob Weir figured prominently). In the light of the recent Mick Jagger drug bust, it was put out very late at night. Among the individuals invited to expound their hippie ideals, emerging music promoter, Chet Helms, outlined his plans for taking music and light show “happenings” to London.

It was an incisive, literate and surprisingly sympathetic piece in which Whicker spoke over footage of the large influx of youth who had hitchhiked from every state to “Hashbury”:

In the States, pot is going middle class and spreading like prohibition liquor as more and more citizens   get zonked out of their minds. The drug culture enters the blood stream of American life. Like it or not, we’re living in the stoned age.

Later he was to lament that the:

Summer of Love was a short outburst of happiness that lasted only a few months. When I returned a year later the flowers and the innocence had died.

I was, like the thousands of young people that sought escape from the drabness of middle America, inspired by the message of “tune in, turn on, drop out”, though I hadn’t the means of joining the tribes.

The broadcast also gave my first experience of the Grateful Dead in performance with a beardless Jerry Garcia taking the lead on the Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion). A song title was never more apt.

News bulletins featured scenes of Gray Line tour buses crawling down Haight Street with bemused middle aged, provincial passengers staring at the carnival on the street.

And then there was Scott McKenzie.

Another character with a splendid upper lip growth, it was his song, full title San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair), which topped the charts in the UK but not (quite) the US, that so enthralled that fourteen year old boy in what was, despite the emergence of “swinging London”, still a monochrome etched country.

I took to decorating my Beatle mop with an occasional fresh daisy or buttercup. I commandeered my mother’s chocolate and purple paisley print blouse to wear to the home games of my local football team, guaranteeing that I would be bullied as mercilessly on a Saturday afternoon on the terraces as I was already being five days a week at school.

But I didn’t care.

I was a hippie.

My home grown musical diet of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks and a dozen other pop groups began to be supplemented by the weird, thrilling sounds of San Francisco. But it would still be another three years before I could get my hands on the music of the  Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service (thank you Keith Mason wherever you are), and before I could justifiably claim to be aboard the bus – the magic, not tourist, version.

During those same three years, I became increasingly fascinated by American culture and society. My political awakening was borne more out of opposition to the Vietnam War and support for the blacks in the Deep South, and students at Berkeley and Kent State than with the Rhodesian question or devaluation of the pound in Britain. I chose American history as one of my “A levels” at school and later studied American literature at university.

Underpinning all this was the music – my adoration for the San Franciscan bands was extended to embrace the country and folk rock idioms of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, the Eagles and, of course, Dylan. I devoured every American film I could, especially those with a counter cultural bias like Easy Rider, Two-Lane Blacktop and Alice’s Restaurant, and read George Jackson, Angela Carter and Tom Wolfe.

Those enthusiasms have endured to this day, though it would take me another quarter of a century before I first gazed adoringly on the Golden Gate Bridge or strolled down the street that had been the epicentre of my cultural life for so long.

But that is another story.

To finish, another of those siren songs that sucked me into a San Francisco state of mind.

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This is the third in a series of articles about the writing of my new book: Smiling on a Cloudy Day: An Englishman’s Love Affair with San Francisco. The previous posts were:

http://www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/the-next-book/

http://www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/smiling-on-a-cloudy-day/

The dates of those posts might already indicate that progress has not been as swift as I would have liked. There are a variety of reasons for this, not least my father’s fluctuating health over the past eighteen months and a recent, but now concluded, return to paid employment.

It is a similar story with the blogging – only sixteen posts, admittedly some of them quite long, since returning from San Francisco in April last year, compared to almost double that number in the preceding nine months.

But that is now in the past, and I am determined to publish the book this year. Indeed, I have been working on a draft for many months.

One illustration of progress is that dozens of disparate sheets of paper scattered over various surfaces have now been incorporated into a smart folder in which that working draft is now housed (see below). True to type, inspiration has been sought in the attachment of Grateful Dead and Giants logos.

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Part travel diary, part guide book, part history and part analysis of modern city life from the perspective of a regular foreign visitor, Smiling on a Cloudy Day follows the adventures of my wife and I during a month in early summer (if June in San Francisco can ever be considered summer). You will be able to follow us as we explore many of the most popular, and some less well-known, sights, chuckle and groan in equal measure at the antics of fellow passengers on public transportation, ramble round our adopted neighbourhood of Bernal Heights, and endure extreme temperatures at AT & T Park while still believing that the Giants will avert the run of dismal defeats that have coincided with our attendance.

Unsurprisingly, food and drink will feature strongly, and there will be plenty of music too at festivals and concert halls.

I intend to press on with the draft over the next four months before our next pilgrimage to the City in May. Those two weeks will feel as much a research trip as a vacation as I attempt to clarify facts and solidify themes.

Irrespective of whether I publish digitally or in print (though I remain inclined towards the former method), I plan to do so in advance of my second trip, this time for a full month in September/October.

I will continue to supply periodic updates and brief extracts on my blog in an effort to whet readers’ appetites as the book develops.

But if you would now excuse me, I need to get on with writing it.

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I’ll confess that I’ve never really – until recently – looked after my teeth, so I have been remarkably lucky that they have given me little trouble in adult life.

Apart from one occasion.

An occasion that I had, for reasons you might just understand when you have read my story, erased from my conscious memory until a separate incident in our San Francisco apartment one morning last year brought it back.

Sourdough bread and I had always been on the best of terms, but we fell out when I crunched into a slice of peanut butter on toast with, in hindsight, unwise vigour and cracked an upper molar. Mild and temporary discomfort followed, along with anxiety that I might be compelled to part with many hundreds of dollars at either the Noe Valley Family and Cosmetic Dentistry or Aesthetic Dentistry of Noe Valley premises. For somebody already unnerved by the sight of a drill, those names did not appear especially welcoming. Travel insurance seemed little consolation in such circumstances.

But, in a day or two, I had virtually forgotten about the incident, apart from constantly prodding and licking the gap that had been created, much to my wife’s annoyance.

But it did bring back to me a previous visit to the dentist more than thirty years previously.

So, in a craven endeavour to solicit your sympathy rather than contempt for my inattention to aural health over many years, I will briefly relive that experience with you.

It was a baking Friday afternoon in the summer of 1981 in Tulse Hill, south-east London, less than two miles away from the riots that raged on the streets of Brixton. On learning that all four of my wisdom teeth were forcing themselves through at crooked angles, I was persuaded that they should be extracted before they caused too much trouble. In an uncharacteristic outbreak of physical courage I had also opted to have them removed at the surgery under local anaesthetic, rather than a general one in hospital.

My dentist, Mr Hall, was a tall, kindly, grey whiskered Trinidadian. He was due to retire in a few weeks, and this would be one of his last wisdom teeth extractions. He exuded all the calm and confidence that a timid patient about to entrust his entire mouth to could wish for.

“You have nothing to worry about, Mr Quarrington. I have done hundreds of these procedures”, he said as he flashed his own immaculate collection of teeth at me from above.

And after ten minutes of gentle coaxing two teeth had dutifully popped out.

He was right. There really was nothing to worry about. This was so much easier even than having a filling.

Why had all those so-called friends warned me about the procedure and recounted horror stories of losing the same teeth?

But wait a minute.

As one of my favourite rock lyricists wrote: “when life looks like easy street there is danger at your door.”

Three hours later I lay sprawling across the chair, my clothes disheveled and spattered with blood as Mr Hall beamed at me from the other end of the room and exclaimed:

“That was the most difficult wisdom teeth extraction I have ever done. But we made it, Mr Quarrington, we got those little blighters out in the end. You should feel very pleased with yourself”.

I felt many things at this time but pleased was not one of them. Exhausted, sore, tearful, relieved and perhaps even a little angry – but not pleased. I had lost count of the number of additional injections I had been subject to in that long, dark afternoon of the soul.

But Mr Hall could not conceal his own sense of triumph at having accomplished a task that had called for the use of every instrument in his bag of tricks, as well as some that would have belonged more in a factory housing heavy engineering than in the cool, antiseptic environment of a dentist’s surgery with Nat King Cole crooning lightly in the background.

Even the fact that he had been obliged to cancel a whole afternoon’s appointments, and sent his receptionist home half an hour earlier, failed to dampen his good humour. He was not, however, unmindful of my visible distress and insisted that I did not leave until I felt able to. I only lived a few hundred yards away and, although groggy, was able to get home without difficulty.

I don’t recall making a further appointment on my way out that day.

Nor one for some time afterwards.

What had begun as a natural anxiety about a straightfoward procedure had, in one traumatic afternoon, turned into a violent fear.

But I’m now back on the straight and narrow, though some of my teeth might not be able to claim the same.

And by the way, sourdough bread and I have long since reconciled in case you wondered.

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In 1995 we were finally persuaded to avert our enraptured gaze from Italy (we had already been to Milan and Sicily that year), to make our first belated trip to San Francisco and, indeed, the United States.

As our tour bus rattled over the Bay Bridge on a balmy early October afternoon, Louis, pronounced Lewis, our chain smoking guide from Barcelona with a penchant for stand up comedy, took to his feet, but not before instructing the driver to press play on the cassette recorder and release the crackling strains of Tony Bennett upon us.

(The loveliness of Paris seems somehow sadly gay,

  the glory that is Rome is of another day)

These words were, however, indistinct on this occasion as they coincided with Louis loudly clearing his throat before uttering the two words that we had become accustomed to hear him preface every announcement with:

“Okey cokey”.

(I’ve been terribly alone and forgotten in Manhattan

I’m going home to my city by the Bay)

This was the cue for another, more violent attack of phlegm.

(To be where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars

The morning fog may chill the air, I don’t care)

That was the last we heard of Tony, at least for now, because Louis, larynx lubricated, was gearing up for a speech. He had an important message to impart to us before we were disgorged at our downtown hotel.

“You’ve all heard this song, haven’t you?”.

He couldn’t resist another, much more genteel, croak while fifty three passengers smiled and nodded in his direction.

“Well, it’s true. You WILL leave your heart in San Francisco”.

Emboldened by such an emphatic statement, he continued:

“We’ve been together on this bus now for twelve days and we have seen some incredible sights – the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Las Vegas , the Hoover Dam and even Disneyland. But this city is the place that will capture your heart. I am telling you that when you leave in three days time, you will know exactly what Tony Bennett means”.

As his fans beamed in childlike anticipation, Louis made one final claim before reaching for his cigarettes:

“If you don’t, then Louis knows nothing”.

If the last twelve days had taught us anything, it was that this squat, swarthy man from Spain, who might have passed for either fifty or seventy years of age, knew a lot about everything. We were, therefore, inclined to trust him on this one.

With one final, hearty cough – and another “okey cokey” for good measurehe descended the steps of the coach, shook hands with the proprietor of the Best Western Canterbury Hotel and lit up while the driver helped us to locate our luggage.

(Your golden sun will shine for me).

And for me.

Louis was right.

Despite twelve days witnessing one jaw juddering attraction after another, which had also, bizarrely, included listening to the outcome of the O.J. Simpson trial on the pier at Santa Monica, San Francisco did not disappoint. Not everyone in our party was as thrilled by its charms, as complaints about the homelessness, dirt on the streets and crowded cable cars testified.

But I saw beyond this.

Of course, I was primed for love.

It had been one of the longest courtships from a distance in history.

We stayed three nights in the heart of the Tenderloin, which rendered the moans about aggressive panhandling and grime entirely believable, and crammed in just about every tourist hot spot we could:

  • Twin Peaks (for orientation);
  • Cliff House (for the washrooms inside and jewellery stalls outside, no time for brunch yet);
  • Golden Gate Bridge (for what we would learn later was the second best view – from Vista Point);
  • Pier 39 (for family presents and the sea lion show);
  • Fisherman’s Wharf (for the clam chowder and fleeces (only joking about the latter));
  • Ghirardelli Square (for the chocolate, what else);
  • Union Square (Lori’s Diner and the Gold Dust Lounge, though I’m told there were a few reputable stores there too);
  • North Beach (for the coffee and Italian ambiance);
  • Chinatown (for cheap gifts on Grant Avenue and unmentionable looking foodstuffs on Stockton Street), and
  • Alcatraz (or at least we would have if we had had the gumption to purchase tickets in advance).

We still contrived to fit in an afternoon on Haight Street to enable me to pay homage to Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead’s lead guitarist, who had died just eight weeks before. And, of course, we stood in line for hours at both the Powell and Hyde turnarounds to catch a ride on the cable cars, marvelled at the cars snaking down Lombard Street, had dinner in Chinatown, and on our last night at The Stinking Rose (I still feel sorry for the other passengers sitting within three rows of us on the flight home the next afternoon).

And the rest is, as any regular reader will know, history.

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It’s near two hundred days since I slouched atop green Bernal Hill,

Dismissing the dogs drooling over my “Progressive Grounds” wrap.

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I watched with increasing heavy heart the planes fly towards SFO,

Doleful omens that my own flight home grew ever nearer. 

Now, finally, my next pilgrimage is as close as the last,

But it might as well be another two hundred years as days;

With the city again in the grip of World Series fever,

I yearn to bask beneath the evening city’s orange glow.

So much I miss about this cool, gorgeous, dirty, expensive place.

The soulful song of the foghorns out across the Golden Gate.

That heart stopping moment when you crest the hill at Hyde  

And pier, park and prison under a pristine sky come into view.

Community singing with Elvis and Snow White in Club Fugazi 

Before following Casady, Kerouac and Ginsberg to Vesuvio Cafe

Where I sit beneath James Joyce with a glass of Anchor Steam.

Bowing dutifully to Emperor Norton as he leads his latest star-struck

Subjects round the now scrubbed and polished Barbary Coast.

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Standing on stairways in Sunset and Bernal,

Gazing open-mouthed as Karl the Fog weaves his moody magic,

Slicing Golden Gate Bridge and Sutro Tower in half before 

Rendering them clear and whole again in a heartbeat.

Mouthing along to “O Mio Babbino Caro” 

While wrestling a ristretto at Caffe Trieste.  

Devouring warm, thickly buttered popovers by the Pacific

Among the toffs and tourists at the Cliff House.

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Scouring for the latest tie-dye tees in still heady Haight.

Getting through a minor novel on the F Streetcar as it

Clanks and clatters down Market and along Embarcadero.

Savouring the scents of jasmine and lemon on the backyard patio.

Marvelling at the Mission murals and their passion and exuberance

Reassures me this changing city still harbours an independent spirit.   

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Sharing stories of Dead concerts at Lyceum and Fillmore 

In the line for breakfast at Martha’s on Church,

Where the Blackpool boat tram glides past and waves

Its bunting at “Lovejoy’s” ladies taking tea and tiffin. 

Shovelling down “Gilroy’s” garlic fries at the ballpark before 

The circling seagulls, mindful of each innings slipping away,

Prepare to swoop to reclaim their birthright.

Watching a liquid sun decline over the serene lagoon 

Of the soon to be centurion Palace of Fine Arts,

What better resting place after the Lyon Street Steps descent?

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And breathing a sigh of relief as the recycling police

Leave me alone for yet another week. 

These and many more images flood my brain.

But never mind.

For now at least, there’s more baseball torture to

Endure from afar in the dark of the night.

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