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A Man Walked Into A Bar And Went “Aaaagh”………….Two Pints by Roddy Doyle

That post title is taken from my favourite drunken joke as a student (that would imply I had a favourite sober joke as student – I didn’t – I did virtually all my studying and philosophising and learning in pubs!). The joke went:

“A Man Walked Into A Bar……………………………….. 

He went “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh”

………………………It was an Iron Bar!”

No matter how often I heard it I was guaranteed to collapse into a paroxysm of giggling – even today it makes me giggle, not because I find the joke funny (oh…… go on then I admit it……30 years later I STILL LOVE that joke!), but because the memory of laughing till I ached in pubs is well…funny! (Trust me – you had to be there!)

IMG_1933Pubs have always seemed to me places where some of the ‘normal’ rules don’t apply – talk shite at work and you’ll get the oddest looks…… talk shite in a pub, and if it’s real high quality shite, before you know it complete strangers will join in and start talking shite too! There’s also a sanctuary of a kind in pubs – it’s a place where you will find everything from the crudest of thoughts said aloud quite simply, to the simplest of thoughts said aloud quite crudely! It’s not quite ‘anything goes’, for even in pubs there are limits, but broadly a pub is a place where allowances are made, bonds are formed and the world is put to rights – or probably more accurately the world has the piss taken out of it!

So as a pub lover, I was intrigued to see how Roddy Doyle’s books “Two Pints” and the unpredictably named follow up “Two More Pints” would come over to me, a man who is, in my own tiny mind at least, a connoisseur of the humble public house and a skilled exponent in the art of over-a-pint-philosophy while under the affluence of incohol!

And I loved them – in fact, and I say this sober, they are works of IMG_1934feckin genius! Both books involve simply two men who sit at the bar and talk – all you get is the dialogue between the two of them. You never get to know their names or the connection between them and yet it gives you a wonderful insight into the world we live in, how people think, the way we can ‘bounce off’ one another and the fact that if you give most of us a chance, no matter what the topic, we’ve probably got an opinion, or even better a theory about it!!!! The conversations link often to events that happened in Ireland and in the world and they are set out in date order between the 24th of May 2011 and the 25th of June 2014. On the way their conversations take in among others, the World Cup and the eating habits of Luis Suarez, Colonel Gaddafi, the Pope, tests for cancer, the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson from Man Utd, the banking crisis, chemical weapons, Seamus Heaney and the names that David Beckham gives his kids! Each and every one is hilarious, and for all the shite the two of them talk, you read it and find yourself often saying out loud “You’re right there lad!”. Here’s a small soupcon………..

 – See the Trogg died

– I saw tha’ yeah. Reg Presley

– With a name like tha’ he was never goin’ to be a plumber was he?

– It wasn’t his real name

– Was it not?

– No. His real one was Reg Ball.

– You were a bit of a fan, were yeh?

– I was, yeah. I was only a kid when Wild Thing’ came ou’

– It made your heart sing

– That’s the one. One of me brothers had the record an’ he left it behind when he got married, so it was always in the house

– Great song

– Brilliant song. Still.

– Could you get away with it now?

– Wha’?

– Callin’ a woman a wild thing

– I don’t see why not. I called my missus exactly tha’ this morning after the news.

– An’ she was grand with it?

– Fuckin’ delighted. I put me arms around her, I was a bit emotional, like. An’ I sang it to her.

– Nice

– In the kitchen

– An tell us – without invading your privacy. Did it develop into a bit of a Jack Nicholson, Jessica Lange moment? On the table.

– Not exactly no. But she put an extra dollop of jam into me porridge

– For fuck sake

– Blackcurrant.

– Nice.

And that is in a sense the genius of this book. It captures the way our talk in pubs shifts randomly from one topic to the next, it captures the certainty that alcohol gives to even the daftest of ideas and opinions, it captures the fact that every time somebody starts a conversation with you in a pub there’s that part of you at the back of your brain going “Is he taking the piss?” (because it’s a 50-50 chance he will be!), and it captures the fact that it is often genuinely hilarious! But the trick to getting pub talk right for me is to understand that most of the time, in the midst of all that verbal diarrhoea, there’s a warmth and a humanity, even between the most utterly inebriated of strangers, and above all to spot that, just every so often, there’s a genuine nugget where someone really does say something that’s worth listening to.

I read the first of these books in a pub to mark St. Patrick’s Day – and it was bloody hopeless – even though that book is only 80 odd pages I kept getting interrupted every 5 minutes by people asking “What’s the book about mate?”  and on answering I lost it to them for god knows how long before it came back to me! At the end of St Patrick’s Day I had intended to write a blog post on it while pissed – alas I only managed to achieve the latter part of that ambition! Which leaves me to be even more impressed with that Roddy Doyle as I like to think he wrote these books about the pub IN the pub! So not only can that man write, but he must be bloody awesome at holding his ale as well!

Book Info

“Two Pints” by Roddy Doyle and “Two More Pints” by Roddy Doyle were both published by Jonathan Cape. I WON both my copies in a giveaway on Cathy’s blog at 746Books Cathy had offered the books as part of Reading Ireland Month, the “Beggorathon”, which she hosted along with Niall at The Fluff Is Raging – it was a great way to find out more about Irish books, film and music and also gave me the excuse to lose myself in Seamus Heaney accompanied by the odd Arthur Guinness or six! So my thanks to Cathy for the books – they were great to read and as an added bonus they gave me excuses for being in a pub when I should have been elsewhere (you can never have too many of those sorts of excuses really!)

Book Rating (for info on my book rating scale click here)






The Bucharest Files……..3:15 PM Feb 22nd – At Last A Reason To Be Cheerful!

Bucharest(Why did the Romanian stop reading for night? To give his Bucharest!!! And moving swiftly on from that corniest of book jokes, this is yet another post where I give my book a rest!)

…………….Rugby. 6 Nations. Scotland. Success. Not often those phrases go together!!!!!!!

Thus far it’s all been of a damp squib for Scotland in the rugby. Two weeks ago I think we reached our lowest point against ‘the auld enemy’ – in fact had they gone home at the end of that game and we’d kept playing in the empty stadium, I’m still not sure we’d have scored!

However, at last the clouds have lifted just a little and the sun started to peek through the gloom against Italy yesterday. But still it looked like it would all end in disappointment and a narrow defeat.

And then, at 3:15, with less than 60 seconds remaining against Italy yesterday, Duncan Weir’s kick finally put a bloody great smile on our miserable Jock countenances! Now if you’re a fan of the All Blacks, or the Wallabies, or the Springboks, or even Ireland or Wales or France or that other team who are in the 6 nations that I can’t mention without gritting my teeth, a win over Italy might not feel like much to celebrate! But to us, starved this season of not only success but even the tiniest glimpse we might be moving in the right direction, it was manna from heaven!!!!

On the pitch we celebrated like we’d won the World Cup and chez moi, the neighbours got a blast of Caledonian euphoria and chest-beating! It was bloody wonderful!

So Duncan Weir, thank you for helping make my weekend!

15 mins to go!…………….

………….Twas the night before Christmas and all through our house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse……….

Well actually in our house there is one stirring creature as the dog is gently snoring by our Christmas tree!

I’ve had a look and there are already some decidedly book-shaped parcels under there so I think there is definitely much to look forward to for tomorrow – and Father Christmas hasn’t yet come for my daughter so I need to get to bed and let him get on with his work for the night – which starts soon as it is ten minutes to midnight!

Book TreeMerry Christmas to you and yours and may 2014 bring you peace and prosperity!


CBA? Two Things You Need To Know About……The Golden Child by Penelope Fitzgerald


The Golden Child by Penelope Fitzgerald

1. If you ever thought museums and archivists were dull, sedate and quiet, this will change your mind!

2. This is the first of Fitzgerald’s novels – not perhaps her best but definite portents of great and better things to come! Wish same could be said of my blog posts!

“Treading The Sea Of A Troubled Mind”……..What I Thought Of Landed by Tim Pears……….

Landed…………”Treading the sea of a troubled mind” is a lyric in a song called “Landed” by Ben Folds – as well as having the titles in common, that line (and a few others) are good descriptions of what you’ll find between the pages of this novel by Tim Pears.

The troubled mind belongs to Owen Wood, a man slowly but surely unravelling from his family and from his life following a tragic accident. In fact the only thing that Owen isn’t unravelling from is his past, and in particular his memories of his childhood vacations spent with his grandparents in the Welsh hills. It’s a story that leaves you thinking that you are somehow intruding on Owen’s grief, loss and confusion and yet it’s also a very powerful book so that at the same time it demands your attention and perhaps more importantly it demands your emotions. I read it largely on the Tube on the way to and from work – I’m always struck by how often my fellow commuters read over my shoulder, how often I read over theirs (usually when they are at the sports pages in Metro!) and how often I see one passenger engrossed in reading over the shoulder of another. And it was that kind of feeling I had as I read it, like I was looking over Owen’s shoulder, knew I shouldn’t, but couldn’t help myself, so engrossed was I in his story!

It’s a story that, through shifts in time, depicts the tragic and slightly puzzling circumstances of Owen’s accident, a car crash that results in both the loss of his arm and the death of his daughter. It goes further back to Owen’s memories of an idyllic, or maybe slightly romanticised, childhood in rural Wales, a place that almost seems to make Owen come alive, come out of himself, as if only in this rural setting on a sheep farm can Owen make sense of the world and his place within it. The other time shifts go forward and backwards through a series of events in Owen’s life –  adolescence, marriage, work, children. What anchors Owen to the world is his love for those he cares about, which doesn’t extend beyond his wife, children, mother and grandparents. In a quiet and understated way he is a real alpha-male – his desire to take care of those he loves is his real reason for being. And in the aftermath of the accident, the loss of his daughter, the impact of his loss of his arm on his sense of himself and his life, his relationships essentially unravel and spiral out of control. His attempts to then reassert that control become the heart of the story.

It’s a novel that’s powerful, sad and beautiful in equal measure. As I said before the subject matter ought to leave you feeling a bit like the “spectre at the feast” and yet it doesn’t. It’s really well written, especially the character of Owen himself. There’s something very appealing in him, in his character flaws, even in his speech patterns!  It means that although you can’t easily approve of the things he does you can’t help but understand them and even sympathise with them.

On one level it’s a pretty bleak tale of a man and his family coming apart at the seams. Add to that the fact the fact that Tim Pears also weaves into the book an equally bleak picture of life in Britain, especially among those in poverty or going through hard times, and it should be a bit of a miserable read – but it isn’t. It’s a wonderful read. I thought this was because the bleak personal tale set against that bleak background put Owen’s life into a context that somehow helps the reader make sense of it and perversely it somehow lends the novel an air of hope. It’s not necessarily a hope that all will come right in the end and that they’ll all live “happily ever after”, but more that the book gives you the feel that it’s OK to hope, to look ahead for better times. I won’t spoil the end in case you read it, but I loved it!

I’d never heard of Tim Pears until I read a review of this book, months ago, on Heaven Ali’s Blog. (I get about 33% of my books recommendations from there if I’m honest – and I get 33% from Annabel’s House of Books and the other 33% from Claire’s blog at Word by Word – between them they’ve become like “personal shoppers” for me!).  Anyway I searched for this book for a long time but a bit half-heartedly – I always looked on the shelves in bookshops but didn’t force myself to “track it down at all costs”! What a mistake. It’s a great, great book. I’ve already compiled a list of a few other Tim Pears novels – and I won’t be so half-hearted about tracking them down for if they are half as good as “Landed” is, they’ll be well worth the effort.

If you want to have a look at that original review of Landed that sparked it off for me you’ll find it here at Heaven Ali’s blog

There’s one other thing that the Ben Folds song ‘Landed’ and the Tim Pears book ‘Landed’ have got in common – they’re both great! If you don’t know Ben Folds, have a listen. And if you don’t know Tim Pears, have a read – hopefully you’ll find something, in one or the other, or even both, that you’ll like!

Shedding A Public Tear On The 5.32 To London Victoria………..

……….On the way home recently I decided to pass the time reading Twitter, standing as I was with my right ear pressed against the door, my head partly obscured under someone else’s armpit, and my arse resting comfortably on the next best thing to a seat on our trains – the litter bin! You get the idea – the train was rammed in that “who gives a shit if the carriage has twice as many people as it was designed for, I want to go home” way we specialise in here in London, and in the midst of this entangled web of flesh and sweat, I scrolled through some Stephen Fry tweets – I was looking for either something to make me laugh ( he does it frequently!) or something about his team Norwich City ( he seems to be as big a fan of Norwich as Delia Smith – he just doesn’t get pissed and ramble at his fellow fans at half time!)

Instead of amusing or football stuff, I found a link from him to the letters of a young soldier, Cyrus Thatcher, who served in Afghanistan, and who was killed in 2009. Suddenly the crowd of people didn’t exist for me really. His letters to his family were the among most honest and special things I’ve ever read. They had been released by his family and published to show his experiences and celebrate his life.

As I read his final letter, which he’d written for his family in the event of his death, I cried.

I got bemused and horrified looks, no doubt thoughts ranging from “what the…!” to “weirdo” but I couldn’t have cared less.
The letters are beautiful, tragic,full of warmth, simple,so sad, yet so full of hope and above all crammed with love for his friends, family, comrades and the job he was doing.

I’ve read many books on the 5.32 to London Victoria and I’ll probably read many more, but I don’t think I’ll ever read anything like this again. I cried lots. And somehow I felt better.

So I can’t recommend highly enough that you read the letters of Rifleman Cyrus Thatcher. They are a moving tribute to the spirit, courage and huge heart of one young man and deserve to be read by all of us. Nothing more to be said really.

If Greenock Had Hosted The Olympics……….An Olympics Variorum No. 3

……….Well, we’re moving up that medal table – and while it’s not quite with the “rat up a drainpipe” speed we’d like, it’s still in the right direction – and anyway I’ve always been a believer in “slowly, slowly catchy monkey!”

As before, if you are wondering what the hell a variorum is, or what the hell the Olympics has got to do with Greenock – if you don’t even know what a Greenock is, you can read it on the first Olympics post I did – but only do it if you have OCD tendencies – other than that I wouldn’t bother!

Olympics Variorum Wednesday August 1st

Like Guinness, Good Things Come To Those Who Wait………

Olympic Football GB v Brazil at Wembley………On Tuesday night my daughter finally got to enjoy the event she’d most been looking forward to in her three days of watching the Olympics live – we were lucky enough to get tickets for the Womens’ Football between Great Britain and Brazil at Wembley. And it was worth the wait. I’d not expected much – from GB, from the atmosphere or from the skill level in the game – how wrong was I?!

Before the game she asked me (football aficionado that I am) who I thought would win. “Brazil – easily!” I replied, ” They’ll be miles too good for GB! – Who do you think will win?”

“GB” she replied without the slightest hesitation or doubt. – Oh the blind faith and the naive innocence of the very young thought I, wise old sage of all things football!

But as we got to the stadium the wise old sage was proved to know nada! It was packed, seriously packed and the atmosphere outside wonderful – a riot of colour, a kind of feverish expectation, that babble of excitement you get when there are lots of families with kids all in one place and all accompanied by the wonderful samba rhythms of a half-Brazilian, half-GB band! Inside it was even better. The noise when GB took to the field was quite something – it brought a tear to the eye of the wise old sage (who by this time was starting to think he might just be an old eejit and nothing else!)

Wearing our GB heart on our sleeve….and on our shoulders, and on our arms, and on our back………

But as if that wasn’t enough, GB then go score with their first attack within minutes of the game starting! I’m so used to watching Scotland struggle that I was amazed to find I still knew what to do when my team scored – but I was out of my seat with about 65,000 others! From then on it was wonderful – a football experience like none I’ve had before (I’ve never spent so much time going round the stadium shops before the game for a start!). But beyond the shopping while at football bit, the most amazing thing of all was – we were as good as Brazil(!!!!!)- I never thought I’d ever be able to say that! By the end, GB thoroughly deserved their win, leaving the newly appointed, accurately predicting and smugly gloating young sage to take the hand of the daft old eejit and escort him through the ranks of red, white and blue to Wembley Park for the tube home.

It was wonderful – now why can’t watching Scotland be like that?!!!

I’d Rather Take On Roy Keane Any Day……….

………On the way into Wembley, our celebrity spotting list was added to by that great ITV sporting icon – Adrian Chiles!


He was walking along with what I assume were his kids (either that or he’s doing some moonlighting as a kid-snatcher!), trying to find his entry gate – unfortunately for the poor bloke he seemed to be going in the opposite direction to everyone else (there’s a metaphor there for ITV as a whole if you ask me!). He didn’t look like he was enjoying it – in fact he looked pretty pissed off!

Which I guess just goes to show that it’s not that hard keeping the peace between Roy Keane and Gareth Southgate!

“Upside Down, You Know You Turn Me, Inside Out, Round And Round” – The Diana Ross Factor Returns……….

…………..My daughter has been going to gymnastics for about a year and loves it. However she’s constantly upside down – and since we have flagstone floors at home this isn’t exactly the safest means of transport from the kitchen table to the fridge and back again! So the refrains of “No Flick Flacks Indoors!” and “Don’t Do A Handstand In The Kitchen” have been pretty common – until this week.

But now, thanks to Beth and Louis and Kristian and the other magnificent male and female Team GB gymnasts, we are suddenly encouraging all the upside down shenanigans chez nous. Now the refrains are “Can you cartwheel over to the fridge and put the milk back please?” and “While you’re waiting on the toast to brown, why don’t you wait patiently with your feet straight up in the air, back straight, head slightly forward…..!”

Rio 2016 – I can see it now………………………………………!

The Modfather On Wheels…..

Team USA have got some wonderful athletes. Their swimmers and female gymnasts have been awesome these first few days of the games. I felt a little envious when I saw USA supporters at the Games – they have Phelps, and Lochte, and Franklin and so on. But now we in Britain can trump all of that – and trump the rest of the world.

Yes we think it’s great that USA has a Lochte.

We think it’s great that Jamaica has a Usain.

But after the Cycling Time Trial race at Hampton Court yesterday we don’t care – we in GB have got a Bradley – and what’s more we have the greatest sideburns ever in the history of sport!

Facial hair has never been this popular, iconic, nor looked this cool on any athlete since Mark Spitz used his moustache to win 7 Gold medals!

And Finally, If Greenock Had Hosted The Olympics………

The hero of the Games so far wouldn’t be Bradley, or the gymnasts, or Helen or Heather in the rowing – it would be Michael Jamieson and his fantastic Silver medal in the 200m Breastroke! And why – he’s a Glaswegian, and we do patriotism and parochialism in equal measure in Scotland! – Gaun Yirsel Michael!!!!!!

Michael Jamieson

“Stop The Clocks, Cut Off The Telephone”………And Put Life On Hold, For At Last The New Carlos Ruiz Zafon Is In My Hands!!……….

……….My apologies for bastardising those moving lines of Auden, but they seemed to fit so perfectly with how I feel at the moment.

After years of waiting, the new Carlos Ruiz Zafon novel is in my possession and now I want everything to stop, for time to stand still and for the world to just allow me to read non-stop until I get to the end of the next journey through Barcelona and the Cemetry Of Forgotten Books!

There are only a handful of novelists who can generate this level of anticipation for me about their books being published, and perhaps the books of Carlos Ruiz Zafon are those I most anticipate – well it would be a toss up between him, Khaled Hosseini, Louis de Bernieres and Orhan Pamuk at any rate!

I first entered the magical world of Sempere and Sons bookshop, and the Cemetery Of Forgotten Books, when I read Shadow Of The Wind – by the time I got to it, it was I think being pushed through the Richard and Judy book club thing, as well as promoted high and handsome in every bookshop and supermarket in the land! I loved Shadow – loved, loved, loved, loved, LOVED it! One of my favourite books ever.

I then had to wait an excruciating 4 years for the next book, The Angels Game. I read it with joy, wonder, and tears streaming down my face in the sunshine of Crete after the publication timed perfectly with a family holiday! It was fantastic. Every bit as good as Shadow in my opinion!

Three years later, comes the third instalment! Although I’ve been able to sate my appetite a little with a couple of his books for young adults, The Midnight Palace and The Prince Of Mist (both of which I thoroughly enjoyed), it’s still been a long wait for the next adventure in the Cemetery Of Forgotten Books!

It’s a book that I simply couldn’t resist any longer. It came out a few weeks ago but I steeled myself and avoided getting a copy ordered until some other stuff I had on the go was all finished. Now it is (well it’s actually not all finished but I couldn’t wait any longer!!!!!!!!!!). My copy finally arrived in my hands today and now I want to stop the world, get off and spend my next 48 hours or so in Barcelona and in the company of Daniel Sempere!

So I’m off to do just that! See you whenever I resurface!