Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Perfect Pint

Utter relaxation may be wading in a bath of the finest stout in the land.

The voluptuous glass, pitched at a sultry angle, is waiting to be used, to be filled.

The pressure, the treasure kept at bay, is released with a flick of the wrist.

You watch the pour, imagining that milky cascade falling down over your ears, your eyes, your mouth, until it sentences the tension in your shoulders to eternal banishment.

The hairs on your arm tingle as the fine bubbles mingle, dance and fall to the glass’ bottom.

The therapeutic qualities of this nectar of the Irish are unending.

Like a brisk February wind, your nipples tense in anticipation.

The easing of the cloudiness, the blending of mythical forces into a palatable delicacy, moves at a snail’s pace.

Your taste buds quiver at the desire for the pint’s perfect kiss.

The colors divide, the break between the light of day and the dark of night.

As the glass rises, the festival procession begins.

The mouth and tongue open and extend.

The foam moves across the threshold, binding you with the caramel, smoky liquid behind.

This manna flows into the gullet and flows even faster into the bloodstream.

At what point do you think the enjoyment of the perfect pint leads to obsession?

Not til a little further down the road, I reckon.

I wonder if I there is a bus I could catch to get me there a bit faster.

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Finding the Truth in the Dark

I am here to review Ian Marchant’s most recent book, Something of the Night. I will tell you about it. I promise.

But first…

I have stressed and stressed about this assignment. In December, I responded to Simon & Schuster UK’s request for writers (ok, bloggers) to review upcoming new releases. The request was on Twitter so the application was short – it had to be under 140 characters. When I received confirmation I was chosen to review a book, I was very excited. Trying to make my way in the literary world, I poured over book reviews from the New YorkerThe Guardian, The Millions and other highly respected locations. I read some academic templates for book reviews from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Stanford University in California. I wanted to be prepared and I wanted to be good.

I promise, especially to Mr. Marchant, there is a point to all of this. I will write about your new book…

I wracked my brain trying to think of ways to send the message that I wanted to be taken seriously as a book reviewer. I wanted to write something about the unknown book I was eagerly waiting for in the post. I wanted it to be meaningful, thoughtful and worthy of notice. The package from London arrived just before the holidays break and I was ready. I jumped in and steadily went through the book, jotting down notes as I did. Throughout the assignment, I tried to maintain my journalistic objectivity, be consistent in my bookish analysis, and thought about clever ways to wow the literary world with my new, fresh point of view.

But, things never go as planned. The marketing department at Simon & Schuster must have known what my intentions were and decided to send me a book that would make such academic, high-brow literary criticism nearly impossible. That is not because the book isn’t good or conceivably worthy of such treatment. It is impossible because they sent me a book that is at its best – written, read and appreciated – when the writer and the reader are being honest about themselves.

Let me explain. (See, I told you I would write about the book.)

Something of the Night is Marchant’s seventh book. From Sussex, his style has been compared to Nick Hornby and Bill Bryson. In this most recent work, Marchant writes about his lifelong affinity with things that take place at nighttime. And, thankfully, almost all of the stories he tells are not what you would expect.

He recounts the importance of the Bonfire traditions in Southern England and weaves together the history with the visual spectacle of the events commemorating Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot’s attempt to create to political and religious chaos in 17th century England. He tells the story of men dedicated to science best practiced at night when trying to discover renegade meteors or find elusive birds. His travels around the British Isles at night are well organized and well told. The various “nighttime” stories are held together by a starry night in Ireland when the author and a friend gather to talk. Accompanied by a less-than-aggressive watchdog to listen to music, the duo debate the value of pop music versus Irish folk music, create an amusing comparison of the United States Confederacy and Nazism (being American heightened my enjoyment of this section) and imbibe and inhale legal and not-so-legal drugs.

Marchant does an admirable job of defying expectations the readers may have had for what the book was going to be about. There are moments when you forget the connectable thread to the book is night, especially when reading about the decline of the Irish linen industry. Marchant does not give you what you expect.

But overall, the reason I enjoyed the book was not because of his stories. The reason I enjoyed and recommend Something of the Night is for the moments in between Marchant’s storytelling about the dark. I like it for the moments when the light broke through the darkness Marchant was trying to create. Much in the way I started this “review” by talking about myself and my failures to be a literary esoteric, I enjoyed the book most when bits of brutal honesty slipped onto the page. When talking about his daughters, his previous relationships, his relevant failures and successes, his parents, himself, Marchant was unabashedly honest. It was this truth and honesty that made me appreciate his stories and compelled me to turn the page.

Sadly, I wish he did this a bit more. As I read, I found myself looking more than these moments of honesty than enjoying the “stories.” Clearly, the author made the night more interesting and made me think about it in new and different ways. But like the writing of Hornby and Bryson, Marchant is best when his writing was honest and about himself.

Admittedly, I have not read Marchant’s earlier books, Parallel Lines or The Longest Crawl. As a recently transplanted American to the UK, Marchant was not on my literary radar. It may be the case that his personal commentaries are in those books as well. I will search out his previous titles to find out because there is something in Marchant’s voice that speaks to me and, undoubtedly, to others. For that reason and to that end is why I wrote a review in the way I write… not the way the English department in North Carolina or in the manner of the offices of the New York Times. Something of the Night impressed me enough to be honest in my reporting because it was in its honesty, it truly shined the most.

Something of the Night has been released today in the UK by Simon & Schuster – January 6, 2012

http://books.simonandschuster.co.uk/Something-of-the-Night/Ian-Marchant/9780857202185?intcmp=l_pl&cp_type=l_pl_books_hub_new_releases&prefd=l_pl_9780857202185

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Scary or Not… Quitting is Not an Option

The following essay is for a local online business magazine… http://www.thebestof.co.uk/local/barnstaple

Geoffrey Rush’s character in the Pirates of the Caribbean told Keira Knightly she better believe in ghost stories because she was in one. Just like on the Black Pearl, in this current economic climate, there are ghosts everywhere.

As we jump into a freshly minted 2012, the economy looks, much as it has since 2008, like a ghost story that will never end. For business owners the prospects for accounts steeped in profits and smiles are grim. For the small, independent businesses looking to eek out a living without the benefits of large lines of credit or shrewd and clever accountants to find loopholes and secret cash stores, the economic landscape is even scarier.

But if you own one of these business, if you refuse to close your doors until the last pence is spent, if you are fiercely defiant in your resistance to failure, then I ask you gather here. I want to hear what makes you not quit and tell your story to others.

Independent business is the lifeblood of capitalism. Innovation of products, design and marketing are driven by the small business owners. It is these ideas which are usually snapped up by bigger economic fish and brought to the world at large. Small businesses don’t always make millions of pounds, euros, dollars or yuan as individual units, but collectively, they represent more than half the gross domestic product for most industrialized countries.

Now, just in case you couldn’t tell from my accent, I am not fromDevon. What’s worse is that I am not even from the UK. I am from the very place that decided to revolt against good King George III some 236 years ago. In fact, the first time I set foot in England was when I decided to emigrate and move here to the South West. I have been a member of the larger community of North Devon for nearly a year now and I often marvel at the many similarities between the places I have lived in the United States and here… especially economically.

Besides, Adam Smith was British after all and we both share his point of view as the best way to make some cash.

As a former reporter, I covered a region in southern New England that greatly resembled North Devon. Built on the heavy industrial economy supported by its unique geography at the confluence of two major rivers, theHousatonicRiverValleyin central Connecticutstruggled to find its economic identity after the crumbling and decline of the American steel industry. The towns I lived in and covered each day lost their identity and their focus when the factories closed. Apathy and fear replaced the time-honored tradition of being born into, working at, and dying in a mill town. New business development stagnated and fear of failure reigned over all else.

The university I attended is home to the greatest villain to future of independent, small business… Sam Walton, the founder of the Wal-Mart empire. The sports stadium, business school and many other city landmarks were named after Walton and his money-making brood.

Living in two places that represent both ends of the basic economic spectrum, I realized local economies cannot survive without both of these retail forces. The creations of Walton’s ever-expanding capitalist venture – including ASDA – have been seen as a challenge to independent businesses across the States and now here in theUK and North Devonas well. It is true the Wal-Marts, ASDAs, Tescos and Morrisons are constantly growing and expanding, but not because they are bad or evil. They grow because they provide a service that people need, regardless of who we are, where we live, or how much money we make. Small business must find ways through their uniqueness – or “fierce independence” – to succeed alongside the bigger corporate competitors.

Much has been made throughout the recent holiday season about consumer spending, the success and failure of the High Street trade and the uncertain economic future amidst a second double-dip recession. A recent government study estimates a third of the nation’s high streets are “degenerating or failing.” By 2014 less than 40 per cent of retail spending will be on the high street, according to the study. A the same time as the spending decline, researchers also found that over the past decade out of town retail space has increased by almost a third while in towns it has shrunk by 14 per cent.

Economic experts agree in order for a revival of the high street and town-based economies a return to community is needed and necessary. Business leaders must cooperate and work together to rebuild a community spirit to lure customers away from only shopping the generic “big box” stores being built outside of town.

Despite their various economic challenges, the towns around and along the Taw and Torridge – just like the towns of the Housatonic River Valley in America – must able to do one thing amazing well: be fervently independent. And they must remain a strong economic unit dedicated to entire community’s success.

Rebuilding that “spirit” of community should not be hard here. Barnstaple is best known for its historical reputation as North Devon’s trading epicenter. Since the time of the Saxon traders,Barnstaplehas represented the economic heart of the region, providing the place and the products for the economy to thrive and grow for thousands of years.

Here at http://www.thebestof.co.uk/local/barnstaple and at my own website, http://thedevoianlionheart.com, we hope to celebrate this long and proud economic tradition and look to you, Barnstaple’s fiercely independent business owners, to tell us why you are one of the best. I want to hear your story and maybe some of your recipes for success and share them with our readers.

Over coffee at Fig’s, fresh fish at Fat Belly Freds, or a pasty at East West Bakery, let’s celebrate what makes the Best of Barnstaple. Tell me at thedevonianlion@yahoo.co.uk.

Cheers.

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