I have decided to move away from LiveJournal and over to Dreamwidth.
I have not made this decision lightly, particularly as I have been updating this journal for over ten years, but the recent changes to the Terms of Service combined with this prompting a diaspora away from this service has somewhat forced my hand.
The community on LJ used to be so vibrant, back in the days when social networks were far less prevailent, but it is not what it once was. The vasty majority of people left for Twitter years ago, but there were still a few who remained here. Unfortunately, with the changes made to the ToS in April, most of the remainers have also gone, leaving this place somewhat empty.
Added to this is that I have changed the way I update my journals, moving away from using mobile devices and back onto a desktop. This means the lack of a mobile app for Dreamwidth is less of a problem, with the bus providing too many distractions for me to be able to blog well.
I won't delete this journal and will cross-post where I can, but if you would still like to read my posts, please join me on Dreamwidth. My journal is here: http://lupestripe.dreamwidth.org/
Thanks for reading and for taking an interest in my life. It's been a blast.
This past weekend, I headed back home to see my parents, having not made the trip since New Year. It was great seeing everyone again and the weather was particularly stunning, warm and sunny, making it incredibly pleasant.
I arrived on Saturday lunchtime having been at Stray's housewarming the night before, and was greeted at Yarm station by my Dad. We then dropped my bag off at his house before heading for a walk in the North York Moors. The view down the valley towards Teesside from the mountain ridge across which we walked was spectacular, while it was great fun crossing the exposed heath, clambering down jutting rocks and walking back to the car through the forest which ringed the hillside. All the while, it was great to chat with my Dad, which continued when we went to the Bay Horse pub in Great Broughton, where we sat outside and enjoyed a beer in the sunshine.
The evening was taken up with visiting my grandparents, particularly my grandfather who had turned 88 on the previous Wednesday. He is looking very well, but my grandmother seems to be showing the early signs of dementia, which made talking to her a little more challenging. This was quite sad to see, particularly as she kept asking me the same questions over and over, but it was great visiting them regardless, particularly as I hadn't seen them in over a year due to illness. We shared some cheese and hot cross buns, while I also got a few beers too, as well as the opportunity to talk about my various vacations. My grandfather was surprisingly angry about Brexit, which was reassuring I suppose, particularly due to my own personal circumstances.
Sunday saw me go and visit my mother, who lives about an hour from my father. Here we had a rather nice meal - cheese and bread, roasted lamb and a tart strawberry crumble for dessert. I also got to see their dog Wilma again, who is now one year old but still as naughty as ever. We have a good bond, Wilma and I, demonstrated by the walk we took across the fields, where she repeatedly kept jumping up at me, wanting to play. She is a very licky dog, while she particularly enjoyed the sock I brought her, whose threads she kept trying to prise apart like Muco. Streeeech! Wilma is always great fun to be around and it was great seeing her again, while catching up with my mother and stepdad was great too. I spent about eight hours there in total before going back to my Dad's place to spend the evening with him. We had hoped to go to the local pub but upon finding it closed, we just had a few gin and tonics and a chat in the living room, rounding off a relaxing weekend.
Thursday was our anniversary, so Wolfie and I headed out into Leeds, where we had booked a table at Gaucho, a swanky steak restaurant in the centre of town.
We had planned to meet at Shuffledog but my work day was so stress-inducingly hectic that by the time I got out, I only had time for a swift third. Lou wasn't in, which was a shame as she said she would be, meaning I don't think we missed too much and as we walked to the steak place, I congratulated Wolfie about passing his exam, which he did that morning and gives him a significant pay rise.
We were about ten minutes early to the restaurant but it was only moderately busy, so they sat us down before presenting us with a huge wooden board upon which raw cuts of all of the different steaks were arranged. They were all Argentinian and from specific farms, as was the wine which was exceptional albeit expensive. Indeed for the two of us the meal came to £180 plus tip but as it was our tenth anniversary we thought we would treat ourselves. The staff were great in their recommendations and their general patter, making us really feel at home. We had a Lomi steak, marinated in garlic and olive oil and super tender, which when rare was incredibly satisfying. My chunky chips weren't as good as Wolfie's thin ones but it was the minted sugar snap peas that were the real highlight for me. The steak was 400g and stuffed us pretty well, so much so that we declined the cheeseboard afterwards, which is very rare for us. Fortunately we didn't have a starter either, meaning we were in and out in just under an hour and a half, giving us plenty of time left for the rest of the evening.
With bloated bellies but not wanting to go home, we headed to a few bars for some drinks. We started in Decanter before heading over to the new office developments off Wellington Street, where we had seen a few new bars having just opened. One, Place, was still serving although it was quite dead, meaning we got to talk to the bar man about the venture. We also noticed a branch of the wine bar Veeno opposite, highlighting that these places were very much bars for office workers on their way home from work. The ambience in Place was fresh and modern and although the beer choices were typical for an establishment of this type, we did enjoy our time there. We stayed for just one drink before deciding to head over to the Northern Monk Tap Room, as we were this side of town and hadn't been there for quite a while. Crossing a new bridge over the Aire, on the other side we found ourselves unable to proceed out of the Tower Mills area, having gone inside to admire the wonderfully tall brick tower that was apparently modeled on the Campanille in Florence. Struggling to get out of the many locker gates, in the end we were released by a friendly security guard who must have been patrolling the area. Still he was good about it and soon we were in Northern Monk sampling a range of new beers including a rather delicious mint chocolate stout. I do like Northern Monk, the only issue being it's so far away, although we did discover a new way back to Wellington Street which would be quicker for the bus so we'll try and go there more often in future. We did get the last bus back after a great night and a happy way to spend ten years together.
Friday saw us head over to Eccles Hill in Bradford to Stray's new house, where he was having a housewarming party. I arrived directly from work, taking the 670 so I got to look at some of the more salubrious areas of north-east Bradford. There weren't many on the bus but the people who were, were the worst kind, either having loud phone conversations or in the case of two chavs, listening to and singing along with loud rap music. I couldn't get out of their quick enough so it was a relief to see Wolfie stood out of their door as I arrived. We saw a cat in the window and queried whether we were at the right address but it turned out we were and they were just looking after two pussies for a family friend. We were let inside and given the grand tour of the typical three-storey Victorian terrace, a nice place as a starter home, before cracking open some nibbles and watching Pingu, which seems to have been remastered and now has a new funky trance theme tune. Taneli and one of Luna's friends soon arrived and we made the short walk to Stray's parents to see the new puppy, Vera, they had just bought. She was very fun and enjoyed playing, while she fell asleep on Luna from time to time. During the hour or so we were there, we spoke to Stray's parents in-depth before heading back to Stray's house for pizza.
The food was lovely but I ended up eating too much, making me feel somewhat bloated, meaning I needed half an hour just to recover. Just after we had finished the pizza, Arc and Draken arrived and people started playing Cards Against Humanity, something I didn't have the energy to do. Unfortunately, with everyone else involved, I felt somewhat left out and watching Ed Miliband's hilarious performance on The Last Leg can only go so far. As a consequence, about half an hour later I started playing as the stomach pain had somewhat subsided. Arc and Draken left an hour later with Arc winning, and we left another hour after that, with me claiming the lead which was quite impressive as I hadn't played for as long as everyone else. It was a fun night but by 2am we felt the need to head off, so we booked a taxi and did just that. As we left though we noticed that one of the cats had torn through my bagels and dribbled on them, rendering them inedible. This was incredibly annoying as it meant I now had to go and get something else for breakfast in the morning. The cats had been annoying Stray and I'm not a huge fan either, but at least they didn't get in the way too much I guess, despite this unfortunate incident.
Overnight, a Leave supporter unfollowed me on Twitter. In many respects this is unremarkable and while unfortunate, it is not particularly surprising judging by how the issue dominates my timeline. It was someone I knew moderately well, but who has drifted away in recent years, largely due to a change in geographical circumstances. He is what I would call a gloating Leaver, and although I was saddened by his unfollowing, the more I thought about it, the more I thought I was better off rid. I have very real concerns about the Brexit process and a true friend would show some level of empathy. He has shown nothing but hubris and as a consequence I think it's best we go our separate ways.
I tried to explain my thoughts on this in a series of tweets this morning, but felt it deserved a longer post. Here it is.
Much has been made of Theresa May's desire to bring the country together, to unite behind her Brexit plan. The problem with this is that Remainers and Leavers seem to be ideologically opposed and this explains some of the language that has been used between the two groups. Words like 'Remoaner', 'unpatriotic' and 'traitor' to describe pro-Europeans are not only fallacious but also dismissive of the legitimate worries that many of us have. Of course, the same is the case labelling Leavers as 'racist' - I'm sure some of them are, but many are not - so it does cut both ways. While the populace at large probably isn't too bothered about the EU, for those passionate about this, it seems there are two world views which are fundamentally irreconcilable, meaning I don't think unity will ever be possible. IF it is, then it can only be through compromise in terms of the Brexit deal and an empathetic approach to each other's differing views. I'm seeing little give on this, particularly from the hardline Brexiteers, who don't seem willing to work a political solution that would be acceptable to all.
The problem with opposing world views is that I will never understand the concept of nationhood and patriotism as espoused by Leave voters as I have always been more internationalist in outlook. Similarly, they'll never understand my view that pooling sovereignty is a price worth paying for increased security and prosperity. This isn't to say that Remainers are not patriots - some of the biggest patriots I know are pro-Europeans - but this patriotism seems to have manifested itself in different ways. It's like two co-existing worlds. My own vote was based on my internationalism, but also personal circumstances, particularly related to free movement. And it is the latter that's my main motivation, which is why the gloating from a handful of former friends has proven to be so hurtful, particularly as the 48% have largely been ignored politically for the last nine months.
I am vehemently anti-Brexit. I accept that people voted Leave for a range of reasons but many of them I simply cannot understand. Most don't stand up to scrutiny, but I respect those who voted Leave based on arguments which do. The sugar industry is one such example. The differing price of sugar cane and sugar beet as determined by the Common Agricultural Policy means that the EU constrains sugar manufacturing in the UK. Tate and Lyle backed Brexit and I can undersand why. I disagree, but there is a logic I can follow. Similarly, other people voted Leave based on their own personal circumstances and again I understand. This isn't about people with a differing view as I can empathise with those in the sugar industry and I genuinely hope that Brexit is positive for them. However, those vacuously talking about Empire 2.0 and restoring Britain to former glories are the ones that are the target of my frustration.
And herein lies an issue, an issue that the Brexiteers are not being honest about. In any situation, particulary a major change such as this, there will always be winners and losers. Always. And I cannot see anything but being a loser in my case. Let me explain. I am the international manager of an SME specialising in translation and media work. We have audio and video production facilities in the basement of our offices, bespoke to our needs. As a consequence, we can deliver services in a range of languages, largely because we can easily employ EU nationals without having to go through a visa system. This is likely to change after 2019. Those who complain about immigration in the UK say that it's too easy to get into the country, but anyone who has had to deal with the Home Office would tell you that this is not the case. For our Russian and Chinese staff it took us four months to get the approval, even though there was no-one else in the country who could do the job (which we had to prove). Fortunately, in these cases, a four month delay was not a problem but this is not the case for a lot of the ad hoc work we do. Any visa system is unlikely to be streamlined enough to allow us to offer these services quickly, meaning less work for everyone, unless radical changes are made. The fear here is the lack of desire to do this. If sacrificing free movement meant greater access to staff from places like Africa, Latin America, India, China and Russia then this could be an opportunity, but May's ideological fixation on an immigration target of 'tens of thousands' suggests that my ability to recruit the people I need is likely to be severely curtailed in future.
In addition to this, we employ a number of EU nationals and their future is equally uncertain. There was a noticeable gloom in the office on Wednesday, while today the director of the company confessed to me how angry he is about the Brexit process. And if the man who pays your wages is pissed off, then I would say your concerns are legitimate.
This gets me back to my unfollower friend. I know he was following me yesterday and is not following me today. I also know he tweeted a pointed remark about 'the people who are complaining haven't left yet', highlighting his lack of empathy. So let me take this further. Brexit does provide me with the opportunity to live in another country, which has been a dream of mine for years (and one which is going to be a lot harder once Brexit is confirmed). However, I have commitments. I have a mortgage, a partner and a job I love. Due to the issues described above regarding staffing, the directors have realised that it may be in our interests to open a branch office on the continent. This could allow me to have my cake and eat it, to use an oft-used phrase, by working abroad but keeping my contacts in the UK. However, opening an office in a foreign country isn't as easy as just turning up. There are legal issues, liabilities, tax law and a whole host of other things to consider. We also need to work out where would be the best place to set up - both in terms of the business landscape but also access to the staff we need. Ireland is a possibility but so is Madrid, so we are having to do this in Spanish as well as English. And the list goes on. So although I am not 100% sure if the comment was directed at me, moving and retaining everything I currently have is a huge undertaking. Of course, I could just quit my job and go, but there is no guarantee at this late stage whether I wouldn't just be sent back in two years' time. This would make my personal circumstances even more insecure than they currently are and remember I have a mortgage. The best option would be a branch office under my current employer and this is the target towards which I am working, but it is a long process.
Of course, should I move, I would be leaving friends and family behind, not to mention my home. This is in itself a tough thing to do and again is why empathy is so important. Added to this is that my brother's job - a specialist in EU trademark law - is likely to become obsolete in 2019, causing him great anxiety. Of course I am trying to get the softest Brexit possible through all the democratic means open to me - including highlighting a range of issues on Twitter which I genuinely hope people find interesting - but I accept that a hard Brexit is the most likely path from here. However, trying to run a business under such uncertainty when the futures of so many of your staff - staff who are not to blame for any of this and who do not deserve being stuck in limbo - is exceptionally tough. I'm at the coal face here, trying to make the best of the situation, but with the exchange rates causing an issue and staffing a genuine concern, we do need to explore all the options open to us. So many lives are affected by this, including so many people I know, and to dismiss their fears so easily and in some cases actually revel in these circumstances shows a real lack of respect. No true friend would ever do this. This is why empathy is so important and why I no longer have time for people who do not display it.
The triggering of Article 50 earlier today has certainly been a cause of much sadness, but it has been a sadness tinged with defiance.
Even though it may feel like the end, it is actually the beginning of a complicated two year period in which everything will still be in play. During this time, I think the realities of a hard Brexit will become increasingly apparent, smashing through the bullish rhetoric and misplaced utopia of the Brexiteers. And as this happens, minds may be changed, suggesting that the war is far from over.
I accept the referendum result and I accept it is likely the UK will leave the EU, but there is nothing inevitable about this, particularly as Article 50 is likely to be revokable. With the margin so narrow and with no mandate for a hard Brexit, this means Remainers from all political hues must come together. We need to persude soft Leavers to reconsider while holding the Brexiteers to account for all the promises they have made. By doing these things in tandem, ruthlessly and relentlessly, I believe it is possible to change the national mood and get enough people to change their minds, forcing Parliament to act.
This is why I have joined local campaiging groups as well as written to MPs and MEPs, and I urge every pro-European to do the same. Yes there are powerful vested interests, particularly in the press, and yes we are likely to be written off as "unpatriotic" and "undemocratic", but some of the most patriotic people I know voted Remain and I strongly believe there is no greater patriotism than preventing your country from making a terrible mistake.
Democracy is a multi-faceted construct, and the ballot box forms just one part of it. Democracy is also the freedom to lobby elected officials and to protest peacefully against something you don't believe is right. And so by doing these things, you are not denying democracy, you are actually participating in it, strengthening the foundations upon which our society is built.
I proudly stood outside Leeds Town Hall earlier, just as I proudly marched to Westminster on Saturday. Many of us were participating in politics for the very first time and were united in a common cause. This helped my mood and has only made me more determined, particularly as the reception we received was largely positive (you are always going to get the occasional gobby idiot though).
Over the last month or so, time and again Theresa May has called for unity without offering any sign of even attempting to understand the fears of Remainers. As a consequence, she will get no unity from me, not until such time that her and her cabinet will address and assauge my legitimate concerns.
So I say, on this dark day for so many of us, that we CAN make a difference and we WILL make a difference, but only if we fight. Because a democracy ceases to be a democracy if it loses the right to change its mind and this is the battle we now face leading up to 2019.
After the rather long day that was Saturday, we enjoyed a well-deserved lie-in on Sunday, not aided by the clocks going forward of course. Having to check out at midday, we used all the time we had before heading out into another glorious sunny day. Before booking the hotel at Wembley, I hadn't realised that there was an England match that afternoon. This meant that we took our bag with us as we knew that getting back later would be incredibly tricky. Despite the 5pm kick-off, the concourse around Wembley was already starting to fill up, and we took advantage of the game by grabbing a tasty if extortionately priced German sausage from one of the concessions, which interestingly was run by Essex ladies.
The plan for the afternoon was quite fluid but in the end we went to Greenwich, which was a place I had wanted to go for quite a while. We could have gone drinking or to a number of our favourite fetish stores but we thought a bit of culture in the sunshine would be better. Aiding this view was that it was quite easy to get there - the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf and then the DLR down to Cutty Sark. It was quite a pleasant journey although as we approached Greenwich we noticed that a large number of people had had a similar idea to us. This meant the area was quite busy, which was frustrating, particularly when people used the entire pavement when they didn't really need to. By the by, we disgorged at Cutty Sark and headed to the boat of the same name, declining the £13.50 entrance charge for the museum and preferring to walk around what is probably the most famous tea clipper in the world. Indeed, it was quite an awesome sight, although a little odd being stuck on land. Still, we traversed it and stood in awe at the large sail structures and the huge scale of this impressive beast. After this, we headed over to the Old Royal Naval College where we had a wander around the late seventeenth century buildings. Indeed, the style was very much of that era and it reminded me quite a bit of some of the Cambridge colleges where I studied. Alas due to restoration work, we couldn't get into the famous Painted Hall but the Chapel of St Paul's more than made up for it, with its subtle use of gold and wood tones to create an air of beautiful understatement. There was a small museum in the old college too, but it didn't make an awful lot of sense, resembling a miscellany of objects rather than anything with a narrative. As we wandered around the gardens and by the river, looking at Canary Wharf on the opposite bank, along with the O2 Arena to the east, I phoned my mother as it was Mother's Day and ended up being passed around the entire family as she was hosting them.
We walked back into Greenwich from here, a quaint rural-type place with the bustle of a major tourist attraction, grabbing a Gregg's for lunch. We then headed towards the Royal Observatory and the Greenwich Meridian line, the point from which all coordinates and time is measured. The Observatory is perched atop a hill overlooking a beautiful cultivated park, and it was quite a steep climb to get to the top. The red ball of the 1pm setting clock is the most visible thing here, sat upon a tower. It drops at 1pm every day to allow ships on the Thames to set their chronometers and interestingly it is highly dented as restoration builders in 1960 thought it was going to the scrapheap and thus played football with it. The Observatory was patronised by Charles II and opened in 1676, right in my period of history, and thus I knew a fair bit about the place. We decided to go into the Museum here and we explored the Flamsteed House, named after the first Astronomer Royal. After some rather bland rooms detailing the lives of the 13 Astronomers Royal, we went into the Octagon Room which was used for social events. There were a number of scientific instruments in here, including clocks and quadrants, but the main focus of the exhibit was downstairs where you learnt all about solving the longitude problem, which was the key issue in eighteenth century navigation. I already knew a fair bit about this but it was great to see John Harrison's chronometers in person, as they truly are marvels in engineering. The exhibition was very accessable and we did learn a fair bit, before heading outside to take obligatory pictures of the prime meridian. Next to this, there was an extension to the complex where a number of astronomers royal formed their own meridians for looking at the stars. Here there were a range of different telescopes and other devices used to make measurements, and it was fascinating to learn how all this worked.
With time pressing, we couldn't really do much else as we had to make it back to Kings Cross for the train. However, one thing we did decide to do was to go back to the Cutty Sark so we could walk under the Thames using a special tunnel that was built in 1902. This saw us go from Greenwich to Island Gardens on the North Bank, affording us a fantastic view of Greenwich. It was an odd soulless tunnel of white tiles but it was a feat of engineering and a pleasure to traverse. After this, we headed to the DLR and Bank, where we joined the Northern Line. Looking for something to eat, I noted that a branch of the excellent Craft Beer Co was at Angel, very near the station, so we called off there to grab something to eat. The burger and fries were exquisite while the beer was fantastic too, and we even managed to stock up for the train back home. We caught it with twenty minutes to spare, and were surprised that we happened to be sharing a table with one of my Russian colleagues and her husband, who had been in London during the weekend too, albeit for different reasons to us. It would have been good to have chatted but alas it was the quiet coach and people were adhering to the quiesence, so I just wrote my journal as we headed back home. At Leeds we split, with them going home and us going to Bundobust then Tapped Brew Co for a nightcap before heading back home after a fabulous weekend.
We have been in London this weekend, primarily for one reason - the Unite for Europe march on Saturday.
Those that know me well know I am extremely opposed to Brexit and I thought I must make my voice heard at this important demonstration. This view was only enhanced in the wake of the terrorist attack in London on Wednesday, which just added to my determination that democracy and more specifically the right to protest are important principles to be upheld. I doubt it will change anything, but it's important to be a thorn in the side of this unsympathetic and callous government as much as possible. So we headed down on Friday evening, delayed due to a train being cancelled meaning we had a nice hour in Friends of Ham too, arriving just after midnight at the ibis hotel in Wembley. I had hoped a few more people could have come from Leeds but with birthdays this weekend and alternative plans, it was a tough decision to prioritise this, although I do feel we made the right decision.
We didn't stay up particularly late as we had an early start, with the sun streaming through the window of the hotel restaurant as we had our breakfast. We then made our way to Park Lane via Green Park tube station, where we saw a number of people bedecked in EU flags congregating. We decided to follow them to the Hilton, where the march was slated to take place, arriving ten minutes later where I wrapped my own EU flag around myself. Here we waited, soaking up the atmosphere and reading the wide range of amusing placards that people had made. In a way I regret not doing so myself but I didn't have time and couldn't think of something overly witty to say. The march was far bigger than the organizers had anticipated, with up to 100,000 lining the streets, up from the 25,000 estimate. This meant we ended up waiting on a roundabout outside the Hilton hotel for over an hour and a half, during which time Geo met us, who was traveling independently. I had tried to get a furry contingent to go, but there hadn't been much response, although we did hook up with Skavi later and Patter went on the march too. Geo admitted that had we not been going, he wouldn't have done either, so that was a good thing while a large number of people stopped to take a picture of his 'stages of the apocalypse' T-shirt.
The sheer tide of people was overwhelming and with the glorious weather it was hard not to feel optimistic. It was good to see a good demographic of people there too - Brits and Europeans, young and especially old - and the feeling was one of celebration but also defiance. We sang happy birthday to the EU to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome while we got chatting to a number of people including a nice lady from Leeds who had canvassed in my parliamentary seat of pudsey in the 2015 general election. She told me some very interesting things, as Wolfie and Geo walked away, leaving me and the lady having a nice chat for twenty minutes. As we were done, I had to go searching for them as they were a good way further down the march, while simultaneously I was trying to keep in contact with Skavi who had come down with the Liverpool contingent but due to them arriving late, was well towards the back of the group. In the end we met up with him outside Parliament Square in the shadow of Westminster, at a time after which I had found Geo and Wolfie. I had feared my frustratingly weak bladder would come into play but we stopped off at McDonald's as we marched while the drums and music added to a carnival atmosphere.
One major advantage of the march other than the sense of hope it gave me was the ability to see famous London sights close up without having to worry about the traffic. With the roads closed, we could see the Whitehall architecture, Downing Street, the Cenotaph, Trafalgar Square and indeed the Houses of Parliament itself close up. We stood on Parliament Square for two and a half hours as we watched a range of speakers talk about Brexit and it was hard not to admire this beautiful building, with its gold cladding glistening in the sun. Where we were initially it was difficult to hear but we soon moved into a better position, just to the right of the statue of Winston Churchill. Sometimes our view of the large TV screen was obscured by people's placards but by and large we got to see and hear everything. Some speeches were exemplary, such as Tim Farron and Nick Clegg, who was sporting a rather sexy black jumper. David Lammy's impassioned and determined oratory won the day though (Mandela would have been on our side, Churchill would have been on our side), while Farron's induced a teary response such was its power. There was a range of speakers there though, including poets and celebrities, with Patrick Stewart sending a special TV broadcast in support. The Spanish nurse was incredibly powerful, saying his passport may be Spanish but his heart is British, while a number of Polish activists spoke too. A lot of the organizations I follow - Scientists for EU, the European Movement and Britain in Europe - were also there while a small number of speakers did fall a bit flat, particularly the angry "Brexit is racist" guy towards the end. There was a lot of cheering and a whole load of applause at various moments of the talks, while as people left I crept closer and closer to the front. It did feel like a huge family, and it made me feel that I was not alone, and thus more positive about the future. Everyone was friendly and one broke was even dishing out free vegetarian curry. We lost Geo for most of this, he went wandering nearer the front early-on, but we did meet up again after the speeches were done.
The demonstration was over by 4:15pm and everyone dispersed, buoyed by what we had seen. As we walked to Marble Arch, where Skavi's coach was picking him up, I endeavoured to thank evert police officer for stewarding the event, particularly under difficult circumstances based on events earlier in the week. There were no flash points aside from a group of five tired old men unfurling an Islamophobic banner on the side of the street as we marched, which I guess is their right to do. As we walked back, we admired the wide range of London sights while I also got to point out where the Reform Club is on Pall Mall. The walk back took us about half an hour through the warren of London streets before we popped out on Oxford Street, not far from our destination. The pavements were rammed here and progress was slow as the sun was shining directly in our eyes, but we still got to Marble Arch with about half an hour to spare. Needing a sit down and with no good bars in the area, we ended up in Pret A Manger, a place I've never been but one by which I was quite impressed. The ham and cheese sandwich was lovely while the coconut hot chocolate was unique but by no means distasteful, with the flavour complementing the chocolate quite well. It was good having a catch-up after the march, just the four of us, not to mention a sit down after seven hours on our feet.
As 6pm approached, we said goodbye to Skavi and walked back down Oxford Street, intending to call off at Brewdog Soho on the way to Leicester Square and a Chinese restaurant that Geo knew. In the end, Brewdog was absolutely rammed so we bypassed this and went straight for food. Perhaps Geo had hyped this up somewhat but it wasn't particularly good, highlighted by the fact that they gave us cooking wine warmed up instead of sake as our drink. They did provide some shrivelled dry plums which were supposed to add sweetness but it was particularly appalling. The service was rude too, although I had been told to expect this, while the food once it came was alright but not hardly stellar. I had beer so avoided the sake fiasco, but the chow sien pork was fatty and cold, the black bean beef chicken uninspiring and the sweet and sour chicken not crispy enough. Geo admitted that they were off their game, and the meal was perfectly fine drinks aside, but it was hard not to feel a little disappointed by the experience. From memory I also thought I had been there before but I'm not 100% sure. If I did, it didn't stick in the memory.
After this we were free for the evening, opting to go to gentrified east London as that's where I know more about the bar scene. After some research, I noted a place called Mother Kelly's underneath the railway arches in Bethnal Green which was quite easy to get to based on where we were. Half an hour later we were there and while it was busy inside, there were enough tables outside to get a drink. It was a little cold and we subsequently moved under the heaters, and then inside, as it thinned out later on but it was worth it to try beer from a number of breweries we hadn't heard of before. gir was one of these from Norway and they had good stuff while we also got some free samples from the artisan sandwich stand Madame et Monsieur, with their signature Croque Monsieur something to die for. We were playing it pretty relaxed but decided after about an hour to go to the tap room of the Redchurch Brewery, which was just down the road. On the way we noticed a number of cyberpunk types and there was a lock in in a warehouse that people were sneaking in to. The Redchurch Brewery was just down the road and the tap room wasn't too busy, meaning we could sample a number of their sour beers and beer sticks in relative comfort. Geo was enjoying trying a range of different beers while I enjoyed speaking to the bar staff here who told me that they do brew some beers on site and others elsewhere. The barmaid was a geordie and enjoyed working there while we enjoyed sampling some brews from an up-and-coming brewery that is just starting to become known in Leeds. We had hoped to do the Bermondsey Beer Mile and BrewDog Homerton but time in the former case (the bars all shut at 8pm) and distance in the latter put paid to that.
By 10:30pm, Geo wanted to go home, and as it is quite a distance for him, it was understandable. This saw us head off back to Bethnal Green tube and then to Liverpool Street where we had to wait for the Chesham train. We could have got an earlier train to Wembley but we decided to wait, as we were all heading in the same direction anyway. This was a good decision as we could continue our evening, chatting about the day before we had to spilt once our stop came up. In the end then it was a fantastic day and a worthwhile one too. I'm glad I went on the march as it made me feel I'm not alone and it has given me a greater determination to fight this. I'm also glad we managed to make a day of it and although I wish a few more furs could have joined us, it was great that we managed to get a small group together.
Two things have happened mid-week, the first being on Tuesday when we went over to Heath near Wakefield to see BearNoiz and Vale.
He had arranged to meet Avon and invited us along, as he has been staying in Manchester for a while at Vale's place. He had intended to call in on Leeds as he made his way back from York where he was getting a computer repaired but on Tuesday night they still hadn't finished with it. I had never met Vale before and he was quite quiet, although BearNoiz is someone who can dominate a conversation and this is largely what happened. We hadn't seen Bear for years so it was great to meet up again as we sat in Avon's local, the King's Arms, to reminisce. The food was very good - I had the burger which was perhaps a little dry but the chunky chips were fantastic - and the ale equally pleasant while we spent a good few hours having a chat. The pub quiz was going on simultaneously but we declined to take part, largely because Bear had to head off early to go back to Manchester and we had to leave around 9:30pm. The quiz was odd, being a Family Fortunes type affair, and some of the answers were quite strange. This was particularly the case for the 'top five things found in a supermarket that are a slang term for breasts' question which had fried eggs and vinegar tits as answers four and five. Due to this insanity, it was probably good we didn't enter as there was no way we were going to win it, with the winning score being 44/50. In the end, we stayed about three hours and even though it was a very rushed affair in terms of arranging it - with it being 4:10pm before it was even mooted - it was great seeing Bear again, as well as Avon in a far more sober setting than he usually is at the meet.
Thursday was a work night out as our Spanish editor has been in Leeds throughout the week. I felt obligated to go because of this but I'm glad I did as it was at Headrow House and although expensive, they did have a nice range of beer on offer. It was good touching base with my colleagues and meeting some of them for the first time, particularly one of our tech guys called Ian who had lived in Colombia for four years and like me had a huge love of craft beer. We ended up speaking for about two hours before he needed to leave and I headed up to Shuffledog to see Lou, who I knew was working. After three pints of pretty high strength beer I was a little worse for wear, although apparently I was hiding it well as she told me. In the bar I met a nice guy called Albert who works in the York bar and was interested to hear my thoughts on the other bars upon learning I have been to 26 of them. This saw me stay until my final bus, having a couple of thirds along the way, not aiding my inebriation. The problem was I had eaten too little, so it was affecting me far more strongly than it would otherwise have done. By the by it was a good night and I ended it by saying that it doesn't really matter all BrewDog bars are similar as very few people go touring around them like we do, plus it's the beer that is important. With that I headed off, picking up a blackberry beer brewed with lactic acid along the way, before dropping off at ASDA to get a sandwich before stumbling home.
It's amazing to think that this is the first time in seven years of living in Pudsey that Wolfie and I did not attend the CAMRA real ale festival.
Admittedly, when it clashes with a Leeds Meet weekend, like it did this year, it is always difficult but it is also a sign of how out of favour real ale has fallen with us when compared to craft beer. Indeed, we were far more interested in the Irish craft beer tap takeover at BrewDog for St Patrick's Day than we were with our local real ale festival, although we have only been able to sample them in the odd growler due to other commitments. This included someone visiting the dungeon on Thursday night where I got the opportunity to be dominant for the first time and Wolfie having to work in Crewe on Friday and thus not getting home until 10pm. We had intended to visit the festival but we ran out of time, but I don't feel too bad about missing out.
Wednesday we were out in town for the inaugural Bottle Share at ShuffleDog (since rebranded to BrewDog North Street). Unfortunately, despite their promotion, it was just Wolfie and I who turned up, despite us waiting for over half an hour to see if anyone else would arrive. This seems to be a constant theme with bottle share nights in BrewDog as the smaller bar used to run a number of events too and usually we were the only ones participating. Still, we did get to sample a number of good beers with the staff, with us bringing in To Ol's excellent Fuck Art Winter Is Coming witbier. We also got to sample Beavertown's Dr Jekyll (another wit) and Mr Hyde (a dark unctuous stout) brewed from the same key ingredients but altered halfway through the fermentation process. Unfortunately, ShuffleDog was quite busy on Wednesday night with another tasting session and a party for Nandos staff and there was an emergency in the kitchen, meaning the bottle share was largely over before it began. It was still great chatting about beer with them though and at least it gave us the opportunity to get some food, which had been lacking thus far due to the early 6pm start.
We went to the excellent Pizza Fella again, where we wondered why Wolfie had received a threatening letter from some baliffs due to a traffic incident which had happened seven months previously. It was another Wednesday night and we couldn't remember ever being there, a situation made worse as he only received the threat rather than any prior information about the fine itself. It was eventually sorted after a whole load of hassle - and indeed it was Wolfie's car that was involved - although things had been complicated by the fact it was his old car and he had transferred the insurance over that very day. After our pizza, we headed over to the new casino at Victoria Gate as we had been told that there were two bars there and a restaurant. One of these was labelled a craft beer bar, but it was craft beer in the loosest sense of the word, with them doing as little as absolutely possible to give themselves that name. More impressive was the sports bar with the huge screens upon which they were showing Manchester City being defeated by Monaco, getting knocked out of the Champions League in the process. We had a wander around the casino with our drinks in hand and it was interesting to note the large number of familiar brands and machines, borne out of me working in the industry. We were tempted to play a little roulette but declined in the end. It was certainly the most Las Vegas like casino I had ever been in, with flashy lights and no windows, and it was a comfortable place to be, although I can imagine blowing a whole load of money should I ever go there properly. Fortunately, there were a number of new beers to try in BrewDog so we ended the night here, having a couple before getting one of the last buses.
Saturday was meet day and after the low attendance the previous month, I was fearing the worst. However, the numbers kept coming, including a large number from further afield including SouthPaw, Tungro and Washu. We had a large number of fursuiters, our largest ever actually at over 20, so it was a shame that the bar kicked us out at 5pm due to the need to clean for a birthday party. It is quite clear now that our current bar is rather small and we need to look elsewhere, but that is easier said than done in this city. One option, however, is the Atlas Brauhaus, where we went afterwards, bringing about 25 people in tow. Their upstairs area was free, and they were very happy to have us, even supplying complimentary fries smothered in smoky paprika and chives which tasted soooo good. I spoke to the manager there and she seemed quite receptive to hosting us, so it's definitely something to explore, particularly as the furs who were with us thought highly of the place. We have a few other irons in the fire too though, so we shall see. It will be shame to leave our current place, but space really is an issue, and this was highlighted yesterday, particularly regarding fursuit changing. For the second month in a row, I opted to bring my fursuit (despite the mixed weather), and the walk was great fun, particularly when I decided to wear my fursuit paws rather than my normal shoes based on the improving dryness of the ground. We bumped into the cosplayers again, like we did back in February, while in a break from tradition we decided to go down Briggate to get more interaction. A couple of kids remembered me from a Festival but they never intimated which one, although the youngest was delighted to see me and spent about ten minutes dancing as we waited for some furs to finish their shopping in Poundland. It was quite difficult for Wolfie to organise so many people and while he did a great job, it's also clear we desperately need some sort of committee as there are occasions when we are rather hamstrung by having to organise things. One of these examples was that we had intended to go to Little Tokyo with Arcais for her birthday, but they left early and as we needed to mentor people in Atlas, we ended up having to go to Trinity Kitchen instead. There were six of us there in the end. One of these was Cub, an American fur now living in Chesterfield who was incredibly shy initially and took four attempts just to come to the meet. She was great and we had a nice long chat with her, and I am glad she really enjoyed the meet. After Trinity, she headed to the cinema to catch Beauty and the Beast while Saber, Tonks, Wolfie and I tried to get to BrewDog to sample some more Irish tipples. Alas it was rammed and not fancying the crowds, we headed home, getting back at the early hour of 10pm, meaning at least we could recover ahead of a lazy Sunday.
The only other things that happened this week was the Cheltenham Challenge at work, where I only got three horses of 28 correct but at least finished in positive territory with £3.75 profit and the sacking of Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka on Thursday. Having seen Boro play at Spurs last month and our frustrating inability to do anything in the final third, I can't help but feel this was the correct decision as we were definitely going down if no change was made. Alas I think Steve Agnew will remain in charge until the summer and although we were more attacking against Manchester United this afternoon I fear it's all too little too late and we are down anyway. Our next two games are huge and against our big rivals though so if we can get maximum points here then there is a chance. However as it is, we haven't won since mid-December so this seems unlikely. It's sad but we do seem to be going down with a whimper.
We decided to go to Birmingham for the weekend, pretty last minute in the wake of Wolfie's successful exam. We have been meaning to go to more meets and do more touring around the UK this year, as we have felt somewhat detached from the British fandom at large. This saw us visit Manchester two weeks ago and having never gone to a Birmingham Meet before, we thought we would take the opportunity to visit.
The Meet itself was quite good, although it was difficult to meet people as there were a fair number of cliques in evidence. We arrived at around 12:30pm having got the train down from Leeds and the meet was already in full swing with around eighty already in attendance. This number was pretty static for the rest of the day, although the meet thinned out later on (it went on until 8pm which I thought was fantastic - the meets usually end in Leeds about three hours earlier). I must admit I had my reservations about it being in a gay bar, but Sidewalk was pretty good apart from the poor range of drinks, which is so often the main drawback of LGBT establishments. Indeed, in terms of atmosphere it was probably the best meet I had ever been to, although, as I say, it was quite difficult to meet people and we spent quite a while awkwardly waiting for something to happen. It took us about two hours before we got talking to some new furs, and when we did, they turned out to be new too and in a similar situation to ourselves. Some of them were even from Yorkshire in a huge irony. Still, Wolfie's plan of drinking and then just talking at people until they interacted worked later on, and we got to meet a fair number of people into the local fetish scene, which was also quite good as we have already started to plan future events. Alas, due to the inclement weather, the fursuit walk was cancelled, meaning I had to spend my time fursuiting around the bar, largely being ignored by anyone with a camera. I did fursuit with a few of the new guys though, and with a soundtrack of Green Day for most of the afternoon (with a fair number of the younger furs singing along), I was pretty content even if the fursuiting was somewhat limited. We did get some photos outside the bar though, where my head got a little damp due to the rain. The food in the bar was also very well-priced and the place reminded me a little of Baa Bar, the former venue of the Leeds Meet which we had to vacate in the end of 2015. We would certainly like to go back, but I think we will have to make the effort to get to know more people online first. It was quite difficult to meet people initially.
One of the main reasons to go to Birmingham was to sample the local craft beer scene with Vulpecula, who had approached me around Christmas time proposing a meeting. We arranged to hook up at around 6pm, so I headed off to the hotel around an hour earlier, leaving Wolfie in the bar to meet some more furs. Time was tight but fortunately Vulpecula met me in the lobby of my hotel rather than in the bar he had initially suggested so it was less of a rush (even though I was still around ten minutes late). We then headed back to Sidewalk to pick up Wolfie before heading towards the Burning Soul Microbrewery. Time was tight as this place shut at 8pm, but we needed food so we stopped off to get a pie in the Bullring on the way. Then we walked all the way over to the other side of the city and into the heart of an unassuming industrial estate, before entering a grey warehouse which contained the brewery. Vulpecula knew the staff there and upon identifying we were from Leeds, we had a good chat about the craft beer scene in our home city, which was something that Birmingham seems to model itself on. Indeed, across the bars we visited on Saturday night, the high regard Leeds has within the beer community kept coming up, which was rather heartening to hear. Burning Soul very much reminds me of the North Brewing Company near my office, and the layout was very similar. We had two nice beers here, a malty pale ale and a vanilla chocolate stout, while people played pool around us. Everyone was really friendly, sharing table space and the like, and there was a hairy bloke who looked a little like Si King from the Hairy Bikers, which I found quite amusing.
We left just before 8pm, heading around the corner to The Gunmakers' Arms, a former rough pub now next to the Two Towers Brewery, serving as an outlet for them. This was a very small operation and the bar itself very much had a 1970s working mens' club feel, something that Wolfie was quite entranced with. What with fursuiting, he had had about four more pints than I had and was starting to struggle a bit, although he did enjoy the wallpaper on the ceiling and the authentic historic decor. There weren't many people in this bar but the elderly gentleman serving was really nice, telling us all about the history of the brewery, while the ales were pretty solid too. We had a very pleasant pint in here, before heading over to The Lone Wolf bar, which had only just opened two months previously and where you could smell the paint on the wall. This is very much like Foley's in Leeds and they have a nice range of beers, some of which being accompanied by taps in the shape of various animals, including wolves. We grabbed a couple of local beers here, and noticed that they had the new Cloudwater dIPA, version 12 in the fridge, along with some stuff from the Verdant Brewery of Cornwall, one of which I had not heard before. Consequently, we grabbed a few cans to take out before heading to the final bar of the night, Tilt. This is back in the city centre in a covered shopping centre, and the owner admitted that their inspiration was very much the Tall Boys Beer Market in Leeds. The twist here is the 15 pinball machines littered around the bar, which was a very odd shape with a number of little rooms. The toilets were literally miles away, and we were fortunate that they were in the middle of a Vocation Brewery tap takeover, Vocation being a local Yorkshire brewery. We had had their core range but they had a number of special ones on tap too, so we tried a couple of those while chatting to the bar staff. We picked up some more cans here before Vulpecula had to dash off for his train, the last 11:20pm service being as annoying as the 11:18pm bus service back home.
Picking our way back through Birmingham city centre, we noticed the new trams, which had not been there before. Apparently, the extension from Snow Hill to New Street is quite new, and highlights again Leeds's poverty when it comes to infrastructure. As it was barely midnight and it was on our way back to the hotel, we decided to drop into BrewDog, where we were delighted to discover there was a Time and Tide tap takeover ongoing. We grabbed a few beers here and sat down, only for the lady next to us to spill her beer all over Wolfie. She was most apologetic and Wolfie shrugged it off, but it was a sign that perhaps we needed to go. I remember having a rather nice chat with one of the barmen here - who would recognize me on Sunday when we returned, drinking there while we whiled away an hour waiting for our train - so I must have made a good impression. Upon returning to the hotel, Wolfie grabbed a pizza while I just fell asleep, knackered after a rather long day.
What didn't help was being woken up by the fire alarm going off at 8:20am because someone had burnt some toast. We found this out later, but fortunately the ringing dropped off pretty quickly, allowing us a few more hours of sleep. We checked out at midday, deposited our bags and grabbed a roast pork dinner from a local craft beer bar that really just served the mainstream craft beer. The food, a sharing platter for two in a deep metal dish, was delicious though and definitely set us up for the rest of the day. The plan was to go to Walsall to meet up with Kael and his boyfriend, who are both Polish but have lived in the UK for over ten years. The plan was to meet at 2pm so after our dinner, we headed over, making the seemless twenty minute journey over there. I had never been to Walsall before, although Wolfie has been on work, and I found it yet another unremarkable commuter town, although probably nicer than Birmingham itself which has an air of delapidation about it. The interesting thing in Walsall was the range of architecture, with no one building on the main high street being the same. We saw the church which had been converted into a shopping centre that had been opened by Princess Diana months before she died, along with the impressive Guildhall and Town Hall, very much done in the Victorian style. The highlight though was St Matthew's Church perched on top of a hill overlooking the town. The view was slightly spoiled by the corregated iron roof of the ASDA on the left-hand side, but a walk around the church soon alleviated that, particularly on its far side which has a rather unique passageway underneath the alter. You could also see the old town walls too, now forming one side of a Lidl carpark, which they have also plonked some pretentious housing on. After this, we headed down off the hill to a delapidated street which had really suffered in the recent high winds, with one abandoned house apparently having had its roof blown off. We then retired to an Irish bar, where we had a couple of beers and a nice chat about a range of topics. We got on rather well - we had never met before and there is now talk of spending a weekend together with mutual friends - while the barlady admitted that Walsall was not the best place to live but okay to visit. It seemed fine to me as we walked back through the town and towards the station two hours later, with Kael needing to get his car and us needing to get back to Birmingham. Once we did, we picked up the bags from the hotel in the driving wind and rain, before heading back to BrewDog for a few as we waited for our train. At the station, we grabbed some food and saw some cool dogs before boarding the train and heading back after a brilliant weekend.