Cardiff Liverpool (Paris) Newcastle
— conference season again. I kick it off with a brief soujourn in Cardiff, windy but sunny. The university buildings are charming, Bute Park green and expansive. The first Ashes test is starting over the river. I find an excellent Italian restaurant that I visit twice in two nights., serving some very tasty food. There are lots of young people everywhere, graduating. They seem so very young. I’m reading Phillip K. Dick, which is disorientating. I can’t decide how good a writer he is. The Man in the High Castle is stylistically excellent but meandering. Ubik doesn’t have quite the same scope but was it just because I read the SF Masterworks edition and The Man in the High Castle was in the Penguin Classics silver livery? The systemicists buy some books; I pack up and head to London. Cardiff town centre, although formulaic, seems more for having fun that fighting. I drink a few beers. A far cry from Newcastle. But before that, the next stop — Liverpool. I found it a city that doesn’t impress upon arrival. Lime Street is small and grimy and underwhelming. Apart from a walk to the docks, which are spacious and also suprisingly empty, it is down and heel and unimpressive. The original Cavern Club was filled with rubble by the council, and the new one is a tourist trap. The pubs across from it are filled either with tourists taking pictures or extremely drunk locals. There’s one section of the centre that’s all bars, with braying youths outside drunk on the amazingly cheap booze on offer. I settle for Revolution and drink some Bacardi Breezers while some old men play music and what looks like a group from an office turn up to do shots. The venue for the conference itself is the Guild of Students, which is cold and tacky from residual duct tape. I’m sure its an awesome gig venue. It brings back memories of Saturday nights at the Zodiac on Cowley Road. But as a conference venue, I wear my coat all day because it is freezing and pace around, disappointed by the cold potato wedges and the instant coffee. The toilets underneath the venue are huge – the largest I’ve ever been in. But no-one is around. They are extremely badly designed, panels falling off to the touch and the metal one piece toilets offer scant comfort. There are sections in disrepair, out of use, which appear to be yet more cubicles.
Paris was lovely. A holiday in a city that seems delightful, all built from the same material, uniformly dazzling from one of the many vantage points. So beautiful, and we arrive in a thirty degree heat. The first stop is La Butte and a panoramic view over a city resplendent in sun-dappled white. The Métro is speedy and relatively uncrowded and seemlingly untroubled by the raft of ignorant commuters that London is beset by. I try my best to forget about the rain coming in at 45 degrees on the Brownlow Hill. I try my best to forget about a lot of things whilst committing the new things to memory. Montmartre, Montparnasse, Pigalle. But then you read about the unrest beyond the ring road and the banlieue, and Paris’ elitism. You read, and you learn, and react, and the world gets more complex and full of shades of grey.
BAAL at Newcastle arrives at the beginning of September. Although in a nice venue, they’ve neglected to switch the heating on and it won’t stop raining. Once again, it is coat on all day cold. We sell hardly any books. Newcastle’s town centre is by turns empty and then hilarious and then menacing. And although there are bars selling triples for £1.95 (with ‘draught’ mixer), my Doom Bar still sets me back £2.95. Which is the same price as I paid … On Tottenham Court Road.
As I leave, the trains are delayed due to flooding in Scotland and the terminus decamps yet more stag and hen parties into the town centre, coat-less, garish pastel-coloured suitcases on wheels, trying to light cigarettes in the blustery wind. Because that muffin top pair of jeans and boob tube and the chewing gum spat on the pavement floor is —
That’s why — I’m unsure.