Craft Beer In Edinburgh

I was off for a couple of days in Edinburgh recently and, amongst all the walking in the cold and the culturey stuff, of course I had to try the local craft beer spots. Just for you guys for the future, like.

Brewdog Edinburgh was the first sport, of course. Just as you’d expect, all their stuff and guests on tap (the Hop Cannon beer blew my head off!) The haggis pizza was an unexpectedly pleasant surprise…

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Found The Hanging Bat too. Nice atmosphere, in-house beers and a very decent food menu which included….. that’s right…. haggis on a hot dog.

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The Potting Shed was nice (if a little cold, well it is based on a potting shed, I suppose)

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And I really loved Holyrood 9A. Nice staff, great beers, old world pub atmosphere.

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And all three are within walking distance of each other too ;-)

Book Review – The China Factory by Mary Costello

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Came to this too late, it’s been sitting on the shelf for ages.

It’s a hugely readable and keenly observed collection of small, delicate stories about quiet lives, small moments, people in fractured relationships. Everything from a woman finding our her ex-husband has dies in a climbing accident to marital infidelity with a sibling, a ‘sort of’ relationship by e-mail all the way to a man finding out that he’s almost at the end of his life.

I’ve had a bit of an attitude change to collections of short stories recently. Over the years I’ve read everything from the brilliant Raymond Carver to collections that had left me stone cold and unengaged. I thought the form itself was probably not for me, that I needed something longer to get my teeth into.

So then recently reading current collections by Hilary Mantel and Andrew Fox reignited my love hugely. This sits squarely with them as one to be pressed into the hands of others wherever possible. Beautiful, internal and universal. Super stuff.

Book Review – Harry’s Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith

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This one is somewhat of an oddity in the many, many books I’ve read about the world today and what the hell is going wrong.

Harry Leslie Smith is a 91-year-old who grew up in incredible poverty in Barnsley during the Great Depression, fought in World War II and now has taken to writing about how he sees the contract that was promised to his generation after 1945 (greater social equality, free healthcare, the social safety net) has been eroded so far that, quite literally, he’s as mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore.

No he’s not a lifelong journalist, commentator or author, just a “civilian” who, after a life selling oriental carpets and following the death of his wife in 1999, took up writing. Since then he’s written impassioned and very popular columns for The Guardian and three books of memoir. In Harry’s Last Stand he admits he may soon be just a picture on someone’s sideboard and a memory, but he wants to go down swinging for the rest of us.

Yes, it would be all to easy for him to fall into a trap of sounding like Grandpa Simpson, railing on about how things used to be so much better and how today we don’t appreciate any of it. Instead he points out just how bad things once were and how we’re sliding back into a time resembling one he thought the human race would never have to live through again.

It does read like a long, impassioned plea for the dignity of people, equality for the 99%, tolerance, and his fear that corporations of today are treating workers no differently that “the toffs” who ran the mines did when he was a kid.

Seek this one out. If it doesn’t make you angry there’s something wrong with you. It’s inspirational stuff.

The Poetry Programme

I hate keeping secrets so I’m glad I can finally tell you…

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Starting on Saturday January 24th, and after much appearing on other people’s shows there over the last couple of years, I’m going to be presenting my first ever show over on RTÉ Radio 1.

The Poetry Programme will run every Saturday evening at 7.30 (right after The Book Show) and I’ll be interviewing contemporary poets from Ireland and all over the world, visiting poetry and spoken word events around the country and celebrating anniversaries in the greater poetry world.

For instance – first show I talk to the wonderful National Poet of Scotland Liz Lochhead, we check out what performance poetry night Brownbread Mixtape sounds like and founder of the Lingo Festival Stephen James Smith gives us a performance of a Yeats poem.

I’m hoping this will be a programme not just for those in the poetry community already but  for people with an interest in poetry who’d like to dig in and find new and established contemporary poets and events that they might want to read more of or turn up at.

No, of course, this doesn’t mean there’ll be any changes to the regular weekday show on 2FM. Think of this as a part-time job I’m taking on at the weekend.

We’re on Twitter @PoetryProgRTE and on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/RTEPoetryProgramme or you can mail the show – poetry@rte.ie.

The Poetry Programme

The Poetry Programme is a Rockfinch production for RTÉ Radio 1. The production team are Claire Cunningham (series producer), Julien Clancy (reporter/co-producer), Dave Lordan (research) and Niall MacMonagle (consultant).

Book One Hundred!

Book One Hundred 2014:

Dubliners 100

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It seemed only appropriate to finish off an incredible year and a huge project with something Irish and appropriate. I’m glad I did.

He didn’t give himself an easy editorial job, you know, but Tom Morris’s collection of what he calls “cover versions” of the original stories in Joyce’s Dubliners is a combination of the interesting, the bizarre and the downright brilliant. Each either retells, reshapes or just takes a jumping off point from the original story they’re based on.

They vary wildly from John Kelly, Andrew Fox, Mary Morrissy and Sam Coll’s great modernisations of A Little Cloud, After The Race, An Encounter and Grace through Evelyn Conlon’s deft telling of the other half of Two Gallants, John Boyne’s riff on Araby and Belinda McKeon’s Counterparts all the way to the genuine brilliance of Paul Murray’s A Painful Case and Donal Ryan’s Eveline.

It’s one of those books that I feel I should genuinely press into the hands of others. If you’ve never read the original it stands all by itself, if you have there are so many other layers that reveal themselves as you go along. Top stuff.