Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Seven Things I Love (and Seven Things I Hate) About Leamington Spa - The Final Leamington Blog

This is my final missive to you from Leamington Spa...

After more than two years writing this journal from my garret in Leamington Spa in Warwickshire, I am going home - to Lewes and London.

It is a strange feeling. I have often daydreamed of this moment, but now it has finally arrived I have very mixed feelings about it.

Not that I want to stay. No way, Jose!

It is just that somehow I have made this schizoid life work, and now I have to dismantle it and that is easier said than done.

Sunset in Leamington Spa, UK

I have moved home many times in my life but have never had such a complicated departure, with enormous issues with handing over my day-job and with getting my chattels out of the Leamington Garret and into the Lewes Garret.

In truth I am leaving most of my possessions. Just abandoning them. That includes a music system, the computer, two sofas, an armchair, a triple bed, duvet, all the kitchen utensils, pots and pans, iron and ironing board, broadband router, telephone et cetera.

Even getting my CDs, clothes and books into the Lewes Garret has proved difficult. So I have no choice but to ditch the rest of the stuff.

An added complication is that I am planning to go on holiday to France the day after my leaving do, so I absolutely must not leave the Leamington Garret that day with more than a suitcase of stuff!

The Garret is weird now.

After Attila Szalo’s departure, I have been living on my own in an increasingly desolate pad, oftentimes high winds howling outside.

The curtains went back to Lewes last week, so now I am staring at the flats across the Pump Room Gardens, feeling exposed and naked.

So, what was it about Leamington Spa? Why have I rued it with a vengeance?

And what - in anything - have I loved about it?

Let's start with the good things:

Seven Things I Love About Leamington Spa

1. The Reckless Moment comedy club

This Monday night comedy club - run by post-graduate University of Warwick film students Tom Hughes and Pete Falconer - is beautiful.

It is one of the most joyous comedy clubs I have ever been to, and has, on occasions, made me incredibly happy.

Tom Hughes is a great, upbeat compere and Pete 'The Meat' Falconer makes a perfect comedic partner.

Tom and Pete book great acts and only charge two quid on the door. A remarkable treat!

2. PureAndGoodAndRight performance poetry club.

Promoter and performance poet Sean Kelly has done an extraordinary job in invigorating the Leamington poetry scene with this monthly club.

I have performed on great nights there on the same bills as some fabulous headliners.

PureAndGoodAndRight is two years' old now - and back at the Fox pub, in Clarendon Avenue - on the third Wednesday of every month.

Check it out!

3. The Architecture, the Gardens and the River Leam

I love the Regency buildings of Leamington.

It is, in so many ways, a lovely looking town.

Jephson Gardens are beautiful and, despite its many faults the council strives to renew the flower beds throughout the Spring and Summer.

Combined with the turbulent beauty of the Leam, it is a great place to live.

Swans on the Leam, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, UK

It is a shame that the people of Leamington so often do not seem comfortable with what they have.

4. The Millennium Balti Indian Restaurant, Bath Street, Leamington

An incredibly inexpensive (particularly for booze) curryhouse. My favourite place to go when feeling lonely and low in Leamington.

My visits there have often preceded visits to the Apollo cinema, just round the corner from the Garret, where I have kept up to speed with the worst Hollywood can offer!

5. The Jam at Kelley's bar.

This took over from the Jam at the Jug, which was scrapped when the Jug & Jester was taken over and went to the dogs.

It is nowhere as good as that fine event, but, when it happens, it is nice to see the likes of Shanade in full flow.

6. Rhubarb.

My favourite restaurant in Leamington Spa. I had some great times there, and, when my boss generously offered to take me out for a valedictory lunch, I chose it again.

I love the elegance of it, the photos on the walls, the laid-back music and the sexiness of the waitresses!

And the food's good, too.

It's a cool place.

7. The Pure.

My health club for one month recently. Not cheap - it was £52.50 for the month - but worth it! I went there 19 times in total (therefore, only £2.76 a visit!), and loved the pool, jacuzzi, sauna and steam room.

Often at 6.30am, I would have it all to myself and fantasise it was the Garret's own private swimming pool (only one minute's walk from my front door).

I was not as keen on the gym facilities, but, hey, you can't have everything.

While on the subject of health centres, I should also mention the much cheaper council gym and swimming pool at Newbold Comyn where I have spent many happy hours, especially in the enormous pools.

Well, those are the good things.

Now take a deep breath, Leamington - here are the bad ones:

Seven Things I Hate About Leamington Spa:

1. The Unfriendliness of its People.

During my adult life, I have lived in Poole, Hull, Cardiff, Gloucester, Coventry, London, Cotesbach in Leicestershire, and Lewes.

Yet none of these places are a fraction as unfriendly as Leamington.

If you end up washed up here, your chances of making friends with the locals are minimal.

They are an insular bunch who like to hang out with each other, talking rollocks and occasionally fighting like wolves.

On the other hand, maybe it is just me (as Tom Hughes suggested).

2. The Loneliness.

Much of my life in Leamington has been a lonely existence.

I have lost count of the nights I have aimlessly wandered its streets or drunk on my own in dreary bars.

But, again, maybe this was my fault.

3. The Pubs.

Most of the pubs of Leamington are rubbish!

I can’t think of a city where the public houses are quite as uninteresting.

The Jug & Jester was for a time an exception but it blew it with an appalling revamp – and the demise of the brilliant Jam at the Jug.

Now it is as bad as most of the rest.

The Sausage is OK, but the last time I went there, a couple was having noisy sex in the only cubicle in the gents lavatory! (at about 9pm on a Tuesday night).

I like the White Horse and love the Robbins Well, home of the Reckless Moment and for a while PureAndGoodAndRight, but the other pubs are hugely soulless.

4. The Local Authorities.

Warwick District Council and Warwickshire County Council get away with daylight robbery.

At the Leamington Garret, for instance, the Council Tax is extortionate for a property of its diminutive size.

The bins are not even collected and you cannot even buy a parking permit to park on the street outside (because it is classed as a non-residential street despite all the residents).

When you complain, Warwick District Council shamelessly blames Warwickshire County Council which then ignores your complaint, not even bothering to reply.

The latest outrage is that when I tried to cash in the rest of my parking permit (for a 6pm to 9am pass for a car park nowhere near my home), I was told by Warwick District Council that there would be a fiver surcharge, meaning I would receive a quid back.

The council lackey told me that this fee was excellent value!

I told him that Warwick District Council could stuff their car park pass up their fundament!

5. The Nutters.

Of course all British towns have mad people on their streets. It is Government policy.

The so-called 'mentalists' of Leamington, however, are pretty thick on the ground at my end of town.

Sometimes I am dodging them to the way to the shops, crossing the road where two of them are shouting obscenities at each other, only to hassled by another on the other side.

The younger Asboes hang around the band stand in Pump Room Gardens, beneath the Garret.

When they come of age, they graduate to basking around the railway bridge, cider in hand.

6. The (Fighting) Women.

Quite a few of the females of Leamington are particularly adept at punching each other.

I was genuinely shocked when a huge brawl erupted outside Pizza Hut in the early evening, or a woman was bleeding from the face outside Voodoo, police sirens wailing in the background.

Even in Coventry in the 1980s, the women generally left it up to their lunatic fellas to fight for them, rather than get their hands dirty.

7. The Drugs.

Like some other little British towns, Leamington has a serious drugs problem.

The E generation stumble around in a daze, their grey matter blown.

I found heroin addicts living in the bushes of the Pump Room Gardens in the summer, their mingy rottweiler chasing me when I used to jog in the mornings.

Coke abounds. Stoners are everywhere. None of this is helping to make Leamington a better place.

Indeed a certain section of the under-25s are like a lost generation, with narrow horizons and even slighter prospects, drugs dealer on speed dial.

But maybe this is true of every small town in Mr Bean's Britain, and it has just come to my attention in Leamington.

Well, those are my loves and hates about Leamington Spa.

It is now 10.20pm on my penultimate day in the Leamington Garret. Joni Mitchell's Blue is on the mono; my remaining three candles are lit in the living room window, and I am sipping a can of Stella, my first drink of the evening.

The last week or so has been a whirlwind of activity.

Last Tuesday I went out for a drink with Tom Hughes and Pete Falconer.

Pete came up to the garret afterwards to help me cane Attila's bottle of Hungarian spirit.

It had a most bad effect on us. We were soon dancing like crazy men to Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True, with the garret windows open wide, the volume pumped up to the maximum.

Pete then suffered an inclement turn of health, and I awoke the next day with the worst hangover I have ever had (worse even than my last attempt at drinking Hungarian spirits).

I threw out the remaining bottle of Budapest firewater. Hungarians must have stomachs of steel (or die young)!

The following night I went to see my dear, dear friends at the Cotesbach estate.

It was a great evening in the Sickle & Stick, of real ale (I quaffed about a gallon) and Staghorn, at which, amazingly, I won.

St. Valentine's Night in the Pi House, Cotesbach, Leicestershire, UK

It was so lovely to see all my friends there.

I was also very interested to hear that my old pad, the Pi House, now has a new dweller.

I was home for the weekend and had a tremendous second night of my poetry club, A Pint of Poetry, at the Lewes Arms, Lewes, East Sussex.

The headliner Attila the Stockbroker was superb and the venue was packed.

A good friend from London also performed and we had a visitation from my dear cousin.

I will blog more about this gig later - when I get the pictures back.

This week so far has been wonderful but utterly exhausting. I swear I dropped off for a few minutes in a meeting at work this morning and I was so jaded in the early evening that I slept for an hour.

The end of my time at the day-job has been blighted by trying to save my images before I have to hand back my laptop.

I have had a terrible time with faulty memory sticks.

It has reinforced my dislike of digital photography.

Most digital images will die with their computers. Unlike 35mm film which is immortal.

Big Ken, the Leamington Spa town clocktower, UK

I have a sense of the clock ticking and not being able to keep up with it.

This evening I have read the electric meter with Mr Rigby the Landlord, given a thank you card from myself and Attila, packed my case, walked to the supermarket to buy 16 quid of cakes to give to my colleagues at the day-job tomorrow (a tradition there for leavers), and tried to clean the flat.

It is, I realise, a hopeless task.

I have vacuumed throughout and spent an hour spraying and scrubbing the bathroom and kitchen, but realise it would take a day to free these spaces from a generation of grime.

I can only hope to make it vaguely respectable!

Returning to the theme of Leamington loves and hates, I suppose the biggest in both categories is this place.

At times I have been scared witless here; it has been like my prison.

Yet at other times – especially in the past few months – I have been tremendously happy in the Garret.

It so many ways it is an awesome place with a wondrous view.

Other people make all the difference to it.

When there is pleasant company, it is great in this flat. When there isn't, it is scary or simply lonely.

It is ten to eleven now and I Dylan's Blood On The Tracks is on the mono.

I was told today that my ex-boss Graham Jones (ex-Daily Star and CNN) had died, in his late fifties, I believe. I was saddened by this news.

He was certainly not a popular character but I always got on with him quite well, while occasionally suffering his other side.

Surprisingly, for a hard-nosed Fleet Street news editor, he took to coming to my comedy club, Joe's Comedy Madhouse, and thoroughly enjoyed its sheer awfulness.

R.I.P. Jonesy.

It is late and I have not done my ironing, washed the kitchen floor, taken out the washing – or, most important of all, written my leaving speech.

God knows what I am going to say.

It is the day of my leaving - 19 March 2008 - and I have just had my leaving presentation, which was extremely nice.

My speech went down well and people laughed in the right places.

And my colleagues gave me a bottle of Taittinger champagne, two lovely Sheaffer pens and, best of all, a new edition of the Oxford Book of English Verse.

It opened at Byron's She Walks In Beauty, which I read out to my colleagues...

Well, I have 10 minutes to go now.

I will soon be leaving my day-job building, going to my leaving do in Leamington, then the Leamington Garret and the end.

Leamington Spa, I have loved and hated you these past two years, but I will sure as hell miss you.

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