Archive for the ‘cafes’ Tag

4 highlights of Geneva

Following on from the last post (All Souls’ Day) I have spent much of today reading most of Patti Smith’s new book, Year of the Monkey. It’s put me in the mood to write (which is always the sign of a special writer – her friend Allen Ginsberg has much the same effect from my experience).

GIFF Geneva International Film Festival 2019 Geneve

I am in Geneva on a flying visit to the Geneva International Film Festival. Late last night – after returning home from my second viewing of the brilliant Joker at Warner Bros., where I bumped into my old Channel 4 colleague John Yorke and chewed the story fat with him – I managed to find the old tobacco tin at home where I keep my Swiss money. It turned out I had quite a lot – I haven’t been to Switzerland for a few years and it has appreciated markedly in the wake of the disastrous Brexit referendum (I hear they are a bit better at referenda here).

referenda oui non geneva geneve switzerland suisse

So I shifted the Swiss francs to my Euro purse, a suede purse from California my grandmother gave me as a boy – it says something like Gold Nuggets on it, long since worn away. I notice in Year of the Monkey how attached Patti Smith is to particular (not monetarily valuable) objects in her life, attributing meaning through memory to them.

purse with swiss francs

I decided to blow as much of my purseload as possible – this is what I spunked it on…

1) Soup

pumpkin soup cream

I love soup – it’s a top food and generally healthy. In Year of the Monkey Patti has chicken soup, decorated with egg yolks (not sure which came first the chicken or the eggs), with her ailing friend Sam Shepherd on his ranch in Kentucky. This is pumpkin soup – I don’t normally like it, often too sweet, but this was delicious. I ate it outside Le Perron restaurant at the foot of the hill in the old town – I ate under the tree at that restaurant years ago with my younger brother. We did a sudoku outside another cafe in the old quarter that time too – I hate puzzles and crosswords but on that occasion it was fun. Patti seems much attracted to numbers both in dates (in which she sees magical coincidences – see All Souls’ Day) and in books of geometry. The fly leaves of Year of the Monkey have some kind of algebraic-geometric sketch and scribblings. I think it’s what she describes herself drawing on a white bedsheet in a moment of inspiration.

2) Perch

perch fillets geneva geneve

Fillet of perch is a speciality of Geneva – they get the poor little critters from Lac Leman. So I sat outside Le Perron – the only person to do so – but the weather was mild. The owner found it amusing but conceded the weather was soft. “Il faut en profiter” I told him – I’ve really enjoyed exercising my French today. Patti references Rimbaud’s Illuminations in the bit I just read – I made a mental commitment to read it soon. He wrote those prose-poems in London around 1873-75.

verlaine rimbaud camden town plaque

8 Royal College Street, Camden Town

3) Steak Frites

steak frites wine

The Cafe de Paris was a recommendation by the lugubrious hotel night receptionist – it is a stone’s throw from Hotel Cristal. It turned out to be a carbon copy of Le Relais de Venise in London’s Soho and Marylebone. A restaurant that just does one meal but one meal really well – a great idea. The meal is green salad followed by steak and French fries aka steak frites. There must be a model for this kind of restaurant I thought – checked it out, there is – Le Relais de Venise established in Paris in 1959. Of course the meal demands red wine so I had a couple of little glasses. Patti is always eating and drinking in this new book as well as the last, M Train. It’s like join the cafes.

4) Cherries

cherries in cognac

Cherries drenched in cognac. Frankly it’s one of the BEST THINGS I’VE EVER TASTED.

I love cherries. I’ve not really engaged with cognac. Perfect combo. Highlight of the highlights.

Geneva geneve autumn fall old city

The old town

Patti Smith – like myself – is an inveterate flâneur. I wandered over to the digital outpost of the Festival where the VR projects were on display. As usual, underwhelming. I contend that factual programming is not the strong point of what is a very important new technology. Games, health, retail, architecture, training – all no-brainers. Documentary – my jury’s out. The cobbled streets, small squares, narrow lanes and flowing fountains of the old town are charming – in stark contrast to the banks and luxury goods shops.

When I lived just over the border in Savoie (Savoy, SE France) there was an outbreak of graffiti that year in Geneva. At the end of the year they caught the culprit – a psychologist who contended that the place was too clean and boring for the citizens’ mental health. The thing is someone somewhere pays for these watch shops and luxury brands to be here – they pay in poverty and hardship. Le reverse de la medaille. Every coin has another side.

GIFF reverse banners geneva international film festival geneve

Freebird

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Back in 2000 I chaired a task group for the Broadband Stakeholders Group (a body lobbying the Government for better broadband connectivity) looking at the probable impact of broadband on the UK workplace. One of the group’s conclusions was that it would have a positive impact on the environment and transport because it would enable workers to do more locally or at home, thereby reducing the need for the daily commute.

From 2000 to 2013 I spent much of my life on a tube train across the city, mostly for no good purpose. I stopped that on 9th July 2016 when I left Channel 4 after 13 glorious years.

I am now working in a peripatetic style and not only thoroughly enjoying it (and the summer) but actually finding creative inspiration from it. I knew this from the sabbatical I took in 2013-14 to write during which I wrote in all kinds of places from the National Library, Dublin to the kitchen garden of Kenwood – and chronicled it here on Simple Pleasures.

As my working week drew to an end yesterday in a steam room near Gray’s Inn followed by a last hour-long burst of writing in some barristers chambers (very productive and clear-minded) I reflected back on a classic week of working on the move which I feel like capturing here for posterity because the working locations were such an inspiration in themselves; reflect the rich mix I plan to make the defining characteristic of my work life going forward; and brought with them such uplifting experiences.

So this week I have worked…

  • in Borough, in the shadow of London Bridge – with Mark Stevenson, writer and futurist, on a project about the sustainable future of energy, feeding on his always refreshing optimism
  • at BAFTA, one of my two pied-à-terres in central London, where I had a key meeting with an always-inspiring former colleague about the film script I am currently writing (for an energetic British production company whose early successes are very promising)
  • in the garden of the Chelsea Arts Club where I met a film-maker whose father knew the protagonist of my movie and from whom I got a useful sense of the kind of person he was. This particular stop brought the highlight of the week as we were joined in the sun-bathed garden by the poet Brian Patten, a charming, witty and warm man from the evidence of this first encounter. In fact it was in a way my second encounter as I saw him perform live in Cambridge around 1984 with his fellow Liverpool poets Roger McGough and Adrian Henri. He gave wise advice concerning my younger son, who has severe dyslexia, and his literary studies. A young priest in exquisitely made robes entered the garden at one point and sat at the adjoining table. At which juncture Brian leaned over the table and recited a brilliant poem about a falling priest, without the faith or courage to fall freely. Brian had based the poem on an ancient Sufi text. It was a beautiful and unexpected gift of words that made my week.
  • in a restaurant in Victoria where an old Channel 4 colleague  of mine turned out to be pals with a director who would be perfect for the film
  • outside Kipferl, an Austrian cafe at The Angel, one of my favourites, where I caught up with Harry Cymbler, MD of Hot Cherry (where I am a Non-Exec)
  • in the Reading Room of Somerset House where I drafted an application for Creative England with my co-producer
  • in the newly opened Eneko Basque restaurant, scion of Eneko Atxa’s Michelin-starred place Azurmendi in Larrabetzu (in the Basque country in Northern Spain), where we finished drafting the application either side of a beautiful meal of Iberico pork and fruity wine punch
  • in my back garden where I carried on writing the treatment to the tranquil sounds of my newly resurrected water-rock (I can’t possibly use the term ‘water feature’, it’s so Home Front). I copied the water-rock from the courtyard of a hotel in Newry, County Down – it definitely irrigates creativity.
  • in Raymond Buildings, Gray’s Inn in a room with a photo of my lower sixth English class, a reminder of a very inspirational year with a very inspirational teacher (in the photo sporting a velvet jacket).

There’s a lot to be said for wandering freely. As I read in The Week earlier this very enjoyable week, Nietzsche was also much in favour of being on the move:

All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.

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The Water-Rock

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Eneko on the Aldwych

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Eneko Basqueness

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Chelsea Arts Club

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Gray’s Inn

Cafe Society (Day 22)

The coffee shop has a long tradition of being a place of creativity and innovation. Today I met up with Chris Ward who recently wrote a whole book about that association and how to make it work for you in the 21st century. He kindly gave me this copy:

out of office

As a person who spends one hour a day each way on the tube to work, so that’s 10 hours a week, or 1 day a week, so that’s 47 weeks a year, the book makes a lot of sense to me. The office and commute make no business, economic, environmental, transport or any other sense in this day and age.

Cafe No. 1: Campbell & Syne, East Finchley

I met my former colleague at Channel 4 Louise Brown for a catch-up and met her delightful new twins. Got to hold a baby for the first time in ages. That puts you in touch with what really matters and is worthwhile.

Campbell and Syne

Cafe No. 2: Shoreditch House, Shoreditch

Met up with some Channel 4 on-screen talent to discuss the end of the office, the end of the university degree, the end of borders, the end of cars, the end of the retail high street, the end of all sorts of things that make less and less sense in the digital age. Michael Acton Smith, who features in Chris’ book, walked past, not in his office. He’s done very well for himself by inventing Moshi Monsters in a cafe.

Shoreditch house club

Cafe No. 3: Albion, Shoreditch

I met Chris in Terence Conran’s Albion cafe. Outside in front I bumped into Utku and Noam from Mint Digital, creators of Stickygram, also not in their office. Mint and I thought up Quotables in a cafe opposite Great Ormond Street – it’s becoming a TV show this month (Was It Something I Said). Chris filled me in on the world of self-publication, design and printing which is how he chose to go with Out of Office. It got to No. 1 in the business charts.

Albion cafe shoreditch

Cafe No. 4: Dan and DeCarlo, East Finchley

I waited for Enfant Terrible No. 2 at this place opposite The Archer, East Finchley’s fine Art Deco landmark (a sculpture created by the man who designed the staircase to heaven in Powell & Pressberger’s A Matter of Life and Death). I wrote more of the Paul Arden chapter, an intense burst of writing to conclude the day. Chris Ward cites Paul Arden’s It’s Not How Good You Are… as a key text for his notional ‘Penny University’, a term used of the 18th Century coffee shops of London and their potential for learning – a penny bought you entry, a cup of the black stuff, the newspapers and snippets of journalistic gossip. Chris is in the habit of giving Arden’s tome away to everyone he ever works with.

dan and decarlo cafe

First light (Day 14)

A London coffee house 1668 (Photo courtesy of Lordprice Collection / Alamy)

A London coffee house 1668 (Photo courtesy of Lordprice Collection / Alamy)

Sitting in a cafe at Marylebone Station on Sunday morning the book, let’s call it When Sparks Fly for now, got its first airing. I read half of Chapter One to my other half. I hadn’t even read it back to myself yet, other than in bits and pieces. Bottom line, she found it engaging, followable and made up of stories she enjoyed hearing. Which was encouraging. Because at this stage I have no real idea how I’m doing.

The story point is particularly essential. Many books of the type I’m trying to write hit the Pareto rule junction. A vestige of maths or physics lessons at school, I can’t even remember which any more, this is the rule about 80% of the effects coming from 20% of the causes. Or, as here applied, you squeeze 80% of the juice out of a book from 20% of the effort. What that usually looks like is: Chapter 1 – here’s my model, here are some brief illustrations. And the model is good, the examples interesting, but by the end of Chapter 1 I’ve got the idea and I reach the junction. Get out while I’m ahead, I’ve grasped the idea, I’ve only expended 20% of the time and effort? Or plough on for the other 80%?

That’s why I started writing this book in a different way from how I’d normally write. I began with a narrative only layer, a sequence of what I hope are interesting and funny and moving stories which illustrate my points – but not much by way of analysis or theory. What was interesting in the read-through was that my wife questioned the need for much analysis and the question arose of how far the stories spoke for themselves, the implications for creative practice for the most part being pretty evident.

On the train journey to Warwick I also came up with an unusual way of summarising the principles, not a way I’ve ever seen, more visually driven. So that’s some good writing progress on the Brighton train this week, an original idea on the Warwick train, a writing landmark in Patisserie Valerie in Marylebone Station, an insightful meeting with Ruth MacKenzie in Notes cafe, St Martin’s Lane. Perhaps the best way of doing this kind of thing is to travel from place to place by train and stop in at cafes along the way.

Chris Ward, author of Out of Office, kindly got in touch the same day in the wake of reading this blog with the offer of a coffee house meeting to discuss the role of the hot black stuff in creativity and related matters so I may chuck the contribution of choo-choos into the conversation.

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