coffee-repIt’s no secret that I spend a lot of time in coffee bars. I write in them, I stop off for a quick espresso during long runs, I eavesdrop the conversations of random weirdos. And I like the indies and I like the big guys, but rarely does one place get everything right: great coffee, happy staff, nice décor, good food and so on.

I think Coffee Republic gets the closest.  I reviewed the Finchley branch a while back, but just a few weeks ago we got one in Muswell Hill. They’re competing against the big three¹  all within a few hundred yards and they win on most counts. Starbucks usually feels spacious and Californian², Costa has the best coffee and Nero has the nicest food but has ridiculous opening hours (6pm? Really? You’re kicking me out at 6pm? So, like, I’ve got to go home now?³)  Coffee Republic has good coffee, the politest and most affable staff and the food is really good. It’s just variations on the panini kind of thing, but I haven’t hit a bad sandwich yet. This one img_4121281 was the ham hock and mustard, the least exciting I’ve had so far and still really tasty. The Muswell Hill branch doesn’t have the bare brickwork and stripped wood NYC feel of the Finchley branch  and tbh the lighting’s a little brutal, but it’s still my no.1  choice in the N10 ‘hood right now. Go take a look, if only for the charming barista crew!

¹That’s Nero, Costa and ‘Bucks not Woodrow Wilson, David Lloyd George and Georges Clemenceau, the key players at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, in case there was some confusion.

²I know they’re from Seattle, I’m just saying it feels Californian.

³And they can be a little, you know, brusque about it too!

 

As I mentioned recently I’m taking Allthemacchs in a different direction for a little while. I’m going to be posting about my running and in particular about my plan to run all the tube lines on the London Underground. tube-map

I’m not going to abandon writing about coffee bars, in fact my next post will be about the new branch of the fabulous Coffee Republic (here’s a previous post about the Finchley branch) that’s just opened in Muswell Hill.

But there will be more posts about running.

If like me you like to run and if like me you live in a big city (or a small city I guess; I’m thinking maybe Brighton? Bath?) then I hope I can share some tips for running the urban trails. Over the years I’ve run many organised races, ParkRuns, 10kms, marathons and even an ultramarathon, but recently I’ve been looking for something a little more… bespoke.

And to be honest, cheaper and with less people around. Call me a grouch but I really like running on my own.

The idea started a little while back when me and my good friend, Sticky decided to run the length of Broadway in New York City, which, it turned out is pretty much exactly a half marathon. I like the idea of combining running with sight seeing; you can stop off for a coffee or a taco or to watch some buskers or whatever. It all just seems like a more relaxed deal that the organised race thing. I’d been quite inspired by reading a couple of books by ultramarathon superman @DeanKarnazes who likes to do crazy shit like run all night long then order take out pizza to be delivered to wherever he happens to be when he hits mile twenty, so he’s got the fuel to run home again.

Exploring other cities seemed obvious, but what about my own backyard? Of course I’ve run around London for years, but tbh I usually stick to the same routes. The London Underground seemed like the perfect challenge ¹  .

Okay, maybe not perfect; a cursory glance at the tube map and a few minutes on Wikipedia revealed that some of these lines are really, really long. Ultra marathon distances. But, you know, that’s the nature of a challenge I guess; it should have some measure of er.. challenge in it.

I searched around and found very little in the way of help and advice. There were certainly a few people who’d done it, mostly raising fantastic amounts of money for charity, this guy, and these guys, but considering how many people run in London, I was surprised there was so little out there.

So now I’m doing it too².

Next post: It begins: The Victoria Line.

Anybody else had a go at running the London Underground?

Or have you got any other interesting running projects?

 ¹ I guess I should be absolutely clear here to avoid a misunderstanding, but I’m talking about running the tube lines above ground.

²Although not for charity. Huge respect for people that do; I have done so for marathons I’ve run in the past but I just find the whole business to be a massive pain in the arse. If you’re inspired by my endeavours, maybe just go and drop a fiver in some homeless dude’s hat or something.

My current writing project is my first proper foray into non-fiction: a collection of tales about running in the city.

When I’m not writing, I run. And I run pretty much exclusively on the streets of London. Now I’ve read a whole bunch of running books (recent favourites are Dean Karnazes and Adharanand Finn) and for the most part they focus on runs in stunning countryside, through deserts and up and down mountains, that kind of thing. All well and good, but it’s probably not most people’s experience of running, and honestly, give me a grimy part of the city, a taco truck for mid-run fuelling and the occasional stop for the kind of unexpected goings-on you get in your average metropolis, and I’ll take that over a lakeside view or a scrabble up a mountain pass all day long.

More about the running in upcoming posts, but the big news is…

A chapter from the new book was recently shortlisted and then “highly commended” in the 2016 Yeovil Literary Prize!

I am now an award-winning writer. Can I say that? I think I can say that.

You can read the chapter here.

After a short hiatus, I figured it was time to get back to the blog; those coffeebars aint gonna review themselves.
And I have a book to plug.
Two actually.
Okay, so I’ve written a new novel and it’s going to be out early in the new year. This one is kind of about the financial crisis of 2008 and ensuring meltdown. In the way of these things it’s about a bunch of other stuff too. It features a foul-mouthed, drug-chomping reincarnation of William Blake. More details to follow.

I am also mid-way through writing my first non-fiction book. About running. Specifically being a runner in the city. Which I am. It may well be that my blog-posts lean a little more towards the running thing over the coming months.
As research for the book I have been running the tube lines in London. Above ground, obv. There will be a blog-post about that.
Anybody else run the tube lines? I’d love to hear your stories.

Over the years that I’ve been visiting the café in Alexandra Palace Garden Centre (I don’t think the café gets it’s own name as such, it certainly doesn’t seem to have a website) I’ve had a variety of experiences w/r/t food, service and atmosphere. Mostly bad. The food, if you do not choose wisely, can be a little dull. The service also veers between the jolly and competent to the ‘Oh, really? You actually want me to make you a fucking cup of coffee? Shit, alright then, when I’ve finished the crossword’.   It used to be run by a foul-mouthed French dude who would swear at you in two languages, and which would have been okay if he cooked like a Frenchman but in fact he was a truly awful cook as well. He’s gone.  On my last visit the chef,  whoever he is hadn’t quite made it in to work yet (it was 9:30, they open at 9) and I had to wait half an hour to get anything to eat.

But you know what? I’m still recommending this joint.

Here’s why.

1. The coffee is very good. They serve Agust coffee, not a big name here but big in Italy and they’ve been around for a long time and they’re Fair-trade and just really tasty, striking that tricksy balance between toasty with a little hit of citrus.

garden centre

2. The bacon sandwiches are really, really good. I mean it’s just bacon and bread as you can see here

garden centre 2

but way better than it has any right to be. I’d eaten half of it before I remembered to take a pic. I think they maybe dust the bacon with crack.

3. It’s in a garden centre. Which is a bit odd, as people trundle past you with trolleys full of yucca plants and compost every so often, but it’s also a bit like being in the jungle. And they have a charming outside area with a little pond. And they have a rooftop terrace with some nice views. They used to have sparrows that nested in the eaves of the building and flew around inside like they were trying to escape. Actually that was a little frightening at times. Anyway, they’re no longer there; I think they had them all shot.  And unlike the fatally flawed Grove Café nearby, no dogs. Maybe they had them shot too.

Just last week I was chairing a literary thing with some other writers as part of the Crouch End Festival 2014 in which we were all asked to pick our Desert Island Books.

My new lit crush Louise Millar chose a book I’d never come across before, Melanie McGrath’s Motel Nirvana  and which sounds like just my kind of thing: weird goings-on in the south west of the USA, sage brush and cactus, odd-balls, diners – you get the picture. Last time I did a book thing with Millar we’d both chosen John Fante novels, so I know we share a love of American strangeness.

The highly amusing and erudite Matt Bayliss (the only person in the room to pick up on my A E Housman reference) chose the north London telephone directory (I guess you had to be there), chick lit rising star Jessica Thompson picked a book by Elizabeth Taylor (which I’m pretty sure was not the same one that was married to Richard Burton) and the charming and hard-drinking Tom Campbell chose something foreign and classy about which I can recall not a thing (reasons for which may become clearer shortly).

The whole event was a huge success and I got to talk about books and drink wine paid for by someone else (those are two of my top five markers of a successful night) and I very much hope I will be fortunate enough to get invited to host similar things in the future. It was all very civilised to begin with of course, but  ended up in the pub with me, a couple of my close friends, a woman who was a big cheese in the Crouch End Festival mafia and Campbell, drinking way too much for a Wednesday night. The big cheese sloped off early leaving me, my two friends (neither of whom appear to have much in the way of proper regular employment) and Campbell, drinking till the small hours. I have no recollection of getting home and can only hope the others managed to find their own way out of N8. The following morning I was surprised to find a smart new copy of Campbell’s new novel, The Planner, possibly a gift, possibly stolen, with some illegible scrawl on the front page, possibly from the author, possibly from some other random drunk dude, and possibly warm and affectionate, possibly abusive and obscene (honestly, I can make out only about two words of the whole dedication). Either way, I’m nearly done with it and enjoying it immensely.

And as for my own choice for the one book that I’d take if stranded on a desert island? As I said on the night, no contest: David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. After around two years of reading it (it’s taken such a long time partly because it’s a big old book, partly because pretty early on I realised just how extraordinary it was and began to ration myself), I finished it the day before the event last week. As for a review?

Nope.

I knew straight away that I was in no position to try and sum up such a phenomenal piece of literature: I’m just not that good a writer. So I’ve started the whole thing again. All 1079 pages. And so far, it’s even better than the first time.

Okay, not really, but that’s the premiseclocktower

of an event I’m chairing at the upcoming Couch End Festival 2014.

The idea is a bunch of local authors, including myself,  Louise Millar (The Playdate, Accidents Happen, The Hidden Girl) and a couple of others (Millar gets a name check because we’ve done stuff together before  and she rocks!) talk about which books we would choose if Crouch End was lost beneath the rising oceans and we only got to pick the one. Plus we will be talking about why we love N8 and there will be wine and a few other surprises.

As for my desert island book… you’ll just have to turn up to find out.