Posts Tagged ‘crouch end’

I’m reposting this short review of Crouch End’s lovely Hot Pepper Jelly café just because I happened to be there again the other day after a gap of far too long and you know what? It’s still great. What did I eat? The fantastic Hot Pepper Jelly sandwich of course (see below). Still unusual (I don’t know anywhere else that throws this oddball combination of awesomeness into a sandwich), still delicious.

As promised in my recent  Man vs Food post, today I returned to lovely Crouch End cafe, Hot Pepper Jelly on the Broadway, to take down The Inferno.

HPJ is famed for its awesome bacon, peanut butter and chilli-jam sandwiches, and on my last visit I noticed the addition of a new and hotter version, featuring a chill-jam made with scotch bonnets or habaneros, a chilli registering an impressive 350,000 Scoville units. This is for most people the hottest chilli you’re going to come across (although by no means the hottest around, about which more in a minute).

Here’s a pic of the little beauty:

which looks harmless and  pretty much like any of their other eats. It took a couple of bites for the chilli to kick in and it immediately had that unmistakable, fruity fire you get with habaneros. It’s not unpleasant (you know, if you like that kind of thing) and is certainly not just pure heat.  It was a delicious sandwich and I ate the whole thing with little problem. My mouth went a little numb, but in a good way.

To be honest I was a little disappointed it wasn’t hotter. But then I have recently, after a long search, managed to get my hands on some of the elusive naga or ghost chillies (in Tesco of all places!), reputed to be the hottest in the world (although some will tell you it’s the Trinidad Scorpion and yet others say the Hoxton Serenity) and coming in at a neuron-frying 1,000,000 Scovilles. I made my own ghost chilli sauce and of course couldn’t resit having a little bite of the raw fruit. Shitballs, it was hot! Within seconds my mouth was a sea of pain and within minutes my hands had pretty much seized up, I guess paralysed with whatever neuro-toxins I’d released into my nervous system. So maybe I’m getting a little used to this stuff. Either way it was still a truly excellent sandwich.

More local food challenges please – Crouch end cafes, take note.

In other news, House of Dreams is now on sale at the fantastic Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green. And the charming waitress at HPJ took some of my House of Dreams postcards to display, and even said she’d put one up on the loo door – now that’s service!


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?


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.


My good friend and premier client, Callum Jacobs has just had his last novel, urban techno thriller The Geek Manifesto, shortlisted for the top 50 books by independent authors. Have a look and vote for it here


I put his success in no small part down to my abilities and insight as an agent. He says it’s because it’s a good book. Whatever.

I may have mentioned once or twice before that the life of a literary agent is not with out its perks. I get to spend a lot of time reading. The meetings I attend are usually held in upscale restaurants and groovy little cafes. People are willing to offer me all kinds of things¹ to gain access to the power they (mostly totally wrongly) believe I wield. But now and again, I have to pay. And it’s usually because of some dumbass client I’m representing who needs me to do something stupid. And to narrow it down to specifics, it’s usually my premier client, Callum Jacobs asking me to do something really stupid, borderline illegal or just plain hazardous to my health. But when a good client calls, a good agent’s only got one response.

Thus it was that I found myself on the night of the last full moon, dressed in a white satin robe, anointed in oil and chanting to the four quarters of Earth, Air, Water and Fire, deep in Queen’s Wood, N10.

But let me backtrack a little.

Callum had told me that as research for his next novel he needed to go and hang with some wiccans and had managed to track down a local group (coven?) who’d be meeting for a full moon ritual, as luck would have it, virtually in our own back yard. At these early stages I’d suggested, not unreasonably I think, that if he wanted to find out a little about the pagan faith he could just go and read a goddamn book, but apparently this was not what “real writers” do. It turns out that “real writers” are also massive pussies, as he insisted I go along too, in case, he said, they pulled some magic shit on him and he ended up converted or sacrificed or something similar. So he made the call and it was on.

We met the Grand Poobah and his fiendish minions in a local pub and it was immediately apparent that disparate group of oddballs though they undoubtedly were, they were all the sweetest, most charming bunch of oddballs you could hope to get naked in the forest with. After the usual slightly awkward chit-chat, and as the sun sank low behind the trees, we made our way deep into the heart of the ancient woodlands.

By the time we reached our destination it was getting pretty dark, and as too much artificial light was deemed unwelcome, (dampening the spiritual flow or something), there was fair amount of comical bumping into each other, cursing of tree-roots² and twanging branch-in-face moments. Waiting for us at the chosen hallowed spot was one more member of the group who I’m delighted to report, matched every stereotype I had ever had. Gandalf³ was tall, portly, with a thick grey beard⁴ and a huge wooden staff clutched purposefully in his hand. His voice was deep and sonorous and that it had a distinctive West coast US twang  barely detracted from the overall effect. To be honest, by this stage I was fully digging the whole party.

There was a fair bit of prep to be done, robing us all up, laying out the alter and sharing the ritual goblet of Gandalf’s tasty home made apple damson wine, (which some pagans seemed to have a little more of a thirst for than others and which at one point elicited from someone further along the fallen oak upon which we sat, a plaintive cry of “hey, dude, don’t bogart the chalice!”).

And then it was on.

By candlelight we gathered amidst the trees, we called to the spirits, we sang , we danced⁵ and we ate the blessed cakes and wines. Nobody got naked, nothing was rent in twain with a bejewelled athame and no diabolic forms were conjured from the earth. About which I was relieved and disappointed in roughly equal measure.

Can’t wait to see what he turns it into in the next novel. Working title, I’m told, Voodoo Economics.

And on that note, Callums’ first novel is currently free to download at Amazon.


¹ So far in my career I’ve been offered amongst other things, money, clothes, a year’s free coffee (there’s a lot of would-be writers serving up your daily cup of joe), a bicycle, a date (although not with the person who wanted the favour but an allegedly willing friend of theirs!), drugs, and eternal gratitude (yeah, that was really gonna work!).

² Hardly in the right spirit!

³ Obviously not his actual name, but if I call him this you will totally get the picture of what he looked like.

⁴… and his beard may well not have been grey, it was just way too dark to see,  but if I say it was I know I’m painting the right picture here.

⁵ Which amounted to, the singing and dancing, a slightly awkward conga line as it might be performed by old people who were reciting rather cheesy poetry as they wiggled along.

On Wednesday this week I watched by good buddy and only client Callum perform at his first ever lit slam¹, promoting new hacker fiction² novel, The Geek Manifesto.

geekmanifesto-ebookIn the spirit that these kind of events engender, and I guess in the hope that other writers may benefit from his successes and failures, I  asked him a few questions about how it went, and this is what he said.

“I should probably set the scene first off, as I understand that there are a wide variety of writerly shindigs ranging from the book launch to the finger-snapping, beret-wearing “happening” and many others in between. This was a bookswap, hosted by local indie bookshop heroes The Big Green Bookshop, a regular event they run where people come along with a book they want to swap, talk about it and swap it. This particular time it was billed as a “local author special event”, and featured myself, Andrew Blackman (On the Holloway Road, A Virtual Love) and Louise Millar (The Playdate, Accidents Happen).

In this case, the three of us sat on the stage in the back room of The Great Northern Railway Tavern, read a short excerpt from our books and then answered a few random questions from the crowd, before saying a little about the books we’d brought along to swap³.

On balance, I think it went okay for a first time (for me, the other two were old hands), but not without a few learning opportunities, as we say in the education biz.

1. Prepare. I think I could have just turned up and read from whichever page I happened to turn to and just rolled with whatever came my way, and in this kind of informal set-up I’m sure I’d have been fine. I didn’t do that though, and neither did my (far more) professional colleagues. People have come along to be entertained or informed or just maybe even inspired a little bit (my guess is I provided little more than bemusement) so I think you have to put in a little effort. The lovely Louise Millar had pages of typed notes, and although she does this kind of thing a lot and definitely in way more upscale places than the back room of a pub, she was totally charming, engaging and funny, and I bet she puts a bunch of thought into her whole show. I spent a long time choosing which section of my book to read (see point 3 below) and quite a bit of time thinking about the way I was going to introduce myself. I spoke about having used Yahoo Answers to get some advice, which I was going to segue into a slightly longer story about when I’d used it for some book research about trying to buy a tiger, but in the end cut it short. Which brings me to point 2

2. Be reactive. Yes you’ve prepared, but don’t feel you have to stick to the script. These events tend to have their own energy and character, and you can’t really tell how they’re going to shake out until you’re there. Be ready to change things up, say a little more about this and less about that, cut the swears down or ramp them up, and maybe sometimes just STFU. I think I possibly needed to do that a little more at times. It’s hard to critique oneself, but I felt that STFU was exactly what other people were thinking when I opened my goddam maw yet again.

3. Choose the right reading for the right crowd. It can be hard to know who your crowd are going to be before time, but where possible, pick on reading them whichever bit they’re going to dig the most. Rowdy young Hemingway fans? Read the fight scene. Sensitive poet types? Read the scene where the gauche lead tries to tell the girl he loves her. You get the idea. This may not always be possible and if you’re playing to the local Marxist/Leninist society and you’re reading from Why Capitalism Fucking Rocks and Lefties All Suck Balls, you’re probably doomed from the start. In my own case, I think going for the scene in which the main character in The Geek Manifesto sexually assaults a loathsome female co-worker, maybe didn’t play too well with the predominantly single, feminista crowd that turned up at my gig. But you live and learn, right.

4.Work the crowd. I’m pretty sure that this is sound advice for anyone who wants to shift units at these events, just as I’m sure that it’s advice I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to take myself. I find it hard enough not to be actively rude to people in the normal course of events, so being actively pleasant and charming is a struggle. And I’m also pretty sure that you can’t hurl a battered copy of  How to Win Friends and Influence People into the crowd at a literary event without hitting half a dozen annoying weirdoes. So, if you can keep smiling and chat to everyone, total respect, my friend. This was another area in which I felt a little outclassed by my fellow wordsters: Andrew Blackman (despite looking like the most terrified man I’d ever seen, before the event) was thoughtful, self-effacing, witty and clearly a thoroughly nice dude; Louise Millar was warm, funny, whip-smart and seemed genuinely happy to listen to any idiot who rolled along (myself included). I’m gonna have to work on my people skills.

5. Have fun. Despite my many shortcomings, I have to say the whole thing was a blast. It felt decidedly preposterous to be sitting on a stage in an enormous Chesterfield winged armchair, talking to a bunch of people about my little book (several of whom were clearly confused by my presence at the event and one of whom visibly recoiled in horror when I said “fuck” and then went outside and vomited all over the lounge bar in disgust4). But I embraced it and threw myself into the whole thing and smiled the whole damn way through. And I think that counts for a lot. If you look like you’re having a good time, people will generally have fun too.

So I’ve got a few evenings free at the moment;  just let me know if you need  a keen young writer to come and shake up your lit event.”

Sounds like good advice to me!

¹Okay I know this doesn’t exactly make me a veteran, but you grow up fast in this game.

²I’m not sure if this is the best genre description. It is about hackers, but it’s about other things too and runs the risk of it sounding a bit too niche. Someone suggested calling it “contemporary urban techno-fiction”, which I quite like but I’m not sure deals with the “too niche” problem.

³In a strange turn of writer synchronicity, fellow author Millar brought along a book by the American writer John Fante, who’d been second choice for my own book to bring and swap. Millar had brought the one Fante I’ve not read and so I was desperate to swap with her, but wasn’t sure of the etiquette of us authors pairing up, so I let it go. I ended up swapping Anne Lamott’s fantastic book about writing Bird by Bird, for a stack of amateur poetry books. Pretty sure I know who won here.

Authorial postulate.