That was me back in 2006, when the family looked at me aghast at the idea that I was starting a blog.
So here I am six years and bit later, six years and a bit older, and this week we have passed the 3000th blog post.
I'd been having a low-key celebration with myself to mark the occasion with a week of daily posts which I have loved writing, and about books I have loved reading... and I wasn't going to say anything because it all seems a bit brag and boast...but in the end... well here we go onwards, and though I can't stand the stuff please do share a toast with me in real ale today, and let's all go to Llandudno with Kevin Barry.
I am always ready to buy into the short story.
If I embark on a collection I tend to keep the book to hand and read one every so often. This probably makes sharing my thoughts on the whole collection almost impossible as the book can be 'around' for months waiting for me to finish it. This happened with Julian Barnes's collection Pulse which I really enjoyed, but after about six months of dipping in I really had lost any connecting thread if there was one.
This is probably not the way to do this.
I doubtless miss all the subtle nuances, and links between stories and then there's the order. I feel sure collections are put together with great deliberations over the sequence, and there's me reading them on a whim and completely out of order....do you do this with a short story collection, or are you all more disciplined than I am??
When I heard that Kevin Barry had recently won the prestigious Sunday Times Short Story Award with Beer Trip to Llandudno, I was delighted to find it was in his latest collection Dark Lies the Island, and a proof copy from Jonathan Cape sitting on my shelf filed under month of publication, April. Incidentally, if anyone has ever wondered (as if you haven't got anything else to wonder about) whether I have any sort of system for Books In, the answer is yes, and that is it.
But bearing in mind it might be Christmas before I finish every story in Dark Lies the Island, or it might be next week, I never can tell, I thought I would leap in and read Beer Trip to Llandudno and of course, though I haven't read the other shortlisters, I can see exactly why this won.
We've all seen them, perhaps we know some of them, and perhaps we may all have made some sort of judgements based just on looking, finding appearance and behaviour that makes them fit the stereotype. Bring on the 'biggish lads' taking off on a Real Ale Club outing on a sweltering hot day in July. Travelling by train from Lime Street, Liverpool to Llandudno via Rhyl, with a crate of Marston's Old Familiar (3.9 per cent to volume) to see them on their way, and a quick hop off the train at Flint for some 'beef n'gravies from the Pie-O-Matic'
Mo, Everett, Tom, Big John, Billy and the narrator, also in charge of 'publications and outings both', are already 'hot as pigs' and stripped off down to their tee-shirts as they arrive in Llandudno...
'Billy Stroud sadly raised his T-shirt above his man boobs. He put his arms above his head and gyrated slowly his vast belly and danced his way off the train...'
I love the word order. It makes me stop dead and think, and then stay in the sentence long enough to visualise. You see you can picture it already can't you...
Kevin Barry perfectly captures the vernacular, the phrasing, the lingo and along with it the camaraderie, the male bonding and the sensitivities...
'Mo was down a testicle since the spring. We'd called in at the Royal the night of his operation. We'd stopped at the Ship and Mitre on the way - they'd a handsome bitter from Clitheroe on guest tap. We needed the fortification : when Real Ale Club boys parade down hospital wards, we tend to draw worried glances from the whitecoats. We are shaped like those chaps in the warning illustrations on cardiac charts...'
and the humour..
'... we joshed him but gently.
'Sounding a little high-pitched, Mo?'
'Other lad's going to be working overtime.'
Those sensitivities and tenderness creep in around the edges of the macho as it becomes clear these men, whilst not using the word willingly,
'Love is a strong word, but.'
most definitely share the nearest they will allow themselves to get to it. Bromance seems to be the word for it these days though I suspect our lads would be having no truck with that idea, this is good old-fashioned male-bonding over booze, full stop. Five or six nights a week, 'hobbyists' not 'a bunch of sots'...and this being me, well of course I'm worried for their fibrosing livers.
By the time they board the train back to Liverpool the lads have sampled and scored pints of everything from Phoenix Tram Driver, Cornish Lightning and Lancaster Bomber through to Miner's Slattern. An old flame has surfaced for one of them and they have set foot in The Heron, The Otter, The Crippled Ox and heaven knows where else. And they still seem to be standing.
Civilised, never aggressive, tender and funny.. as the men watch Billy's gyrating stomach they unite, and Kevin Barry seems to surround him with something invisible, perhaps to protect him from the judgements that you and I may have been making as we looked on. Impervious and oblivious to others and to any opprobrium headed their way,
'We lost weight in tears as we tumbled onto the platform...'
Outward impressions of having a good time need to be upheld, yet at the end of day, and home, the mood will often be maudlin...
' It has this effect, Liverpool. You're not back in the place five minutes and you go sentimental as a famine ship.'
Loyalty is examined and tested, life's hardships and mistakes exposed, but in their All For One and One For All way the lads stick together until it slowly becomes clear to the reader that all these 'six big blokes' have is each other, and they know it.
Meanwhile Jonathan Cape have made Beer Trip to Llandudno available as a free download for the next seven days. It is poignant, sad and funny by turns and I am so glad to have read it, congratulations to Kevin Barry on winning the award, and I promise I will read the rest now....eventually.