How Not To Work & Claim Benefits Review

Using my Laughs, tears, cheese and cheers rating system, here is my spoiler-free review for the locally made (to me), internationally distributed ‘How Not To Work and Claim Benefits (and other useful information for wasters)’, with links below if you want to find out more.

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(Not so) Quick Summary

‘How Not To Work & Claim Benefits…’ is an ambitious production that punches well above its weight in terms of production values and quality, and mixes kitchen-sink, psychological, comedy and moral themes into the tale of two down-and-out wasters gifted £10,000 from a mysterious benefactor.

This is a departure from my usual diet of big-budget, Hollywood-centric cinema movies, as I finally get to watch an independent movie that I’ve seen steadily come to fruition via social network contacts who were directly involved in the production. However, most of these contacts are at least once or twice removed, friends-of-friends type people, so I feel I can still offer up a fairly, none-biased review, all be it tempered for the barriers inherent in a production of this scale compared to mainstream blockbusters.

With that said, having secured an impressive distribution deal on Amazon prime (links below), as a patron of said service I sat and watched this as I would any other movie, so I thought I’d put it though my same review-system mill and see what comes out.

Laughs: 2/5

The film rotates around the central relationship between Mike and Dave (or is that Dave and Mike?), sharing a crumby flat together and wasting away their days with alcohol, drug and benefits fuelled high jinks and adventures. The banter between them works better as the film progresses and you almost watch the pair relax into the roles for certain scenes.

There are some well-placed comedy characters scattered across the supporting cast that lift certain long scenes that risked being too functional without the light relief.

Not every joke landed with me, but they rarely do in any scale of production and none felt too contrived or fell disastrously flat.

Tears: 1/5

Without spoiling anything, there is a very serious side to the plot that we are introduced to early on with flashbacks, dealing with bullying and the victims of harassment. It’s hard-hitting and a little hard to watch, but only because it rings true. However, the pay-off for this traumatic back-story is unfortunately lost a little in a third act that falls into heavy, dialogue driven revelation rather than finding a way to show the impact we are obviously meant to feel, otherwise I would have scored it higher.

Cheese: 0/-5

For the uninitiated, the ‘cheese’ category is minus points for when film-makers commit the sins of lazy, clichéd dialogue, edits or action that they should really know better to avoid. Although there may be some moments in this film that don’t achieve the laughs or emotional impact I think they were after, it feels like the result of lack of time and resources and therefore hard compromises. If a major studio tests a scene and it’s not working, they will often re-shoot, re-edit, do pick-ups or what not. I doubt those options were readily available here, so I am letting them off any deductions!

Cheers: 1/5

Scoring on my ‘cheers’ category doesn’t necessarily mean a fist-pumping, feel good ending. What I look for here is a satisfying moment or conclusion that makes me feel rewarded as a viewer, even if it is dark or melancholy.

There is a noticeable lurch to the finish line with this film that I think it suffers from. In all constructive honesty, I found the last third of the film a bit slow and overly reliant on excessive revelatory dialogue. As I said before, I would have liked to have been shown more of this, in a more interesting way.

As a novelist, I know that endings are the hardest thing to get right, and I wouldn’t claim to have nailed this myself yet (please still buy my books). It felt like either the script or the cut needed a pretty ruthless edit or re-think, and possibly production time to do this got away from them. It felt like a good 15 minutes could have been cut, and the film would have worked better. Don’t get me wrong though, the idea of the ending (and film in general) is a good one, worth telling.

However, as it was a good idea I’ve given it a point, as plenty of films don’t have the idea or get the pacing right.

Fears: 0/5

It’s rare for none-horror films to score here, so nothing out of the ordinary with this category.

Bonus Category: + 2 Job Done

The work and passion that went into making this film and getting it to market must have been astronomical. In this area (Staffordshire. UK), a lot of our creative industries are reliant on service-industry style work (weddings/music videos), and I know that good intentions to create original work often fall by the wayside when there are bills to pay. I deal with this by working a ‘normal’ job and making little to no money from my books, but all I need to do that is a computer and some self-discipline. Getting a project like this past the finishing line is a major achievement and my congratulations goes out to all involved. Well done.

Total: 6

(Check the Leader Board to see how it compares…)

 

Links:

THE FILM: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Claim-Benefits-Useful-Information-Wasters/dp/B06XBTRV6P

OFFICIAL SITE: http://www.rottenparkroad.com/portfolio/how-not-to-work-and-claim-benefits-other-useful-information-for-wasters/

Agree / Disagree with my assessment? Leave a comment to let me know or submit your own scores for this or any other film listed in the leader board below to be aggregated into the ‘readers choice’ table on the main rating page.

And if you enjoy my reviews, please like/share this page link, and consider taking a look at my original science fiction books advertised in the side bar! Thanks for reading.

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McDonald’s in Leek? Discuss…

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It’s a funny thing, given the upcoming election and the myriad reasons to get angry at the way things are during a time of potential change, the one thing that has really angered me this week, enough to write a blog about it, is the self satisfied Facebook announcement from a certain Conservative town councillor that the beautiful, market town of Leek, with it’s progressive drive for localism and independence, is going to get a McDonalds.

I’m not going to name the person, but as the comment was posted on a public forum, here is the wording (truncated):

“Well the news as (sic) broken! McDonalds have just publicly confirmed they are coming to Leek. This is something that the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council have been working on for over 12 months now and it’s just another success story for this Conservative led Council…”

Whoopsy-freaking-doo. The picturesque, historic town is going to get a garish red and yellow cheap meat house to provide that much awaited backdrop of discarded packaging, low paid jobs and totally unbalanced competition for the local trades. Add to that a smattering of mal nutrition, obesity, and hmmm, this is a tasty burger!

Interestingly, however, the following article does make it sound like the junk food lovin’ Tory might have jumped the gun a little, as it sounds like the clown faced spokesperson for the golden arches of liver damage is not so sure yet:

““We are looking at several potential opportunities in the area but currently have no confirmed plans.” – Source: http://staffslive.co.uk/2015/03/mcdonalds-confirms-interest-new-leek-restaurant/

That said, who truly knows what has been agreed and confirmed behind doors with the Tory-led council, certainly not the local electorate from the sound of it.

So why so angry? I don’t live in Leek anymore, even though I visit almost every week, and I have on occasion (to my shame), eaten a McDonald’s. That said, I can count on one hand the number I’ve had over the last five years, and it has usually been down to some catastrophic error of time and food management.

Because that’s what it is, isn’t it? Lazy food. Lazy, cheap food laced with enough salt and sugar to trick you into thinking something good is happening at the time of consumption, when you know (usually within an hour) that something good really, really wasn’t happening.

But anyway, we can put the well known nutritional problems aside, along with the well known environmental problems, and the well known low skills and wages problem, and the well known affects on localism and look at this objectively… er…

Actually, yeah, those are the reasons I don’t like it. I now live in Stoke on Trent, and I have at last three McDonald’s within fifteen minutes of my house. I know what they look like, they’re everywhere, that is until I take a nice drive into the Staffordshire Moorlands. The buildings thin out, the fields and tree’s stretch out, and there, on a hillside as I approach, I see the Leek skyline and I know that there is something different, something unique, something I won’t find anywhere else waiting for me at the end of the road.

I’m not against every chain-store, for the record, I think the introduction of Waitrose into a building that was already being used as  a supermarket and the Premier Inn were good ideas. Tourism makes sense, and Waitrose has a profile that makes the area more desirable and encourages footfall. But when was the last time you visited a town because it had a McDonald’s? Rather than just passing one on the motorway or some grey business park and conceding that it is probably the only viable option save for eating your own hands?

So they’re not coming to town to bring more people in, to get them spending in the local shops. They’re going to do the opposite. The more bland and multi-chain commercialised the town gets, the less people are going to visit it, and the less independent businesses are going to remain open, and one will feed into the other in a downward spiral until the gateway to the peak district is rotting in obscurity under golden arches.

I know from experience that there will be people rejoicing this announcement. I can’t do anything about that. There are people who would be happy if the Library was ripped out and replaced with a car park, but that’s why those of us who are bothered about these things need to keep on being bothered. This is a town that now has a food-bank, and Tory councillors are spending twelve months ‘negotiating’ with one of the richest brands in the world to allow them to come in and take business away from local people. Maybe that time could have been better spent elsewhere? Rate reliefs (or cessation) on empty shop units to encourage new local businesses perhaps?

This represent more than just a tacky food store in an unsuitable location, it represent the whole ethos of the Conservative party, and any other mainstream party who put the greedy world of global capitalism on a pedestal and placates us with false promises of ‘trickle down’ economics while cutting our society back to the bone and beyond.

So anyway, discuss, debate. Someone’s got to, because we can’t be leaving it to these clowns (literally, in this case).

‘No Suitable Candidate’ or ‘To vote or not to vote in a negative democracy’

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I could be accused of missing the hype with this blog, following Russell Brand’s interview with Jeremy Paxman a fortnight ago, Paxman’s own admission that he didn’t vote in the last election, and various backlash commentaries such as that made by Robert Webb and others, ‘branding’ Brand as irresponsible and even dangerous.

But then, this issue doesn’t go away just because the flash in a pan media hype has died down following one interview with a high profile celebrity. I’ve been having this debate internally and with my peer group since the last election. My feeling is, many, many people have been having this debate since the last election, even if they don’t realise it. I say that because if you’ve ever seen the news or some political commentary and had even the slightest feeling of, ‘Oh this is all bullshit’ – you may not have realised it, but that means you are a disillusioned citizen, utilising your most natural judgement mechanism, your instincts.

We underestimate the power of our own instincts in a world where we are increasingly asked to trust others who ‘know better’ than we do. This is the usual defence position against the voice of dissent. We can see this exercised in the Brand/Paxman interview in the typical ‘journo’ way – challenge the authenticity, intelligence or coherence of the voice raising the objection. Politicians use it to dismiss massive popular rallies all the time. Hundreds and thousands of people turn up to the countries capital to protest about the general cosy state of politics and big business, and are greeted simply by the line ‘What’s the alternative?’ The implication being that none of these people are either capable or coherent enough to articulate their dissatisfaction in a constructive manner.

There are a few problems with this argument. Firstly, it just isn’t true. At the one major rally I attended in London, the streets were awash with pledges and demands, printed in leaflets and with supporting websites to offer more detail. The message was, at the time, that we need to start with claiming the tax owed by massive corporations (rather than do the opposite and bail them out), before we start taking services and money away from the most vulnerable in our society. “But what’s the alternative?” they said. Well… that.

Secondly, how are groups of like-minded people who genuinely believe they’ve got no choice or chance using the current electoral process to affect any meaningful change, meant to construct alternatives and offer these to the wider population if they don’t have the ear of the media or the resources with which to do this? Let’s not pretend that it’s as simple as paying your deposit and standing for election in your local area. Inherent bias exists in the electoral system as it is, let alone the addition of millions of pounds of outside funding to the major parties which ensure they can field candidates in most constituencies, buy prime media column inches and airtime, and already hold ‘the high ground’ as it were. Before the last election, it was generally assumed that although the Liberal Democrats were looking strong, it was a near impossibility that they could actually win the election because of the inbuilt bias. As it happened, they became an ineffectual bit part player in a coalition, and have as a result, destroyed their own voter base (and try to find someone who disagrees with that prognosis). So no – if some of the oldest and most established parties in British politics are unable to make an impact, how are we, the unorganised electorate, even meant to do so in any kind of dynamic and immediate way? I suppose if you have a spare few hundred years to go at and a trust fund or wealthy benefactor somewhere you could do it, but that’s hardly dynamic and immediate, and many people feel that the crisis is already upon us.

On a more philosophical point of view, it is hard to see how we can ever expect our leaders to genuinely try and deal with the ‘problem’ of disaffection and distrust in the whole system, when they refuse to acknowledge there is one. Yes, they go on TV and Radio and say reassuring things like – “we know it’s a massive problem engaging people with politics, and we want to be seen to be doing this” – but putting words aside, we can just look at the evidence, look at the faces in the cabinet and commons, look at the statistics and biographies, and there we have it. A tight knit, interconnected group of people, in both parliament and the media, and even the judiciary, who hail from a narrow social background, closely linked to wealth and status of family members and peers. It is laid bare, we’re not making it up.

Another philosophical point of view when it comes to the actual act of voting is that of consent. As a collective we are providing a mandate, a 5 year contract, each time we go to the polls, irrespective of whether we want any of the options available. Remember, we don’t actually have any rights to terminate the contract or change any aspects of it during that period, we have to rely on opposition MPs for that, who we also don’t have any power to change during the term. What’s more, we don’t really know what the contract is, as pledges are notoriously, laughingly, different from what actually happens when parties are elected. What kind of a deal is that?

But, because of the clever constructs of our democracy, to not vote has no impact on any of this. The counter-argument to not voting is that it makes the democratic sample smaller, and makes it even easier for ‘them’ to win. But hang on, I don’t want to exercise my one power in the world that is meant to represent my whole ethos and opinions about how things could be simply by voting out what I don’t want – I would quite like to approach this with the view of voting in something that I think closely represents my views. This negative democracy model is hardly an argument that implies a working system, constantly retreating away from bad choices and hoping that the previous bad choice has magically become a good choice in the meantime, and so going back to it ad infinitum.

So to conclude, I want to offer some alternatives that may help ‘kick-start’ the process of creating pressure in a way that can’t be branded  as apathy. I just can’t accept the negative ‘vote them out’ ideology as my driving principle for talking part in this democracy, and I also don’t believe that any current party actually capable of gaining power (thanks to the inherent bias) is suitable to do so. Therefore, these three options seem to present themselves:

1.            Just don’t vote (and as discussed above, be accused of apathy, and potentially just make it easier for the system to maintain itself in its current form)

2.            What I like to call ‘Don’t Vote +’ – Don’t vote, but instead, find a way to register your reason for not voting in a coherent way. Ideally some kind of petition. This will of course mean someone setting this up. For example – a new petition called “No suitable candidates”. If this was done right, we could potentially show that more of us didn’t vote for this reason than did vote. It isn’t official, and doesn’t guarantee anything, but I think it may help satisfy people who don’t want to be branded apathetic, but don’t want to take part in the negative democracy model we seem to be part of.

What would they do if this happened? I guess that during the process they would discredit it and try and multiply the available petitions to ‘water down’ the impact. But presuming that can be overcome, they would be faced, as would the country (presuming the media reported it) with a natural democracy – outside of the system but expressing the view of a section of society all the same, maybe even a majority. Perhaps they would then  introduce official ‘No suitable candidate’ boxes to mitigate the loss of popular opinion this causes? It may be a start to a truly more accountable and representative version of politics, where we actually have the power to change manifestos and representatives before we vote them in, not after 5 years of wreck and ruin. The same approach could be done with a call for genuine ‘right to recall’ powers and other aspects that would help us be better represented. The important thing here is to match a no-vote during the time of the election with a principle – the petition must reflect this.

3.            Do vote – but vote for an independent or small party. This could have the affect of creating a rainbow cabinet (and we all like rainbows don’t we?) which dilutes the influence of the big three. I have some interest in how this might work, but my concern is that it would be hard to coordinate and you are limited to who is standing in your constituency. To try and harmonise this approach would be to try and launch a challenger party, which as I covered earlier, involves financial and influential factors not at our disposal. However, even just vastly cutting the number of the big three in the commons could potentially have a dramatic effect, and lead to better debate and compromise that suits local communities and a broader social range. This was akin to the promise of the coalition that never surfaced because it was a coalition of the established where we perhaps need a coalition of dissent.

So those are my options. It may be fairly obvious that option 2 seems my favourite at the moment, and I doubt I’m the only one to have thought of it, so hopefully I will find a petition I can back if I don’t feel I can vote at the next election in good conscience.

Just for the record, I have always voted before, this isn’t something I take lightly, and if you’ve got this far in the blog, it obviously isn’t something you take lightly either and I would be very interested to hear what option suits you, or your alternatives. Also, feel free to try and convince me why simply ‘voting out’ what I don’t want, in favour of something else I don’t want, is the way I should approach this, but I doubt you will succeed.

Thanks for reading.

The Napoli.

Continuing the theme a little from last week’s blog about Leek (see https://garryabbott.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/totally-leek/), today I am going to try my hand at restaurant critique, having finally visited Leek’s new pizzeria/bar, The Napoli (http://www.thenapoli.co.uk/)

As usual when I stray into a new area, I have to point out that I am not a food/restaurant critic, however, I do have a mouth, tongue and digestive system, and eyes and a brain, so I think I meet a good deal of the qualifications one actually needs to talk about such things, though I may be lacking a little in arrogance. In all honesty, I am a ‘food fan’ (who isn’t?), I enjoy food from all corners of the world, I like to try new things, I love the experience of new tastes and appetising presentation, and I like to cook a bit too. So I suppose I do have a little foodie inside me, I mean, I do watch Masterchef, so I must be almost as qualified as Greg Wallace.

I’ve known about the impending arrival of this new eatery for some time. As I’ve walked by on my way from/to various engagements in Leek I’ve peeked through the glass fronted old registry-office on the high-street, wondering what would be installed next (it had a brief stint as a local co-operative during 2012). As I saw various grey igloo looking elements being installed, and the familiar framework of a bar start to take shape, I was more than happy when I heard it was going to be an Italian with “one of them Pizza oven things” as the centre-piece and unique feature.

After patiently waiting for The Napoli to open, and then for some reason taking three weeks to find a suitable excuse to get up there for a meal, I can finally now report back  on my findings. I’m going to take this one step at a time, just like I did last night as I walked over with my family party of 6 to our 8pm booking.

As you enter, there are a few things that immediately draw your eye. Firstly, the huge pizza oven in the back-centre of the room. The chef’s around it are building and firing pizza’s for the already busy service underway, which at 8pm on a Wednesday night, shows great promise. Next my eyes float over the tops of heads to the large bookcase at the far end, stretching from window to partition, stacked with what looks like an interesting array of literary fun. I imagine that for a more casual day-time visit, this feature must make a relaxed lunch or coffee more engaging for those of us who like to read, but aside from that, it makes a great rustic feature as a backdrop. So from the bookcase the eyes pans left to right, back across the oven, to the bar and seating area by the street-side window. A few hand-pumps and stacked bottles hint at the promise of interesting beer, and the cosy corner looks inviting.

We get sat down pretty quickly, greeted politely and already expected. We are sat by the window, half of the party looking out, the other half looking back, with the pizza oven in their sight. It took me a while to realise why the eyes of those opposite me where slightly glazed and to the right of my eye-line: They were watching the fire, like men around a barbecue, fascinated by its dancing flames and glowing coals. This soon passed however as we settled down and our drinks orders were taken and menu’s delivered.

The menu’s were two sides of A4, nicely presented but more importantly, simple and not convoluted. We’ve all seen enough episodes of Ramsay’s kitchen nightmares to know that less is more, and it makes me more confident as a punter. So there is a choice of four pizza’s, about half a dozen main meals that are not pasta based, and about a half dozen that are pasta based. Nice, easy. There are also a selection of starters and side’s, so if you really wanted, you could construct a whole meal in the traditional Italian fashion of anti-pasta, meat course, salad course, pasta etc… but they options also allow for the more British, starter/main/dessert order of things. Also, nestled between the bookcases, a specials board offers a few tantalising additions that already have us talking.

“What’s Puttanesca?” we ask each other, on the off chance that one of my family members may have a secret and extensive knowledge of traditional Italian dishes.

After a quick word with ‘Mr Google’, we find the literal meaning is “Whore-style spaghetti”, hmmm, spaghetti whore. I’m sure this is lost in translation somewhat, and the important thing we find is that it is a salty, spicy pasta, usually made with olives and/or anchovies and chilli. The combination of which wins over my step-Dad.

Also on the specials board, ‘Tagliatelle Carbonara’. I discovered the joy of Carbonara not long ago when I finally bought myself a pasta maker in a frenzy of post-Masterchef kitchen ambition and managed somehow to make the most beautiful Carbonara with home-made Tagliatelle and had one of those “where have you been all my life?” moments. It seemed my brother shared the enthusiasm for this dish, so two more orders were in the bag.

Thankfully my partner went for the fungi-pizza option, so I knew I would be getting to try that out myself (not that I eat food from my partner’s plate or anything… (I do)). There was also a mushroom tart and ravioli ordered, and that was our main’s sorted.

For starter’s the cold-meat platter was popular, served with an olive oil-balsamic dip and fresh bread side. Two of us (including me) went for the chilli and garlic bruschetta, which had just the right heat of spice and crunchy fried texture. A garlic bread on a wonderfully thin base and a nice little portion of sautéed potatoes (with I guess rosemary/garlic) finished off the starter’s. From all accounts, all starters were well received and quickly demolished.

Not long after starters where cleared away, a good length of time to enjoy the after-glow of the first morsels and whet the appetite for the follow up, out came the mains. The Puttanesca kept my step Dad enthralled for every mouthful, which is a wonder for a man who favours curry above all else. The olive and spice must have done it for him. Mine and my Brother’s Carbonara was made with fantastic pasta, broad, thick and perfectly cooked. It’s hard to tell with dishes like this because they vary so much from region to region, country to country, as they travel and get adapted in cultures, but this was not a ‘runny’ Carbonara. The cream and egg had just about cooked around the pasta, making it more of a textured affair. Whether this is more traditional or a mistake I don’t know or care, because it tasted amazing.

I leapt in to rescue my girlfriend who was struggling to finish the plate sized, thin crispy pizza. The slices I had were amazing. I love pizza like that, thin base that both cracks upon biting and has a little give in the dough, a fresh tomato sauce, naturally sweet and soaked ever so gently into the base, and mozzarella and mushrooms to top the whole thing of, but not layered on in sickly slabs ‘USA’ style, just nicely balanced and each a feature in itself. Yes, next time I go, as lovely as the pasta was, I’m having one of them to myself, oh yes.

From what I was told, the ravioli and tart were also equally wonderful. So, after we finished our well-portioned mains (no belly-busting here, good balanced, taste-packed continental portions), we turned to the dessert menu.

Now, I knew about the dessert menu in advance, seeing as three quarters of it is provided by my good friends at ‘Miscos chocolates’ (www.miscoschocolates.co.uk) whom I have rather a lot to do with, being as they are wonderful people who also just happen to make the tastiest luxury Belgian chocolates you will ever eat. Especially for the Napoli they have devised three desserts. First we have the ‘chocolate cake to end them all’… this really is a treat. A flour free, almost soufflé like chocolate cake that will turn cake-haters around and send cake-lovers to some near-transcendental state of being. It truly is a great bit of sticky, moist, deep chocolaty slice of heaven, and along with a bit of soft ice-cream, it is the perfect end.

But that’s not it! You also have the choice of two ganache-filled chocolate cups, served with a liquor of your choice. My brother and his girlfriend went for this option, and they marvelled as much at the sight of them as they did the taste. And finally, from the Misco options, Panna cotta, with a choice of a raspberry coulee or honey, Tuaca and Hazelnut topping. Now I tried these in the development stages, and I went from Panna cotta ignorance, to Panna cotta bliss. They are smooth, sweet and refreshing on the palette after all the other wonderful flavours of the evening. Again, all the deserts were balanced, neat portions, as they should be. I should mention there was also a range of ice-creams available.

So, after the desserts were thoroughly obliterated (not a crumb or fleck left on any plate I could see), we finished our drinks (some nice trad ale’s available, though the name of the brewery escapes me at the moment), our bill was sorted and we meandered off and away through Leek to finish off the night in the Roebuck for yet more nice trad ales, which I can say with certainty came from the brilliant Titanic brewery.

All in all, it was a great night, with great food, a great atmosphere and timely service. There may be a few little things that as the business matures will tighten up a little here and there (could do with a beer menu, maybe some complimentary olives and bread when you first arrive), but for a pretty busy service I think they did really well for a young business in its first month and I would highly recommend it to anyone. I’m going again, next week, this time with my former work colleagues, and this time, I’m having a pizza, all to myself.

Totally Leek

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(Take a bow Marc…!)

For those of you who don’t know, I have strong connections with a sleepy little market town in the Staffordshire Moorlands, at the foot of the peak district, called ‘Leek’.

I worked there for about ten years in my former life at a building society, I lived there for three years, my band ‘Gravity Dave’ (www.facebook.com/gravitydave) are based there, I ran a music festival for the last 4 years (www.leeksummerjam.com – unfortunately on hold for 2013 while we take time to consider our options), and best of all, I have good friends there.

So I have taken an interest, I am a Leek ‘fan’ if you prefer. I may not live there any more, but I am there every week for rehearsals, and often on other odd days for gigs & visits. Nowadays, I live in Longton with my partner, and as nice as it is, well, it’s just not Leek.

I try and explain this to people when I talk about how much I miss the place (even though I’m often there). The usual explanation goes something like,

“You can just walk out of your door you know, and it’s nice, just being able to ramble round the shops, maybe see a few familiar faces. Have a pint. Oh, and it’s great when there’s a market on…”

Because that’s what you get in Leek, a proper yet inclusive localism. Maybe it’s just because I’ve joined the ranks of the self-employed, but I know so many traders, musicians, artists and skilled people who live and work there. And maybe that’s why it was so nice to see the opening of Leek’s first ‘pop-up emporium’ last Thursday (04/07/13).

It’s bitter sweet in a way, because the good people of the unique gift-shop ‘Colloco’ (http://www.colloco.co.uk/) have decided to wind up their high-street presence, but luckily for the rest of us, the driving force of the ‘Totally Locally’ campaign in Leek (http://totally-locally.co.uk/leek/), Colloco’s Marc Briand, has decided to allow other traders in for the final couple of months of the tenure, to road-test Leek’s first pop-up.

And so it was, on Thursday, while taking a swift break from a gruelling day of setting up recording equipment for a Gravity Dave session (and it was gruelling, there are about 5 sets of stairs to our lofty practice room, and they wind and turn like an Escher painting), I decided to nip out for some grub before the big push. Our fantastic volunteer producer (another Leek talent, a man who knows everything there is to know about recording and is a talented musician to boot) asked if I could pick up some biscuits from the health-food shop, but alas, it was closed. So a quick call later and I was asked to grab “a nice Tartlet from Pronto”. Pronto is the gorgeous little Deli, which handily for me, is also directly opposite the newly opened Pop-Up shop.

So, clutching my bag containing my ‘nice tartlet’ and other goodies, I wandered into the waiting crowd at the official opening. There were lots of smiling faces and a vibe of energy running through the place, as producers, customers and local dignitaries gathered round to browse, chat, promote, network, and nibble on the free snacks (also provided by Pronto).

Once the photos were done and the ribbon cut, we all filed back in to the sound of Dominic Morgan (the hardest working musician in the North from what I can tell – check out his fantastic acoustic numbers here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dom-Morgan/411516972218221?fref=ts), and continued our joyful perusing.

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First stop, for multiple reasons, was the wonderful Miscos chocolates stand, (www.miscoschocolates.co.uk). I say multiple reasons because a) I love their chocolates and wanted to bag myself a salted-caramel cup, and b) because ‘Cisco’ from ‘Miscos’ is the bassist in my band and I wanted to let him know how the set up was going, and c) because Meg & Cisco from Miscos are very good friends of mine and I’ve watched them build up this amazing business, and helped out where I can. The fixture looked amazing, as you can see:

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After that, I started my quick scanning of the rest of the wares. I’ve spoke to Marc about the whole set up before, hoping that if it continues long enough I may well start my own book-stand to sell a few of my upcoming self-published titles. He told me about the many and diverse local producers in the area that he has discovered thanks to the cooperation that has emerged out of the ‘totally locally’ campaign. That was certainly evidenced here, and this is only the first brave batch of traders to have a pop at the pop-up format.

From clothing (I particularly like the ‘Choose Leek’ range, see below), to jewellery, haberdashery, a great range of craft cards and gifts (I bought myself a modest little notebook and badge set from the fun and cheerful ‘Crap Cat’ range, below) and even the odd bit of local publications and art from the ‘Borderland Voices’ group (http://www.borderlandvoices.org.uk/). Plus a whole lot more that I had neither the time or memory to list here for now. Just go and see it, that’s the best way.

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So, after my quick browse, purchase, snacks and salted caramel cup (yes!), I left them to it so I could walk back along the historic market town  of Leek to my practice room and get on with the job of recording. It was perfect timing. Our producer relished his tartlet, I got to see the pop-up shop, and a great evening of recording lay ahead of me.

These kind of days happen in Leek all the time. You pop out for something and you see something else. It may be one of the many Markets (the fine-food market every first Sunday is a must…), or the local, independent restaurants, cafe’s, pubs and shops that are working together to show what high-streets can and should look like. They are defying the odds when you look at the topography of Leek only to see it is surrounded on all sides by massive national/global supermarkets, all trying to turn every town into a boring carbon-copy vision of a generic shopping-hell future, undercutting prices and sapping character from every corner of the country. But not in Leek, not yet, and hopefully not ever. Not while we have the cooperation and enthusiasm of the local producers working with each-other and the council (when possible) to stage events, offer local discounts, start pop-up shops (hopefully one of many to come), put on amazing markets and generally just be a cool place for a day out, or (if you can convince your fiancé to move there, which I’m working on), a life lived.

Where else can you… (in no particular order):

  • Grab a slice of stone-baked pizza over a continental larger… (The Napoli. http://www.thenapoli.co.uk/)
  • Try the rare-bread meat’s, artisan bread, chocolates, and local brew beers on your way through town (Fine food market)
  • Drop into a few antique centres, just for the fun of it if you like, they’re always interesting places, full of little treasures (the many antique centres)
  • Freshen up with a Belgian beer or two (Den Engels Belgian Bar)
  • Drop in and browse a selection of wares from local producers in a friendly and colourful atmosphere (totally locally pop-up – https://www.facebook.com/TotallyLocallyLeek)
  • Grab a posh-oatcake and choose from dozens of real ales from the good people of Titanic brewery (The Roebuck)
  • Have a coffee, see an exhibition, or catch a few bands in the historic ‘Foxlowe’ community arts centre (http://www.foxloweartscentre.org.uk/) (The Situation – original music nights every month at the Foxlowe, amongst other events, https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Situation/113561162062815?fref=ts).
  • Pop into a wine tasting evening (http://www.wineandwhisky.com/), drop in to the Deli for a ‘nice tartlet’ and wander over to the beautiful park for a sit down, drink and a snack…

These are just a few things that spring to mind, there are lots more, and it’s only a small place! I know other towns also do or are starting to do this kind of thing, I just hope they all follow through on the experience and bring this laid-back yet skilled and productive continental style brand of localism to the whole nation. (I secretly cheer a little inside every time I hear of another multi-national chain store going into administration. That model is broken and if we keep up with doing it ourselves and supporting local producers, maybe even the MPs will take note and start reducing the over-inflated business rates fixed by the mass-buying power of the faceless corporations… you never know).

So another great day in Leek. If you’ve not been, visit. If you want to know about the ‘Totally Locally’ model, feel free to contact the guys through the links provided in this article, they are all about best practice and idea sharing, and maybe you can make a Leek of your own, in your own town, supporting your neighbours and local traders, providing skilled and independent jobs, making the high street a nice place to be again.

Well done Leek. Keep it up.