Yeah, it’s my end of year thing for 2013 OK?

I know, I know – ‘end of year review’ e-mails, blogs and updates can get a little tiresome. But why? Maybe it’s because they intuitively conjure up lots of words that have the word ‘self’ as a prefix – congratulatory, obsessed, centred. It’s a curious thing that we shy away from sharing our own successes and challenges – maybe it’s cultural – but for whatever reason, I’m not going to let it stop me, this having been a landmark year for me personally and professionally. So you have been warned, this is an end-of-year review and will as a result be tediously reflective and upbeat. So there.

Obviously, it isn’t actually the end of the year yet, but very nearly, and near enough for me to want to clear the decks and not have to worry about doing blogs and such like over the next couple of weeks. So, unless I am struck by an uncontrollable wave of inspiration, I will make this the last blog of 2013, and try to have a ‘holiday’ until the new year.

A new start, long awaited.

In February this year I ended a decade of working in the wrong job. I say ‘the wrong job’ because it was, for me, the wrong job. I worked in a bank (formally a building society) as a ‘thingy’. A ‘thingy’, is a technical term for someone who isn’t able to answer the question “what do you actually do?” with any degree of clarity or precision. It’s not particularly good for your soul that situation, and the world is full of ‘thingies’. I was a kind-of technical specialist, I was a kind-of legal (compliance) specialist, I was a kind-of trainer, a kind-of auditor, a kind-of quality controller, a kind-of project worker, a kind-of data-entry clerk. One day I could be in meetings, discussing requirements for a multi-million pound computer system, all the while thinking “I’m not getting paid enough for this” and the next I could be endlessly tapping numbers into a spreadsheet, thinking “I’m getting paid too much for this”. There were many things I wasn’t quite, and many more things I’m quite sure I shouldn’t have been, but still it took ten years to break away thanks in no small part to the rut/routine that a (fairly) decent wage and a none taxing job can collude to create when you are busy figuring out who you are and what you want to be.

So that was the end of that. I left by my own accord, having hung on for a few years with the possibility of redundancy that never materialised, and unable to ‘get on’ with our new pay-masters: The Co-op, and their shambolic management (an assessment that I feel very much vindicated for, given the events of this year).

When I left, I had a few things lined up, which really helped me to get straight on with my new life as a self-employed writer & musician (you see – that’s much easier to define, isn’t it?) I had been running my creative activities alongside my old job for several years anyway, but I always suspected that I would need to let go of the comfort (and boredom) of the office job if I were to really ever fully embrace my aspirations. So far, I have found that to be true, and long may it continue.

 

Unearthed

The first ‘big’ job, which lasted throughout the year (at intervals), was the ‘Unearthed’ project. This was being drafted in as a supporting artist to help develop and produce community engagement with a new memorial sculpture in my home town of Stoke-on-Trent (specifically in the town of Hanley – if you are confused by that, it’s because we have this whole weird, six towns into one thing going on over here – look it up). As part of this project I got to do several awesome things. I got to write, narrate and score an animation that was then shown at several public locations and continues to be available as an online resource. I got to write my first choral piece (set to the words of my own poem) that was then rehearsed and performed by students of a local sixth form college at a memorial ceremony with city dignitaries in attendance. And I got to work with the real words of the people we engaged with the project to produce an oral sound-piece, used to accompany an original composition and dance routine at the unveiling ceremony of the sculpture. This project took me to places I hadn’t expected, connection with history and communities though art, a sense of integrity and responsibility with story-telling and representation of real world events that I had never considered or encountered before. It was a great experience and I can’t thank Nicola Winstanley and Sarah Nadin enough for involving me in their excellent project – I am a ‘Dashyline’ fan! (Visit the project website, here: http://www.unearthed2013.co.uk/)

The Audio Mill

There was also a continuation (and I fancy a building momentum) of my composition and production work alongside my good friend and collaborator Kieran Williams as part of ‘The Audio Mill’.  This year we have produced several pieces for fashion houses River Island and Mr Porter for use in their viral campaigns. From a professional development point of view, working to brief to compose and produce original music in a variety of styles really helps you to hone your technical and creative abilities. So far (as I know) they have been very happy with all the work we’ve completed for them, and the videos our music accompanies are popular and well received. Obviously, the world of fashion houses feels miles away from me in my small office in Longton, laying down rhythms, bass lines, guitar licks and melodies, but thanks to Kieran’s ever fruitful move to London, the chance to showcase our abilities to a larger audience through an established outlet, is a welcome one, and I look forward to more work like this in the new year. Examples here: http://www.theaudiomill.co.uk/

Newsjack

My first BBC broadcast credits happened this year, in the form of several one-liner jokes and a sketch used as part of Radio 4 Extra’s topical comedy show ‘Newsjack’. There have been two series this year, the first airing while I still worked at the bank. However, I managed to get two one-liners into the first series anyway, and given the extra time and emphasis of self-employment, was able to up that score to 5 one liners and a sketch in the latest series! This is very satisfying work when it happens and takes time and practice to get right – the business of joking seems to be a serious one. This is an aspect of my work that I want to take forwards into 2014 one way or the other. I will, of course, continue to submit to Newsjack when it comes back, but one eye must be kept on ‘where next?’ – building on the successes and reaching for more regular and guaranteed work. I’d be happy if I could find a way to get some one-liners onto other radio 4 programmes (shows like the ‘Now show’ and ‘News quiz’ often have writers that have started through ‘Newsjack’ – it’s just finding the link in or being a persistent bugger I suppose). I have also tickled some light interest with a sit-com script this year – falling short of the mark but getting good feedback and encouragement from an industry insider. If the right idea comes along, I will be writing and pitching new series next year, as well as looking to contribute to more programmes. Watch this space. (well not this space, this space won’t tell you anything new – I’ll be more specific about what space to watch when we come to it).

 

Poetry

Poetry is something I do rarely, and am quite self-conscious about, but that might change following the publication of one of my (very few) poems written this year in a collection. The poem ‘I’m alright Jack’ was chosen out of 600 odd entries to form part of a collection of 50 poems by the publisher mardibooks called ‘The Dance is New’. It is a genuinely good collection, and naturally, I would urge you all to buy a million copies each from here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Dance-New-Michelle-Calvert-ebook/dp/B00FL887N8 (I promise you I am one of the authors! For reasons of Amazon weirdness, my name is not listed at the top of the page, but I am linked at the bottom – I am in there basically).

                This is another area I intend to return to and perhaps ‘force’ a little more poetry out and onto the world (that’s not a bad thing – so much writing takes effort to get down on the page, just waiting for inspiration is not at all conducive to career development).

The Dimension Scales

Did I mention that I gone written a book? No? Well I have. It has been in development all year (and most of last year), a collection of short stories that will be released in 2014. This has been my favourite part of this year’s work. I finished my creative writing studies a few years ago, and this feels like the first piece of work that really puts all my learning together into one collection. I’m sure you’ve heard me go on about this before, and as of yet, there is nothing new to show you, but soon, very soon. I’m hoping that I will learn a lot of lessons from the release of this collection next year, and that a new work will be hot on its heels when I’ve had chance to digest the experience.

Education

I was thrilled and a little shocked to have achieved a distinction in two Open University modules this year: Philosophy and Arts History. Both form part of a BA degree I am working towards. Currently I am studying the last two modules (a higher level philosophy course and social science), and these will complete in 2014, at which point, I will get my degree. I started this education journey with nothing but the desire to learn more about creative writing (the first two modules that I completed three years ago now) – and was overcome by the education bug. I have since chosen subjects that I hope have informed me and my work in a positive way. History, social science and mostly, philosophy, are all helping me to get a deeper understanding of the world and myself. I would recommend to anyone who feels they might have ‘missed out’ somewhat during teenage years to revisit education if they can, or have the inclination. Learning is fun when you’ve chosen to do it and the subjects interest you. I don’t know if I will continue after the degree (I might leave it a year before deciding whether to do a Masters), but I hope to take the subjects I’ve chosen forwards into my work and life at every opportunity. They are already paying dividends.

Gravity Dave

My band ‘Gravity Dave’ have had a solid year as we’ve welcomed a new drummer to our number, written some great tunes, and gigged fairly regularly throughout the year. We have basically written and rehearsed/performed an album’s worth of material this year, and I think 2014 is the year to take this to the next step with quality recordings and more and more gigs. The main thing is that we all still find it really fun, creative and rewarding, so we’re not going to stop, and the music’s gonna keep flowing. I need a band, it is part of who I am and what I do, and I feel privileged to be part of this one with such great musicians. We’ve had a bit of a lull just in the last month or two due to problems with rehearsal space and health, but we will be back next year, and I promise, it will be bigger than ever. www.facebook.com/gravitydave

 

Anything else?

Well, this blog for one thing. When I started this, I didn’t know quite what it was meant to be, and I still don’t. All I know is that I enjoy it, and so do other people it seems. It’s quite a mixed bag as I’m sure you can tell. But it feels very important to me to keep on at it. It’s a bit like a digital sketch pad, a place to vent and experiment, reflect and celebrate. I hope those of you who follow this blog are generally entertained by it, at least enough to keep coming back. I have had some brilliant feedback from people directly, and I want to thank everyone who comes here and reads this. It’s kind of spooky that more people read this than I am aware of (according to the stats), but anonymity is the readers prerogative, and I appreciate your time spent reading my words greatly.

Another unexpected but fun development has been the rise of ‘ADMIN CAT!’ – a silly cartoon I produce to keep myself and some passing social network types entertained for a few seconds each week. This has potentially led onto some exciting developments for 2014…

 

And a happy new year!

I’m sure that as soon as I’ve finished writing this I will remember a whole bunch of other things. I have supported some great people and endeavours this year in a number of other ways not listed here. I occasionally still ‘do the spreadsheet thing’ for small businesses, and special mention has to go here to Misco Chocolates (www.miscoschocolates.co.uk) who are a constant inspiration to me in their attitude to life and work, both as business people and friends (as are all my friends, I must say).

You may notice a lack here of any personal details about the rest of my life! That is for two reasons: this blog isn’t really about that, and it hasn’t changed much (in a good way!). I live happily with my partner and my cats, and I love them all very much (even when they do bring in dead mice – the cats that is, not my partner).

So, all that is left is to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year! Please feel free to drop links to your end of year reviews or any  other work into the comment boxes – it is the least I can do to read yours if you have stuck with this! I do write really long blogs, but I don’t care, this isn’t Twitter. Thanks, as always, for reading. Here is a picture of me in a hat as a Christmas treat:

Image

Garry Abbott.

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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.