Beer Review – Thai. P. A

Lemongrass Thai. P. A, an English beer style, made popular in India, with a Thai twist, brewed right here in Yorkshire. Is this melting pot of a beer the miracle we need to overcome a culture of fear and division and bring the world together?

No, it’s a fucking beer. But at £1.99 for 4 bottles, you can easily afford enough to temporarily forget the state of the world. I bought it from the discount bucket in the Newland Ave institution, Bargain Beers. This is the first of Decent Spread’s weekly (or whenever we feel like it) reviews of the wonders you can find there.

This is the part of a beer review where you usually find a load of poncey words about smokiness, balance, aroma, and mouth feel. Mouth feel for Christ’s sake. It’s a beer, it feels wet and fizzy in your mouth. If you’re expecting more of the same, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. I’m not a beer aficionado that can identify the specific breed of hops in a beer by smelling the piss of a man who drank it the night before. You won’t be able to regurgitate this information next time you’re in Brewdog to impress your friends, and it won’t give you any new ammunition to use in your tirade against people that like Fosters.

I’m just a person that likes drinking beer and has a good enough grasp on the English language to be able to describe the things that I taste. My first observation is a dumb one, but worth mentioning. It tastes like Lemongrass. Not just like a beer with some lemon flavouring, it has the specific taste of lemongrass. You get a nice tangy hit which fades into the taste of the beer underneath. Most IPA’s I’ve had taste pretty similar and this one is no different. It’s a decent beer with an interesting flavour in it. You couldn’t have too many because the lemongrass gets a bit much after a while but a few is fine.

It’s basically like a posh man’s Radler (like a shandy but tastes more like lemon). If you’re the kind of person that secretly likes Radler but couldn’t possibly drink it in front of their friends without being ridiculed for having the palette of a dole monkey that has the audacity to drink lager from full sized cans, rather than porter from a small can, this is the beer for you. You can enjoy an easy drinking lemony beer while lambasting your friends for not being aware of the new trend in beers flavoured with Thai curry ingredients.

As I sit here, drinking a Thai. P. A and writing this review, I feel a great sense of regret. I should have savoured it, let every mouthful sit for a while before swallowing, because I know this may be the last time. That is both the beauty and the tragedy of the Bargain Beers discount bucket. Each week, there is something new. Almost always a beer that I have never seen before, and will never see again, and always so cheap. In a week, something will replace it and all that will be left of Thai. P. A. will be a fuzzy memory. You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

The Vulture

The Vulture starts like any good crime thriller, with a corpse and a question: ‘Who Killed John-Lee?’ From there, we roll back a year to the summer of 1968 in New York.

It’s at this point that you’d normally be introduced to the cop with the troubled past and the less than conventional methods that are overlooked because, by God he gets results. Instead, we get Spade, a young kid trying to find his way in a city rife with Heroin addiction and racial prejudice.

The pacing makes a refreshing change from the boring formula that you find in crime thrillers on charity shop bookshelves everywhere. For most of the book I forgot about the murder mystery and it was just a novel about what it was like to be a black kid in 1960’s New York.

Each character brings a new angle to the argument and most of them are pretty well-rounded, but a few are just cardboard cut-out stereotypes that could have been written by a middle aged white man scripting a racial awareness cartoon for kids. Gil Scott-Heron’s attempt at creating an intellectual character is by far his worst. His nickname is IQ and he speaks almost exclusively in quotes from his literary heroes which quickly gets old. By the end, I think Gil-Scott Heron was just boasting about the books he’d read.

Like his songs and poetry, Gil Scott-Heron uses a very on the nose writing style that would normally put me off. It’s a bit hit and miss, but it’s mostly alright. If you’re already a fan then you’ll probably get along with it, but if you aren’t, you might find him a little jarring. Great lines like ‘God put black people on earth to blow bush and take a lot of shit, and white people were for drinking beer and dying of boredom’ made me laugh, but they’re all too often sandwiched between some plain weird stuff. The sex scenes, which frequently feature the phrase ‘love tunnel’, reminded me of a fourteen year old virgin boasting to his mates in the playground about the girl he ‘shagged on holiday.’

When it came to the conclusion, there was a reveal, but it didn’t rely on shock value. It almost felt like we’d both forgotten about the murder mystery element and he shoehorned in a rushed ending. It still works because the meat of the book isn’t really about that, but it still felt a bit weird. Overall, it was pretty good, but not as amazing as I’d hoped it would be.


Dead Man’s Shoes

Shane Meadows’ shot Dead Man’s Shoes in about three weeks. His back-to-basics, guerilla film-making with semi improvised script and acting paints an eerie picture of small town England.

Co-writer and lead actor Paddy Considine gives a career-defining performance as ‘Richard’, a man who has returned from the army to his small hometown in the north of England to seek revenge on a group of local thugs that bullied his younger, special-needs brother.

Recalling tragedies from his own community where the victims had all but been forgotten and the guilty still walked around free of the consequences, Meadows said that above all, the film is about justice. ‘Not justice of the government or of the police – human justice; justice of the heart. And if it came back to your door…would you be able to live with it?’

From the opening sequence, it is clear that this is a personal film, about something deeply tragic. Richard and his brother Anthony traipse over the countryside, intercut with old super-8 home video footage of their childhood and long gone days of innocence. It manages to express a fair amount with very minimal dialogue, or even none at all.

Gradually, black and white flashback sequences reveal the extent of the harrowing abuse Anthony suffered as he is unwillingly initiated into a circle of wannabe gangsters as somewhat of a piss-taken, play-thing under the guise of being an honorary member.

Genuinely paternal and deeply tormented, Richard is intensely intimidating when faced with these men, casually playing both hilarious and unnerving mind games with them to begin with, letting them know exactly what he’s capable of (and giving them all some terrifying idea of what’s in store for them).

This is incredibly articulated in a near-iconic confrontation scene between Richard and the gang’s leader ‘Sunny’, summed simply: ‘It’s beyond words, mate.’ As Sunny later remarks to the gang: ‘…he’s not the same guy that left.’ Once they realise who it is they’re dealing with, it is as if a death-stalking black cloud hangs over them that none can escape. ‘He ain’t going away fellers…’

There is a blend of social realist drama and 70s revenge thriller, but the heart and emotional drive of the film elevates it high above its genre trappings. Despite its bleak moments and equally disturbing acts of revenge (including a seminal acid sequence, created by actors deprived of a couple days sleep, being legally the closest thing to recreating the effects of tripping), there is also a great deal of perfectly balanced, darkly comic relief that never steps out of beat. The car these ‘bad-men’ band together in, for instance, is nothing short of ridiculous.

The bad guys, while certainly bad, are also very human, with a natural banter between them (the actors having taken some time to have lived together). Once the ramifications of their actions start to sink in, these lowly characters are made all the more believable as they reflect on their deeds, strung-out, tired and afraid.

There’s a sincere and palpable sense of pain and madness. Paddy Considine’s ‘Richard’ seems, at times, part Travis Bickle, part John Rambo and even part Michael Myers. Toby Kebbel (in his film debut) brings a subtle, understated and pitch-perfect accompaniment in the supporting role of ‘Anthony’.

Alongside its clear focus on motivations for justice and the consequential reality of all out revenge, the film also depicts men of small town reputation and the unchecked criminality you find there. Taking a strong, sobering look at the harsh roles within working class masculinity and at the dark side of casual drug use, ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ may seem a tale well-trodden, but few tell it as with as deep and thoughtful an impact as this.

By Damien Allsopp

Nod by Adrian Barnes (Review)

How long do you think you could stay awake before you went mad, or died? It’s probably not as long as you think. About twenty-five days. Adrian Barnes takes us through the grim lead up to this untimely end in his 2012 debut, Nod. A harsh critique of modern life, told through a simple but effective concept. Nobody can sleep. Well, almost nobody. Paul is a sleeper and each night he escapes into a recurring dream. The only sliver of hope left in this new world.

We join Paul on day eighteen. There are a few like him, mostly children. Nobody knows why and, as a reader, we never find out. It’s not important. The significance of this novel lies in its depiction of this new world and its comparison to the old one. Standing on his balcony, Paul describes a world in which ‘it’s getting harder to tell the living from the dead’. Then he takes us back to the beginning of the whole mess. What follows is a beautifully crafted study in human nature, framed by our descent into madness as sleep psychosis begins to take hold.

The first time I read Nod, I enjoyed the journey with Paul, his wife Tanya, and Zoe, the mute child that they rescue along the way. Barnes draws us into his struggle by addressing us directly. Joking with us about his situation; when Tanya scolds him, saying ‘this isn’t a game Paul, this isn’t just another one of your stupid books’, he looks to us and says, ‘she was wrong about that of course.’

Through this technique, we become like Paul. An outsider, looking in on this new reality. We share in his moral superiority because, like him, we still have our sanity. We trudge along with the hapless party. Through their interactions with a new breed of religious fanatics headed by the Admiral of the Blue. All the way to the bitter conclusion of the land of Nod.

I stumbled through that first reading with my ‘flopping head, lolling tongue and corkscrewed mouth’, arriving at the end feeling that I had missed something. The pop culture references that littered the novel had some relevance I was sure. A flicker of what Barnes was trying to say lurked somewhere in the back of my mind but it didn’t take shape until I entered the land of Nod for a second time.

At first glance, Nod is a world away from our own reality. But take a closer look and you might find that ‘maybe nothing ever changed’. It is the logical conclusion of a culture of meaningless distraction that Adrian Barnes resents so much. In his eyes, we are already there. We float along ‘gobbling down burgers from our lap’, ‘all of our faces fixed on the same goal of semi-oblivion through satiation.’ Through these criticisms, I began to get a sense of Paul’s self-righteous attitude and realised it was a reflection of the author himself.

Intellectualism has been increasingly pushed aside and Barnes sees himself as a victim of this. You need only look at the current political landscape; based on social media soundbites and cartoon characters rather than well researched arguments. ‘We weren’t a species interested in facts as such. We were more into evading or spinning them.’

Nod is his bitter reaction to the situation. Paul is struggling to gain traction with his books about the origins of language but nobody is interested. Barnes’ pessimistic attitude is apparent when Paul’s book is taken from him and used as the basis for a religious cult, taking away any intellectual value it once had.

Like Paul, Barnes has not earned the recognition that he so desperately deserves. He doesn’t even have his own Wikipedia page. He was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke award in 2013 but fell short. The authors hope of gaining the respect that he so clearly feels entitled to are slim in light of his current situation.

He was diagnosed with terminal cancer about six months before publishing the novel. The 2015 edition of Nod includes an essay, titled My Cancer is as Strange as my Fiction. He talks about the similarities between his life and Paul’s;

‘I began to see the end of everything. I was going to slowly lose the people I love, as did Paul. Insomnia made the world insane to Paul just as my damaged brain has made the world insane to me. And this is only the beginning of the weird similarities’.

He goes on to say that even before he started writing, he ‘often cursed the real world, with its greed and hatred and lack of love’.  One of the most fascinating things about this is that Barnes finished his first draft of the book ‘a whole year’ before he fell ill. In Nod, he had created an experience that was so evocative that when their darkest hour came, he and Paul mirrored one another. It could even be called a premonition, after all, Barnes comments that both he and Paul sought help in the same Vancouver hospital.

You may notice that I have made no reference to Barnes’ other work. That is because, until I was halfway through writing this, I didn’t know it existed. In fact, I thought that he was dead. He fell victim to our lack of interest in facts or integrity. After first reading Nod, I googled his name and found an article. A tragic narrative of a man who had written a novel in his dying days, surviving just long enough to see it published. I only realised very recently that this wasn’t true. But it made a better story I suppose. It got more hits. His tragic tale had become nothing more than the ‘cultural snuff porn’ that he criticizes in his novel.

In the midst of his battle with cancer, Barnes did in fact release another novel.  The 2015 release, Satan a la mode, is likely to be his last. It is a great shame that we will not have the chance to hear more from him; If his debut was this accomplished, who knows what he could have produced had he been given the benefit of a lengthy writing career.

Nod – Adrian Barnes (Blue Moose Books, 31st October 2012)