The Cut — Issue 1

I’m in the process of figuring out a few things about this site and what I do with it. There are a lot of clever people out there who see the humble blog making something of a comeback. I guess that’s something of a kickback against social media platforms and their restrictions. On a blog you can say what you want, how you want.

I’ve been going back through the archives of the site (and there are a lot of them—I’ve been on WordPress since 2005, and Blogger for a few years before that). It’s interesting to see how X&HT started as a ‘web log’ in the truest sense of the word. That is, a way of sharing what you’d been up to on the web. To a point, early X&HT looked a lot like my Twitter stream—links, snarks and short-form thoughts.

I think there’s some benefit to that format. Once a week, therefore, I’m going to try and post out some of the things I’ve found of interest in my travels through the aetherscape. I hope you find it of benefit. Call it a kind of cuttings collection.

In fact, let’s just call it The Cut.

Continue reading The Cut — Issue 1

WROB – The Stay-At-Home Special

Our sister site WROB has just dropped a show full of songs connected to the strange days in which we find ourselves. If you fancy a couple of hours of top tunes and incoherent babble from yours truly, get yourselves over to WROB Radio and check it out.

or you could always just hit the play button…

Start-Up Sequence

05:00

I’m not really awake, but drifting in and out of consciousness. I’ve been in this state since probably half-four, perhaps a little earlier if old-man bladder hasn’t already forced me into a stumble to the loo. The alarm is set for 05:30, and as ever, I promise that I’ll stay in bed until it goes off.

05:26

Inevitably, I break that promise. I’m too awake to stay put now, so I zombie-walk into the shower. Thirty seconds after leaving the sweet embrace of the duvet, I’m upright and wet.

05:30

The alarm goes off. It’s a cheap Chinese activity tracker with a vibrate built in. It’s showerproof, but the touch-sensitive surface doesn’t react well to the pummelling of the shower head, and I can’t switch it off. Doesn’t matter, I’m awake now. I let the device burr at me and get soapy.

05:40

Dryish, dressed-ish. I’m often accused of looking like I dressed in the dark and well, that ain’t so far off the truth. I work in a place where contact with clients is minimal. Frankly as long as I turn up with a pair of jeans and a top on, no-one could care less.

Downstairs, harried all the way by Millie the cat, who has been dogging my heels since I hit the shower. In the dark it’s sometimes hard to see her and she has a habit of flinging herself full-length at the bathroom door, or twining around my ankles while I’m trying to negotiate the stairs. I swear, one of us will end up dead because of her antics.

Kettle on. Now for tea. I’m a coffee fiend at work, but the world doesn’t look right if I don’t start things off with a cuppa. Nothing fancy. PG in a mug, splash of cow-juice. While the brew stews I dole some wet food into Millie’s bowl. She goes in headfirst, slurping at the moggy-chow like she’s half-starved. Which, I can assure you, she is not.

05:45

A bit of quiet time. If I’m feeling virtuous, I’ll get a bit of writing done. This is a good time to work–with brain half-engaged some interesting things usually hit the page. In the depths of winter, though, inspiration can be tough to dredge up. It’s more likely that the newsfeeds and Twitter get a once-over while the tea gradually gets my cogs spinning.

06:03

The kettle goes back on. Tea for TLC. If I time it right, delivery of said hot beverage coincides with her phone alarm going off. I swipe it to snooze for her, and plant a kiss. She mumbles a sweetness back at me. She’ll be in the shower by the time I leave, so this is the only contact we have until the evening. We never skip this bit of the morning ritual. It would be honestly unthinkable.

06:10

A little more reading, perhaps give Millie a fuss if she’s in the mood. My eyes keep drifting back to the clock. My brain is beginning to turn over now, filling with the cruft of the work day ahead. Tasks to do, excuses and apologies to make. Crisis avoidance strategies. You know, the usual.

06:25

Boots on. The inevitable patting of pockets. Wallet, work-pass, phone, keys. Check checky check-check. Over time, my everyday carry has been stripped back to these essentials. Potentially, everything I need for a working day could go in a single pocket of my jeans. Less to think about means less to worry about.

06:27

I crack the airlock and step outside. It’s cold, dark and quiet. I wake the car with a click of the fob and slide into the driver’s seat. I slot the key and turn the car to power. My OnePlus gets plugged into a flying charge lead, and music starts. Either a Spotify playlist streamed from the phone (modern psychedelia, classic funk, maybe some Americana or rockabilly. No podcasts, no radio, no voices that aren’t singing) or a random pick from the USB stick hooked into the stereo. I sit, just for a second, and let the tunes wash over me. I breathe in, deeply, hold it for a count of five, let it out again. Then I turn the key one last click.

06:30.

Ignition.

Main engine start.

Once again into the wild blue yonder.

WROB – Xmas Special

In which we get all festive on your asses. Some of Rob’s favourites, some leftfield choices and even a couple of pics from the WROB Party Line! It doesn’t get any more Christmassy than this.

From Springsteen to Sinatra, Spinal Tap to Sigur Ros, we’ve got something for everyone this Yuletide. Grab yourself an eggnog and settle in.

The Skin Thing, or a reopening of negotiations with a rebellious biome.

This morning, I went for a swim. TLC and I were on a weekend away at a posh hotel, and she urged me to give the spa facilities a go. Twenty leisurely lengths of the pool and a dose of sauna heat and steam room sweat opened up my pores and left me achy but glowing.

At one point I shared the steam room with a Spanish guy in budgie-smugglers. We exchanged a friendly nod, and that was it. A simple, normal moment of small luxury.

It had been at least fifteen years since I had been able to walk into a pool or spa area with any hint of confidence. Even a year ago, the Spanish gentleman would have looked at me with a mix of horror and disgust, and probably walked right back out of the steam room.

(TW: The following contains graphic descriptions of medical symptoms).

Continue reading The Skin Thing, or a reopening of negotiations with a rebellious biome.

Breakfast And Lunch And Dinner In America


DATELINE: 9th July 2018

Vail, CO

Pepi’s Bar And Restaurant is a little bit of Austria in the Rockies. OK, sorry, let’s track back a little. The Hotel Gasthof Gramshammer is a little bit of Austria in the Rockies. Pepi Gramshammer was a member of the 1960 Olympic Ski Team, and saw the birth of Vail, effectively an Alpine-themed Milton Keynes, as an opportunity. 54 years later, it’s still there, the cheerfully orange frontage inviting you in as an antidote to the blando corporate blah on show elsewhere.

It’s unapologetically Austrian, offering schnitzel, spatzle and hearty rib-sticking winter fare all year round. As a stop off for lunch on our way through from Great Lakes to Palisades, it suited rather well. There was a sense of history and personality to the place, a sense of ‘fuck you, I was here first, and the big orange building stays.’ It’s an attitude that the rest of Vail could do well to copy or at least look at.

We snagged an end table on the terrace (which I have a nasty feeling was reserved for someone else but hey we got there first and we were English and polite therefore fuck youse) which made the hangout much more choice. We watched the rich and privileged of Vail waft past, sweetly invulnerable to the world around them.

Pepi does a damned good Reuben. You don’t have to unhinge your jaw to eat it.

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DATELINE: 9th July 2018

Grand Junction, CO

When a place gets independently recommended by three different sources, you know you have to check it out. Bin 707 in Grand Junction got shout-outs from our next-door neighbor in Grand Lakes, a random lady at the World’s End brewpub down the way, and our hosts at Palisades.

Sure, ok, you have our attention.

Tucked into the business district of Grand Junction, Bin 707 is a gem of a place that you could walk past and miss and that would be a fuckup on your part. Highwalled, with a long low patio that allows you to make the most of the hazy 25 degree evening, Bin 707 is serious about their provenance. Local first, then state, then national. Which means Colorado lamb and pork is strong on the menu, with some great river-food in support. Alongside an amazing porchetta with green chili and hominy, and a lamb tenderloin so tender it almost melted on the fork, we enjoyed a glorious bavette that succumbed to the blade like a giallo victim, and duck breast that offered the perfect payoff between fat, crisp and melting tenderness. Stretch hit the jackpot, though. A simple Thai-spiced bowl of mussels won with the sweetest, plumpest bivalves I’ve ever tasted. The only criticism–more sourdough toast needed to soak up the precious juices.

Oh, and the beer menu was genuinely intimidating. In a good way, I mean. Thank the gods that our friendly and knowledgeable server could guide my way.

Relaxed, confident, delicious. You guys have to try this place out.


DATELINE: 10th July 2018

Clifton, CO.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you play it right, it can be the only meal of the day. If you want a serious, old-school American carbo-load, then Starvin Arvins on the main drag through Clifton is a must stop.

It’s dark wood and cozy booths. It’s stuffed animal heads on every wall. It’s stacked platefuls of food for absurdly small outlays of cash. It’s more coffee than you can drink in one go, and I never thought I’d write that sentence.

At Starvin, your waitress will be bright, blonde and heavily tattooed and it’s not a hipster affectation. At Starvin, I finally saw the point to breakfast. Here’s the buffer zone between you and the world. Here’s where you armour up against the challenges ahead.

A plateful of hash browns, cheese, sausage gravy and a cats-head biscuit with home-made peach and strawberry jelly on the side. Whatever else happens in your day, you know you’ve got breakfast right at least.

Fruit And Fibre? Bitch, please.

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DATELINE: 10th July, 2018

Palisade, CO.

One last thing, that isn’t breakfast, lunch or dinner, but needs to be raised to the group. The Grand Junction area is incredibly fertile, and Palisade, our base for this week, is rich in fruit of all kinds. It’s a big wine-growing region, and you have to know we’ve been tasting our faces off. The Dry Rosé at Grand River Winery is a crisp, flinty revelation.

But oh, the fruit. Summer season peaches are absurdly juicy and full-flavoured, spilling honeyed nectar down your chin with every bite. The Bing cherries on offer at every stall are so sweet and rich, almost alcoholic in their roundness and complexity. We spent money at Get Peachy, but you can do as well at Nana’s Fruit and Jam Shack, Herman’s Produce… oh, man, you honestly can’t go wrong.

Five-a-day never felt so easy.

Freedom, Independence etc.

Two days in America, when it is at it’s most America. Let freedom ring, or something.

A small detail of the decorations in our Kalamath St. Residence.

‘You can give peace a chance. I’ll cover you if that doesn’t work out.’

Texas plates, natch.

The next few were taken on a stroll down Santa Fe Avenue. Details of street art.

Detail of the art outside Chuey Fu, Denver’s leading Lanitx/Asian joint. Try the char sui burrito. Thank me later.

Celebratory fireworks at Civic Centre Park, Independence Eve, approximately 9:50 pm, at which point we had been in position for three hours and 20 minutes. Not entirely convinced the wait was worth it, although there was a great deal of kaboom packed into ten minutes.

Denver Botanical Gardens, earlier that day. Pixel art by Mike Whiting, which worked rather nicely in the space. The Gardens are lovely, by the way. Very heavily recommended.

4th of July parade, the Park Valley community, East 23rd St. It was hot. Damn hot. A lot of the floats were firing full-spec water ordnance delivery systems into the crowd. We were grateful. Worth checking out Cake and Crumbs Cafe on Kearney St.

Spotted these fine gentlemen at Union Station, who seemed to be enjoying their Fourth Of July in high style. Cheers to them, and to you all.