Review: The Angel Inn - Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria

Food: 7
Service: 8
Atmosphere: 7
Location: 6

Bowness-on-Windermere has to be one of the worst places to exist in the Lake District. You can't move for Far-Eastern tourists who have no idea how to walk in a straight line; stopping for no apparent reason to take a photo of every single building (I even saw a lady taking a photograph of a Chinese takeaway - maybe to compare notes, who knows?).

It bewilders me how so many tourists travel to Bowness given that it is a turd among gemstones in the Lake District, a place that can justifiably herald itself as one of the most stunning places in the Universe. There is no character, no charm, the scenery is mediocre and there's nothing to do except fight your way through foreign sightseers as they meander about like a lazy shoal of bluefin tuna.

The town has to cater for these happy snapping droves and so a plethora of choice is available, largely Italian restaurants or takeaway establishments that are nothing to write home about. We happened to choose to eat at The Angel Inn simply because it was closest to where we were staying, a three-minute walk down the hill - a nightmare on my crippled knee, but that's a story for another time. Another rather more crucial reason for our choice was that it had a menu that appealed to all the family, from those with a palette bereft of refinement to those with fussier eating habits. The meat brigade were kept happy whilst I could find similar herbivorous pleasures from what I was reading from the menu stand.

We ventured inside the relatively characterful building to the restaurant area and were quickly seated by a tall, blonde waitress - picture Kate Moss but in a hurry. The restaurant itself was remarkably quiet, given that it was 7pm during the first week of the Summer school holidays. The few diners that were seated had been evenly distributed about the room, generating only little atmospheric pockets, rather than clumping guests together to create a buzz - although as an antisocial diner (and an antisocial person in general) it was fine.

Kate Moss handed us our menus and skipped back to the bar area to sort our drinks order. We scoured the menu for the dishes we had already preselected when stood outside earlier, just to check that a whole new menu hadn't been devised and printed in the four-minute interim between standing outside the restaurant and sitting down inside.

I opted for the Asparagus Filled Ravioli, available as a vegetarian option without the bacon pieces. Going off a slight tangent, the idea of giving diners options and choice is incredible and one which restaurants don't do enough. Whilst most restaurants might be open to the idea of not following a strict menu, it often feels uncomfortable to ask. I saw a great example of this just around the corner from The Angel Inn at a place called Baha - there was a clear vegan section which simply said: "Please pick any ingredients from the menu and we will make it into any dish of your choice." Extremely simple and well worth printing on any menu I would say.

Back to Kate and my ravioli. Pillowy pasta pockets of deliciousness, if a tad too salty, slathered in butter and cream. My only criticism of the asparagus ravioli dish as a whole would be the asparagus - there was simply too much of the same thing, both flavour and texture. There needed to be a contrast, a sweetness, a fresh kick, a crunch, a slight spice...something...anything. The 5 garden peas didn't do the trick sadly. It just needed a touch of mint or caramelised crispy onions on top, even a couple of shavings of Cheddar would do it. But I'm no chef. (Fried breadcrumbs would also work a charm!)

It was a nice enough plate of food in a nice enough restaurant in a nice enough location. It was, in a nutshell, nice enough.

If I ever find myself back in the wart of the Lake District that is Bowness I shall be sure to visit Baha and asked them to make the most complex vegan dish I can create from items on their menu. After I've been kicked out from there I will walk around the corner to enjoy a good plate of food The Angel Inn served by Kate Moss.

2017 - A Year In Review

Last year I did my first ever "Year in Review", and it was pretty miserable to be honest. In my final line I wrote "Here's to a better 2017" - but has it been much better?

Sure, Bowie didn't die this year, and neither did Victoria Wood, or Alan Rickman, or Gene Wilder, or Terry Wogan, etc. etc.. But there have been two overarching issues to 2017 that are far worse than any death.

Brexit and Trump have been the hangover from 2016's big, fuck off night out. We awoke in 2017, still in the previous year's clothes with the mother of all headaches, we look around to see our house trashed and think "Oh god, what did we do?". And here come the consequences.

Brexit. Trump. Trump. Brexit. The two biggest snoregasms in history. The build up, the talks, the negotiations, the interviews, the speeches, the private meetings - it will all amount to nothing, it will be over without us even noticing. Nothing will change and it will all have been for worthless. The expensive shit show will be wiped from our memories to be as significant as a fart in a hurricane.

The year began with part joke, part threat: President Trump. By day, he does...well...not very much. By night, he picks up his phone and, with his tiny hands, rants and raves all over Twitter. His social media profile could be compared to a crossover between Paris Hilton and ANY UPPER-CLASS WHITE PERSON who feels they're the ones being victimized by society.

"Wahh wahh wahh! Kim-Jong Un called me old!!! I'm not his friend any more". Yes, Donald, you're really making America great again.

Meanwhile, in the real world, towers are burning down, powerful men are abusing women, terrorist attacks are occurring, missiles are killing innocent people.

At this moment I'm metaphorically stood on the edge of an apartment block roof, a push would be a savior from a constant, never-ending decline.

But oh look! A Royal Wedding here to save the day! (Note my sarcasm).

A man is going to marry a woman. Great. Great news. Good stuff.


Has there been any actual good news? Anything positive at all?...Anyone?

Well in the roadkill stain of 2017, some good things did happen actually.

Rising from the cacophony of bullshit politics, people are actually engaging with government issues. It is easier than ever to have a stance in politics - there is a huge open platform to produce an opinion, no matter what the fundamentals are. It is far more simple to see now what you might consider "right" or "wrong".

Everything from new-wave Nazis to 14-year-olds posting funny Trump GIFs - the internet is full of people with opinions (I understand the irony), but opinions are good.

The caveat to that being that opinions shouldn't be "locked down", everyone should understand that opinions can change and that your own opinions should be reviewed near-constantly.

Furthermore, in the wake of the bloated gargoyle / accused serial rapist Harvey Weinstein is that these issues are now, finally being addressed. There’s no denying the power of those survivors’ personal stories, which were released into the cultural consciousness en masse this year with the resurgent #MeToo movement. Hopefully the momentum continues to build and by next year the wave of change will engulf the powers that be.

Other than that, the world economy grew by 3%, Australia became the 25th country to achieve marriage equality, and gene therapy is progressing.

Strap in and prepare for 2018.

Man in the Woods

There was a man in the woods,
He showed me his penis.
I said "Good morning",
And kept on walking.

Review: Old Swan & Minster Mill - Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire

Food: 7
Service: 3
Atmosphere: 2
Location: 8

It is imperative before visiting any restaurant to check it out online first. Check the review sites, check the website, have a good gawp at the menu to see if you actually want to eat any of their pabulum. Everyone does that, right? None of this "let's just take a chance and try it" malarkey. If you are one of those chancers who just walks into a restaurant without doing at least 5 minutes of Googling beforehand then you must be clinically insane (and will probably turn out to be a serial killer).

I was rather excited for the Old Swan & Minster Mill - in fact, I thoroughly insisted we went there. Being a non-meat-eater, the food selection at restaurants tends to be rather thin on the ground so you can imagine how my eyes lit up when I saw ' Wild mushroom ravioli topped with parmesan and toasted pine nuts'. Finally, a place that didn't just serve herbivores a dry, depressing veggie burger!

12 noon. We pull into the rather full car park, stomachs growling, longing for a good plate of food. A brand new Ferrari 488 GTB sits smugly across two parking spaces - as revenge we park our 2007 Ford Galaxy dangerously close to the driver's door. That'll show the bastards.

We make our way towards the entrance, passing a sign reading "All children left abandoned will be sold to the circus", and step into the dimly lit former mill. As we walk towards the baron bar, we notice a distinct lack of any human life - it was as though we'd traveled into the future to some dystopian version of Earth after Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have had their hissy fit that led to the extinction of homo sapiens.

After three or four minutes of standing around, a mustachioed man (French I assume given his accent) takes us to a table in an empty dining room. There is no music, just the distant sounds of pots being bashed together in the kitchens and the hum of an air conditioning unit above us. The Frenchman then disappears into the shadows as a waitress hands us each a menu then hurries off to bring us a bottle of water for the table. To my amazement, it is a different waitress who delivers the bottle to the table. Following that, a fresh-faced young waiter with a notepad places his groin dangerously close to my head as he takes our order (there was a distinct smell of musk radiating from his crotch). We'd only been there 5 minutes and had already been served by four members of staff.

After 25 minutes of sitting in the quiet with nothing but awkward family conversation to keep us sane, a totally new waitress brings us our food.

At this point I'd just like to stress that I'm not making it up about the number of wait staff who are serving our table independently. I wish this was some "bit" I had prepared but honestly, there were more staff than customers in there.

Having paid £15 for this plate of ravioli I expected, justifiably, a full plate of food...I mean, is that too much to ask?

A jaunty black plate is placed in front of me with ten pieces of petite ravioli with a couple of pieces of rocket sprinkled on top - because all chefs seem to think that rocket makes a plate of food look like the Mona Lisa. I spend a minute or two looking for the "parmesan and toasted pine nuts" that I was promised, however, it quickly became apparent that it was devoid of both. Being British and not wanting to cause a fuss, I said nothing to the waitress as she brought out the remaining plates of food for the rest of my family.

She then asked if we wanted any sauces with our meals - my sister had ordered a burger so asked for ketchup, and off the waitress scampered. 30 seconds later yet another waitress appeared at the table asking if we would like any sauces. "Ketchup please", asked my sister for a second time, and again the waitress disappeared round the corner. After 10 minutes of eating it became apparent that the ketchup was never going to arrive.

Despite the hundred-plus staff members that seemed to work there, we couldn't find a single person around to ask, they had all vanished. Where did they go? Where did they come from? Questions. No answers. A dry burger it is then.

My ravioli was actually delicious, the filling was sublime: rich, earthy, buttery. If there was anyone around I would have asked for a recipe. I just wish I had more than ten tiny pieces, also a sauce wouldn't go amiss.

£15 for this? It was nice but we had been to a Wetherspoons in Oxford the day before and had payed half the price for food and service that was twice as good. They actually do a cracking veggie burger!

Review: L’Anatra Italian Kitchen - Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire

Food: 2
Service: 6
Atmosphere: 4
Location: 8

Restaurant reviewers always seem to follow the same "set menu", if you will. They spend an awful lot of the time writing an introduction that doesn't seem to have any connection to the actual restaurant they're writing about. Then there is a single final paragraph where they list off the food they ate and that's it - restaurant reviewed.

But is that the whole point of a restaurant review, to not talk about the food? Going to a restaurant is all about the food, surely...or maybe that has something to do with my inherent greediness. So, like Nigella Lawson on heat, let's talk about some food.

L’Anatra Italian Kitchen is located in Bourton-on-the-Water, postcard-Britain's answer to Venice - except the masses of canals have been replaced with a single piddly stream. Set back a street away from the water is a building that, from the outside, doesn't look very Italian. It is the same story once we step inside, there is a distinct lack of any charm or character. It is dull. If it were a singer it would be Taylor Swift, if it were and actor it would be Tom Cruise, and if it were a band it would be Coldplay.

The whole place is pretty much empty except for three old biddies guzzling down cups of tea before making a hasty getaway out into the rain. Despite the lack of customers, we're still shoved in a table in the corner out of the way, as if to be forgotten. A waitress - who clearly had better things to be doing other than working on a Thursday lunchtime - handed us menus and brought us a bottle of their finest tap water.

The menu was nothing new or exciting, "the usual Italian" as one might call it: pizza, pasta...more pasta. The most exciting thing on there was a vegetarian calzone (and yes, I don't eat meat so my only other option was "pasta in a tomato sauce"), my brother opted for a lasagne, my sister chose the carbonara and my dearest mother went for the penne bolognese.

Not enough time had passed for the food to be freshly made before we were presented with four gigantic plates of food that didn't really look like what we had in mind. My calzone looked like a Frankenstein version of a Cornish pasty, complete with a side salad of vegetables that had clearly been sat in the back of a fridge for two weeks.

By this point, a couple of Japanese tourists had taken a seat on the table next to us, and while they were waiting to be served the man was holding his phone to his ear desperately trying to learn to say "soup of the day". The closest he got was "supa day" which I think is close enough.

Once the waitress had served them their supa day, she ambled over to our table and asked if everything was okay with our meal. Being typically British we responded with nothing but positivity, "Mmm yeah, everything is great thank you. No no, there's nothing wrong with our meals". A blatant lie. We were all hating our food.

My brother's lasagne was a steaming pile of grease, the carbonara that my sister ordered was absent of any flavour, and my mother's bolognese was just a tin of chopped tomatoes on top of overcooked pasta with a few pieces of dry mincemeat hidden away from prying eyes.

I would, however, argue that my calzone was by far the worst of all. A gigantic mound of dough filled with a teaspoon of tomato puree and the saltiest olives I have ever tasted in my life. It was like they'd been grown inside a fisherman's scrotum before being spunked into my calzone, along with what seemed to be congealed "man fluid", but that just turned out to be goat's cheese.

We ate what we could then loathingly paid the bill and made a quick getaway, vowing never to return. Goodbye Bourton-on-the-Water, you were...kind of average really.

Saviour - The Disappearance of John Henley

Whoever desires to be saved,
Should above all hold to lies.
Scatter your faith and your trust for it matters not,
Murals in the chapels of our minds.


Original Poem by James Birchall
Extract from Project Unknown

Don't Fear The Reaper? I'm Terrified

Amy Winehouse, Marc Bolan, Sid Vicious, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison: a panoply of artists all labeled as "died too young". Down the Faustian pathway they traveled to reach the very beginnings of greatness, masses of potential still held within their souls. But does this mean that their lives were wasted? They were able to create and express themselves but then life, and drugs in most cases, got in the way and thus their lives were cut short.

How much of a legacy does one need so that we don't die in vain? What I mean by that is, what achievements qualify us to utter the deathbed words of "I've had a good run"?

Personally I'm petrified of dying, probably out of fear of not being able to justify my life as amounting to anything. It'd be bad enough to think that if I were now lying in a hospital bed knowing I was merely a useless pile of skin waiting for death, but imagine stepping out into the road and seeing a bus flying towards you. In that split second your life flashes before your eyes, literally, as you try to find some big enough accomplishment so that at least they have something good to say at your funeral.

I also have an issue with how I'm going to die. I want to have a proud death, not something long and drawn out but not something pitiful and quick - "Here lies James, he choked on an apple pip". How depressing would that be? I don't mean it's depressing because I'm dead but because of the lack of nobility. I can't be alone in thinking this way, surely.

I'm certainly not saying that because death is inevitable and inescapable that we may as well all top ourselves now, that way our collective achievements add up to nothing. But my conscious has no great desire to go out into the world and find the cure to cancer or be the first to step foot on Mars. My real problem is that death bears an overwhelming uncertainty as to the "when" and "how", and while I have no real big goals in life, I'd like to be able to list my achievements on more than the back of a stamp.

Side note: don't use this is some sort of therapy evidence against my mental welfare, I'm not depressed or unhappy, I'm merely curious.

This probably, in some shape or form, has something to do with a deep-seated need to be acknowledged by a system that I abhor. Everyone has their own little quirks but these are often not enough to make us successful, but it's these quirks that make us who we are.*

*I added that cheesy ending to make it seem like I'm not completely nihilistic and twisted

Athanasia - The Disappearance of John Henley

The pursuit of meaning,
A veiled reality lies bare.
Perpetual and draining,
Morbid and dark.
There's a light for some,
An eclipse for many.
Fear of death,
Fear of life.
Come the end,
Please come the end.


Original Poem by James Birchall
Extract from Project Unknown

Valentine's Day - What's the Point?

Valentine's Day can go fuck itself (yes, we're starting on that level so strap in). Don't think for a second I'm saying that out of jealousy because I couldn't care less for all of the annoying Facebook couples celebrating their 3 week anniversary together. Out of all the silly holidays and pointless days of celebration we have in our society, it is by far the worst - a whole day dedicated to mushy love songs, cheesy romcoms and cheap flowers.
For those in a relationship, first of all good luck, secondly don't forget the roses, the chocolates (the ones that aren't quite the cheapest on offer), those bath products that she loves, oh and remember you have dinner booked at 7. Did she get that card that you ordered at 11pm last night which says something like "You rock my world" alongside a picture of a pebble with googly eyes stuck to it?**
If you need a reason to take your significant other to a restaurant or buy them flowers then all hope of your relationship lasting is over. Exchanging the words "I love you" over a pun-based customised card ordered online is proof that your relationship is nothing more than a sham. If you even dare to propose on Valentine's Day then you may as well end it all now (both the relationship and yourself); how incredibly unoriginal and dreary are you?!
If you love someone, you shouldn’t need a holiday to express it. Don't be a whore to what society tells you to do by declaring your love just because it’s Valentine’s Day. Go out for a meal on any other day except February 14th, surely that's more of a statement of your feelings for one another. If you get chocolates, jewellery or flowers on Valentine's Day then you may aswell throw them away because they were bought without thought.
Valentine’s Day is made a hundred times worse because of all the miserable people on social media complaining how lonely they are. It's either that or they are writing about #SinglePower or how they're "winning at life" because they get a whole tub of probably tear-soaked ice-cream to themselves. By acting as if you don’t care that you aren’t in a relationship by making such a huge gesture implies that you, in fact, do care. You care so much that you felt the need to try and be subversive so that people think you're strong and independent when really you'd love to be bought a teddy bear with your name written on the t-shirt. Bears don't even need t-shirts!
Whilst I'm in super-rant-mode, February...everyone hates you! February is the forgotten middle child of the year. It’s the shortest of all the months, sometimes it has an extra day and sometimes it doesn't, the weather is crap, you've already given up on your New Year's Resolution, it's got too many Rs in it. Damn you, Ferbrurary! 
In reality, though, I’m just bitter and devoid of all positive feelings. Feel free to celebrate your unfounded, two dimensional love on this day, just remember that those gifts are meaningless. Happy Valentine's Day, happy every day.

**I don't mean to gender stereotype or whatever you wish to call it. Whatever your gender, sexuality, persuasion etc, you shouldn't celebrate Valentine's Day either. I hope this clears things up.

The Lonely Astronaut

Floating through space,
He thought about things.
He missed his wife,
He missed his kids.
He missed five-aside football in the park,
He missed air.


Published in Echoes of Silence (2016), edited by Emily Wilson