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First time, ‘Last Exit’

Since downloading the ‘ Goodreads ‘ app a while ago Hubert Selby Jr has been on my ‘to read’ list. This month I finally got round to completing his first work ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’.

It’s safe to say that ‘Last Exit’ is not like anything you’ve ever read before. Structurally, grammatically it goes against anything you’ve ever read before. Speech marks are dispensed with and conversations, such as they are, run into one another so you are unsure who is speaking. The rhythm of the language is paramount. Shelby expertly captures the speech patterns and linguistic nuances of the various characters with words you have to read aloud to understand. 

The characters are for the most part the most thoroughly desperate, despicable, vile bunch ever created. They all seem to be clamouring for something that is not there, love, attention, romance, happiness. Whatever it is Selby makes sure they don’t get it. 

Two of the most memorable Harry Black , the strike leader and Tralala the prostitute come to particularly grisly ends. Harry has just come to terms with his sexuality and seems to have found happiness, of sorts, when Selby tears it away in an instant. Tralala is left for dead by her cackling and mocking ‘friends ‘ after a horrific experience.

This world is not for the faint hearted. It is callous and brutal. There is no happy ending. It is inhabited by lying, cheating, self centred, amoral monsters. But what makes it more disturbing is that you can sense that it is real. These characters existed then and they exist now. The world Selby has painted is one that is played out around the world wherever people are trapped and strive to escape but hopelessness drags them back time and time again. 

Did I enjoy it ? Yes, to an extent. Would I read anything else by Selby? Hmmm, not sure. By all accounts ‘Last Exit’ is pretty upbeat compared to ‘The Room’ and others. I love his writing style and his characters not so much the lack of structured storyline…so we’ll see. Watch this space whydoncha.

Out walking this morning.

This morning , because I’ve become a little obsessed with doing my 10,000 steps a day, I decided to take myself off for a quick half hour walk.

I set the timer on my phone for 15 minutes and headed off down the main road. This , as you can appreciate is not the most picturesque of walks but what can you do ?

Well , I was about to find out.

After walking for about 5 minutes I saw a small arrow and a pedestrian sign next to a factory that I’ve driven past hundreds of times. This time I followed the path for a walk and what a find it was.

To  my left were the squat , ugly concrete blocks of an industrial estate but to the right was an almost endless view of fields , fern and bracken separated by a gravel pathway.

I felt like the first person ever to walk there , like Alain-Fournier’s ‘Le Grand Meaulnes’ stumbling into the mysterious children’s party. The walk went on for about a mile and for most of it I was alone. It is hard to believe that amongst the industrial units there is such a beautifully peaceful walk.

Along the way the pathway forked in different directions and I’m looking forward to exploring the area some more.



To Tip or Not to Tip

Earlier this year we were fortunate enough to spend some time in Las Vegas and we have already been to New York a couple of times. When you’re in the USA things are pretty clean cut , you tip. You tip , it’s expected. Employees at restaurants , bars , hotels and so on are not well paid and it is understood that we , as the consumer , should supplement their income by tipping. We are even given a handy guide in some restaurants suggesting amounts based on varying percentages.Now , what is also understood by the employee it that the tip , whilst it is expected , has to be earned and as a result 90% of the time , certainly from my experiences , you get really good customer service in the USA. They deserve every penny.

That is not the case everywhere however and this is my dilemma.

I refuse to tip simply as a matter of course. To give a couple of examples ; on a recent holiday to Greece we took a day trip to a nearby island. The tour guide was on the boat but not particularly visible. She refused to accompany the group to ┬ávisit the chapel from ‘Mamma Mia’ saying that she’d visited it a few times and it was too hot anyway. During our lunch at a local taverna rather than circulate and check how everyone was she opted to sit and chat with her friends for an hour. On the way way back though , as soon as the boat became visible form the shoreline of the upcoming port she, and her friends , suddenly became very animated. Playing music at full volume , encouraging everyone to stand and clap hands to say ‘Look at what a great time we’re having !’ As the boat docked she announced that she would accept tips and promptly held out a large bucket labelled ‘ TIPS’. I am now old enough not to fall for that emotional blackmail and stoically ignored her as I walked past. Earn your tip ! Don’t expect it. You did nothing exceptional and yet you expect us to pay more simply because you ask. NO.

And this brings me to my second example. A group of four of us went to a local pub restaurant for a meal and were greeted by our charming and jolly waitress who enthusiastically talked us through the menu.

‘This is looking good’ I thought ‘ She could be heading for a nice tip by the end of this’. Starters and mains were dispatched and it came to dessert.

Where had she gone ? She was at the other end of the pub clearing tables and try as we might there was no way we could attract her attention.We had to ask someone else to get our desserts. Consequently , any chance she had of a tip disappeared in that moment.

It sounds as if I have made a set of arbitrary rules for the tipping game that only I understand. Not true. All I expect in a restaurant , hotel , shop is to be served politely , helpfully and with some degree of enthusiasm. Recognise that I am not your friend , don’t call me ‘mate’ , as a consumer I expect to be treated with some degree of respect but not the unctuous grovelling from a Dickens novel.

My final example comes from a recent visit to a hotel with a restaurant near London. Our delightful waitress got it absolutely spot on. She was attentive , we didn’t wait for any order to be taken or food to be brought . She was chatty but not too much , telling us about how she’d recently tried the meal we ordered. She was enthusiastic , she clearly knew what she was doing and was keen to tell us about the specials.

Not difficult.In fact , very , very simple. Result ? She was given a big tip and the manager was told what a good job she’d done.

It’s a lesson to be learned. As consumers we have a dilemma about whether we tip or don’t tip. Make our lives easier , please,by doing the job well.