Monday, 16 April 2018

The Crusty Exterior Ride Again!

The Crusty Exterior is a group of friends, united in their love for the horror genre, books and, of course, a good curry.  The core of the group - James Everington, Phil Sloman, Steve Harris and me - met up for the first time at Andromeda Con in 2013 (see my report here), though Steve & I go back much further, first corresponding in the late 90s when he ran a newsletter called The Inner Circle.

On Saturday, the Crusty Exterior rode again with a few new members as we met up in Leicester.  As well as the original four, this time the ranks included Stephen Bacon and John Travis (who made the mini gathering for Steve H’s birthday last year), Jay Eales, Tim Jarvis and Linda Nagle.
In The Ale Wagon, from left - me, Tim Jarvis, James Everington, Phil Sloman, Jay Eales, Steve Bacon, John Travis
I parked at Highcross and met a completely lost Steve B at the clock tower near Haymarket.  After hugs and a quick catch-up, we wandered along to meet the rest of the party and picked up John on the way, then Jay directed us to The Ale Wagon pub, where Phil, James and Tim were waiting.  As we waited for Steve H and Linda, we caught up, talked writing and books, drank, laughed and effectively set the template for the day.  Jay went off to find the stragglers, the rest of us went outside to wait for them and there were more hugs when we finally saw them.  Plus Linda had made us cupcakes, which went down well with everyone.

Phil points out some titles as Steve checks for them on his database.
John doesn't look at all convinced...
We walked through the centre and had lunch at Holly’s Coffee Shop on St. Martin’s Square and decided to walk as we ate, though as each of us got served we went outside and starting eating waiting for the others.  My club sandwich was fantastic but, of us all, Phil clearly showed his cosmopolitan roots by having crayfish!  Our hardy band went up New Walk (where we spotted one happy chap wandering down wearing rabbit ears) and, at the museum, stopped to enjoy Linda’s cakes, which were delicious.  We also got to tell the Andromeda stories - that we couldn't find a curry house in the middle of Brum (and so had an Italian) as well as the excellent "yeah, Steve broke a seat": "I really didn't..." tale which, I swear, gets funnier every time I hear it.  

After a short break - and zigzagging between rugby fans heading to the Tigers ground - we kept moving up the hill.  Steve B & I walked at closer to my normal pace and soon found ourselves ahead of the group and we chatted about my thriller novel, which he recently read to critique.  Once we’d reformed, we cut across Victoria Park and the group broke off into various changeable iterations, as we found ourselves chatting with just about everyone.  Tim told James & I about his teaching Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to his students - all three of us loved the story and that led us onto Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, where James & I had each first discovered mention of it.
Outside the Help The Aged bookshop with the Steve's and Linda

Phil with one of his purchases, the cover of which
I suggested looked like Mr Benn on drugs...
By now, we’d reached Queens Road and the two great secondhand bookshops there - Age UK and Loros.  We hit the former first and all of us picked something up, suggesting titles to one another and chatting about our finds.  Steve H, who collects hardback first editions, found a couple of likely candidates but decided not to buy them after checking his database on his phone.  Yes, Steve has a book database and you know what, it sounds like a terrific idea to me.

We then trooped across the road to the Loros, where there was plenty more chat (and James found the Futura edition of Danse Macabre I have, though it was in much better shape than mine, which has been read and re-read almost to the point of being killed).  More purchases, more suggestions, more laughter and then we left, heading back across Victoria Park towards town.  As is my wont, I’d been taking photos all day but then asked a young woman walking her dog if she’d take a group one.  On Facebook a while back, James pointed out that none of my blog reports include comments about the poor unwitting passersby I co-opt into taking pictures, so that’s why I’m mentioning her (wish I’d asked her name now).  It’s also because, as we stood there posing, John offered to hold her dog for her.

Jay led us to the Marquis Of Wellington pub on London Road where, because it was a lovely afternoon and we were seating nine, we sat out in the beer garden.  We took the end booth, pulled over a couple of chairs and that was us for two hours, enjoying the weather and company as we drank and talked.  Conversation ranged across the board, there was a lot of laughter and plans were hatched for future meet-ups.
In Victoria Park, with Steve B, Phil, Jay, John, me, Linda, Steve H, Tim and James (with thanks to the nice lady walking her dog)
Since we wanted to eat in plenty of time for Phil to catch his train, Jay took us up to the Rise Of The Raj restaurant on Evington Road and as we’d managed to beat most of the rugby crowd (who’d gridlocked the London Road junction) we got a table upstairs without any trouble.  As we settled down, the laughter picked up straight from the pub, conversation was breezy and the food was excellent.  Steve B and I had the same starter, which had more of a kick than I’d been expecting, the main courses were quick and tasty and the time flew.  We covered a lot of topics, as ever and it was nice to discuss The House Next Door (which I wrote about here) with horror fans (only James & I had read it), as we talked about books that weren’t necessarily explicity supernatural but which contained a sense of mounting dread.  Some intriguing titles came up that it'll be fun to explore.

All too soon, it was time for Phil to catch his train - everyone exchanged hugs and handshakes, then he was gone.  The rest of us left not long after, Tim taking off quicker as his train was due first and the rest of us gathering at the station as we said goodbye to James and John.  Jay headed off to get his car and I led Steve B, Steve H (still carrying the few remaining cakes from earlier in the day) and Linda back to the Highcross car park.  More hugs, then Steve B & I went up to floor 6 (we’d parked across an aisle from each other without realising it) and said our goodbyes. 
In the Rise of The Raj, with Phil, James, Linda, Steve H, Tim, John, Steve B, me & Jay
The day went really well, everyone got on brilliantly and the conversation and laughter flowed easily, plus all of us picked up some decent books.  As gatherings go, you can’t ask for much more than that.  Roll on the next one!

p.s. Just in case you were wondering (as Tim, John and Linda all were - we told them in the Raj), the name of the group was explained in the previous Crusty post here.

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