| Mental Health, Uncategorised, Writing

A Personal Update

If you’re a fan of my writing, you may be wondering where I’ve been for most of 2023. Here’s what’s been happening and what I have planned for the future.

I wrote 12 books at this desk. Over the course of 23 years. I won’t be writing any more here.

Rooms always look so defeated when you’ve cleared them. The very act of taking stuff out spreads dirt and dust. The denuding of shelves and corners reveals a lot of dust and dirt you never knew were there, all the better to spread around. You lay down the marks of your presence, your habits, your rituals, and your leaving reveals them, shamefully.

As of now, this room belongs to someone else. This week we completed on the sale of the house we’ve lived in since 2001. I am very, very lucky that I was part of the last generation to be able to just about to afford to buy property in London without having rich parents.

Although it didn’t feel like it at the time, we were lucky again when my wife Liz was made redundant under dodgy circumstances, because the payout gave us a deposit. We were lucky yet again four years later, when the rundown, dodgy neighbourhood we could afford to buy in was named the site for the 2012 London Olympics, and received billions of pounds of investment, sending house prices soaring to a level we could never have afforded.

You don’t make much money as a writer. I had a house that is worth an awful lot of money, but apart from that, I had only debt. No savings, no investments, no pending inheritances, not even a regular income I could rely on. The Covid lockdown ruined me financially – for two years I earned less than my mortgage payments. 

We have no children to pass on our very expensive house to. So we’re cashing in – paying off the mortgage and all our debts, buying a house for less than half the price we’re selling ours for, and from now on, splitting our time between a small flat in London and a house in Norwich. 

When I tell people we’re moving to Norwich, people who haven’t been there often repeat “NORWICH? Why Norwich?” with a facial expression like this:

I am eternally grateful to Steve Coogan, and his creation, Alan Partridge, for the image they have created for Norwich and North Norfolk. Partridge, in all his ridiculous pomposity, is the kind of person you think you’re going to meet if you go there. I reckon that’s kept a couple of hundred grand off the price of the beautiful Georgian townhouse we’re buying.   

That house is twenty minutes walk from the centre of town, along (I swear on my life I didn’t know this when we first looked at the house) the NR3 Beer Mile, a stretch of eight or nine of the most delightful pubs I’ve ever seen. Beer costs 2/3 of what it does in London. The coast (all the North Norfolk coast, in different directions) is half an hour’s drive away. There are seals on the beach just now. People often ask “Why Norwich?!” That’s some reasons why. There are more. Here’s another:

This isn’t Ghent or Bruges. This is a pub 15 minutes walk from my new house. It specialises in cask ale and has 8-10 taps on at any given time, mostly from small local brewers. It has a deck that runs the length of the pub along the river.

What does this mean for my writing and your reading pleasure?

This has been the most difficult year of my life. In March my little brother died, alone, depressed and in anguish, due to illnesses related to chronic alcoholism. I didn’t want to write much about beer after that. I had to do a lot of soul searching, and a bit of therapy. I go stuck in the “anger” stage of grief for about five months, and my written output consisted mainly of me swearing at right-wing politicians on Twitter. If you wondered what was happening to me (some people did contact me, worried about my mental health) this was it. If you were offended or frustrated by anything I wrote, I apologise (unless you’re Rishi Sunak or Suella fucking Braverman.)

Anyway, I’m through that now. (You don’t get over grief; you just figure out how it live with it.) And the process of sorting out Stuart’s flat and estate gave us the impetus to move.

Now, without having to service thousands of pounds of debt every month, I have more time to write. And I can be choosier about what I do. In the New Year, I’ll be relaunching my writing career across varikous platforms.

A trade press article about trends in the fruited “cider” category which will take three days to research and pay £150? No thank you.

Reviews of afternoons spent in coastal pubs, musing life, just for the pleasure of it? Yes please. 

Norwich is famous for its excellent pubs – it used to boast one for every day of the year. And everywhere else from the North Norfolk coast to the Norfolk Broads to breweries such as the excellent Duration, Ampersand and Little Earth Project are, at most, a 45-minute drive away.

Apart from the local attractions, I have two new book ideas I’m working on, and the time to do them – after Clubland, I simply could not afford to write another book, and have had to spend most of the working time I’ve had this year on consultancy projects instead. I probably don’t have another 12 books left in me (sorry, new writing room) but I hope my best ones are still ahead of me.

I hope you’ll stick with me for the ride.

31 Comments

31 Comments

Ross Kenrick

All the best Pete, it was a pleasure to meet you and share our beers when you came to Australia. I hope we can catch up again one day and chew the cud over a few Ales….

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Ross Kenrick

All the best Pete, it was a pleasure to meet you and share our beers when you came to Australia. I hope we can catch up again one day and chew the cud over a few Ales….

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Lesley Mitchell

Norwich is very very cool. Don’t tell London people that 🙂 Great you will have time to do what you want. Sounds like time to enjoy and be inspired.

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Ted Bruning

Very glad to hear you’re through the roughest of your rough patch. It hit me too: my books flopped during Covid, leaving me penniless, and my mother, mother-in-law, and brother-in-law all died. Norwich is a very wise choice for a retreat, and I earnestly hope that the beauty all around you will help recharge you and spur you on.

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Susan Rankert

I am very glad to hear that you are seeing a bright future after a very difficult period. I look forward to reading your books and articles written with pleasure about subjects for which you have a curiosity and/or passion.
Norwich sounds lovely.
Cheers

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BARBARA GITTNER

Good luck with all you’re doing in the future. Look forward to catching up with you and Liz in your new abode. Sending you both lots of love x Barbara

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Mike May

Take it easy on yourself Pete. There is an awfully large quantity of extremely noxious shit going on in the world; most with very little justification. So long as you find yourself on the rightest side of the argument (and I’m sure you are more often than not) – you’ll be fine.

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Roger Clayson

Pete
Wonderful piece on what must have been an awful year for you. You will get I hope a great deal of wonderful pints of Adnams to muse over next year

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Ian Laker

Wow, sounds like it’s been a tough year Pete. My sincere condolences for your loss. One of the highlights during those dark days of lockdown was being part of your book club Zoom calls. I and many others value your excellent writing style on beer, superbly researched around the subject with historical context. Long may it continue. All the best, Ian.

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Steven Aspinall

Eloquently written as ever, Pete. My heart goes out to you, I wish you nothing but the very best in your new home. My youngest daughter studied at UEA and I can confirm that the region is a sparkling gem. I can also relate to that London property circus you refer to, being a northerner in the capitol for more than half my life. You probably won’t remember, but you and I were briefly colleagues many years ago at an agency in West London – you once very kindly assuaged my concerns about the fact that I loved (and still do) a pint of mild, and instilled in me a respect and appreciation for the brewing trade that I still have. All power to you, Sir. Keep doing what you do, it’s much appreciated. Very best wishes, Steven.

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Pips McEwan

Sending you very best for good times ahead Pete. Norwich and the glorious north Norfolk coastline will bring you space to write and wonderful skies too. So sorry to read what you have had to deal with recently. V best to you and Liz, Pips x

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Steve Webb

Welcome to Norwich. We have lived here for getting on seven years now and I wish we had moved here decades ago. Enjoy your new life!

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Gordon Strong

Cheaper pints? Way to bury the lead… Very happy this all worked out for you. Hope to see you again.

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Peter Olding

Regular visitor to Norwich form my home in Hampshire. Me and now late brother-in-law used to start our pub crawl at that pub. One time our ‘crawl’ was just that pub. Norwich Beer Festival is the one of the best. Travel up there just to volunteer at it. Hope you meet you there one day.

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Peter Jackson

Pete

I’ve known you a long time, and so pleased you are through the dark period. Your books are great. I recommend them to people all the time, I hope it results in sales!

“Shakespeare’s Local” was one of the inspirations for me to set up Southwark Brewing Company. It gave me the historical context for what I was trying to do with the blend of craft beer and cask ale.

And Norwich too has a connection to SBC….. The Fat Cat (A wonderful pub I have frequented many times before Norwich v Sunderland) was the venue in early 2014, for the first public tasting of LPA, brewed on my home brewing kit, which I used to learn to brew, as my favoured first brew. I took it there in 2 PET bottles, not the ideal vessel for a cask ale. But my friends gave it the thumbs up, so here we are nearly 10 years later selling over 2,500 pints a week.

Good luck on the re-location, sounds ideal. Enjoy.

And hope to bump into you soon.

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Alastair McMillan

Dear Pete,
Many thanks for all of the interesting books you have produced over the years.
I hope that you thoroughly enjoy Norwich and the surrounding Norfolk area. Allow me to recommend the book “Norwich Pubs and Breweries Past and Present” by Frances and Michael Holmes which does what it says in the title.
While in Norwich I described some pub crawls on pubtrails.org.uk – a website of my holiday snaps.
While “A man walks Into a Pub” is my personal favourite of yours (and great for Christmas/birthday presents) your recent “Clubland” stirred my memories.
Clubs in Scotland had a slightly different background and had one significant driver not found in England due to the fact that bars were not allowed to open on a Sunday, but Clubs and Hotels were. This meant that all towns had a significant amount of clubs for sports/religious/works/ services/political/football supporters/Masonic/sailing
You had to be a member to use the club and this meant that Friday and Saturdays would be busy with members (and Sunday would be packed). Bars were just for drinking while clubs had dancing and entertainment.
Bars had been closed on a Sunday since 1853 (England narrowly avoided this fate in 1881). Hotels were allowed to open for bona fide travellers (a well stretched definition). In 1960 there was an attempt to open bars on a Sunday, but this failed in parliament, although hotels were now allowed to open to serve all not just travellers (although this remained as an urban myth).
This created a quandary for police. They would probably have liked all establishments closed (except The Police Club) or all open. Allowing hotels to serve anyone meant that areas which had hotels attracted customs from far and wide.
In my working-class town (shipyards) there was one fancy hotel (weddings/funerals). A walk to the next town brought six hotels into the equation. This travelling to get to a hotel caused issues for the police because drinkers were being attracted to establishments outside of where they lived, which then became very busy and so there was over-drinking caused by people insisting on drinking more than usual as they had had to travel in the first place.
In 1976 The Clayson Report recommended that Sunday opening (in 1977 the Cowie Tavern became the first pub to open on a Sunday) be allowed and that bars could open until 11pm at night (previously closed at 10pm) all against government wishes. This also heralded in that it was easier for bars to get extension of hours which in turn led to afternoon opening. At the same time the Erroll Report for England was shelved (government wishes) and England did not get liberalisation of laws until 1988.
This did not harm clubs as much as you would expect. There was some loss of venues but closure of industry, less money around, and bars and night clubs offering entertainment contributed more. Hotels did suffer as people no longer had to travel to drink on a Sunday, and the next-door town has only 1 small hotel now.
A group of us drank in one particular club. Members must have known we were underage (some were my aunties). This created a safe environment to start drinking in; no drinking behind bushes in the park, no asking strangers to buy drink for you, no getting drunk, no fights, watched over by adults – all very civilised. Police did not have the same right of entry into clubs as they had to bars.
In the early 70’s when I moved to Birmingham it was so different from Scotland – student ID stating I was over 18 (oh no I wasn’t), real ale, no 10pm swill at closing, an extra hour in the evening, Sunday opening and bar/pub design.
Anyway enjoy Norwich and thanks for making me remember clubs with affection.

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David Campbell

Pete,

You probably won’t remember me – we met in Munich about ten years ago, at the start of a drunken night out with Chris K. Chris sent me your post. I have strong memories of meeting you and Liz and really enjoying our chat.

Sorry to hear you’ve been through such tough times. The last few years have been rubbish for lots of people, but it seems you’ve had the even rougher end of a rough stick.

What a beautifully-written post. Sad (both on a personal level and about society) but uplifting too. I don’t know Norfolk very well, but Suffolk is beautiful and I can well see why anyone would move to East Anglia. I wish you all the best. But please don’t stop swearing at the right-wing politicians, that’s truly important work!

Happy Christmas!

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Paul Donatantonio

Sorry to read about your past year, Pete, but now you’ve come through, the only way is up.

I’ve been searching for your take on Otter and them CMBC ‘Fresh’ Ale, but not found anything.

Do you have a view?
Have you seen the handpump, watched the pour and and tried the beer?

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