The Opinion Engine 2.0:
When really was the
golden age?


Guest answer from Ian Jones of TV Cream.

I'm a sucker for compartmentalism.

Life is far more manageable when ordered and filed in different boxes. That's what I tell myself, anyway.

Trouble is, you need to decide which boxes are which before you begin. Then there are the criteria for keeping item A separate from item B.

And on whose terms are you trying to file, slice, categorise and datestamp the people and things you like to believe are important to you? Theirs, or yours?

Compartmentalising is addictive. You find yourself doing it while washing up after tea or lying in bed trying to sleep. Then you find yourself wanting to do it while washing up after tea or lying in bed trying to sleep. It ends with you washing up or lying in bed simply to give yourself another opportunity for doing it.

But as a pastime, it's often less personally intrusive or distressing to try doing it at one remove.

By this I mean applying a bit of compartmentalism to, for example, time itself.

I think it's fun to argue that the 1960s didn't run from 1960 to 1969, but in fact ran from 6 June 1962 to 1 April 1970: the dates of the very first and the very last Beatles recording sessions at Abbey Road.

Or that the 1990s didn't start until Tony Blair became leader of the Labour party, and lasted until 11 September 2001.

Or that 20th century pop culture lasted from the birth of Radio 1 to the death of Princess Diana.

This last time-frame is the one loosely adhered to over on TV Cream, where various people including myself attempt to make nostalgia sound as fresh and as funny as it did 10 years ago when all those clip shows were on the telly. (A time when, mark you, TV Cream was already getting on for being five years old.)

To be honest, such a rule came about more through expediency than decree.

We needed some kind of start and end point to give the site a bit of shape and focus. Perhaps one day we’ll actually manage both.

Yet all this cultural compartmentalising is again something of a diversion from applying similar sorts of itemisation to more personal matters.

And yes, it can be more fun, but only if you've already decided into which box you've put the people with which you intend to do the compartmentalising.

You can see that this can all become a bit of a chore.

Historians build and destroy reputations when splicing up the past in order to give it meaning. The idea that the whole of the 1970s could be shoved in a cabinet labelled GHASTLY MISTAKE, or perhaps more precisely GHASTLY MISTAKE WHERE EVERYONE WORE FLARES HA HA HA, has only recently, and thankfully, been challenged by more thoughtful accounts from the likes of Andy Beckett and Dominic Sandbrook.

Yet the notion of an entire era being singly and neatly summed up is surely something that appeals to all of us, not just those of a historical persuasion.

Who doesn't like to believe that the UK was a better or worse place in such and such a decade, or during so and so's reign as prime minister?

Compartmentalising something as a "golden age", however, always comes with the charge of a different, more potent kind of addiction: that of a misplaced wielding of rose-tinted spectacles, or the wrong kind of conservatism (yes, there is a right and a wrong kind), or delusion about a uniformity of excellence that once flourished and is now extinct.

In response, I would simply question the idea of a “golden age” needing both a start and end point.

Take, for example, the idea of there being a “golden age” for pop music, for cinema, or for television.

In all cases there certainly has been one. But it’s one that began when the first note was recorded, the first reel projected, the first broadcast transmitted; and in each case, it hasn’t finished yet.

These are all open-ended compartments. Which, on reflection, also happen to be the very best kind.

Ken Branagh's In The Bleak Midwinter now available on R1 dvd. Ish.

Tonight, after my usual pre-Christmas viewing of Ken Branagh's In The Bleak Midwinter via an increasingly ropey VHS recording from S4C about ten years ago, I grumpily checked Amazon for a dvd release. I've also done this pretty much every year and come up disappointed.

Not this year.

This year revealed that in December 2010, the film was released on Region One under its US title A Midwinter's Tale by the Warner Bros Archive Collection imprint, and copies are available still available.

There are still a few copies from Amazon's Marketplace.

See where it says 2 new from £11.98?

That used to be three.

Looks like I'll be watching it again in January.

Updated!  It's back up to three.

The Opinion Engine 2.0:
If Star Wars were made today who would you cast in which part?

Film Sacrilege. One might even say “blasphemy”. Recast Star Wars? Are you mad? But note this isn’t a question about remaking Star Wars. This is about who would be cast if time skipped a beat and George Lucas was making the series now. It’s a challenge especially since when Lucas was casting the original film he was looking generally at unknowns for the young parts with established British actors in the main roles.

Economies of scale now generally mitigate against that, actors tend to have to be established to some degree even if it's for television work and perhaps even more. So just to offer my first justification I’ve selected from known knowns rather than known unknowns. I’ve also stuck to the main roles, the kinds of faces that might appear on the posters (sorry fans of Mon Mothma).

Michael Cera is Luke Skywalker

Nathan Fillion is Han Solo

 Emma Stone is Princess Leia Organa

 Alan Rickman is Grand Moff Tarkin
 Kenneth Branagh is Ben Kenobi

 Anthony Daniels is C-3PO
(Eddie Izzard if unavailable)

 R2-D2 is CGI

 Paul Kasey (on stilts) is Chewbacca

 Stellan Skarsgård is Uncle Owen

 Juliette Binoche is Aunt Beru

Paul Kasey is Darth Vader
James Earl Jones is his voice
(Peter Serafinowicz if unavailable)

 Michael Kenneth Williams is Lando Calrissian
 Paul Kasey is Boba Fett

 Kevin Spacey is The Emperor

Paul Kasey is Greedo

Most of those are predictably self-explanatory. But since you’ve asked, Luke isn’t an action character in a traditional sense; he’s a farm boy forced to take up his calling so it doesn’t need a Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth but a loser who could become a hero. Paul Kasey is under the suit of most nuWho aliens so has tons of experience. Plus, there has to be someone from The Wire, and Omar fits the bill.

The Opinion Engine 2.0:
What's the last game you played, and did you win?

Game Of Life on PSP

Question asked by Jess Haskins.

Life  When did everything in life become a game? Perhaps everything in life has always been a game, hence the board game. It just seems that as I age, everything from interpersonal relationships, to using public transport to shopping requires strategies, acute senses and problem solving skills which fill every decision with some element of jeopardy, negative outcomes leading to a loss of time, a loss of money and sometimes much worse. Without thinking ahead you’ll find yourself saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, missing the bus or inadvertently being ripped off in a supermarket, drip on drip of anxiety which ultimately leads to exhaustion, mental and physical.

Why does everything we say feel like it’s under a microscope and why is every conversation so fraught with danger that every sentence, clause and tone of voice has the awareness of being picked over because we’re so desperate to project a certain version of ourselves, which also changes depending on the people we’re with? Unlike most, I seem to be at ease amongst strangers because they haven’t worked me out yet, I could still be anyone. The worry only descends when those strangers become friends and I suddenly feel the potentiality to be judged and rejected so I begin to question everything, every word, which is presumably why making new friends, proper friends, trusted friends becomes impossible.

Sometimes it’s easier just to bug out, lose a life. As some of you know I work at the weekends finishing at around five o’clock and there are about five bus stops weaving through the city centre until the place where I should wait. When I began this job, it soon became apparent that because it’s only a half hour, it would always be full by the time it reaches me and it would always drive past. For a couple of years I gritted my teeth but the wait was becoming ever longer, pointless, because of the relative distances. Eventually I just decided to get a taxi home those two nights and absorb the extra twenty pound a month on top of the exorbitant bus fair (£1.90 flat fair) it would have been anyway, worth it just to get the time back and reduce my stress levels.

Even something as simple as buying a Christmas tree.  Last year we turned up at the seller a week before the 25th, as usual, and there were few trees left and the only scotch pine was more akin to a branch than an actual tree. Charlie Brown’s was larger.  So this year we decided to attend a week earlier and sure enough loads more scotches but they were far too tall for our ceiling and mostly bagged. Which is where the gamesmanship comes in. Which to choose? Eventually we came to a decision, having rejected others for being too bushy or having a longer trunk than we required, but the whole process was amazingly tense, despite the fact that any real tree looks amazing in the corner of the room with some lights on.

I tend to win and lose in equal measure I think, which actually a higher ratio than when I used to play computer games regularly and the only chance I had of seeing past the average first level was via cheat code entered using an Action Replay cartridge in the back of the Commodore 64.  But life has few cheat codes, bar the odd money off voucher or competition win, no way to turn off sprite detection or have infinite ammunition (at least I don’t think so).  I’ve also realised that it’s up to me to decide exactly what “winning” might be because unlike the boxed game, life itself doesn’t have any particular rules. So I’ll just keep playing and hope at some point I’ll escape the Jet Set Willy infinite death loop by myself.

The Opinion Engine 2.0:
Why do you think the common discourse in our society, at political, technical and cultural levels, generally ignores the likely impending collapse of our civilisation? Answer can include things like: What are the consequences of this ignorance? How does it make you feel? What does it remind you of? What could alter it? Bonus: Avoid making assumptions about the exact nature and timing of the collapse - there are lots of possible ones, and nobody knows the future. It's probabilistic.

Soylent green sign

Question from Francis Irving.

Let's begin.  Prestissimo, please.

Civilisation is going to collapse. We won’t know how, we won’t know when, but at some point, civilisation is going to collapse. In order to answer the question we have to work from that assumption outwards. If the question was, “Will civilisation collapse?” my answer would more likely be “maybe” (illustrated by a picture of me shrugging) because to continue in the first person, even though I’m inherently pessimistic about myself, I’m optimistic that civilisation will survive. But the question is the question and so we must proceed from the assumption that civilisation will collapse.

If society is wilfully ignoring that impending collapse then it’s for the same reason that I doesn’t think it will happen. It’s because society itself is inherently optimistic and to work, to carry on, it has to assume that civilisation has a future. What’s the point of trying to accumulate wealth if you can’t spend it? What’s the point in having a car if you can’t drive it? But society is constantly as war with itself on these issues, because it knows collectively, not always subliminally that the consequences of such optimism and ignorance could itself bring about the collapse of society. But it can’t help itself. It has an addictive personality.

To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement. We should be aware of all potentialities for collapse and making plans. But there are enough clever stupid people and ignorant stupid people willing to listen to stop that from happening. It’s become an ideological fight between whether bringers of truth or lies can have the upper hand and too often, because this is a petulant, self-perpetuating machine, the latter takes precedence, largely because it’s cunning enough to offer the version of the truth which best suits their purposes. That’s how apathy develops. Why bother arguing against someone who isn’t willing to be rational in the first place?

It’s like this column/piece/essay/blogpost/blog post which could and probably should have been well researched and planned out pointing to useful articles like this one from The Guardian about how the population will increase to such an extent the film Soylent Green will look like a documentary. But the bonus section wilfully disallows me from coming to any conclusions about what the nature of the collapse will be, forces me to ignore the specifics and work in generalisations leading to woolly thinking. Which is society’s other approach to the collapse.  There are so many potentialities it chooses to ignore them all.

Which means that in the end, because society is fixed in a reactive rather than proactive cycle, the only way the situation can alter is the actual collapse of our civilisation, because then, and only then, will society, or what’s left of it, know what hit it and have some ideas on how to deal with it. But of course, we’ll probably spend so much time analysing what happened, having arguments about who was to blame, with the people who were to blame pointing to other about causes and wanting to see how they can profit from it, that it’ll stay collapsed. Which is why I have to be optimistic, because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.

The Opinion Engine 2.0:
If Matt Smith was to leave Dr Who tomorrow and then the BBC rang to offer you the role, how would you play it?

Question from Risa Arendall via Facebook.

TV For a fan like me this is a two part question.  Would I play it?  Then how would I play it? My immediate answer to the first would be in the negative for the simple reason of concern at the kind of madness which has led the BBC or more specifically whoever’s running the show to offer the lead part in one of the flagship programmes to an amateur blogger from Liverpool with miniscule acting experience (a twenty week night course and understudying a public speaking competition at school). Apart from anything else we’re ex-directory which means they’d have to do some detective work to get the number which means they’d really want me and I’d be wondering whether this was their attempt to run the series into the ground.

To buy into the fantasy and assume in fact I do look, sound and have the acting ability of Laurence Fox (if not him for the twelfth Doctor, who else?) or Romola Garai (that's who else) would I take the role? Well, on the one hand it’s very seductive. It’s the Doctor. It’s the role of a lifetime, even if, like Matt Smith, you aren’t really fan before you get the call. Assuming there’s a decent writer at the helm, support from the BBC and you’re likeable enough to attract people to watch even on Christmas Day, you’re set up for life, especially now that it won’t necessarily typecast you in the way it might have done in the past. And even if that doesn’t work out the convention circuit is very welcoming.

On the other it’s hard bloody work and not just spending nine months in production with its bonkers scheduling. There’s the publicity machine, the endless interviews with people asking the same old questions, there’s the media you don’t want to talk to who’ll make up stories about you anyway and you wouldn’t be able to go out in public ever again if you’re a private kind of person. Then there’s the Malkovich element of seeing your face everywhere including the merchandise you once may have coveted. There’s no use picking up a copy of Doctor Who Magazine to find out what’s happening, because you are what’s happening.

Plus, and this is important, you’ll no longer be able to watch the show like a fan, which is at least one of the reasons offered for leaving by both Russell T Davies and David Tennant, that they wanted to be able to watch the programme again and not know what was going to happen. Which is bonkers, especially since you’re doubtless going to also be at the epicentre of merchandising freebees, boxes of books and cds and dvds turning up on a weekly basis, probably. But yes, that would be in the mix. Plus I’d be on the other side of the internet’s review nexus dealing with amateur bloggers from Liverpool describe how rubbish I am on a weekly basis.

And yet, and yet, like the tenth Doctor himself looking into The Satan Pit in The Satan Pit, there’s the itch. It’s Doctor Who. Why would anyone not want to be in Doctor Who no matter the consequences? Look at an average episode of Confidential and look at the production team at least, that family, that amazingly democratic family. Everyone says how much they’ve enjoyed working on the programme (at least the less egotistical ones, Swift) and it’s because of that family. There’s a reason Danny Hargreaves is still in there, blowing things up after all these years. There can’t be many shows like it.

In addition, for good or ill, even if you’re rubbish, you’d become part of television history. For most of the populace, Paul McGann only had one adventure as the Doctor, but he’s still the Eighth Doctor. He still appears in montage sequences, in the general historical articles in newspapers, still asked about the role, still does the convention circuit. People can barely remember who all the actors in the average soap are, or which series of Spooks this or that spy appeared in, but they always seem to know who’s played the Doctor. Never mind the fictional character, it’s become one of the few roles in which an actor can be immortalised.

So on reflection, yeeees, yeeees, I would do it! I would do it! And probably even if I wasn’t married to Billie Piper or a woman. Because actually the franchise is probably actor proof. Anyone can play the Doctor. Hugh Grant’s played the Doctor, albeit for just a few moments, and he was amazing. Arabella Weir’s played the Doctor on audio in an alternative universe story and she was amazing too. Those were twenty very good weeks and I probably would have given Henry V’s “Once More Unto The Breach…” a fair bit of welly, even if the sixteen year old version of me couldn’t remember all of it. I could be the first Doctor to improvise the role. 

Agonising over, how would I do it? Doctors seem to be rather split down the middle between those for whom its a job of acting and those for whom the role is a natural extension of their personality.  As you might expect there's some discussion as to which Who fits into which category, though there's not much argument that Tom Baker and Matt Smith were and are largely playing versions themselves.  I'd argue Tennant is somewhere in the middle, giving the "Tennant" performance which crops up throughout his work.

Legendary writer Terrance Dicks always said that you just need to write the same Doctor and leave it up to the actor's interpretation but I'd disagree.  The brilliance of Who isn't just that the show itself is flexible, or that the main character can change his appearance, it's also that his attitude is quantum locked with the needs of the story.  The Eleventh Doctor in The Doctor's Wife is a different presence to Let's Kill Hitler then Closing Time, partly because of the writer but also because of the actor's reaction to the script.

To an extent, nuWho's spoilt the gene pool because aristocratic is right out.  Unless Mark Gattis has a few ideas when he inevitably takes over, the Pertwee approach wouldn't work.  Much as we love him, or some of us do, he's something of an alienating presence, and although like all Doctors he warmed up over time, the last thing you'd want is for him to be patronising all in sundry and visiting private clubs.  He needs to be a bonkers presence, the benevolent alien with the darker side bubbling under the surface waiting to explode.

But always clever.  And kind.  Don't laugh (though you will), but I sometimes catch myself being Doctorish in real life, running my voice off, injecting a hint of unnecessary sarcasm and searching for the right thing to say in order to diffuse whatever mood someone's in.  And problem solving, lots of problem solving.  It's not on purpose, it's not consciously "What would the Doctor do?"  It just sort of happens.  Then I notice later.  Or project it.  I wonder sometimes if it's a fan thing.  If we all do this.  That we've all played the Doctor.  Sort of.

The Opinion Engine 2.0:
Are the tips in The Sunscreen Song really useful?

Got any sunscreen?

Guest answer from Lisa-Marie Ferla.

Life I feel as have been spending most of this month backpedalling furiously, playing catch-up. More so than usual, I mean. The fact that I thought Stuart’s original deadline of “the first week of December” for my contribution to this project was a long way off, and easily reachable, probably tells you all I need to know.

This time last year I was working in retail, an aftershock of the Great Financial Downturn of 2008. I was working for a company who probably see themselves as more than a consumer electronics outlet, and to be fair some of its innovations have come to define this first decade of the 21st century in much the same way as the death of its pioneer made particular headlines on the tech blogs I now scan in my current role here in 2011. What I’ll tell you about retail is that there ain’t no way the festive season is sneaking up on you in that environment, particularly when you’re selling the ‘must-have’ gadgets some of the richer brats of Glasgow are expecting bulking out their stockings. This December, however, I’m back working in journalism (I’ve always thought of myself as a journalist first and foremost, but it’s only this year I haven’t had to stretch the boundaries of the definition to include the word in my CV). My focus is the law, particularly as it pertains to business, and as the Government releases report after consultation trying to clear its desks and justify its existence before the country closes down for the holidays I don’t think I’ve ever found myself generating so many words.

Still, December is a great month for those of us concerned for what we’ve been missing. Some blog, somewhere, will for example have curated a list of the Best Memes of 2011 - although surely, if you missed them first time around, they can hardly have been meme-y at all.

Seriously. WTF is a “nyan cat”? Did you..?

The Sunscreen Song, which you’ll probably best remember from its Baz Luhrman-remixed spoken word single interpretation, was fourteen years old this summer. Think about that. Fourteen years (twelve, I suppose, if you’re going by the single release but the newspaper column the words come from appeared in the Chicago Tribune on 1 June 1997. That’s a little less than half a lifetime, yet I’m pretty sure you can still remember huge chunks of the words in a way you certainly won’t be able to recall huge chunks of Rebecca Black’s “Friday” when you hit your mid-forties. The word “meme” was yet to slither its insidious way into the Oxford English Dictionary when The Sunscreen Song entered popular culture, but that its words still have some sort of ageless resonance - in fact, they’re perfectly pitched to be pretty much endlessly reblogged on Tumblr - is a testament to the power and simplicity of its advice.

Incidentally, I’ve been layering on sunscreen and hiding in the shade with a book since before Boots the Chemist Buy One Get One Free Ambre Solaire made it a necessity. Pale and interesting, even if it is under a head of hair more suited to Mediterranean ancestry, beats skin cancer hands down any day. Plus, the sweat? Not so attractive.

In its original op-ed incarnation the ‘song’ carried the strapline Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted On The Young and what strikes me now as I reread its words, trembling on the precipice of my 30s, is that that line is perhaps its most prophetic. I have no idea how old its author was when she penned them but I am beginning to suspect they were never aimed at a carefree seventeen-year-old. Age is, of course, nothing but a number but as those numbers begin to stack up they’re still pretty scary. That’s why I might be eating chocolate spread for breakfast, using rich tea biscuits as a spoon, but I’ve still drawn up a list of thirty things I’m putting pressure on myself to accomplish before there’s a change in both column (a) and column (b) come June. Because I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, but the difference between 29 and and the breakdown I had when I graduated with my second degree at 22 is that at least I’m living it, to some extent, rather than hiding under the covers and considering the whole thing a tremendous amount of pressure to pile on a girl.

You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded... You are not as fat as you imagine.

You know, 2011 was the year that I gathered my Righteous Feminist Rage to my ample chest and realised I didn’t care any more. If fifty sit-ups in the morning and regular two-mile walks with my headphones on isn’t going to flatten out my stomach then perhaps it isn’t meant to be flat. As long as I can still shoehorn my boobs into a dress that makes me look like Christina Hendricks and accessorise my eyeshadow with my shoes before I head into the office, I’m golden. Nobody has yet to call me on my continuous mission to dress like a six-year-old. You should have seen the length on the skirts I wore on my eighteen-month hiatus from #corporatelaw. Actually, you probably couldn’t. If you get my meaning.

Respect yourself. That’s the message in its purest form. Don’t waste your time on jealousy, worrying about the future or chewing over the insults you receive. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with [your heart]. It’s easier said than done, but I’m going to print that one out in 24pt font and stick it on my fridge. I wish I’d made a note of it when I was seventeen. But I probably wouldn’t have learned the importance of it otherwise.

What do I honestly believe? Yes advice, like youth, may be wasted on the young but if you don’t make your own mistakes in the first place then you’ll have no platform for recognising how right that advice was. So read as much as you can, then go out and make your own mistakes. Allow yourself five minutes to wallow in the stupidity of your decisions: the empty gin bottle, the text message you can hardly remember, the corns that will only disappear after two weeks in trainers. Then phone a friend, phone a pizza and remember that everything usually looks better in the morning.

And besides, if I didn’t mess too much with my hair I’d already look 85.

In the meantime I’m working on my list, eating chocolate spread for breakfast and looking forward to spending my next sunny holiday sitting in the shade, plotting how to turn The Sunscreen Song’s most important advice - to live in New York City once - into a reality. And when my sister asks me what I’m doing, as she turns over to get some colour on her front, I will tell her that I heard it in a song once.

The Opinion Engine 2.0:

Egg Cafe, Vegetarian Cafe - Liverpool, UK

Topic suggested by Rosie Fernandez.

Food My first visit to the Egg Café was over ten years ago for a works Christmas night out. The whole idea seemed terribly exotic. Not because it was as it is now, a vegetarian restaurant but because as now, it didn’t have a drinks license and so diners could take their own alcohol and the cafe charging a pound for corkage. Paying someone to open a bottle seemed strange until someone pointed out to me that they’d also ultimately have to deal with disposing of the bottles. There was a Secret Santa that night I now remember; I gave someone a wine carrier and I was given a Blackwells mouse mat.

Even after ten years, the restaurant/café hasn’t changed that much. It’s in a loft in Newington Buildings just off Renshaw Street at the top of a winding staircase, containing an exhibition area and as you can see from the photo I've embedded from flickr because I neglected to take a camera myself, more tables than it might seem capable of accommodating from looking up from street level. It’s perhaps slightly less bo-ho than I remember, less about sofas, but it still retains an atmosphere inclusive enough for regulars searching the mythic third place, large parties and the sharing of secrets amongst secretive people.

I chose it after meeting another friend there recently for the beginning of a night out.  After climbing the many stairs I pushed through the heavy doors into the candle-lit space unable to quite comprehend the difference to everything else outside.  The beautifully painted rafters, the wooden floors and the paintings all combined to make me wonder if I'd entered some new dimension.  "Why don't I come here?"  I kept saying to my friend, "Why don't I come here?"  So when another friend was in town for a few days, this was the perfect place for us to go.

Ordering is from a bewildering selection of food on a chalkboard behind a counter filled with prospective dishes, which is sometimes much more preferable to the monolithic mystery of most menus where the diner is locked in a bond of trust with the waiter and the chef as to what the plate will contain once a selection’s been made. It’s one of the reasons I was a regular at the late Everyman Bistro which also had the virtue of being able to watch the food being heated in the microwaves at the back.

Cash conscious, my visiting dining companion and I decided on the set menu which is all three courses and a beverage for £9.75. Orders for the starters and mains are made up front and as far we could tell because that's what seemed to work for us, diners attend the counter between courses when they’re ready which allows for a leisurely pace and there’s no sense as in some restaurants of being hurried through the meal by over attentive waiters. We’re identified by a number on a slip of paper.

This is the point in professional restaurant reviews when you’d receive a length dissection of the courses.  This being my first restaurant review (I'm winging it, can't you tell?) and lacking a rarefied palate and liking what I like, all I can say is that I couldn’t find fault. This was a meal between old friends catching up, so it wasn’t really about the food to begin with, but there weren’t any moments when the quality of anything going into the mouth interrupted the flow of conversation which in most cases, in most night’s out in fact, is all diners really want.

The starter, some kind of spicy lentil soup, was smooth and tasty and not indigestibly strong in that way that indicates the chef doesn’t appreciate that there may be more courses to come. After a slight wobble, I chose the garlic bread, a large slice of tin loaf which is helpfully illustrated in the front page of the Egg’s website. It looks greasy but it was the perfect accompaniment and there’s something to be said for the effort in breaking up the bread and dripping it in the soup, so that even in a deceptively simple dish you become an active presence.

That was especially true of the mains, or at least the bolognaise I ordered which was served half with rice and half with a kitchen sink like salad that even included pesto pasta. This was based, I think, on some kind of meat substitute rather than just beans (although there were plenty of those) and came in a portion which almost dwarfed the table which meant I was half conversing with my dinner companion and half making sure that I wasn’t the messy eater I tend to be. Much cleverer than me, he’d selected a broccoli quiche which he seemed to relish.

We returned to the counter to select a desert, he a carrot cake, me a chocolate fudge which were trayed up with a large pot of tea for two. Both were again excellent, mine as indulgent and rich as chocolate fudge cake should be and somehow despite everything else my stomach was able to fit it all in, as though it was replicating the TARDIS-like properties of the café. For just under a tenner the whole meal represents excellent value.

Since the closure of the Everyman Bistro, I’ve been looking for an alternate which has the same relaxed atmosphere, easy ordering system and flavoursome food and I think I may have found it in the Egg. There’s the same sense of feeling right at home whilst simultaneously being in a space unlike most anywhere else in Liverpool which considering my oscillating comfort zone is no mean feat. As we left, my friend, who is a vegetarian said, “Good choice” and despite loving meat, I had to agree with him.

The Egg Cafe, 16 - 18 Newington, Liverpool L1 4ED (0151 707 2755). Meal for two, including tea and service, £19.50.