Fruits de Mer and Eat It


 

Doctors in the UK are warning that a bad or enormous diet, a dependency on alcohol and a lack of exercise could be as bad for you as smoking.

Research carried out at the University of Thamesmead has shown that a lack of enthusiasm towards useful activity or employment can lead to persons becoming lethargic and anally retentive which can often develop into obsessions, especially with food and eating.

Dr R.Sleeka of the Tervis Project, a government-backed think-tank primarily concerned with the effects of a huge diet on the human body says “These food obsessions can become all-encompassing, with the victim unable to perform simple daily tasks or duties without either cooking, eating or, usually, both.

This obviously has a detrimental effect on a person’s body, weight and, ultimately, their health.

The UK is cooperating with several EU countries in the search for a cure for this syndrome, known as Robertsia a most crippling, if amusing of conditions.”

In France, for example, some sufferers are encouraged to build a barn or destroy an outbuilding every time they feel like a snack.

As an additional weight-loss initiative they are encouraged to swim, often for metres at a time, spending minutes immersed until they are judged to be a danger to shipping.

We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

If you have been effected by the issues in this blog, please call 0800 400700 and ask for a Grand Mac et Frites. Oh and get one for Trev, would you ?

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And Not a Drop to Drink


This drought is getting on my tits. Last week my dad and I fitted another water butt to the back of the potting shed, and because of these drought conditions, these effects of global warming which has forced the authorities to introduce a hosepipe ban across the south of England, the barrel was filled after only one torrential downpour. Every following torrential downpour (and there have been many) has bypassed the water butt, shot down the overflow and straight onto the flower bed.

It Happens to the Best of Us

Confused ? You will be. Like so many in my neck of the woods, the British authorities have decided that despite being subjected to monsoon conditions for the past few months, many parts of he UK must be forced to live under drought measures – no use of hoses, strict water monitoring and neighbour encouraged to rat-out neighbour if they should spot anyone flaunting the rules.

You’d be pretty easy to spot, mind you, if you did decide to water the lawn using the hose: some berk in his wellies and raincoat, squirting a hose over the grass while the heavens unloaded another skip-load of H2O on his head would stand out like a black bloke at a Ukrainian football ground.

Or a little girl in a pub. 8 year old Nancy Cameron was taken by her mum and dad to the pub the other Sunday, which is nice. Problem was, when they left, her parents-  David and Samantha – left young Nancy in the pub (The Plough Inn, Buckinghamshire, if you are interested) to fend (and order a drink) for herself until, 15 minutes down the road, they realised something was missing from the back seat of the car. Poor Samantha was distraught. David blamed Nick.

You’re Barred

Now, I will not sit here and attack Dave for leaving his little girl in the pub. We’ve all got pissed and left stuff in the pub: videos, brollies, girlfriends, trousers. Nothing new there. But as we all know, children should not be allowed in pubs – accompanied or otherwise. Many of us go to the pub to get away from kids – mainly our own. When I’m propping up the bar, chucking a dart or being escorted from the premises by the bouncer I do not want to have to negotiate my way around small mammals, or curb my language because some couple (or worse, some Sunday Dad) decides to bring the offspring into the boozer. Fuck off and take them to Pizza Hut, the Zoo or the movies.

Pubs are full of fat, drunk men, spouting off about anything and everything – often on subjects or in terms not fit for a child’s ears. I know. I’m one of those men. Now I am sure the pubs to where the PM takes his kiddy may not be full of anyone, save a PA or two,  several security staff, and the odd hand-pick, paid-up Barbour-wearing member of the half-a-shandy brigade, so the sweary/drunky problem probably doesn’t arise. I also doubt if Cameron forgot his daughter as he was too pissed, or got embroiled in a row over a game of dominos, Sam having to lead him away “leave it, Dave, he’s not worth it”.

But rules is rules, and in my rules, kids and pubs are mutually exclusive. I certainly never entered a pub until I was 15 years old and could legally (?) get served, without needing my dad to get them in for me (they were far less strict in those days- and anyway, my Dad  went to the pub less frequently than even David Cameron does). It’s not quite so bad since the smoking ban was enforced. At least kids running around the bar aren’t at risk from losing an eye from running into some half-smoked cigarette in the hand of a local.  Now the smokers are gathered outside in the glorious sunshine (!) supping on their pints, dragging on their fags while topping-up their tans at the same time. So now that a lot of pubs make families sit in the garden, the only place the kids are allowed is where the smokers are. Another reason to leave the little brats at home.

Anyone who looks younger than Jeremy Hunt should be barred from public houses, in the same way that everyone who looks like, or indeed who is Jeremy Hunt should be banned from Public Office.

Rules against under-age drinking and lying to Parliament are very clear, as are the hosepipe ban laws. But as my mate Mr A.Heckler said to me : “If they come round here moaning that I’m using my hose, trying to fine me £1000, they can fuck right off. If they can’t handle properly all the water we’ve had, they shouldn’t be in a job.”

Someone’s gonna call time on the water companies and Mr Hunt very soon. And if Dave can’t use a pub properly, he shouldn’t be allowed in one. Bet he doesn’t use Greaves’ Rules anyway.

Your Bard

Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Sousa Vieira de Oliveira


Not only a brilliant footballer, but a lot of points in Scrabble, Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Sousa Vieira de Oliveira, or just Socrates to you and me, has died. Having survived a long career of being forced to wear some of the smallest shorts in sporting history, his hobbies of smoking, drinking and fathering kids (see And Where were the Germans? previous post) finally caught up with him.

Said The Daily Telegraph:

“Socrates – who also played at the 1986 World Cup finals – was a flamboyant footballer who boasted a myriad of contradictions.

He was a qualified doctor who never gave up his enjoyment of a smoke and a drink; he was an outspoken political activist, regularly protesting against the Brazilian military junta of the 1970s and 1980s.

He once listed his heroes as Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and John Lennon, fathered six children and spent his retirement penning passionate articles on politics and economics as well as sport.

Socrates won 60 caps for Brazil, scored 22 goals and was a contemporary of the great Zico.

After officially ending his playing career in 1989, he bizarrely reappeared 15 years later, at the age of 50, with Garforth Town, an amateur side in the backwoods of northern England where he featured for just 10 minutes of action.”

A bit of a bolshy bastard, who loved a gasper (this is me talking now, not The Telegraph), Dr Socrates is remembered as much as a champion of the little man and a fierce campaigner against tyranny and dictatorship as he was for his swift, elegant play, his back-heels and his marvellous goal celebrations.There’s a video on Youtube of his appearance at Garforth Town, but this is how you really wanna remember him.

In a world when all we’re left with is the dignity and charm of John Terry, the wit and wisdom of Joey Barton and the grace and sportsmanship of Robbie Savage, it’s nice to remember a time when soccer was populated with gentleman and scholars, in every sense of the word.
And shorts that cut you in half.

That’ll Bring Water to Your Eyes

MovemberGrid

The Battle Cruiser


I do love a pub.

And when I say that, I don’t mean a bar, or a cafe bar. Or a restaurant with a bar where you wait while your table is prepared. I mean a pub.

While we’re at it I also don’t mean a converted high street bank. A place which used to be a very good community bank, and is now a very shite community service pub. A place where you can buy “A chicken curry and a pint for £4.99 every Tuesday”. I don’t mean a place adorned with signs announcing “Girls get Purple drinks Half price every Monday, Wednesday and third Sunday”. I mean a pub.

Sometimes a pub's so nice it merits stopping drinking and taking a picture. This is me in the perfect Hoppe in Amsterdam. And not a hot meal in sight.

A pub should generally follow several broad guidelines. A pub should be a place where one goes to meet old friends and make new ones. And drink with them. To that end, the music out of any speakers therein should be soft enough to hear yourself think and talk, loud enough to induce an argument over the singer or the song’s identity. What decent night down the boozer worth remembering didn’t have a row in it ? And an argument over music is as good a place to start as any.

Any live singer or band playing in the pub should adhere to the above decibel guidelines. If such proves impossible, the act should always remember they are playing in a public house and therefore popular, anthem-type songs, mostly over ten years old is a must. I don’t want to sit examining my pint to the strains of the garbage you composed in your garage last night. Save that for the students. Landlords should reserve just one night per week for live music. There are only so many times I want to hear/sing Sweet Caroline down the local: Once at about ten o’clock and one encore. That’s plenty. Unless I’m drunk.

Food is an important thing to consider when running a pub, and I always think a good landlord should follow this rule of thumb: There should be no food in a pub. Packets of nibbles behind the jump are permitted. But, customers, if you want to eat a meal, then make yourself a sandwich before you go out, or go to a restaurant, eat a meal, then go to the pub. Or go down the pub, have a goodly drink, then stagger into a curry house/chinese takeaway after the landlord of the pub has refused you further refreshment.

One of the more annoying sensations is trying to enjoy the happy, hoppy whiff of a well-poured pint only to have your nasal enjoyment interrupted by the odour of fish, chips, gravy and the like. This is a pub, not an eatery. If you get peckish help yourself to peanuts, pork scratchings, pickled eggs or crisps which are available, at a very competitive rate behind the bar. You’ve already rid us of the smell of a smouldering ashtray in the corner (oh, sorry mate, is that your girlfriend ?), don’t start rubbing Ralgex into the groin by putting sachets of ketchup on the table or waving a plateful of sausage ‘n’ mash at me, when I’m only interested in a pint of Light ‘n’ Bitter.

Outdoors Bad

You would think that it would be a prerequisite of owning a pub that you serve beer (or gin, if you really must) in a glass receptacle, wouldn’t you ? No such luck any more, I’m afraid. How many times have you walked up to a bar, ordered a drink only to be greeted by the dreaded phrase “you drinking that inside or out, luv?”  Who hasn’t lied at this juncture, only to be caught out by the potman when he sees you craftily swigging from your glass while standing in the garden cos your girlfriend thought “it’d be nice to drink outside”? You reluctantly hand your drinking vessel back to the glass collector who then transfers its contents into a plastic beaker. Oh, the shame of it. A 2009 United Nations report found that one of the most (some say only) catastrophic results of global warming will be a huge increase of people being forced by women to drink outside and thus being forced to slurp from plastic “glasses”.

There’s nothing like finding a lovely cold, dark pub when the sun’s blazing outside. Or a nice, cozy, warm pub when it’s freezing outside. In short, there’s nothing like finding a nice pub. We don’t go in there to get drunk, you understand? No, we go in there for the craic. Occasional drunkeness is an unfortunate by-product of enjoying the craic, but not a compulsory nor inevitable outcome. His eminence William (Bill) Greaves (see Now Then… elswhere in these pages) has informed us how to behave in such places and situations, and it is clear from his teachings that we should endeavour to conduct ourselves in a dignified way befitting a serious (and let us not forget expensive) pastime such as drinking. Right up to the time we are plastered, that is.

Indoors Good

Is it therefore too much to ask that the landlord should present to us an establishment fit and befitting of this aforementioned due respect to our favourite pasttime? These meeting holes should be places of wonderment and worship. What they shouldn’t be is reminiscent of airport departure lounges with the addition of a John Smith’s pump. We neither want nor need plastic leprechauns on the walls, rows of vodka-shots lined up on the bar or 24/7 football on the enormous tv screens in each and every corner. Take a butchers at The Salisbury, St Martin’s Lane, London (or The Harp just around the corner in Chandos Place) and you’ll see what I mean. You don’t have to be in England to find wonderful watering holes. You may struggle to find a pint of mild, but there are always corners of a foreign field which are perfect spots to while away the hours. Try The Hoppe in Amsterdam which is as close to heaven as you could possibly be without throwing a seven. It has been a bar since 1670 and they’re still wondering how or if to redecorate it! There’s Robert’s Western World in Nashville where, if you can excuse the lack of a decent beer, you can sit and listen to fantastic music while manfully trying to avoid a bourbon overdose. You will fail. It’s sensational because of and in spite of that.

Nearer to home there’s The Fleece in Halifax, if you catch it on the right night. You could do worse than visit my own Shovel in Dartford. A wonderful example of a tiny, well-kept drinking den. Food?  Next door, mate. There’s Henchy’s in Cork, but we don’t have enough time to discuss Irish pubs. Just pick one, you’ll like it.

And why do I go on so ? Haven’t we heard all this before ? Well that’s as maybe. But I have a particular reason for sharing my thoughts with you. After a slight hiccup in the brain department last week, it seems that I’m hurtling towards my first dry Christmas since 1979. No Shovel for me this year. No hangover on Boxing Day, trying to remember what I drunk and when. No, I’m down for lashings of tea and biscuits, with the temptation of a chocolate liqueur ever-present. It may not be as bad as it sounds. You really don’t want a hangover with a malfunctioning brain like mine. And that’s before having a stroke. The spector of repeat performance last week scared the willies out of me so for my own good I’m off the stuff for the foreseeable future.

So you’ll have to have mine for me. Take it sensibly and behave yourself. Enjoy it and enjoy whichever boozer you chose to make your own. You never know, you may end up in The Rose and Crown, swinging on the barmaid’s…er…earrings. I doubt if you’ll find George there though :

Oh, and by the way: This is a pub. Want a coffee? Fuck off to Starbucks.

Up in Smoke


Since my little episode in the summer – when I hit the deck like the GB’s baton in the 400m relay – I’ve been like the Olympic Flame: never going out. Well, hardly ever. But “hardly ever going out” isn’t the end of one of my favourite jokes, so we’ll make do with never going out. Ok?

The route for the Olympic Torch has been announced this morning and, for better or worse, the good people or Dartford won’t be within either a javelin or a stone’s-throwing range of the runners and the flame. Good thing really cos The Incumbent has been practicing her aim with both. If a procession of tracksuit-clad locals and micro-celebrities were to jog past the Potting Shed, a violent salvo of objects, once destined for eBay, would be launched in their general direction. She may manage to cop someone of the stature of a Floella Benjamin or a Jim Davidson around the earhole with an old ornament, causing considerable damage.  But you can never be too sure of a direct hit, so it’s best the entourage stays well away from the neighbourhood.

Since we failed to secure even a single child’s ticket for the egg-and-spoon race, the London 2012 experience is not one to be enjoyed in our house. Coupled with my failure to get a job with the Olympic organization’s photo-team, mention of The Games is strictly verboten around here. (Although we are only assuming I didn’t get the job, me having not received a single word either way from the interviewers. Rude fvckers.)

Whenever there’s a news item about next year’s event, or Seb Coe’s beaming face appears on tv, the station is immediately switched off or over – even if it means watching another autopsy on Channel 4 (have they not got any other ideas?). The whole shambles/con (delete where applicable) over the ‘legacy’ and the football stadia, and the ‘affordable housing’ and the ticket prices has really left a nasty taste in the mouth, so we won’t be joining in the fun, if you don’t mind (I bet that’s come as a shock to you, hasn’t it?)

So no runners past the Potting Shed. No cheering-on of the torch by the farmhands. The locals at The Berchtesgaden Arms will not have the chance to wave the flag of St George in celebration of the flame’s progress. They’ll have to save their celebratory bender and Sieg Heil session until the Stephen Lawrence accused get off again.

Casting a cursory glance at the route I think I notice the joggers won’t be taking the torch around neither Tottenham nor Croydon. Probably for the best, I suppose. I think they’ve had enough of flames for a while. That bloke in the furniture shop has only just sat down after giving all those emotional news interviews. It’d be nice to give him a rest for a while.

While we’re on fire-related moans and groans: Can’t we now take this opportunity to ban fireworks altogether? It’s too early to know what really caused the horrors on the M5 at the weekend, but can we not make use of the suspicion by outlawing bonfires and fireworks once and for all? If we can prove they are harmful to the environment, I’d gladly reinforce my immaculate green-credentials in an effort to rid us all of the noise, the smoke and the smell.

It used to be that you’d only see and hear these bloody things on, or around November 5th.  In 1605 Guy (Guido) Fawkes and a bunch of his catholic mates tried to blow up Parliament. He got caught and the ‘gunpowder plot’ failed. We’ve been celebrating his capture/mourning his failure (delete where applicable) ever since. All well and good, I suppose. Most countries have a yearly festival or celebration day when the fireworks are rolled out. The French have Bastille Day, the day every year they give thanks for not being invaded by the Germans (again). Then there’s the 4th of July, commemorated by Brits the world over as the day we finally let the yanks out in the world on their own. A bit like sending an annoying spotty teenager off to college and getting the box room back. Years later he returns, now owning IBM and degree in shooting people, but the peace and quiet was nice while it lasted.

I digress.

But now we not only have to start dodging rockets and catherine wheels around 5th November, but we now have to listen to them over Christmas, New Year, Easter, Yom Kippur, Epiphany, Lent, Diwali, the  X-Factor results, Downton Abbey finales, in fact any and every single celebration that someone somewhere feels they need to enjoy. I’m all in favour of a multicultural, multi-faith country where all are welcomed and encouraged to live as diverse and existence as is possible. But why-oh-why-oh-daily-mail do all these festivities have to come with sodding fireworks ? Maurice, the rather nervous dog next door has shellshock – they now feed him on valium and St John’s Wort. There’s a pall of smoke hanging over the lower paddock, making it look like Kabul after the big beardy naughty boys have been about.

They banned smoking on the top deck of a bus and the left hand side of the cinema; they stopped us from riding a motorcycle without a helmet; had an amnesty on handguns; they even banned Tom&Jerry from my tv (presumably to make room for a series on human dissection on Channel 4). Surely there’s a decent case to be made against these rockets and missiles which kill, harm, mutilate and maim so many every year ? I have nothing against blowing up parliament, and happy to raise a glass to the Guido and his mates for having a pop at it. But is blowing up each other, distressing our pets and covering motorways with thick smoke really the way forward ? What if we restrict it to one huge re-enactment every year, underneath parliament, using live ammo. And hope for the best ?

Or the worst. (delete where applicable).

The Slaughtered Lamb


Fancy a pint ? Yes ? Come on then, I’ll take you down to a little pub I know. It’s just down the road.

Two weeks into my self-imposed exile, we decided last night to take a stroll round the leafy lanes, avenues and alleyways and see what Dartford on a Friday night had to offer. Our route was not a particularly ambitious one. A short couple of miles which would take us by (or rather to) 5 boozers, all of which I’d visited before down the years, some more frequently than others, and being the five closest inns from the Potting Shed each of them stood a decent chance of becoming my new local.

First up: the former local. I’d spent most of my formative years getting ever-so-slightly elephants in a particular pub on the top of the hill, just outside town. Ernie’s had been scientifically chosen, it being the closest one to the school gates and you get still get served wearing your uniform. Many of my happiest memories are from those 15 short years from the age of 16 onwards getting smashed out of my face in one of the less-trendy nightspots in Dartford (and that’s going some). Birthdays, weddings (not mine), funerals (ditto), births, divorces and Ryder Cup triumphs were all celebrated within those walls overseen by the hilariously miserable Mancunian eponymous landlord who scared off as many customers as he attracted with his sledgehammer wit and pungent bodily functions.He’s long-gone now, gone off to live in Spain with his pockets bulging with my hard-earned cash, so I was intrigued to see how the old place was, fifteen years after I’d last set thirsty foot in it.

Within 12 yards of the door my worst fears were realised. Through the several plate-glass windows I saw a pub transformed from the traditional boozer it once was. Where once a horseshoe bar wound its way round the room, manned permanently by assorted punters, postmen and pissheads, there seemed to be a selection of coffee tables and banquettes. Low-slung chaise-longues occupied by even lower-slung shell-suits sat there in deathly silence. I counted eight people in there. And none of them were having fun. The bar had been rebuilt and stood in all its magnificent gloss-white glory along one side of the room. Two of the uglier members from the cast of Glee stood silently behind it, re-arranging the bottles of WKD. The strains of Tiny Talent could be heard emanating from the music system.

“Nope” I announced to The Incumbent who, if the speed by which she changed direction was anything to go by, had already made up her mind that it looked like a shit hole. Fortunately, there’s a pub right opposite Ernie’s so we headed across the road and, without stopping to check it out, ploughed through the door.

Imagine walking one of those shack-cum-bars in Mississippi or Alabama. Where the KKK‘s U19 Soccer team have just held their AGM. And all the bright ones have gone home for their tea. And it’s been free beer for six hours. And the town has just elected a black mayor. And he’s gay. Got that image in your brain ? Well that’s the kind of scene we encountered there in that pub.

Two or three of the knuckle-draggers who still had control of their movements looked up looked us up and down, suspecting that we were either coppers or neurosurgeons. Being neither, but not wanting to have to prove it, I decided on the only course of action open to us.

“Nope” I exclaimed again and we beat a hasty retreat out of the Berchtesgaden Arms back to the now strangely enticing Ernie’s. In the 14 seconds we’d been across the road, three of the customers I’d seen through the window had left, leaving three young asian blokes, slumped at half-mast on their leatherette armchairs, staring wistfully and listlessly at two imaginatively-clad girls sat near the toilets, knocking a decent-sized hole in a bottle of Rose. These were very odd fellows indeed. I ordered myself a pint and a gin for the missus, partly for old times’ sake and partly cos I never like not having a drink in two pubs in a row.

Our drinks didn’t touch the sides. We left. Depressed.

No matter, onwards and upwards. Next up, the previously mentioned Goat and Masturbator which, as the glass bottle flies round here, is the closest to the Potting Shed. It would have been some time during the mid 1980’s when I was last here and it wasn’t that brilliant then.  Now it’s a Harvester. One of those eateries with all the atmosphere of a Hosni Mubarak cabinet meeting. A few groups of half-drunk, fully-fed  20-somethings were placed carefully between plates of rotten and rotting food. The smell of barbeque ribs and Red Bull was quite overpowering.

“Nope!” yelled The Incumbent over the din of an iTunes playlist. We left smartly, missing the chance to indulge in a baked potato with the topping of our choice, washed down with one of two Australian lagers on tap.

Pub number four just had to be better. And, in truth it was. The Liniment and Poultice had never been a favourite of mine back when I had hair, but da word on da street recently was that it’s been taken over, was full of old gits and had gone all boring. Perfect. Well almost. A medium-sized establishment, the first thing you notice that it has both a pool table and a dartboard (both of which are sadly lacking in Blackheath boozers). There were twenty-or-so people drinking inside, most over 30 years old, some over 50, all of them huddled along the bar leaving wide open spaces of emptiness in the lounge. You could have played a game of football on the carpeted area and not bothered anyone, but try to get near the bar and you encountered a sea of elbows, builder’s bums and handbags.Nevertheless, all seemed quite friendly, and the guv’nor poured a decent pint of Stella, and a perfect gin.

Now I know on such announcements economies can boom or bust,  so I have to tell you now that there is goodly supply of both limes and lemons in Dartford. Not only that but on the evidence of last night the bottle of tonic is placed on the bar un-decanted beside the glass of gin, and it is left to you, yourself, to administer the correct measure of mixer. You should have seen my little face light up.

And that would have been that. I would have happily settled on The Liniment to serve as my local for the duration of my stay here in NW Kent, however long that may be. But we still had one more pub to visit on our way home. Which, after a few more pints in The Poultice is exactly what we did.

If you didn’t know The Shovel was there you’d easily pass it in your rush to get to Dartford town centre. (In truth you still don’t know its there, or its real name but, like a Danish cartoonist, The Shovel’s exact and whereabouts need to be kept a closely guarded secret.) This is a teeny tiny little pub. Barely bigger than your average terraced house. When we entered there were 12 people in the bar, all middle-aged (or older) men, one barmaid behind the jump. It was busy. If a half-laden Ford Galaxy emptied it’s passengers into the pub it’d be standing room only. And some of these old blokes couldn’t stand for long.

From the door we took three steps and arrived at the bar. There were three hand-pumps, none of them marked. One Guinness pump, one Fosters and one serving Dark Mild. I’ll type that again: one serving Dark Mild.

“What’s in the hand pumps, love?”  I asked the barmaid, going all Richard Keys on her.
“Courage Best” she smiled.
“What, in all of em?” I asked
“Yep, all of them”

I looked around to see who was having what elsewhere in the pub. Two blokes had pints of stout in their hands. Always worth checking.
“I’ll have a Guinness then, please.” says I, “Oh and a gin and tonic as well please” remembering my manners.

As I waited for my stout to settle I looked around the pub. Behind the bar, beneath the optics, were unrefrigerated shelves of bottled beer: Stouts, Brown Ales, Light Ales, Barley Wines and the like of which you just don’t see anymore. Mainly because no-one drinks them, but all the same… And unrefrigerated. Warm beer. You could ask for a Light & Bitter and not only would it arrive at room temperature but, by the look of the barmaid she’d know exactly how to pour it.

Up above, where the line of optics ended was a calendar. The photo was of a naked girl standing under a palm tree on a beach, sporting an enormous bush. She had big hair on her head too and a lovely big grin. She smiled out at us barflies as she and girls like her used to smile out at us from The Big D peanut cards back in the 70s and 80s, before pictures of naked women in pubs and garages were Andy Grayed into touch. This was the 2011 and she looked completely out-of-place. Pleasant, but out-of-place.

At least I thought it was 2011 but I kept spotting things which told me otherwise. To the right of my naked new friend was a small wooden cabinet containing three piles of assorted 10-packs of cigarettes, a couple of half-ounces of Golden Virginia and a dozen boxes of matches. No cigarette machine here, just a wooden box behind the bar. Come to think of it, there was no jukebox or fruit machine either. The punters entertained themselves by talking to each other (everyone truly knew everyone else and everyone was within ear-trumpet range of each other) or, for the more adventurous, a game of crib was in full-flow. It nearly kicked off when one bloke had 16 in his box and pegged-out, almost literally.

I took stock of the situation:  A quiet friendly pub, with no herberts or wankers; no jukebox or one-armed bandit; a pleasant knowledgeable barmaid; light ale; photos of naked girls; a crib board and Dark Mild.

Admittedly the Guinness was fucking awful, but such was my euphoria at finding such a wonderful little time-capsule that I forgot to complain. Even after my fourth pint.

I was home.

So what do you reckon ? Fancy a stroll down there ? You’re a bitter man, right ? I hope you like Courage Best.  And you don’t mind if I blindfold you, do you ? Can’t have everyone knowing where it is. There’s very little room at this Inn.

The Birds and the Wasps


This weekend found us visiting friends in the Leicestershire countryside. I’d been to Leicester only once before, as a schoolboy to play rugby, and found myself ruminating on just what I knew of the area. I knew it was another one of those odd English words which foreigners struggled to pronounce (for any of my overseas readers it’s Ly-cester-shyre). No not really. But it turns out I knew very little else, it being one of those little bits of England that attracts scant attention or publicity, a bit like Wiltshire, Stephen Fry or Scotland.

My cricketing hero David Gower used to play for Leicestershire, and who could forget Leicester City‘s Keith Weller ? (oh, you have). Rugby legend Martin Johnson was, of course, for a long-time at Leicester Tigers, then there’s red leicester cheese, the deaf midget tax-fiddling horse jockey Leicester Piglet, Leicester Square and the Leicester Shuffle (if you throw two playing cards onto the floor you get less ta shuffle). Clearly I was clutching at straws.

So it came to pass that on Saturday morning I was zipping around mile after mile of beautiful rolling hills and lanes, past box hedges, magnificent oaks and dinky thatched stone cottages. Past signposts which could have been lifted from the script of American Werewolf. Signs for Tugby and Queniborough sped by, for Houghton on the Hill and Skeffington, even Ratcliffe on the Wreake (which sounds to me like Harry Potter on a vodka binge). I looked for signs to North Londonshire but could see none.

It was beautiful. The trees cascaded with Autumnal colour, the pale November sun washed over the copse and ploughed fields and everywhere was teeming with wildlife. Not just sheep and cows, horses in fields and chickens in coops, but pheasants and eagles, buzzards soaring and hawks hunting. Even the roadkill was exotic – badgers and deer where, at home, I’d see foxes and hedgehogs clogging-up the roadside gutters. Ah! the countryside is great. I’ve always been a committed townie, always preferring the smell of exhaust fumes, the sound of a police sirens or a bus’s airbreaks to the smell of dung, the twittering of the birdies or the clip clop, clip clop of farmers throwing horse shoes at boisterous cockerels.

But wandering around this area I could see the appeal, and it became clear to me why at some point in many lives, city dwellers up-stumps and seek out and claim for themselves that little bit of an English field that shall be forever foreign. And smelly. Yes this was it, I thought. I let my mind wander, daydreaming of buying a labrador, wax jacket and wellies, and perchance an Austin Healey. Of doing nothing more strenuous than grow a beard or taking myself for a spin from village to village, working up a thirst before I parked myself on a bar stool down at the local pub, supping endless pints of Thruxton’s Old Dirigible through my grey whiskers, brushing off the pickled egg debris from my corduroys.

Our friends, Julia and Stuart, had moved up from town a couple years ago and I could see in their eyes that this was the sort of lifestyle they were shaping up to enjoy, if they weren’t doing so already. They’d thought ahead and brought their labrador, Oscar, up with them from the smoke of the South East. I liked Oscar. An old boy, he didn’t so much bark as cough. When you entered the room he approached you making the sort of flegmy noises that my old pipe-smoking landlord used to make as I walked into his pub (though Oscar wagged his tail slightly more and scratched himself slightly less than old Jack did). I wanted an Oscar when I moved up here.

No sooner had we arrived at their home than we were whisked off by Julia and Stuart to a nearby pub for the proverbial lunchtime pie and a pint. What perfect hosts. It was a charming, warm country affair with a fine selections of ales and spirits and a decent wine list. They even had lemons. Their daughter worked behind the bar and we were served immediately. It was wonderful ! We supped, we nibbled and we supped again. This was lovely. I could have stayed there all day. Happy days. As we’d come in I’d noticed there was a twee little white cottage next door which had a For Sale board outside. I started dreaming again. Hmmm…….

And then a bell rang and woke me up. “Time gentlemen please” bellowed the landlady.

Eh…? what…? Wassappening ???? I looked at my watch. It was 3pm. OF COURSE. Bloody country hours. Strangers to these shores may be unaware that up until ten years-or-so ago, pubs in England would close every day at 3pm (2pm on Sundays) and not re-open until 6pm (7 o’clock on Sundays). Legend has it that this haitus in available alcohol purchasing time was introduced during WWI to encourage the factory workers back to the production lines. As 20-somethings we didn’t give a monkeys about the history, all we knew was that our formative years of beer-swilling were punctuated by daily and very annoying periods during each afternoon when landlords would throw us out of perfectly good drinking holes. Pah.

Thankfully, the lawmakers of this country came to their senses and the laws were changed to allow beer to be served pretty much all day. Reason had prevailed and one could happily go missing in action in a saloon bar for a goodly amount of time. But, of course, we lived in London, where every opportunity to screw a few more pence out of the spending public was seized upon. Everything was open at every hour, every day. Pubs, restaurants and shops seemed never to close (though, perversely, police stations and hospitals and nursery schools started to close or operate restricted hours- go figure). Folk out in the sticks, however, liked things as they’d always been and the half-day closing practices continued.

So now, here in the middle of the English countryside and for the first time in yonks, I was being asked to leave a pub before 11pm for reasons other than foul language. And I tell you something: It felt perfectly fine. A sudden bout of nostalgia overcame me. I was transported back to those long, beerless afternoons of the 1980s, when I and legions of other thirsty herberts traipsed the streets trying to come up with something, anything to do while the pub was shut.

A smile passed my lips, this was a good thing. It was civilised, I could handle this. I was too long in the tooth to still feel the need to spend every waking hour in a hostelry. This is how adults behaved: you had a couple of quiet pints at lunchtime then made your way home to your loved ones. Spiffing. Adulthood, that which I vowed never to have anything to do with – like the Liberal Democrats, Strictly Come Dancing or anal tucks – had barged its way into my life and I felt comfortable letting it in.

We strolled back to the car. “That was great” I offered as convincingly as I might. “Very civilised indeed. Haven’t done that for years”.
“Yeah, it’s like the old days back in London, isn’t it?” agreed Stuart. We all nodded and manoeuvred our sensible middle-aged frames back into the car. I almost felt smug with myself. Stuart started the car then added,
“And on Mondays the pubs don’t open at all !”

!?!?

“Beg your pardon ?” I felt a cold chill run down my back. “Not open on Mondays. AT ALL???” I was a tad quieter on the drive back to the house.

The rest of the weekend was spent chomping a quaffing our way through Julia and Stuart’s wine cellar and food cupboards. Bloody fine it was too. Great company, smashing grub and a very fine selection of vin rouge kept us very happy indeed. We ventured out again on Sunday afternoon for a short tour of the area, stopping off at another pub for a pit stop. I wasn’t entirely convinced it was going to be open at all, given the shocking revelation of the day before. Thankfully I needn’t have fretted.

Just before we got our things together for our return trip home, a winter wasp (presumably another quirk of the countryside) flew up my trouser leg and stung me, thankfully only on the shin. Little bastard.

So we retraced our route back to the motorway en route to London, through the same lanes as the day before, now covered in jet blackness. Every so often we’d see a pair of unkown creature’s eyes illuminated in the headlights, or the flap of an owls wings as it swooped across the road in front of us.

It was all very different and all very lovely, but I decided that, as it turned out, I no longer wanted to live in the country. I’d gladly trade the smell of horses for the smell of a kebab house (often a strangely similar smell), I certainly could do without November wasps and I’ve never been all that keen on long country walks.

Back home now in Railway Cuttings, the rain is pouring down the window on a miserable, cold, November Monday afternoon. I’m looking out at bluetits on my nuts and squirrels burying theirs, not Owls hooting or badgers badgering. When I get bored of watching my more mundane urban wildlife I may just take myself off up to the village where there are five or six pubs with varying levels of charm. Some offer less-than-mediocre service, nearly all possess truly shocking toilets. In some the pipes won’t have been cleaned and there will be more barflies than customers (though I’ve yet to be bitten on the shin by a barfly). Being a Monday someone will have forgotten to order the lemons or re-stock the ice bucket.

But whatever the state of our local boozers down here in our little part of London they will be open. And that’s the way I like em.