Archive for July 2009
It started raining as the barman pulled a pint of Okell’s Summer Storm (how appropriate!), a wheat beer from the Isle of Man. It was pretty tasty, a little astringent the way I like and with a little of the sickening sweetness/fruitiness you sometimes get with witbier. A guy sat next to me after returning from the rain for a smoke and remarked how cold it is with the wind and rain; “I’m a smoker, though, so I have to tolerate it,” he whinged through the tarred over vocal chords. “I’m off for a run in this as soon as this pint is done,” I told him and he started laughing. He was pretty funny.
The house was really nice and I was there before the local business really started (I got in just as they open at noon). It is also an Inn, so they have to keep up the quality but they have several nice rooms for pub and dining use to start with. The kitchen sounded busy prepping for the lunch rush but only one other pint drinker came in before I headed out for the run at noon:15 (only to get caught in another downpour 20 minutes into it…after I already past the last pub on my route until Cambridge, of course).
A Bateman’s XXXB and a change into my running clothes were on tap at the White Horse. Several other beers were available, but I didn’t really make any note of it, having left my map and trying to remember my turns and bearings so that my compass might be a bit of help. The pub used to have a reputation for good mexican food, but I’ve sworn off mexican food on this side of the Atlantic (it’s like these people have never heard of cilantro or chilis); regardless the menu appears to focus on traditional English grub these days.
The place has two bars and a garden (with a play ground) and a very welcoming atmosphere but on this dreary Monday at noon there were only a few other folks around. Howevever, I made friends with the house kitty who made himself comfortable in my lap (I think maybe trying to get my beer or just using me to stay warm, but he was a purry boy and I like kitties).
After my long run, I had a powerful thirst and stopped in to mend it at The Prince of Wales. As I walked in I realised I was the only customer there that wasn’t attending the 50th wedding anniversary lunch going on near the windows. Oh, well, the Glaswegian landlord and landlady served me my Abbott and chatted awhile about meeting folks from Georgia a few years back on holiday in Crete.
What is that on the wall?
Oh, of course...
We cut the conversation short to listen to the male half of the honorees give his speech which was a series of filthy jokes linked together to make a single coherent story. The part that I found hilarious about it was I knew most of the jokes and knew that he was deftly leaving out the punchlines of each one to segue into another one; the other attendees seemed baffled by his weird rambling story about a woman telling a man his weight by groping him in his trousers or by another friend wondering how they should dress (this one was supposed to end with something like, “Barnstable…wear the fox hat! [where the fuck's that?]” but instead ended like, “Barnstable…I was once in a bar there when some nuns came in and….”).
This gave me an idea for the Fourth Plinth project (I’m signed up and if my name is drawn I’ll have an hour on the plinth in Trafalgar Square in London to use as I wish). My plan has always been to carry up a stool, a cooler full of beer, and then get naked and enjoy the breeze. Now, I would also add in a reading of only the punchlines to filthy jokes, say one every 5 seconds for the full hour (minus the time to get naked at the start, re-dress at the end, and to open my beverages).
I needed a place to park the car in Bluntisham for a couple of hours for a long run and the White Swan seemed to fit the bill. To smooth things over and to prehydrate for the run I went in for a pint and wound up in a conversation about Chicago and other spots in the States with the other customer. Actually, it started with him and the bartender talking cricket, him calling the bartender a bloody kiwi, and the bartender deflecting to me with, “well, he knows even less about it; he’s an American.”
It’s funny how some places are just naturally more friendly than others. He was pointing out how, during a visit to a family member in Arkansas, everyone in the town knew he was there and who he was visiting but then he seemed surprised when I pointed out that English villages were like that only more so…I probably should have referred him to the bartender at the Crown in Earith who moved there from Colne (about 3 miles away) so that she could meet new people.
There’s a chinese restaurant attached to the White Swan and the food smells fantastic. The garden has playground equipment so kids must be welcome. There was a television but it was off and conversation seems to be the order of the day. Great bar!
Nine pounds thirty for a Bombardier and a large vodka tonic wasn’t the biggest problem I had with the Silver Cross. Nor was the fact that as I counted out this outrageous sum the bartender kept reaching over and filling Jackie’s glass with tonic (hey, she could get TWO drinks out of the bottle of tonic if you quit diluting her first double vodka with it…hands off, already). The worst thing was that it seemed to be full of mouthy fat slags and their drunken, loud, yob breeding partners. I assume that a fight broke out sometime not to much later than we left (around 10 pm).
It’s too bad, since the structure is very nice, there’s a good window on the street, and it is very close to Trafalgar Square…oh, right, I see the problem now. What self respecting local would go to a place tucked in so closely to a major tourist site. My advice would be to avoid this one.
The Trinity Arms is a few blocks off the noise of the Brixton Market and a world away. It is a fantastically well maintained local that is worth a visit. Populated this afternoon by two 30-ish businessmen and a bunch of middle aged locals having lively chats about other folks that could wander in at any moment, we weren’t the only two non-regulars…a couple of backpackers came through, which is strange seeing as this is a heavily urban area formerly rife with crime and white kids on a trek aren’t the first thing you’d expect to see. This place might be in guide books, though, and the kids were probably just in the neighbourhood to score some weed anyway.
There’s a wrap around bar run by a young crew (younger than any of the patrons) and the background music seems to be Bowie, Velvet Underground, and Nick Cave (so no complaints from me). The back garden furniture was all damp from the downpours, but it seems really quiet; walled, it backs up to the grounds of a former asylum from which the pub draws its name. There’s also a front garden facing a small park/neighbourhood green.
Escaping the rain, we dove into the Dog and Duck and scurried upstairs to find a small bar. We got seats in a window and settled in to our tipples in the very spot where George Orwell used to drink (this was his local). The downstairs bar is a bit larger but there is less room to sit and most of the patrons spill out into the street. There are a number of ales on tap (more downstairs than up), but my choice was a Timothy Taylor Landlord.
Hungry, we got some not especially memorable sandwiches but the venue was very nice nonetheless. The barmaid was friendly and the action in the bar lively and the rain let up during our stay so all went very well.
Another trip to London and we had just scoped out the goings on in Trafalgar Square with the Fourth Plinth project (One and Other) where for 100 days, 24 hours a day, individuals get one hour each to do whatever they please on the plinth that was originally intended to show William IV on horseback (until funds ran out).
We were walking around the block to the entrance for the National Portrait Gallery when I spotted another underfunded and neglected treasure, the closed down pub once known as the Hand and Racquet. Word is the landlord vanished with the takings two years back and it never reopened. RIP
The Run Across Britain is still primarily the Run Across Cambridgeshire (with the exceptions of a few runs across London and Edinburgh) but it is expanding a bit. Here is a low resolution view of the current state of things:
New additions include a loop from/to Bluntisham via Over, Swavesey, Fen Drayton, Fenstanton, and St. Ives (skimming Hemingford Grey and Needingworth). A week or so earlier, I explored the fen causeway area that William the Conqueror’s troops used to enter the Isle of Ely via Aldreth; that path took from Aldreth to Over via Willingham (and past a Travellers encampment) but I didn’t hook up the two paths that went through Over, yet:
One route used bike paths and pedestrian pavements to go from work through Trumpington and Great Shelford to reach Sawston. This connected to another route, from the end of the Citi 7 bus line in Sawston out to Duxford (which may be a jumping off point for a trip to Saffron Walden in the coming weeks):
Closer to home, there was a web of routes from Fordham that needed to be connected to the larger effort; this was done by using fen footpaths to travel from Soham to Stretham via Wicken (with a scenic section of the River Cam for good measure). A few days after that, I drove back to Wicken and trotted through the Wicken Fen, Burwell, Reach, and Upware and in the process saw quite a bit more of the drainage system on the farms:
A number of shirts were retired in the interim. A KXCI radio Bluegrass t-shirt that had grown tight in the shoulders but is way to large around the belly (and that rubbed my nipples bloody on the run) was left to the elements in the Wicken Fen.
Another irritating shirt picked up used was left, soaking after a rainy run to Sawston, in a phone box,
whilst a shirt I picked up at a vendors booth at ASMS a few years back made it as far as the Waggon and Horses.
A race shirt from the 2008 Tucson 5000 that had an irritating shade of blue was laid to rest on the edge of a cemetary in Fenstanton (where, it turns out, Capability Brown is buried):
whilst another KXCI shirt (this one with Route 66 commemorated on it in spite of the fact that Route 66 runs a few hundred miles away from Tucson and KXCI) fell off the side of a bridge near Hemingford Grey (the panorama below was shot near that dumping ground):
So, there are the runs to date. Expect another update toward the end of August.
A late meeting planning the laboratory move to Oxford left me with a short run to Milton to try to finish in time to catch the bus home as it rolled through at 6:30. Fortunately, I reached the bus stop at the Waggon and Horses with ten minutes to spare.
I seemed to disturb the landlord’s crossword puzzle efforts but he professionally pulled an Elgood’s Mad Dog for me and it was really what I always hope for when I get a beer I haven’t tried before…not too floral and bitter enough to make you think “crisp” and not “medicinal.” The chat in the bar was pointedly about friends and family and as I was neither I took my drink out front to await the bus.
The bar is big and has a reasonable side porch. It is a very comfortable looking place as well, although I was too sweaty from the run to take a seat on any of the fine upholstery. They open late, so I don’t know when I can make a more protracted visit but I hope I get to do so sometime in the near future.
Now this place was the shit (that’s a good thing, touchy english people). I entered a saloon bar via an entrance way decorated with past glory:
The bar was full of guys that stopped their various lively conversations and stared at me as I sloshed my way into the bar and ordered up a Bateman’s XXXB and a scotch egg. I got the egg because I had been trying to chase down something to eat for a half hour (see the White Horse, Queen’s Head, and Greyhound notes posted a few minutes ago) and was really happy to see that it was huge (and only £1.20).
I took it outside to the smoker’s tables because it seemed like the place where all the filthy habits should be banished and there’s nothing as filthy as a scotch egg. I pulled up a chair at the table with the bar kitty and listened into some conversations, and interfered with one when it veered to “oh, you remember him…short hair, good manners,” which made me laugh, then me laughing made the other folks laugh. They turned and I said, “yup, you’d remember good manners around these parts.” “Oh, you’re an American, everyone has good manners there.” But, then I was in the chat for the rest of my meal…nice friendly crowd, and the rest of the conversation centered on this woman’s late dog so it was easy enough to keep up.
And, then it was time to go. A short chat about other pubs in the area with a guy at the bar and I was on the bus back to Cambridge. Well exercised, well fed, and, well, rehydrated.
The menu seemed a little pricy and the place was more-or-less abandoned except for the help and some transients. Too bad, it looked like a really nice place.
I enjoyed a Woodforde’s Wherry and stole a coaster with a quiz on the back and looked arou the oddly decorated lower bar.
Maybe it is busier in the evening. The conversation about washing machine repairs didn’t really grab me, but it was the only game available. The rain slacked up and I crossed to the King’s Head.
So, another Carling and a hide from the rain in the doorway of this grand old lady that left us far too soon. Looks a grand place. RIP
A week or two ago I got off a bus at the White Horse for a run to Duxford and it seemed to be open. But, today I ran from Cambridge (in torrential rain) and changed to dry clothes in a phone box 100 meters to the north and found the place locked up and darkened at 1:30 pm. Here’s why it pissed me off:
Yup, they said they’d be open. I had picked up a Carling to toast the definitely dead Queen’s Head later on, but I had planned on lunch down here after my run. No time for this so I’ll assume they slipped this mortal coil and enjoyed my Carling in three gulps as the rain re-wet me through my spare clothing.
[side note, the old guy slumped over the saloon bar--to keep it from floating away, I reckon--at the King's Head later said he doesn't know if they've been open at all this week and that a better choice, anyway, is the Chequers in Pampisford just around the corner]
After a long-ish run (Wicken to Burwell to Reach to Upware then back via the Wicken Fen), I was parched and not a little bit depleted of carbohydrates. Fortunately, there was an as-yet-unvisited pub just a couple of miles away in Soham. The Ship was exactly what I needed.
There were ales on tap, but I really just wanted to throw one down and get on my way so I got a very, very cold Fosters and chatted with the bartender the moment it took to dispatch the beverage. Everyone always assumes I’m here with the military in spite of the poor grooming, then they assume I’m just taking a holiday in Britain (because, of course, Soham is bound to be on every holidaymaker’s A-list). But, the guy was friendly and seemed genuinely happy to have a stranger in the house.
The bar wraps around the building and is pretty standard and as welcoming as the help. There is a very large porch/smoking area, plus there is a kids playground out beyond the car park that is full of shady trees.
[Just noticed this as I entered yesterday's pub visits into my database...I've been in England 182 days and this was my 182nd pub entry. The 62 pub visits between May 29 and June 28 probably had a lot to do with reaching the 24 hour average duty cycle, but I'm easily on track to hit 300 in the first year even though I am rapidly running out of new pubs in Cambridge.]
Okay, the place is mainly a Viet Namese restaurant now and has been through some name flux. For awhile it was changed to the Golden Pheasant to get “Dog” off the same sign as the “Viet Namese Restaurant,” then later they had a traditional Dog and Duck sign on one side and the restaurant sign on the other, but now they seem to be saying fuck it and combined them all (calling the restaurant portion Saigon City). I wasn’t hungry, but I got some spring rolls to soak up the Boddingtons (and some Boddingtons to wash down the spring rolls), and they were especially delicious.
As a restaurant, this ticks off the main boxes of my old friend, former employer, and dining mentor Ron Orlando which all seem to boil down to this: a good restaurant will exhibit disarray that hints at occasional health inspection failures (or, indeed, have a bad health rating). An analytical biochemist of fairly great renown, Ron believes that by inoculating yourself continuously against every possible pathogen your life span will concomitantly increase (I think he also has some hand waving argument justifying the four pack a day smoking habit, but he has steered me to some right tasty meals based on published kitchen inspection reports). A look at this photo doesn’t show anything as unclean, but it is the sort of lack of care about order that bodes well for some fine grub:
A closer look shows what brings the local boys into the bar. According to the landlady, it is set to entice purchase of peanuts to see just how well covered the lovely Malene is (she didn’t know if the packets sold more slowly once nipple level was reached, but I have my theories on that):
Fleur used to be the Fleur de Lis, a Cambridge gay bar (of which there seem to be very few…and, as a side note to alternate genre’s, I spotted the first lap dancing club I’ve seen here on my way home yesterday). Fleur is geared toward the dining experience but the dark restaurant half of the building was empty, a victim of the flooding rains and lightning that drove me back off the street soaked from my hips down and on both sleeves. The landlady met me at the bright bar (there’s a big window on the street) and said, “ooo, dreadful weather.” “Yeah,” I answered, “Ithink it might rain.”
I had a pint of Guinness, as the Irish weather seemed to call for it, and the friendly propritress undercharge me for it (which is always welcome). It was chilled but that’s the way a lot of people seem to like it these days. Looking around, they seem to have a very good selection of wine at not-too-bad mark-ups, plus they had both Oban and Lagavullin up front and centered on the whisky shelf…this is definitely on my list for a nice meal out before a show, sometime.
Torrential rain storm blew up and I dove into the Bakers for respite. They had Reverend James and IPA on pumps, but I fancied a lager to wash away the remains of a street vendor version of a lamb samosa and ordered a pint of Staropramen.
The music was odd and I was the only customer (walk ins were not likely during this storm), so I was serenaded by Joe Jackson, then Andy Williams (doing a weird, showtune version of Something by the Beatles).
The bar is there to serve the diners, it is obvious. First, the prices are steep and second, the place is laid out for diners exclusively. They even seemed surprised that I came up to the bar to order and that I didn’t want any food. Tsk.
Not to be confused with the Castle on St Andrews Street, the Castle Inn is known far and wide and is a proper pub (although it is said to have an especially apt kitchen staff, as well). There are some nice nooks downstairs, another couple rooms upstairs, and a multilevel patio out back. Plus, 9 ale pumps and the normal bar offerings (and though most of the ales are Adnams, there’s nothing wrong with Adnams).
I had a Nethergate Brewery Umbel Ale which is brewed with toasted coriander seeds and smells like a cross between a big bag of skunk and the bong used to dispose of said bag. Okay, so I was already sold, but the taste wasn’t at all that of bong water although it did remind me of a delicate infusion of Sneeuw Witje buds. My eyesight has improved dramatically since downing that pint.
Nothing had really made me giggle today, so it was nice of the Castle folks to provide this little gem:
The Railway View is near the site of the (long gone) railway, but it is still a nice stop on a commute. There are a few ales (usually one guest ale…this time a Woodforde’s Wherry which was served a bit on the cold side), two bars, a snooker table, a conservatory, and a garden. I’m assured the food is very good.
The hospitality is especially good, too. Of particular note is the tip of the hat to those of us with aging bladders: