Archive for November 2009
Nostalgia night continued as I approached the Crown in the center of Littleport from the Black Horse by the river. There was the old beaten down car with the great bit of art deco design incorporated, like in almost every backyard at home in mid-Georgia:
There was the large strings of rudimentary Chistmas decor around town like Atlanta before the real estate boom. And, there were the butch-and-fem, large-and-skinny lesbian couple shooting pool like just about every bar in Virginia-Highlands (Atlanta).
Okay, the fat one might have been the skinny one’s little brother and they might both have been straight but I wanted to use the “rule of three’s” for a second post and continue the theme and if it means crowbarring those kids ambiguous genders into a sexuality that suits my purposes I think it wouldn’t be the first time.
I blame the furnishings. The bar has a real community vibe to it and the folks I met were very friendly. The furniture, though, seemed out of place. Mind you, it was nice enough and probably pretty expensive (it was sturdier than it looks), but it seemed more Ikea than the block walls and deep windows seemed to demand.
Now, this was strange. I wanted to put in 9 miles or so and decided to end up in Littleport because the bus from there stops about 50 meters from my house on its way south. The run was a bit tougher than I thought with the section from Prickwillow to Littleport over fairly uneven ground, and I was very thirsty and tired when I crossed the bridge at Sandhill and spotted the Black Horse.
Quite a bit of nostalgia in this run and the Black Horse provided a bit. First, the band they have scheduled puts me in the mind of home (that is, Athens Georgia circa 1990 or so), with their retro rocker looks and Confederate flag. The canal tie-up reminded me of home (that is, Amsterdam and the Dutch pubs along the canals that as many boaters frequented as cyclists). Then, the beer selection put me in the mind of home (that is, Tucson) and I couldn’t resist the temptation of a pint of Coors Light.
The pub is actually pretty nice and large enough to have a good turnout for the band. For me, though, it is a little out of the way and not necessarily what I hope to find for conversation and ale.
The bus wasn’t for another 20 minutes and I was in sweaty clothing in the cold wind. The Crown Inn offered refuge and I leapt. Normally, though, I might have looked around the neighbourhood a little longer.
The Crown was not especially well marked on the outside of its stone facade, but was clean and modern inside, and brightly lit. It also had at least 5 very large flat screen televisions with two to three zombies propped in front of each, showing tension in their necks and foreheads that makes you think the lighting is to spot a drawn weapon or to make sure the CCD cameras get a clear image of the violent act or acts of the night.
Why this intensity? They were watching the World Cup Qualifier between France and Ireland, of course, and even if they didn’t care who won (Ireland held the lead when I was there but the infamous “hand of god” play by Thierry Henry happened a few minutes after I left), I would wager that there many other wagers riding on the game’s outcome. Not wanting–or caring–to choose sides, I finished my Bitburger (a German beer was a stretch with this crowd, but I was in lager mode at this point) and left for the bus.
I was at the Star Inn to meet up with the Oxford Hash House Harriers. While waiting for the trail to start, I enjoyed a nice beverage that I didn’t clock the name of and sat near the wood stove and chatted a bit about trail, home- and former-hashes we’ve belonged to or visited, and how, funny, but my accent doesn’t sound like Cambridge (“that’s Ipswich, that is”).
The Oxford Hash traditionally lays dead/prelaid trails, which is always a disappointment to discover but the hare did a very nice job and there are additional benefits at this hash. First, the trail was A-to-B although B was only a few hundred meters from the start (at the Star Inn). The circle was run with aplomb by the RA (or GM, I didn’t pay much attention) and there were a variety of songs (although they did repeat the same one a few times with a sort of fill-in-the-blank variation each time). And, there was proper, hot food served: some delicious vegetable based soup and sausages in rolls…and, surprisingly, very few naughty sausage remarks.
I have started to get used to the less rowdy ways of the British hashers. They are very different from most of the American hashers I’ve known and the subdued version of the circles here are probably much to everyone’s advantage. I had a number of rude songs to add to the mix, but I think I’ll save them for when I’ve been there a few more times…no need to shock or offend when they all seem to be on best behaviour as well.
We retired to the pub again and I weaseled a pint of Red Stripe off one of the hashers (Dipstick, I believe), and settled into a long conversation on hashing and also on science with (again, I think this was her name) Home Alone, a biochemist from out around Bicester. She pointed out that my Red Stripe benefactor was the only one there likely to set a live trail, and I will try to keep my eyes on the schedule after we move out that way and goad him into doing it (perhaps I should volunteer myself, first…).
The crowd dwindled after the first round and I decided I better go on and catch the early bus, too, maybe to stop off on the way to the hotel at another pub closer in.
Grabbed a small order of cod and chips in Woodstock, Oxfordshire. They handed me a massive pile of food wrapped in paper and I retired to their dining room to make short work of it in spite of the gigantic size that a “small” turned out to be. This happens in kebab shops, too; if you order a large I hope you brought your entire extended family.
Spotted this poster in the turkish-owned shop, and it’s ominous tone made me laugh:
The scavenger hunt thing ended mercifully at the King’s Arms and I used a pint of pale ale to wash down an Imitrex migraine pill and within ten minutes I felt pretty damn good. We got our scores and half the group headed home to Cambridge and the rest of us stayed on at home in Oxford (except that I was actually only staying over for the next day to do some paperwork and diagnose an instrumentation problem).
The pub was large and full of sturdy furnishings and looked pretty publike. I could have stayed on for another round, but I was meeting up with the Oxford HHH for a run in Woodstock later that evening and really needed to catch the next bus if I was going to have enough time to grab a bite to eat. I’ll try the King’s Arms again, I’m sure, though.
Passed the King's Arms again the next morning on the way to the lab
We entered the Turf Tavern about midway through a scavenger hunt/tour of Oxford meant as a sort of team building exercise as part of the research group’s “away day.” These things are almost completely useless for their intended purpose when levied against a group that already communicates freely and plays well together, but I had a pretty good time with it nonetheless, in spite of the massive hangover I had been fighting off all day.
Some of the group, trying to cheat on the score I bet
The Humpty Dumpty Porter at the Turf Tavern did little to aleviate the throbbing headache I had been suffering since about an hour after completing the morning run before the scheduled events, but it didn’t hurt, either. The pub is aimed toward the tourist pound, with historic-ish markers all around purporting that Bill Clinton’s famous non-inhalation occurred on the back patio or that some Inspector Morse episodes featured the pub (which could be said of just about any pub in town). Still, the drinks were reasonable, the inside of the pub was atmospheric, they are supposed to serve decent food, and we all got a wee break before continuing the tour (a few fotos from the event, below).
Dining hall at Exeter College, Oxford
a proper butcher shop in the covered market, Oxford
The taste of stale beer in my mouth seemed to come from the fumes exuded from my body; this is probably true because my partially rinsed toothbrush and the bit of dried toothpaste on the corner of my mouth indicate that I at least went through the motions of brushing my teeth upon returning from the mini pub crawl. Also, the steady humming in my head was probably self inflicted, as well, and not as I tried to convince myself coming from the superconducting magnet factory next door. What I needed was some greasy, carb and protein rich food, a few glasses of juice and some coffee, and then I’d be as right as the Daily Mail and ready for my run to Oxford for the day’s activities.
Okay, so the food, a hot shower, and better dental hygiene really did very little to fix me up, but the run was very pleasant. I left the Talbot and headed south across the toll bridge and then the River Thames bridge and onto the old tow path for barges. This took me around the foot of the steep hills in Wytham Wood and protected me from the 40 mph winds out of the south. By the time I cleeared the woods and entered the pastures along the Thames the wid had shifted to westerly and south westerly and actually helped me along.
The wind is a fickle mistress, though, and as I made the bend to the south the winds intensified and shifted southerly bringing me largely to a standstill during the gusts. The rain was light but stung in this breeze and kept me from enjoying the views until I made it to town.
Entering the building and passing through the secure area I realised I felt much better. Running is like that, helping you tap into the endorphin lode; but, by the time I had rinsed my head and changed clothing I felt certain the previous evening was going to revisit me soon. Oh, well, the run was a good one, nonetheless.
It was windy so the sign moved during the picture...and I might not have been at my most steady, either.
The Jolly Sportsman was populated by a grumpy bar man (these are the best) and a guy intently enjoying a compilation of Meat Loaf videos (y’know, Paradise By the Dashboard Light and Bat Out Of Hell). I was well past it by this point, but the chat was on a level that I could manage…Meat Loaf connected us to Ellen Foley from one of the videos, from her to the Clash via Mick Jones (with an ugly but minimal side trip to Big Audio Dynamite territory), from the Clash to a really bad western I once saw called Straight To Hell (because Joe Strummer was in it, along with Shane MacGowan and Courtney Love) and then my last beer was finished and the barman was ready to leave. Actually, he seemed, when I had entered the place, to have been ready to leave some hours before I arrived, but at this point he was authorised to kick us to the kerb and did so without ceremony.
I truly love a bar like this.
"K A R L S Disco Wiener Haven." --from one of the musical numbers in Straight to Hell...do try to catch it
We made our way from the Queens Head back out to the High Street and down to the Red Lion, a pub with a layout that wraps around the bar and features quiet seating by the car park windows (for the old folks) and darts, tele, and a snooker table toward the back half (y’know, for the kids). The seating at the bar itself, on the old guy side of the pub, seemed to suit and I settled in to enjoy my Guinness and some continued harassment from my guides.
I was beginning to wish I had stuck to session ales and lost the thread of the conversations instead focusing on the rest of the bar, most of the denizens of which were tossing darts or watching the world series of darts on television.
There was signage everywhere informing that 3 shots of Sambuca or Jagermeister would only cost you a fiver, and that bringing discredit to the pub would get you barred all over the greater Witney metroplex.
I was thinking of such discredit and pub sports when I tried to completely dampen the olympic sized urinal some time later in the evening (while also remembering the late George Carlin’s bit about how important it is to wet down the entire urinal before turning your firepower on the bits of garbage collected in the drains). Practice makes perfect, but I find that training is an ongoing endeavour and later that night I returned to the outdoor sporting fields of this type slightly down the alley across from the, by then closed, Red Lion:
Less than a half mile north of the Talbot Inn, the Queen’s Head appears on a side street. I t is an old, stone building with two bars and the one I walk into is lit but empty. I hear a conversation in the other bar but before I move over the bartender shows up and I order a pint of the Village Idiot as it seems very appropriate. Turns out, it is yummy, as well.
In the other bar I meet a retired german physicist and a bloke that may simply be unemployable. The german, Bernard, seems to be the most depressed man in all of England but when he wasn’t holding forth on the sad state of life and humanity in general he was taking mild potshots at America apparently assuming I would be a big defender of the States. Typical exchange:
“Zo, ees it true your country has no history?”
“Yeah, ha ha, none at all. You see, it is still an empire and we are still killing dark people all over the globe for our own ends. History is for the impotent countries, like Germany for instance, the ones that can’t really do it anymore…y’know, a story they roll out for the cheap floozies they are relegated to having angry sex with and to explain why they can’t get it up.”
We also got into a pissing contest over which of our three nations is the most hated at holiday sites. The Germans won hands down at the beach, the English and Americans tied for worst to hang out with in Arab countries. Oh, and everyone at the bar (which slowly filled as we tried to drain the pumps) made rude comments about Princess Diana. Great place.
a talbot is a hunting dog of yore
I was in Oxford for a couple of days to attend a couple of research group functions, and they were actually pretty informative and (surprisingly) fun. But, I waited until the last minute to book lodging and allowed the space in the colleges to fill; feeling guilty about the extra expense, I found something fairly cheap in a pub (wow, how many times have I said I found something cheap in a pub and meant something entirely different) not too far away and found my way to the Talbot Inn.
The Talbot is an 18th century house on the Thames River wharf at Eynsham, and when I walked in at 7 pm it was packed with both diners and drinkers. I was shown my room and it was really nice…in fact, it was the nicest room I’ve rented in about two years and at £35 including an obscenely large breakfast). After a quick check in with the wife I retired to the bar which had 5 casks on gravity feed–I had something from Arkell’s but I don’t remember the details except that it was, like most of the Arkell’s brews, a taste sensation.
The night degenerated into a pub crawl through Eynsham after that (details to follow) so the giant and very tasty breakfast was a big help, as was the 8 mile run down the Thames tow path and looping around the University of Oxford the next morning (the Thames is a few hundred yards south of the Inn).
The landlord is quite friendly, though, and offered to introduce me to the rest of the local running club, but I already had plans to meet up with the Oxford Hash the next night. This pub is high on my list for future visits, though.
We went to Hunstanton last weekend, which was too late in the year to go out and see the seals on the island…the boats run April till October. But, there was still plenty to keep us occupied for a few hours. The town is a pretty, Victorian seaside resort and isn’t completely overrun by modern buildings and the crumbling cliffs reveal rocks rich in fossilized plants and sea life that made me wish I’d brought a hammer to break off some pieces.
Crumbling cliffs, be careful near the fence (after you climb over two other fences lined with ads for Samaritans suicide hotlines)
Speaking of getting hammered, along the sea wall promenade there is a nice pub called the Waterside Bar that we retreated into as the tide drove us from the beach. The drinks were very reasonably priced although the food menu seemed a little steep. I felt like a sweet treat so instead of ale I had a pint of Aspall Suffolk Cyder…refreshing.
Kite surfers in the Great Wash...the wind today would take them to Denmark if they wanted
From the pub
There’s ample seating by the beachside windows and more outside (but the wind was brutal and it was a bit nippy). From here we watched kite surfers, beach combers, and what appeared to be a few people walking along the mud and sand in their finest (although most looked like your typical families of fat people only out for the day because they have to wait for the electricity to be turned back on).
The drinks finished, we decided to make a dash for the car, a mile and a half up the coast but the tide pushed us onto the rocks and it was slow going indeed.
Rising tide, setting sun
J falls behind due to poor choice of footwear
Here’s an item of interest to the Americans out there…we went to the grocer in Ely–Waitrose, part of the John Lewis family of retail businesses–and enjoyed a sample of the wares in stock. This happens at American stores, too, and you can usually find a stand with a retiree pushing samples of hot frozen pizza or cured sausage slices or whatever.
Here, however, the old woman was handing out shots of 12-year-old scotch. No shit, single malt fine whiskey. In the states the malt is behind iron bars and you need an employee of Brinks to come and unlock the damn thing to buy a fifth of Lagavulin. Here, pensioners are handing it out next to the bread aisle. I love Britain.
Cool misty afternoon after several days worth of giving hourlong presentations and 10 hour stretches of experimentation and lo-and-behold-what-the-hell I found that I had my first window of running opportunity of the week. Best to slip into some sweats and slip out the door before anyone can demand anything, eh?
The loop was a standard Chemistry-to-Trumpington-to-Byron’s Pool-to-Grantchester-and back via the meadows effort that felt especially good in the crisp, damp air and I was loathe to stop except that I noticed the Rupert Brooke was still open this late in the afternoon and felt the call of duty. I was rewarded with the strong smell of fry-fat and a very warm and humid old bar. A very large one at that and very welcoming. It seems geared toward food but has an interesting menu to back it up; there are also many bottles of very tempting scotch just more than an armslength away from the bar…but I opted for a Buffy’s Norwich Terrier, which didn’t seem to slow my pace but certainly added little to the running experience. The flavour, on the other hand, was superb if the beer was a bit soft (I wouldn’t have minded them passing this line through a sparkler).
I didn’t have the camera with me, so these are web photos in this post. Also on the web is this bit about the pub’s namesake, a renowned war poet these lines from whose work “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester,” inform the design of the pub sign:
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?
The clock on the mass spec desktop was running 15 minutes slow and I missed the 7:10 bus as a result, resulting in an hour and ten minute wait for the next one. I fell back on killing the time with a copy of the Gaurdian and a beer at the St. Radegund. Walking in over the ‘On-In’ embedded in the threshhold in brass (never noticed that before), I noted that all faces looked familiar but no names sprung to mind…which was good, I really fancied not talking this evening.
I got a pint of Village, which was dry and floral and very, very good. It is made by the Archers Brewery, and I get the Archers theme music stuck in my head for days if I pass on any of the Archers’ beverages so I did what must be done.
Many pubs have a swear jar, but I rather enjoyed seeing the disillusioned looks on the faces of the other patrons when one guy’s cell phone rang. He reacted quickly and shut it off just as the long sigh from a guy that often bartends here was released and he dismounted his barstool to present the offender with the coolection vessel for the Lifeboats charity. A pound and a dirty look and all the conversations were back ‘on.’
The Blue Lion really looks like a furniture showroom from the outside, large and modern and commercial with a bunch of tall windows. Inside it looks more like a convalescent home dining room, which, as I discussed with the manager, is a shame because it has the potential to have a more cozy layout…it really isn’t that much different from the Unicorn in Trumpington save for the age of the buildings and the fireplaces at the older spot.
I don’t remember the guy’s name, but he was awfully nice the way people are when they have their enforced solitude happily interrupted by any other sentient being. He is part of a thriving profession, the pub landlords taken on by holding companies to keep a failing pub’s doors open until a buyer can be found or planning permission to raze the site can be garnered. This seems a sad life for guy moving to a nice location like this, performing hospice duties for a dying enterprise (I don’t want to be too hasty, but as I said, perhaps a little ungraciously to the barkeep, the place has the fetid stink of death about it).
So, if you find yourself travelling between Waterbeach and Newmarket or the Cambridge United football ground stop in and get a glass and some crisps and say hi for me.
Caught the pub just as it was closing down after lunch, but it was a very pretty three room traditional with low ceilings and a dark, warm ambience.
As I came in and proceded to sweat profusely from the run, the usual comments were made; you know, like “ooo, you wouldn’t catch me doin’ that” to which the natural (but withheld) reply would be “yes, I can see that you big fat fatty,” and “you look quite hot,” to which the natural reply would be, “why yes, thank you for noticing, darlin’” but which instead elicited a “you know it…it’s blistering hot out there,” because they do love to talk about the weather round these parts.
So, I finished my IPA quickly to beat the bell and went back out to the 5 degree C (41 F) drizzle and soldiered on.
This is a new topic heading to cover beers outside of the normal pub reviews. It will appear very occasionally as 1) I almost always note beers within the pub reviews and 2) not so many really knock my socks off or on-the-other-hand are especially horrible.
The Jolly Brewers in Milton have new ownership and have reopened so I decided to run there after work and grab a beer then catch the bus as it trundles through at 6:25, but the new ownership opens the doors at 6 and I didn’t want to wait 15 minutes just to be in a hurry, so I walked over to the White Horse and had a fantastic ale called Hophead.
Amber in colour, the flavour and aroma remind me of that first draw on an old marijuana pipe that hasn’t been used for a couple of years, after packing with some crystalline Northern Lights or Sneeuwe Witje but before touching a flame to it. Floral and evocative as that is, it drinks fairly easily and is dry to the point of astringence. Oh, the years past come flooding back to me with maudlin urgency, crying out for a trip to Amsterdam or at least to Brixton High Street. Good beer, seek it out.
The run from Littleport ended with me facing a 45 minute wait for my bus from Ely, so I trotted over to the Fountain which completes my dance card for Ely. I had avoided the place at night because there always seem to be some hoodlum kids hanging out on the green out front but I realise after visiting that these are probably posh kids escaped from the King’s School dormitories and no threat at all.
The young bartenders (perhaps a couple, perhaps the proprietors) were especially friendly to all and the place had a very nice vibe to it, like the folks in there may come out of their way to spend a little time in the joint even if they don’t especially fancy a drink. I, on the other hand, fancied a Budvar (the original Budweiser).
After changing into some dry clothes in the gents, I settled into the barber chair near the window and red the front section of the Gaurdian. The flow of conversation was animated in the groups of other customers and I listened in, but it was obvious that these conversations started weeks or even years ago and that points of reference necessary for admission were missing from my conversational pocketbook. Fair enough, I’ll be back.