Archive for December 2009
Christmas holidays bring out the cook in me, so on Christmas morning while prepping some smoked salmon and scrambled eggs I was dismayed that the bottled gas for my stove ran out. I immediately cleared a path to the BBQ–which has a hob–and used it for the rest of the weekend. Always good to have a backup…and Jamie had the clear mind to bring me a glass of champagne whilst I froze standing over the congealing eggs.
Parboiling some veg
One thing I miss here is Martha White corn bread mix, but after much effort we tracked down some yellow cornmeal at a health food store and were able to fashion some cornbread for stuffing the goose. Along with the goose and stuffing, we managed to roast some carrots, parsnips, and bok choy (which is called pak choi here). The parsnips were an especially good surprise; we have never had them and they have an almost sweet taste and a texture like a perfectly cooked potato…fluffy and light.
The one other cooking treat during the break was finding this beef roast at the market in Ely. A few months back, I wrote briefly about the cows grazing on the Grantchester Meadows and on the Midsomer Commons. This delicious morsel came from one of those and almost made the frequent mess on my shoes the last 6 months worth it all. Mooooo!
Finally, I added a term to the food lexicon over the break. You know those pistachios that either won’t open or when they do open don’t have a nut inside? From now on these are to be known as piss-take-ios (this works better if you know brit slang and use the Italian pronounciation of pistachio):
I have never seen the White Lion open and kind of assumed it was out of business but as it turns out they just don’t open during the day. So when I ran past and it slowly registered that the curtains were open I looped back and tried the door only to find about 8 guys in there standing around with beers and looking, sounding and acting like movie hoodlums. Cool, I thought and ordered a Fosters.
The owner told me they usually don’t open during the day but he did it as a special favour to these guys as it is Christmas. That worked out for me and I took a few minutes to take in the sparse, furniture free room…there was another room but this one definitely seemed geared away from items usable as weapons. So, it was only mildly funny when the 9th guy shows up with a pool cue case and one of the original 8 says, “Oi! Yer ain’t supposed to bring the shot gun in ‘ere!” As I lean out from the bar and look at the thing now leaned against my stool, the owner says, “they’re just takin’ the piss, it’s just a pool cue.” “S’alright with me either way, I’m from America.”
The Chequers was packed. It appeared that everyone in any of the businesses nearby had decided to start Christmas early and start boozing (and eating…there’s a fantastic menu here) early.
I was still damp from the run and it was still below freezing outside so I took my Woodfordes Nelson to a cubby at the end of the bar where an excess chair was stored next to the napkins and condiments. A bartender reached over and handed me a copy of the G2 (the little “fluff” section of the Guardian) to read, which was much appreciated. I visited with the house dog for a few moments but didn’t want to cool down too much as I still had a few miles to go to get back to my bus stop so I left the crowd…but it does me good to see a pub doing so well.
After a jog across a frozen field and an unsure run on an icy lane leading to the Whittlesford rail station, a ginger few steps across the pedestrian overpass deposits you at the ancient Red Lion Inn. Inside the large bar area, the atmosphere is warm and cozy.
The beer choices were just Adnams on this visit, but I think the draw to the pub is mainly that it is adjacent to the rail station, it houses a large (and I suspect very nice) hotel and conference center, and it appears to be the local for this midsized village. The bar keep was friendly and tipped me off that the Chequers (my next stop) was open all day so I needn’t rush. So, I didn’t.
The Bees in the Wall is a nice roadside tavern that I get the feeling was a coaching inn in days past. I read about it in the Good Beer Guide a few months ago (there really are bees in the wall, but they aren’t very active when the outside temperature is a little below freezing), but I have also seen reviews that the staff is surly and the service poor. Don’t believe it!
Shrine to hops and football, I think
I was poured a beautiful pint of Henry’s IPA not thirty seconds after I opened the door to the Public Bar (the Lounge/Dining section was packed with folks finishing a late lunch). Because of my ridiciulous attire (sweat pants and a long sleeve tee shirt in this blistering cold, and sweat and steam pouring from my head at that), I wound up having a helpful conversation about the other pubs I wanted to hit on this run and the best routes to use considering the snow and ice.
Whittlesford is a bit remote, but if you do find yourself down this part of the county you could do worse than dropping in here.
There were some opportunities to run in some pretty wintry scenery the week leading up to Christmas. On one occasion I caught the bus to Sawston and followed the paths (they are still apparent even under 4 inches of crunchy powder) out to Whittlesford, a few miles east. I did get lost but I think that had less to do with the snow than with me starting on a different path than I intended; the security gaurds at the paper plant I trudged up to were especially helpful, though and sent me on a much nicer path than I had originally planned, crossing a couple of creeks and coming up behind an ancient church via the cemetary. The route, in total, was 8.5 miles but I had some typical refreshment stops planned (more on those to follow).
The ice became treacherous as the week wore on, though, and this was the last good day for running of this sort until after boxing day, although I did get approximately 3 miles in after picking up our Christmas goose at our butcher in Cottenham. It was already dark and I went up every street but the right one, it appears, trying to find the Waggon and Horses. The 5 kg goose packed in its cardboard coffin and the glazed streets and pavements put me at about 11-12 minutes per mile pace, but it was fun, got me warm and killed as much time as I would have done at the pub.
Proud of their monarch and proud of their bus shelter!
Somewhere in my attic, and I’ll scan it when I find it after the move, I have a Cristmas card scrawled in this pathetic bastard’s crippled scrawl that he sent from Murfreesboro Tennessee in 1984 or 1985, with the above inscription in crayon:
As he said to me a few days after a mutual friend blew his head all over a bedroom wall in Griffin Georgia, “I guess he just couldn’t cut it.”
Vic Chesnutt–whose only talent appeared to be milking his paralysis for a rudimentary amount of fame (most famous quote I can remember, “you can’t do this to me…I’m a cripple,” led me to believe that the first phrase we should learn in a foreign language is “you can’t do this to me I’m an American”).
Like his most recent, and final, adventure he attained the endowed Pity Fuck Chair in the Department of Athens Musicology, Flagpole College, 40 Watt University, by a failed suicide attempt at the end of a night of drinking especially heavily two nights before I left for the Army in 1983 (by driving his car into a ditch and not the apparent target, a manufactured home just inside Hwy 19/41 on his way “home”).
Not very talented, and spouting juvenile lyrics built around a likewise manufactured mystique as thin and transparent as a colostomy bag, he finally has completed the act. That so many talented musicians flocked to play on the stage with him still baffles, and you could often get them to play up to their potential (leaving their little Ironsides in the performance dust) by heckling Vic. Like now.
RIP, or whatever, go fuck yourself. Here are some more, early obituaries.
NewYork Times (official obit will appear in a day or so)
I couldn’t feel my toes; this wasn’t so much due to the cold (although that contributed) as it was the shriveled state they were in after an hour running in puddles and snow drifts (interrupted for half an hour to sit without drying in a pub along the way). I need a break and the White Hart looked inviting.
Once again, food seemed to be the object of this pub, although they were very friendly to the damp vagrant with the steaming head that came in for a Becks Vier (lager mood, and their ale selection was weak anyway).
The snow started again and I felt like I could relax, only having to catch the bus at my leisure in a short while but the bar was closing as it was the end of the lunch hours and I wound up having a short conversation about the relative virtues of turkey versus goose for Christmas. The bartender seemed to like turkey for its convenience and price but I countered that all you need is a cricket bat and a few slices of bread to drive the goose price much lower than market rates. The conversation became uneasy soon after that and I slipped off to change into my dry clothes and moved on to get a delicious doner kebab down the street.
Roughly a pound of lamb doner, a handfull of salad, some chilli sauce and a pita make a "small" doner kebab
The wind was to my back or to my left as I started first south then east through Godmanchester and then into the Hemingfords. Not a quarter mile out of the Market Inn, though, I was in a field that was under a couple of inches of water and the snow had started to fall as well. Shit. I should get about half the run done, I thought, then settle in someplace cozy for a warmer…yeah, that’s it.
3 out of 8 miles in this much water, another mile in deeper stuff...shit
The snow slowed a bit and I spotted the Axe and Compass in Hemingford Abbots and felt like the coincidence of half distance and coziness was too much to pass up and dragged my soaked and shivering self in for a beer.
Although it looked a proper bar, I got the distinct feeling that food was the big draw here with well dressed patrons enjoying mounds of very appetising fare. No worries, though, as the beer was especially tasty (Bateman’s seasonal Rosey Nosey, which tasted a bit like XXXB, but that’s alright as well).
I lingered a half hour and then the cook came out and told the barmaid it looked like a white Christmas was on its way, pointing out the window to the blizzard that had since settled in. I drank up and headed back out and in five minutes the snow was 2 inches deep (but by the time I reached St Ives via some more soggy sheep fields most of it had melted again).
Still not sure about the run in the cold and threatening snow after the bevvy in front of the Falcon I ducked into the Market Inn, a warm and very friendly pub down an alleyway nearby. Inside, I was able to peruse my map to decide on a route, have a nice chat with a middle aged couple about their daft antics whilst Christmas shopping over the years, and enjoyed a lovely Jingle Bellies ale (from Potbelly Brewery).
The pub is easy to get lost in, stitched together as it is from several 400-year-old cottages. And, it’s easy to stay in and stare out the stained glass panels in the windows and warm your feet by one of the fires. And, the barkeeper was all warm smiles and delightful.
The snow started as I finished the brew, but I hadn’t been out for a run in days (in bed with a fever and flu symptoms) so I decided to buck up and get out on my way. Very good pub, though, and they seemed to think I would be right back (and I will, just not so soon as they thought).
The Falcon looks fantastic. It is a little, narrow building on the Market Square in Huntingdon and I was really disappointed to see it closed. Fortunately I was able to get a lukewarm Carling at the post office and enjoy a pre-run beverage in the cold (’twas windy and 28 deg F/ -2 C). RIP
In Britain, they bet on everything. You can slap a fiver on the bar at a pub and bet on the colour of the scarf of the next person through the door and someone in there will walk away with a fist full of cash soon thereafter. The betting parlours were running a line on the next Dr. Who, recently. This week it is all White Christmas…the weather has had the bookies in a lather over the odds the last few days, but here is a screen shot of the latest line:
Click on the photo for more details:
The Mirror, of course, pursues the story with its regular level of dignity (bless ‘em):
Man, I love the papers here….
New job approaches and I need to change my work status which means applying for a new work permit and Leave To Stay. The new form is a bit simpler than the previous one but still has its wee hurdles (mostly gathering documentation, but I’m on top of all that).
A sad comment on society (or sad comments, as it were) is the series of questions about past illegal activities (the “have you ever been a member of or supported” kind of thing). First off, if someone had been involved in genocide it isn’t likely to be something they were going to admit. Secondly, the definitions page (attached with the “Rehabilitation of Offenders” notice redacted for brevity but all available by tracking down the Tier 2 application at the UK Border Agency) is somewhat surreal and seems to implicate many of my elected (more-or-less) leaders in the past:
Well, my forms are filled in honestly and ready to go as soon as our passports are returned by the DVLA (verification of our identies for new drivers’ licenses). Fortunately, public nudity is neither against the law here (some stipulations apply) nor is considered the sort of evidence of moral turpitude that concerns the Home Office.
The Ozzy is now open days. The Christmas shoppers and seasonal office drinkers were too tempting and the bar has decided to tap this market. I stopped in with a half mile remaining to return to work from a cold and dreary run and was cheered to find the place open before 6 and even more cheered to find that it is as divey as it has always appeared. Only lagers and fizzy cider on tap that day but I spotted at least one ale pump and besides the Flying Pig is less than 5 meters away if you really want the ale.
On this visit, there was a pole and a fenny shooting snooker and the hungover bartender (from Essex or London, maybe) keeping the place tidy. A suit walked in with a Nigerian accent and downed a Stella in a little less than two minutes and still seemed to slip in some chat about the 2010 World Cup brackets.
I took a bit longer with my Fosters to let my body temperature cool a bit so my glasses would stop fogging up while reading the many humourous ‘Proud to be British’ flyers (“because it’s the only country where you can get a pizza delivered faster than an ambulance will arrive” was one of the reasons; I pointed this out and mentioned that while cabdriving in Atlanta I occasionally got calls to pick someone up going to the Emergency Room (that’s A&E, for you brits) at Grady Hospital because they lived in shitty neighbourhoods that ambulances normally would take their time to go to (and that about half the time these folks had severe lacerations or gunshot wounds). “Ah, yeah, but that’s America, innit?”
Another good reason to be British, I guess.
We came out of the Stepney Green tube station onto Mile End Road near the campus of Queen Mary University and were looking for something to eat besides kebabs and curry when we spotted the Half moon, built into the former Young People’s Theatre which also appears to have been a church at some point in the past. It is a Wetherspoons pub which means the food won’t be anything special but it will be edible and reasonably (even cheaply) priced.
Front bar, taken from Wetherspoon's page
There was a front bar that appeared to be packed with old timers and professional drinkers all shooting the shit and a larger area where there were mostly diners. I had a really lovely pint of licorice stout from the seasonal beer lines but didn’t note the name and now it eludes me. It was well tasty, but as a seasonal it will be gone by the end of the Xmas holidays so it doesn’t really matter.
Floor to ceiling windows on outdoor seating
We needed directions to an address that was down a couple of alleyways in the byzantine streetscape of this part of the East End and the floor staff didn’t know where it was, but the bartender overheard and between the endless pints she seemed to be working was able to direct us to within a few feet of the door we were looking for. Say what you want about Wetherspoon’s pubs, but the staff tends to be helpful and competent, the beer varied and properly served and the prices much more palatable than most other pubs you might find.
The London Santa Run was Saturday, was fun, the weather was great and it is now over. Most of us were slowed by the uncomfortable racing attire so my slow performance was still not too bad (72 out of 1743 overall):
During the run, an old favourite Xmas song popped into my head (probably as this was the first race in years in which I hadn’t partied to the wee hours and had to run hungover). I incorporated it into the video, below, without consulting the Drive-by Truckers but I hope it sells them some copies of it (or, better, copies of the Flagpole Christmas Album from 1996, copies still floating around on Ghostmeat Records):
The Rose looks like a roadhouse and I’ve passed it by on the bus and on runs a few times thinking it was close enough that I could just run down sometime at my leisure and have lunch. Now that I am close to relocating out of the area I decided to go ahead and tick this one off the list. I left the Tally Ho and nearly sprinted the remaing 3 miles in the waning sunlight to the Rose.
Sweaty, disheveled (as is my way) and out of breath, I was confronted by two doors; to the left was one marked Lounge and to the right Lounge and Restaurant. Not wanting to cause offense at what appeared on close inspection to be an upscale gastro pub, I opted for the Lounge, only, and found all the tables grouped to sit two parties of 6 women each. “Are you the stripper?” at least two of them shouted as I started to leave and try my luck on the other side. “I can be,” I answered to hoots but no serious offers of cash…hey, 20 quid is 20 quid, but I only wander around naked for free on my own terms.
The other side was huge and there were some actual drinkers in the bar, talking about diabetes treatment. I opted to enjoy an Aspall’s Cyder and read the local “what’s on” magazine. One of the drunks at the bar started hitting on the 19-year-old chef, and the former eastern block waitresses came to his rescue, telling the woman that he was young enough to be her son. I finished up and headed back out, stopping to tap on the window and wave to my fans.
I tried the Tally Ho in March while nursing a broken bone in my foot, but they wouldn’t let me bring in a sandwich even though the kitchen was closed down for repairs so I left for the Unicorn. Several times since I’ve tried to drink there on the return trip from a run but the door was locked (before 3pm, but maybe they close at 2?).
So I was happy and surprised to find the place open on the fine sunny afternoon we had Friday. I had some particularly long days this week and decided to cut out early for a run and found the place not only open but hopping, with 6 guys crowded around the bar, the cook wandering in and out (they have reopened the kitchen), and with a bunch of chinese snapping pictures and taking measurements (hopefully this doesn’t mean a conversion from bar to restaurant).
I enjoyed a Greene King 1209, a limited time brew celebrating the 800th anniversary of the founding of University of Cambridge and which tasted very similar to IPA. The bartender said they were trying to rid themselves of it as they had a seasonal ale for Christmas ready to go in the basement, hence the £2.00 price tag. Not one to complain, I relaxed near the jukebox and debated whether I should help the guy out who was searching for a Gwen Steffani song but getting no search results because he was spelling it Staffani. I split the difference and waited until I was ready to take up the trail again and only then tipped him off to his spelling problem.
The time for submission of applications has closed, but the advert is still up as of today:
In the event it is taken off, and since I’m sure there are many who would be interested in just what sort of educational and research opportunities are available in the UK I took the initiative to take a screen shot of the advert:
I’m sure research related expenses are fully covered, such as field research in Soho and travel to meet fellow researchers in Amsterdam. (The image isn’t really high resolution, but you can zoom in on the advert on another page if you click on it.)