If there were just a few more people that spoke the truth the way Doug Stanhope does, quite a few of us social exiles would feel like returning to the States. Here’s his weekly commentary from Newswipe, a BBC news analysis programme:
Archive for February 2010
Jamie had some stuff to post and when she got the stamps and saw what they were, said, “hey…give me another one of those.” The Royal Mail has been putting out a number of these with great rock album covers (Never Mind the Bollocks was NOT on the shortlist for a sticky back with the Queen’s head on it). But, this is just another good omen of the move and the change of residence and I couldn’t have been more pleased with a 39p gift. Bless her.
We are slowly getting settled into our new house in Bicester. Smaller by about half and younger by about 250 years than our place in Stretham it is still fairly nice and not at all a bad change. The buildings in the neighbourhood are all less than 20 years old, but we do have a local pub (The Nightingale…all the streets are named after bird breeds, too), a surgery, chinese takeaway, grocery (Tesco), and copious foot and cycle paths cutting through the parkland the houses surround. It is about a ten minute stroll to the center of Bicester where a dozen or so other pubs exist. A running club (the Alchester RC which I will shortly join since affiliation will greatly reduce my paperwork for the Firenze Marathon this year) meets in town Thursdays for a long run and in my neighbourhood Tuesdays for speed work. There is a hash here as well, the oldest continuously running one in the country (Bicester HHH).
None of these amenities have been taken advantage of by yours truly as of this writing. The move and concomitant culling of possessions have taken up our precious little spare time and I stepped back into work a bit more busy than I have been in over a month (but still not even nearly at capacity, thankfully). The week ahead should be a bit better and I am certain the pub count and some serious mileage are on the near horizon…I had a lousy 22 miles last week, largely sprints to stores and slow, purchase laden jogs back home, lost in our twisty neighbourhood streets and I haven’t been to a pub in 9 days.
I DID find a number of signs and such that made me giggle in that sort of immature way that some things just Do, like this:
The Pilgrim’s Progress is another giant, interesting building taken over by the BEST cutrate pub chain in the world, Wetherspoons. I had fifteen minutes to kill before my X5 bus back to Cambridge would arrive and I dashed down from the bus station for a quick pint of a wheat beer (for less than two quid) that I stupidly did not note the name or brewery of. The place was full of the unemployed and unemployable as well as a large contingent of folks in for the cheap food and drink at lunchtime. No really good notes to share except that it seems like a lot of otherwise devout looking muslims were lifting pints that day.
The last instrument from Cambridge was packed up at 9:55 and on the road to Oxford at 10:15. This facilitated my escape to Great Barford where I changed into running kit, and dashed along the River Great Ouse paths with sun and snow and a freezing 20 mph wind in my face by 11:00. A relatively short run of just over 8 miles showed me a bit of very nice parkland along bike paths and then some even nicer river walk area right on out to the far western stretch of Bedford. A loop back through a heavily immigrant neighbourhood that seemed more (or should I say “moor”) like the Sarphatistraat in Amsterdam than anywhere I’ve seen in Britain dumped me on a busy street with this tantalisingly pagan sight just ahead:
If this was a pub, I would not be able to resist and I was drawn to the golden calf like so many others before me that have wandered the wastelands countless years on end and then… BUGGER! No pub for me! But, just across the street was what surely must be the brewery tap for Wychwood Brewery (one of my favourites), the Hobgoblin. In I went to the smell of stale beer and even more stale human funk; this seemed so much the better when I realised that the entire venue was only populated by me, the manager, and an almost too young to be out alone bartender. I felt quite at home.
The bar was impressively dark wood and brass and the bartender was carefully polishing the brass with some pungent solvent when he noticed me. I pointed to one of the several pumps that separated us and asked him what was on and he replied, “all we have on tap is Strongbow and Fosters.” Fuck me. That’s when I noticed the poster for some Metallica (I guess) tribute band and the fact that the sparse furnishings were ideal for a rock and roll bar. Shit!
I downed the Fosters pretty quickly and went to the loo upstairs to change into my street clothes. On the way down I noticed the poster that would have tipped me off so much earlier: TWAT Club…Tuesday Wednesday And Thursday drink specials. Hobgoblin…more like Knob Gobblers, I think.
I started my last week at Cambridge with five days of vacation remaining (and they don’t pay you for unused holiday time); so I spent a couple of afternoons going out for some long runs to extend my map coverage in my “Run Across Britain.” One day involved a train ride to Stansted Mountfitchet and a run south along highways (but with good pedestrian access) through Bishop’s Stortford, Sawbridgeworth, and then along the River Stort tow path into Harlow and past its station. I had bravely and uncharacteristically passed by many interesting pubs to cover the 14-odd miles and found my only option at that end to be the Moorhen, a Green King house.
It was a big house geared toward dining, or at least toward food, anyways. It had the suspicious character of a tourist restaurant, not much better than a Denny’s in the states but better kitted out with fairly comfortable cushiony chairs and windows on the river and car park. There is a children’s amusement area and kids are actually welcome till 9 pm (!!!). But, they had some interesting beers on offer and I had some seasonal something or other that I have lost the name of but was particularly good: something Green King put out with a rugby theme name.
Okay, there was one bright spot: they have, sold by the pint: fried scampi, chicken wings, chicken fingers, brownies, chips, and onion rings…buy any combination of four and get a fifth pint of crappy shit free. I do love Essex.
Out on the A43 a little northeast of Brackley, the Green Man appears to be an old pub attached to a cheap hotel. It is part of the Chef and Brewer chain and I figured this would be a good place on our way back to Cambridgeshire after the final stress filled day of moving house to Bicester (we also endured a hellish stop by the Milton Keynes Ikea to pick up an office chair, a dresser and some bookshelves).
Inside, it really is an old pub with nooks and snugs appearing every ten feet or so along its immense length. Old beams and fireplaces are everywhere and even though there were dozens of patrons in there it seemed relatively empty where we were. This is really a beautiful bar and it is really a shame that it is way out on the highway as it seems like it could be the focal point of the community if it were even an easy walk from town or village.
I had a really good lamb burger with tsatsiki sauce and a chili and tomato chutney and felt revived. The Abbot ale didn’t hurt, either.
Day two of moving house found us sore, tired and famished on our way back to Cambridgeshire. I had spotted the Bure Farm pub on the way in with today’s load of furnishings and books and decided to stop in on our way out.
Something of a family restaurant, kind of like a Shoney’s Big Boy with a bar, the food was nothing special but not bad at all. The place is a Marstons pub, like the Monkfield Arms in Cambourne, and like it does not really have the feel of a pub…it is more of a dining establishment than a place to come in for a bit of chat and serious drink. I think Jamie had a chicken and bacon salad and I don’t remember at all what I had, so the food is exactly that impressive.
That said, the ale line up was very good with at least 6 to choose from. There were bottles of wine for £5.99 as well. I had a pint of Dirty Tackle (“A Fistfull of Flavour”) largely because the name is juvenile and the tag-line made me laugh but I would have it again; it was floral and not very bitter but hoppy enough and the foam settled much like that in a good stout (in spite of the light amber colour).
There was a bus back to cambridge in 20 minutes but I was hungry and fancied some doner and chips and figured I could catch the one in 50 minutes and also fit in a beer. And, across from the kebab place there was the Royal Exchange waiting for me at #69 High Street with a pint of Abbot. Bless ‘em.
Sitting there, I saw a couple of boys walk past and one flipped the V at the kebab guy and that made me laugh. Then, of course, in they came and started tossing darts as I finished my beverage and walked across for my snack, turning back to wave at them through the window. Good kebab, too.
Haverhill is pretty large and I found myself trying to spot the bus station as I ran through the market in the light rain, laden with my backpack and sweating profusely in the freezing wind. I figured I had time for a beer and popped into the Queen’s Head just ahead of another guy dressed more appropriately and not so sweaty. “You beat me here,” he said as we reached the bar then to the ten or so others, “I saw this guy coming across a field back at Horseheath.”
“Hooray!” said some, and at least one other gave me a “fuckin’ ‘ell, what’d yer do tha’ fer?”
“I had a hankering for a beer, don’t y’know,” I said, lifting the delicious Suffolk County Best. The conversation fell almost immediately into tales of wasted abandon overseas with everyone of them having stories of getting barred somewhere in Portugal or Spain (and every story corroborated by someone else in the bar with a “oh, aye, yeah I remember that trip.”
So, I would highly recommend hitting this bar mid afternoons and trying to find a drinking buddy for a local pub crawl. Friendly and with a high potential for getting out of control, the regulars here are tops in my book.
Five minutes into a run up a moderate hill and I wasn’t sure if I was lost or not but I was sure a beer would not go unwelcomed and popped into the Waggon and Horses. A cookery show was on the tele and I asked the landlord what was going on in the program; “oh, some fucking shit, I reckon.” I turned my attention to the beer and a conversation with the only other patron about usury interest rates on credit cards.
The pub is pretty nice, and I think there is a big back room besides the small front bar. The pair wished me luck on the run as I left somewhat bolder than I entered.
More mud and unmelted snow–unmelted because it was fucking cold–blighted the run from Witchford to Witcham on Sunday but all was righted by a big bowl of warm pork scratchings and a pint of Oakham Tera at the White Horse. The place was packed and even more were arriving behind me and each of them greeted by at least half the assembled crowd. This is a real community pub and the web site is even maintained by the local council.
The Tera was ordered on suggestion from one guy down the end of the bar and the scratchings sent down by his mate. “They put these out for the bar after the roast is gone.” Sublime, not too salty and not at all chewy but rather crisp and light; I roasted a pork shoulder the day before and the scratchings were tasty but you could have mended shoes with pieces of them. The Tera was floral and light and perfect for a mid-run break, although the anime pump clip did put me off; there were at least 10 other ales lined up and ready to go once the 3 on offer ran dry at the taps.
Oh, yeah, this was the 300th pub I’ve visited since moving here. Cheers!
A longish run from Histon to Rampton (where the Black Horse wasn’t open for a few more hours…shit!) and on to Cottenham (where the Waggon and Horses would open in another 20 minutes but it was too cold to wait outside with wet feet and only a few miles to close the loop…shit!) and on back to Histon to the King William IV.
I arrived at KW4 just after the Friday lunch rush had departed and there was no one at the bar; I could hear the staff in the kitchen having a chat and for a few–quite a few in fact–minutes considered putting mouth to tap and filling up then stealthily slipping out the door, but I’m still on my “ethics and other good behaviour” New Year Resolution (shit!) and opted to wave at them once I found an angle where we could see one another.
I had a Kingstone Press Cider, which was especially refreshing after the snow flurry laden run, and chatted about the unusual hours kept at the King Bill. I’ve been trying to hit this pub for a few months but I always seemed to catch it closed in the past. Very nice venue, though, and a friendly and very young staff for such a traditional house.
The menu looks especially tantalising although I’m not too sure about the item in the lower left corner; have they stuffed a wee dog with sausage, potatoes and onion gravy and, if so, does the RSPCA know about this? Not much on the board for your vegetarian mates, but the haggis is very tempting.
I claimed at some point in the blog’s history that I would not enter a chain pub…like All-Bar-One or The Snug. Okay, fine. It was the end of a long and stressful moving week for the lab and I made such a scene at the Panton (fuck the Panton) last time that we had to go somewhere else and lo and behold there was the Snug equidistant from the doors.
The food was okay (delivered efficiently, as ordered, and frankly my lamb burger with tzatziki sauce was delicious). The Czech lager was cold and eventually found its way to the table. And, the company is always pleasant. I still wouldn’t go out of my way to get here for a drink, but the food is better than the average pub grub.