Archive for May 2011
I was one of the first to sign up for this year’s Bupa London 10K and at the time (last June) I would have been able to honestly list a predicted finish of about 40 minutes. So it was especially thrilling to find that I was in the absolute last starting wave to be released. Here we are at the start 8 minutes after Mo Farah finished his interview as the winner:
The best thing about starting at the back of a really enormous race is the opportunity to walk. Sorry, necessity to walk…slowly. Things broke up a bit after the first half mile and I was able to jog a little, still dodging the fat and hopeless and those too wrapped up in themselves to yield space for others. The organisers of these things always make the claim that chip timing gives an accurate measure of performance, but by the time I looped back under Blackfriar’s Station (about 7.5 km into the fiasco) I wasn’t really interested in the sad performance likely to be turned in. Besides, I had easily already run 10K by crisscrossing between strolling chatters and several thousand actual runners. I needed a drink.
"Erm, the hare will be a bit late..."
The London Hash House Harriers were due to start their trail at noon, but knowing how habitually late hashers are I assumed (correctly) that I had time to make the start at the Blackfriars pub about 250 meters off to the north. I u-turned and found a bunch of them outside with the GM announcing that the hare was having to retool the trail due to the day’s festivities courtesy Bupa. Perfect…time for a beer.
It was a themed trail, their 2012th (hence the London 2012 copyright infringement) and also architectural in format with 30 churches built by Christopher Wren (on a map, here) to visit in order on the trail. This was fantastic, taking us through narrow passageways and into formal gardens and past dozens of pubs that look especially inviting (alas, almost all were closed on the holiday and usually closed on weekends as the City tends to be deserted out of business hours). A big fan of Wren’s work as a scientist (in spite of the scurrilous novel I’m working on about him), this was an especially exciting chance to see a bit of the architecture for which he’s more famous to the larger population.
Many of these were bombed and some are but ruins. The ones that survived include a bunch that are only used as public gardens. A german kid in the pack was accused of taking notes and coördinates to send back home for the next war, and when someone at circle asked who Wren was I said, “the guy that burned London,” as another guy across the circle yelled out, “he’s an arsonist!”
Ely Place...technically part of Cambridgeshire
The one ugly event that happened on trail was at the drink stop. Someone supplied rum and there were people (I shit you not) POURING COLA INTO IT. What the fuck is wrong with people? My god, this takes me back to the days of the cease-and-desist letter I received from my Senator for demanding a bill in Congress to penalise anyone who cretinously puts sweetened, carbonated beverages into fine liquors by removing their passport…America has enough public relations problems without allowing that sort abroad. I mean, the Brits tend to be a civilised lot and I wouldn’t think they came up with this on their own. Tasty rum, too.
The Steam Railway Company is really nice. You walk into a large bar only to find (at least) two others off the entrance. Packed to the gills on a Sunday afternoon with no one watching sport I only wish I had been there with someone I knew.
Sure, this may seem a non-eventful post for number 600 but I’m off to London in the morning for my birthday run/pub crawl (nothing like last year’s epic journey) and a hash with the London HHH. More to follow….
A planned trip to Bath was postponed due to the threat of rain (which ruins Shakespeare in a park) and illness. I felt fine, though, so made day 48 of the running streak a loop run uphill into Moredon and the Boundary House. It is tempting to count this one in the list of Red Lion’s but it changed its name to Boundary House some decades back. Anyway, it should be enough that it is pub number 599 in this journey.
Stopping in the light mist that had settled in to take these photos, some guy outside said, “they still won’t believe you.” “What? If you think they won’t believe I ran in the rain to get a beer, then you really don’t know my people.” He said something about knowing there was some sort of craic on when he saw me slow to a halt, but thirst and the warmth of the bar drew me in.
The place was packed just after noon and everyone had already chosen conversation partners so I was left with my 3B and some evesdropping. One old dude was banging on about red onions and how he dearly loved them sliced and in a bowl with some vinegar; apparently this is perfect munchy food for when your drinking. This is really worth a try, I think.
A couple blocks south of the Magic Roundabout lies the Merlin, a large neighbourhood pub with Greene King products. I found it by running from the White Hart and trying to get off the main roads (mostly unsuccessfully), but I don’t know that I would seek it out otherwise…it seems like the kind of place you go to after work with the colleagues, impersonal and unchallenging and laid out so that you can avoid strangers (but not escape them). The place is functional, but not at all exceptional.
This could change, though, if Greene King goes through with plans to close the Bulldog and their clientele are forced to find new digs. Keep tuned…things could liven up significantly.
All day at a seminar on scientific mapping for structural and metadata elucidation leaves one very thirsty…so thirsty in fact that a stop at a more-carvery-than-pub pub seemed warranted (also, I need to change into my running garb). The White Hart (location here) is friendly for all its enormity and focus on food, but most Arkells pubs are well run. I took my Wiltshire Gold outside and contemplated the route to run in the late Friday evening sun. Marvelous.
The Prince of Wales is a really attractive pub made of stone and with one midsized bar up front. I got away from work late enough that the house was open (opens at 6pm), but still early enough to take a half hour break between buses to enjoy a Wadworth Horizon and read the Advertiser. I met the chef here after a run earlier in the year (that time too early for the doors), and this time saw some of his work placed in front of some happy looking diners–and they should have been happy as the mounds of food looked and smelled great. The bartender was friendly, as were the customers; only complaint would be the odd choice of music which seemed a bit more appropriate to a rave.
Trying to hit my 600th pub before my birthday next weekend, I went the long way for my Sunday farmer’s market errand run. This took me to the Falcon Inn, a brilliant one room pub as you head west from the town centre. The barkeep was friendly and the couple of guys already in shooting pool were doing some proper drinking. Hooray!
The garden is sort of a poured concrete slab but functional to allow you some fresh air. I took my pint of Fullers Honey Dew out there to try and give it the benefit of the cool, sunny atmosphere but, nope, it still had almost no flavour at all. I guess this is a blessing…most honey flavoured ales are cloying and otherwise unpleasant but this was really sort of like coloured water. A good starter beer for the kiddies, but I wouldn’t seek it out.
Yesterday’s run was brutal, so I only planned 3 miles for this one. Conveniently, the Moonrakers is 1.5 miles up the hill from my house (so, after a pint I was able to run downhill to return).
This is a really large pub and for a Saturday afternoon it seemed packed and it was obvious that I was the only stranger. Had I stuck around, I’m sure I would have been drawn into one of the boisterous conversations but as I was mid run I just settled into watching the crowd and keeping up with the Northampton v. Leinster rugby match (the Heineken Cup, taken by Leinster who was 16 points down and then dominated the rest of the match).
Oh, trivia: Moonraker is a colloquial term for a native of Wiltshire.
The Lamb and Flag was dead so I spoke with the bartender (the only soul around). “It’s not really a drinkers’ pub,” he said as he charged me £4.80 for a pint of too cold ale and a small bag of crisps. I looked around and saw very comfortable surroundings but the only sort of loungy area in plain sight had plush leather chairs that would have suffered from my sweat soaked running attire. Outside, I enjoyed the breeze and sunshine and then headed out for the last leg of the run.
Day 40 of the running streak found me hobbling along the Thames towpath after an overland trek that started in Besselsleigh and continued through Appleton, then through a copse where I twisted my still recuperating arm and doubling myself over in a paroxysm of pain. The marina at the Rose Revived was a welcome sight as I sought a pint of anesthetic.
It is a bucolic setting in the shade adjacent to the 13th century New Bridge, the site of an important Civil War battle. You can just about imagine Charles’ troops mustering in the pub across the river while Cromwell’s men refueled here. Except there probably weren’t as many American businessmen stinking up the area as there were this day.
It is a huge venue, it seems geared more to food than drink, and the foreigner at the bar seemed less than friendly.
A great man once put together a Google Map of all the bars he had been in during his three years in Tucson, Arizona. This was an act of nostalgia that was also meant to serve as a logistical tool for hashers in the area. Following on from that idea, I have put together a similar map (links on the screen shots in this post and also on the sidebar of the blog).
The Oxford area
This may load slowly because, as of this writing, there are 593 pubs pushpinned to the map. If you want a faster loading version you can start with this link, with the adviso that only about 100 pubs at a time are displayed (there is a tab at the bottom of the list if you want to scroll through some not shown).
Use these if you like, however you like. The map should continue to grow so by the time any of you find a reason to visit this fair land, it will be increasingly likely that there will be a pub near your destination that has also been featured in this publication.
Swindon, my town
I wish I had this as a t-shirt
I mentioned the listings when I wrote about the Vic this morning, and I’ve been keeping a list of clever band names for bands that do their OWN music (my personal fave right now is Four Floors of Whores); there is a thriving music scene in Swindon and for such a small municipality there is a wealth of music equipment stores, instructional facilities and performance venues. Unfortunately, too many cover bands are crawling around (which all may be made up of very good musicians but the concept reminds me too much of veering off the Interstate and holing up in an airport bar listening to lounge acts until the psychedelics loosened their grip).
In contrast, tribute bands (especially the ones with members from real, non-pretend bands) can be a lot of fun (I direct your attention to the Beat Holes, once again). Looking over the listings for May 2011 in Swindon I found these:
Hi On Maiden
Are You Experienced
The Secret Police
Cash (trib to Johnny Cash)
The Floydian Doors
The Faux Fighters
Fred Hot Chili Peppers
Stone Donkey Pilots
We went to a “vintage fair” at the Victoria last Sunday, or maybe Saturday…weekend was a blur. It was essentially a crowded yardsale of clothes, household goods, and records from the 40′s to the 70′s (I found a good houndstooth coat but it was too small). The place was crowded with tables but I had a conversation with the record dealer who said the bands were pretty good and that the burleque is ‘mental.’ I finished my browsing early and retired to the upstairs (ground floor) bar to enjoy a Doom Bar, wonder about the “No Hat, No Drink from noon till 2″ sign, and to read the upcoming listings, a lot of cover bands but at least it is live music.
Hungry after skipping lunch Friday, I stopped in The Groves Company Inn for 6 wings and a Ruby Mild before heading off for my evening run. This place is pretty bleak…a cavern with about a dozen pensioners spread out staring silently off into space with their beverages stagnant before them. I shouldn’t be the youngest person in a cheap bar late on a Friday afternoon, a mistake I soon remedied by notching up day 33 of my running streak.
Que Pasa has great prices for pub food. However, in other pubs (yes, it is a Marston’s) they don’t fuck you on portions. I got a chicken and hummus pitta that used two strips of pita bread cut from the edge so that a single pita could serve 4…I measured the pita on my plate at a maximum of 2.1 cm wide (I had a micrometer on me as I came over for lunch from the lab). There were 8 “slices” of grilled chicken each of which were 3 – 3.5 cm long and 0.3 cm diameter; these were more like shoestring chicken bits than slices, but then again they would have unfairly competed with the tablespoon-sized pot of hummus had there been any more. I also have doubts about the full measure of my Fosters.
Update 2011-09-23 name change to Bell and Compass, but no other changes.
Another late evening, another kebab stand. Hassan parks just down from the White Horse and you can just about picture a drunk and definitely not stoned Bill Clinton staggering over for a large doner. The meat wasn’t especially good quality, but it’s a kebab, for chist sake, and the salad and chips were good. I’ve really got to get back on the earlier bus, though, or I’ll eat nothing but kebab stand food.
On a normal day I roll into work around 8:30 or 9 (most productive hour is before everyone else drags in) and leave from 4:30 to 6. A disadvantage is that the kebab and chip stands aren’t set up before I leave; so, I took advantage of the 8:30 escape on Monday and grabbed a pile of doner meat and chips at Hussain. Very friendly guys, and the chips are perfect. The doner–I can’t say lamb nor any other beast of Noah–was a bit cardboardesque but it usually is only a vector for the chilli sauce, anyway…and the sauce turned out runny and bland, but the salad was good. £2.80, near the Martyr’s Monument just down from the Bird and Baby.
Had some evening work to do so got my run in during lunch…long hill repeats at Headington, a misery. A quick change to a dry shirt and I was ready to eat lunch so popped into the White Horse ( a Hungry Horse pub with a cheap burger and beer special). It took fucking ages to get my burger, but it wouldn’t have been as tough, chewy and unrecognisable as a burger had they skimped on time. This piece of leather was complemented by a stale bap and when I asked for a napkin and some mustard, my hostess disappeared for another 5 minutes probably lost in the nearly empty and, yet, cavernous house. The Foster’s was cold and served dutch-style, with an inch of head. Tsk (similar reviews stretch back for years here).
So I had a good beer about 1/10th of a mile into the run, but my goal right now is to get my stamina back to the point that I can do a 20 miler whilst pausing for pints at 6 or 7 pubs along the way so I am trying to avoid too many runs that turn into pub crawls. However, as a fully fledged acolyte of the Church of Beavis and Butthead I could not pass by this sign:
The last time I ran this route it was raining and I was wearing glasses with a massive scratch on one lens from a foul tip in a batting cage in Tucson. I simply went right past the place. You can surely excuse the fact that I should have SENSED the name when I point out that the pint of Royal Wedding Sapphire I had cost £3.20 despite it being a week after the wedding (this stuff has a shelf life) and that this fairly standard highway inn is truly shit.
Starting my 26th consecutive daily run of more than 3 miles (in this case, 9.2 miles) at the bottom of a steep hill was more challenging than any I have done since the wreck. This would normally seem a pity, a shame even, but I caught my breath with a pint of 3B at the Curriers Arms and while my dignity may not have remained intact (those that know me well, this is a good place to catch your own breath after the hearty laugh at the miniscule scale to which I am applying this euphemism), I had a nice little rest whilst watching a riveting episode of Countdown with my host. He is quite eager to try out Filthy Scrabble with his mates ( aversion I used to play in Atlanta years back wherein you get double points for any innuendo, triple for outright obscenities). Try it at your next nerd party.