Archive for June 2011
Faced with the choice between the circuitous but flat return along the canal path or the more direct route over the hill and through Old Town, I opted for the hill. In the heat I was nearly broken as it crested, and so I popped in for another quick break at the Pig on the Hill (note that Swindon is a form of ‘swine’ and ‘down’ or ‘pig hill’). The interior was a bit nicer than many pubs and the building was cool inside due to its thick-walled construction (I believe this used to be a bank). But, there was some shade outside as well and the warm breeze was welcome.
At a nearby table, I overheard some guy saying that a work mate didn’t treat him very well and then one of the women with him saying that he sounded like a “whiny woman.” This sounded familiar so I had to look and when I did the guy looked like Fatty from Tucson and, in fact, I would imagine that this conversation they were having could easily have been one of his (and his companions were of the right attitude and, erm, proportions). So, Fatty, if you’re out there, here’s your “separated at birth” long lost English brother.
It was the first reasonably hot day of the year, humid after several days rain and pushing 86 F (30 C)…I know that’s pleasant springtime weather back in God’s country, but I’ve become soft after 2.5 years on the temperate island. I had a 75 minute run scheduled, though, and headed off down the old canal path and out toward Wroughton. Pulling into the village centre, the heat had really depleted me and I scouted both sides of the street for a pub.
The Brown Jack looked abandoned from a distance, but I noticed the door ajar and ran up to it. Inside it was jumping with a crowd around the bar and another around the snooker table. They had Doom Bar on the pumps (result!) and it seemed quite cold but that may have just been relative. It was perfectly refreshing, though, and the crowd seemed welcoming considering some mad bastard had just come in from the fields covered in gnats and sweating profusely and generally stinking up the place.
It is a long trip from Swindon to Liverpool and we arrived hungry. Jackie had been sick for a few days and didn’t feel up to a lot of pedestrian tourism, either, so we dropped our bag at the hostel and headed out in search of food. Unfortunately, most places are only open limited hours for lunch and it was already 2 o’clock by the time we dove into the Dispensary only to find they don’t serve food at all. They did, however, recommend a real gem around the corner.
The Roscoe Head has been in every Good Beer Guide ever published, one of only 10 pubs remaining that can make that claim (and I understand why it is so–perfect little backstreet local if ANY has ever deserved such a title). There were 5 ales on when we walked in and I called up a Raging Bull (Elgood) that was perfect with my Cumberland Pie (homemade and delicious), chips and peas. Jackie had the same for food and a glass of wine, the lot costing us only £11.
We dined in one of the snugs that makes up this old bar and watched the constant stream of locals that came through. The landlady was a hoot and all were especially friendly, which makes me think they either aren’t exposed to too many tourists or they might have been at the bar since opening. Fortified and refreshed, we then headed out onto the architectural tourism trail.
Liverpool is very nice and I think it may become one of my favourite cities worldwide. There were aspects that reminded me of my all time fave, Chicago–good local music scene, populated waterfront, recognisable neighbourhood demarcations, a pride in their Liverpudlianess akin to the pride Chicagoans take in their citizenship, and an amusing and parochial accent. To a lesser extent it also reminded me a bit of Athens Georgia, Austin Texas, and the Hague. Too cool.
Billy Fury near the Albert Docks
The funniest thing I spotted was probably only funny to me…the Liverpool School of English: students from all over the world coming here to learn english from scousers has got to have some of the most surreal results possible. If you don’t know what I’m on about, try googling English/Scouse translations (and don’t forget that everything that requires animation in the delivery must be said two to three octaves higher in pitch).
We did a National Trust tour of Mendips (John Lennon’s childhood home) and the Forthlin Road council house that Paul McCartney spent his adolescence in. The couple that gave the two tours actually reside in Mendips and had very inciteful prepared lectures on the formative years the boys experienced and neat tidbits of their respective family lives. Paul’s place was pretty nice for council housing, but John’s Aunt Mimi really lived the middle class dream (aside from taking in student lodgers, of course). I know I must have kept muttering, “working class hero, my ass,” but no one else seemed to notice.
Sir Paul’s boyhood home
The two clock towers in the background are parts of the Liver building (LYE-verr) on top of which you’ll spot the Liver birds, the city’s emblem which appear everywhere. Refurbishment of the quays making up the Albert and Queen’s Docks goes on and while a bit touristy it has resulted in the reopening of the highest concentration of listed (ie, architecturally important) buildings in the country.
The Cathedral was finished in the 1970′s and is the largest in the country. It was Armed Forces Day, so we couldn’t make it to the towers but I can’t imagine the building is going anywhere.
The Cathedral was build on the edge of an old quarry which has been the city cemetery and is now a nice park, shielded from the wind that howls in off the Mersey:
The Chinatown is the oldest in Europe, but pretty small (compared to say Paris or Amsterdam).
This monument to emigration (to America) was fairly amusing. Still, three out means there’s room for two in:
Emigration to America…fools
The Queensway Tunnel building caught me by surprise with it’s great deco touches. No sketchbook with me and only a short stay anyway, but I could’ve spent hours around this:
The Obligatory Visit in Liverpool must be to the Cavern, but the alleys around it are the most egregious example of a tourist trap in the whole city. It isn’t even the Cavern, which was torn down for a car park in the 70′s. It is claimed that the rebuilt building used the original bricks but you get different stories depending on how you ask the question (“Only the original bricks? Where were they stored in the meantime? So, this place is smaller than before?”). The outside wall is emblazoned with the names of acts that performed in the original building, except for 2:
On Thursday we saw Don McLean at the Philharmonic, and it was a fantastic concert. Yeah, there was the inevitable American Pie singalong (which I bet he absolutely hates), but in the two and a half hours before that he put on a great show. The hall is a real treasure with good acoustics and an intimate atmosphere, as well.
I could really imagine living here if the right job came up (and I was lucky enough to land it). Housing is increadibly cheap (half what it is in Swindon, which we moved to because housing was so cheap), restaurants were a bargain and really good, and there are empty housing spaces above shops in the city centre. It is something to keep in mind down the road once I get a few things done at the old school.
Empty storetops, but some of them are apartments
You know it's good when the first words you hear upon arrival home are, "you're not going to believe this...come on, let me show you."
Perhaps it is a housing for the inevitable hot tub boiler. A meth lab would not surprise me, either. Here’s the latest installation in the performance art that goes on, free of charge so far, right next door. And there are still enough pallet pieces left to fire the boiler, or throw out into the alley, the street, my garden, the possiblilities are endless.
Let me reiterate…these folks are NOT typical of Swindon. Every town the world over is likely to have this sort; and if they do, we will probably move into the adjacent house. Previous reports here:
24 April 2011–Part 1
19 June 2011–Part 2
As much of a sign as I could find for the Clifton
There will be a point in 6 or 8 weeks where the training schedule will start to become a drag, but for now there is the exhilaration that this sort of structure lends to the running regimen. My [admittedly modest] goal is to be ready to do one-and-a-half hours (or 1:40 with a pub stop and quick pint) on the brand new Oxford 1/2 Marathon course 14 weeks from now, and a similar performance on the Swindon M/2 two weeks hence.
Today’s run was an easy hour that took me down the old tramway to the town centre, up Victoria hill to Old Town then west into the Town Gardens, through some neighbourhoods we can’t afford to live in and down a bridleway to a rails-to-trails bike path. This followed an arc-like path westward to the old Swindon Canal and the canal dropped me back near the Eagle with 25 minutes left on my run, so I headed up the King’s Hill and thought about which Old Town pub I’d way-lay in at the top when down Clifton I spotted the Clifton Inn…downhill, Arkell’s and open: result!
The rail trail above, tow path below...or up a hill on the bridleway to Old Town a bit east from here
I stopped to do the obligatory photos, seen here, then was mocked soundly when I entered but I believe this was only because the program about the Border Agency was at a commercial break. One guy said something about they were all saying, “cheese” for me but like a smart rat I didn’t take the bait. “Yeah, something smells a bit cheesy, here…3B, please sir.”
The UK Borders show was back on and we watched a lorry driver get busted for smuggling over 100,000 packs of smokes hidden in a cut out section of a stack of particle board. I had a look around and thought this was a nice sized little back street boozer, with a civilised little clientele in a neighbourhood that’s on our shortlist when we move away from the white trash currently next door. Regardless, I shall keep this in mind for running breaks in what is becoming one of my favourite hilly parts of town.
Oxford used to have a half M, but it stopped in the early 1990′s. A few weeks back its reemergence, with the sponsorship of Mini Cooper Plant, was announced and immediately pissed on by UK Athletics and Oxford Athletic Association. It seems the organisers didn’t show up hat-in-hand and with the appropriate denominations of palm grease to suit UKA or OAA and so certification is being withheld. Here is the official race site: New Oxford Half Marathon.
This is FANTASTIC! A new race usually has a low turnout anyway, but since this clashes with some UKA licensed events on the same day most of the spandex-wearing, theatrically stretching, yuppie, breeder scum that make these events absolutely unbearable will be otherwise committed or boycotting. The field will be primarily made up of folks that don’t care about racing but want to do this distance and distance running enthusiasts turned off by big fields. I’m sure there will be some proper racers and some strolling chatterers, but I would bet the fat part of the bell curve will be folks in the 1:25 to 1:45 pace range and more hashers than in a normal race…or there should be.
So, see you there at the start and if you can bear to slow down to my target pace (1:30-1:35, is about all I will be able to manage), I’ll buy the round at the first pub we spot past the 10K mark (drink fast, if a pint is involved I still want to finish under 1:40).
Following up on the April 2011 report, I give you our neighbours in June.
There were brief periods of sunshine this past Saturday and Wednesday was nice, but the laundry next door has been hanging out since Monday in the intermittent showers and torrents that plagued us most of last week. Gumption is not a word I wood associate with them next door.
They drained the algal broth before last weekend but only to about 4 inches deep, then stuck a hose in it and refilled overnight (it was overflowing when I went to bed Friday night, 10th June), but they forgot to remove the syphon. By the afternoon of the next day it was drained down to the residue that can be seen now a week hence (above). I’m keeping a close eye on our water bill in the event they have found a way to tap into our plumbing. I’m certain some of the other flood victims two or three doors down either side of these fools will back me up that it was not my excess.
The big stacks of pallets that were scattered about the back third of the garden have since April been broken into pieces and stuffed between the alley wall and the caravan, resulting in collapse of the wall in May. Since then, the oldest boy that may or may not live there (it is really hard to tell) has been, on occasion, spending hours at a time hammering bits of them back together. Of course, this project–if I may be so bold as to call it that–gets abandoned at the drop of a hat (or, perhaps the clink of an ice cube) and the remains left in place. For weeks at a stretch.
Weekly recycling for two
The fat fuck of a father figure doesn’t work, unless you consider child abuse labour. You always know when he is home because he whistles constantly and quite loudly. And, I do mean constantly. At 3 or 4 in the morning, immediately after berating his 15 year old daughter in the most foul of language (so immediately that one wonders when he took a breath), in the midst of what passes for quiet conversation over there–usually during someone else’s screamed response to one of his screamed comments. The whistling, often to or at least concurrent with the strains of the sort of urban music that contains “Mariah Carey-esque unnecessary extra syllables,” is lately punctuated with–I shit you not–the phrase “YEEHAW!”
Oh, well, the lease won’t last forever. I shall continue to take my runs to Old Town where I hope to move when the rental agreement does, mercifully, expire.
Any day now, I expect the hot tub installation
The Analytica source on the Bruker FTICR (this animation from Muddiman’s group is pretty good but mimics an IonSpec instrument) was thoroughly cleaned and rebuilt, so I had 30 or 40 minutes to grab some lunch while the cart pumped down. I really fancied a kebab but wanted to try someplace I’d never been before, but in a hurry a trip down Cowley Road would involve threading through a dense mat of tourists and copious numbers of students celebrating graduations by drinking copiously. I remembered a place heading out Abingdon Road toward the derelict Fox and Hounds and lit out due south to try to find it.
About a quarter-mile after the actual Folly Bridge I realised that my target was further than a jog in my work clothes warranted, and decided to just grab some pub grub at the Folly Bridge another block or so up the road. A big, Wadworth house the Folly Bridge was teeming at 1pm; it is a mostly locals pub as the barlady told me after she queried, “you’re not from around here, are you?”
Back home in the Deep South, this sort of question carries a hint of threat and a heaping helping of suspicion but here I would normally not have even thought of that except for the fact that the jukebox kept playing honky tonk songs (thanks to the group rapidly demolishing rounds nearby it). I distinctly remember “Back Where I Come From,” by Kenny Chesney playing immediately after I ordered my lamb burger which arrived a bit dry but the bun was good and it was good quality (ie, not gamey) lamb which was a result (since I was in kebab mode).
There were 4 ales on, all Wadworth. I chose a hoppy, golden draft that had the lowest alcohol content but was really tempted by Bishop’s Tipple and Henry’s IPA. Everyone seems to know one another in there and I left with the distinct feeling that had I stayed for another round I would be considered enough of a “regular” to meet them all. Locals (pubs, not people) are funny that way…when everyone knows everyone else’s story, fresh meat is irresistible. This is as true here as it is down in Georgia.
Just back into the running groove after the Cricketer’s Arms, I met the Helpful Pedestrian again. This time, he did the pulling-the-earbud-out-to-indicate-an-imminent-conversation trick, so I politely stopped. “Did you find the Cricketers?” he asked. “Yeah, had a small basket of fries, as they call it, but it violated many of the proportion rules for anything you might consider civilized dining.” We shared a polite laugh and some other niceties over that, but now my concentration was lost and my legs sore again.
Fortunately, the City Arms appeared a few blocks up Cowley and I dashed in to find a line of Brakspears pumps…HOORAY! I took a bitter out to the porch and watched a bit of traffic and assessed the poor quality of this last third of the run. I also assessed the state of the pub, which seems ready for the party you have planned, whatever it might be. The bar is long enough to accommodate 25 tenders and the sparsely appointed tavern can fit a shitload of drunks as long as they don’t want to sit down. There are some booths and a smattering of stools, but this is a party bar.
I went for a run from work in search of a pub that I heard had a classic interior, but it was overcast and I left my compass in the office and about 100 meters from the pub I got completely lost, winding up a couple miles away in Temple Cowley, but covered some nice territory on the way (full route here). Whilst wandering up and down hills in an estate that looked to be built in the 60′s I finally despaired and approached a Benevolent Pedestrian, stopping the hip looking dude enjoying his portable mp3 player as he meandered down the road by pulling one of my own earbuds out of my ear and asking, pray tell, if there was a pub nearby. He directed me to a “fine pub, indeed,” nearly directly across the street…had we been 50 feet further up the road and one of its walls collapsed we would’ve been crushed. I thanked him and sprinted to the locked doors of the Marsh Harrier, which opened at 5.
“Do you know of any that are open?” I asked as I met him on the return journey a few seconds later. After he tried to fob me off on the nearby curry house because they have a bar, I made him understand that it wasn’t all about the drink, just mostly, and a pub is really what I had in mind if he knew of one.
“Indeed, but it is a bit far, oh you’re running anyway, so follow Temple up the hill and through a path then down Junction and if you get to the pool you’ve gone too far…the Cricketers. Enjoy.”
The Cricketers was a nice find, a good local with a menu that was better than the Greene King markings on the sign would lead you to expect. I wasn’t quite sure how far the run back to work was going to be, though, so opted for a light lunch. “Plate of chips and an IPA, please.” After the second time, the bartender understood the accent and asked, “large or small basket of chips?” “I better do small, or I’ll spew them all over, erm, just where ARE we, exactly?” “Temple Cowley.” Ah, so I got directions for Cowley Road and awaited the chip snack.
There is a well none rule to never eat anything bigger than your head. The ‘small’ chips at the Cricketers violates this codicil, but man they were tasty. With sweat still rolling down my face and back (collecting uncomfortably in the pocket formed between these unfortunate shorts and my asscheeks), some guy brought in the landlady’s 9 month old grandchild and had her dancing on the bar. The grandchild, that is. Although, I must say, with the choice of background music–blues and unusually tolerable modern R&B–nothing would have surprised me.
Update 29 March 2013: I returned to the Prince a week later and found it shuttered, and soon a For Sale sign went up. I’m happy to report that it re-opened a couple of weeks back and I had a pleasant post-run visit today.
Topping the hill on Victoria Street heading into Old Town, I spotted a pub off to the right and then while heading toward it spotted another down Union Street. This was the Prince of Wales, with three pumps and no ale in any of them. However, the bartender and three punters were funny and a lively bunch so the break in the run wasn’t a complete waste. Strongbow cider was a bit dear, but did a nice job on the thirst.
The Dolphin Fish Bar looks like a standard chippy and might well be. But, I had gone all day on a light breakfast plus a beer at each end of an hour-long run with a loaded backpack over some challenging terrain and I was really in need of sustenance before the bus back home. The “small” cod was a feast on its own and cooked to creamy perfection in a crispy and flavourful batter with enough oil to stain the paper but not so much as to be cloying. This may become a regular stop.
It was a strenuous run and though I stopped five miles into it at a pub with the doors open and a dozen folks with beers before them, they were technically closed and refused to serve me…quite ungracious. Instead I dragged my increasingly thirsty self over long-if-not-steep hills for another three miles finally emerging from a golf course back in Highworth and within sight of the Fox. Thank the gods, I am rescued!
An Arkells house, I tried the only thing on the pumps I haven’t seen before, a Kingsdown Special. I find a lot of Arkells beers taste just like others in the stable (I would have sworn that the Royal Wootton Bassett commemorative was just 2B with a different label), and this one was more-or-less 2B with a bit of the 3B edge. Not bad, just disappointingly similar.
The bartender was friendly enough although he seemed to insult both Swindon and Highworth residents with equal stealth…perhaps it was a way of connecting with another immigrant (he’s from outside of Wiltshire and I pretty obviously am as well). The place was empty but the day was gorgeous and it was still early. I suspected both the front lounge and back bar would be heaving with those locals that “begrudgingly” accept him a bit later in the evening.
I started my next run from the Globe, a 17th century ale house in Highworth about 8 miles up the road from the house. It was an unusually warm day in the great southwest so I prepared with a nice glass of Reverend James.
The Globe is a friendly pub and I sat near the dart board to watch the endless barrage of arrows flick expertly (seriously, some professionals would be intimidated by these guys) into the target, often clinking against one another in a bafflingly tight pattern. I opted not to beg into the next match, and instead absorbed myself into the horse race that most of the others were intent upon (Four Candles–or is it Fork Handles–did not win). From there, an eight mile loop in the early evening sunshine and over the foothills.
Good Cap, Bad Cap
When your tv, purchased just over two years earlier for £119, becomes harder and harder to start and the cheapest that a repair shop will DIAGNOSE (not fix) the problem is £100 then you either shop for a new tele or drag out the tools.
First I went on the net and found some repair manuals. Although the ones I found were in Turkish, the schematics were sensible.
I isolate the problem to something failing in the inverter, and suspected a capacitor had partially failed. I’ve had a lot of experience with this at work as personal computer power supplies tend to have capacitors spec’ed to last 1-6 months beyond the PC’s warranty and when they fail the sag in power appears as a motherboard failure (the supply will even give +/-12V and +5V everywhere it should but at least one of those can’t reach the necessary current).
Usually it is cheaper to simply replace the entire power supply for the pc although that presupposes that one is available cheaply and that your time is more valuable doing other things. Both of those are true in the work situation, but when this failure (above) was tracked down at home I ran over to Maplin for a £0.89 replacement and did a 5 minute solder job. The patient has recovered fully.
Funny the tools you bring overseas when you move away. These haemostats have served me well in various capacities (even some others where holding high temperature items was involved) but made quite suitable heat sinks to protect the new component from my soldering gun.
I woke up this morning and I got myself a beer. Okay, so I got two cups of coffee, took a train to London, ordered a full English breakfast and had a beer with it. Then I had a beer between runs, and rum after running to 28 out of 30 historic churches. Then a couple of beers before the hash circle and another pint and a half pint (as a visitor and then as an idiot that did the aforementioned nonsense). With only one tap left to try at the Blackfriar I had to have a beer before heading off to the pub I had originally planned as the finale for the trip. Then after getting screwed by London Transport I stopped in a nearby pub for a consolation beer.
The measure of exactly how English I am becoming is not in this overindulgence in the national beverage, but rather in the medicinal post-binge application of kebabs. Halfway back to the tube stop the skies opened again and I dove into the Bodrum Kebab shop and got a large doner and chips all smothered in some homemade chilli sauce and with some of the freshest tomatoes and hottest green chilies I’ve had in awhile. Yummy, cheap, and I managed to keep it down all the way back to Swindon (and throughout the rest of the evening). No higher endorsement of a kebab stand could possibly come forth.
After the hash, I still had an historic pub on my list but I needed to change to the Overground at West Brompton tube stop. Once there, it turned out there was a replacement bus service (of course) and I dearly hate the replacement bus service. Had it not been raining (and a bank holiday) I might have just gone to the cemetery and enjoyed the catacombs but as it was late I decided to find a pub. Just around the corner from the tube stop was a fine bar, The Atlas.
I got an ale that I think was labeled GFB (Guns Fucking Blazing? Georgia Farm Bureau? who knows?) then went out to the covered garden and changed clothes. Once again tidy, I slipped back in and had a look around. I remember hearing that the area wasn’t especially safe at night (this was about ten years ago) and that it was also a massive cruising zone; the homosexuals I spotted seemed settled and monogamous and the only danger you might expect from the other folk–all yuppies–is that they might make snide comments about your use of public transportation. At least none of them brought their fucking children with them.
The hash started and finished at the Blackfriar, a truly remarkable flatiron building across from Blackfriar Station (which is due to reopen sometime in the next 30 years, pending delays). I ran the taps here, with a pleasant experience with the Kipling, and less so with the Ashbury. Also, was honoured/disgraced with a couple more in circle.
There is a blurb on the pub’s website about the architecture and decor attributed to H. Fuller-Clark and Henry Poole, and that the pub was saved largely through the efforts of Poet Laureate John Betjeman. Certain it is described better elsewhere, I leave you with some photos:
The Lord Moon of the Mall is a Wetherspoon’s pub in a grand old building about 100 meters from Nelson’s Column. I arrived hungry and prepared to run as fast as the lingering injuries and half-assed training would allow and so ordered the large breakfast (photo in the race review). It came with scrambled eggs (not fried as asked) and was typical Wetherspoons bland.
I would attribute this quality to some effort on the bartender’s part to punish me for my dreadful accent, but she seemed to brighten up dramatically when I ordered a pint to accompany the spread. I knew I was planning to hit the hash post-race, so nothing could be more appropriate than a Rare Hare. This was a rich, strong ale and not to hoppy…went well with the pile of food.
As the first customer of the day, I seemed to set the bar for bar orders. A family of Swansea fans came in (it was League Championship day) and the dad returned with a Guinness to the mom’s frowning concern; he gestured with his head in my direction (or maybe it was at the two Reading fans who were pointing toward my beer then to each other before rushing off to the bar).
Surroundings were cool. By the time I finished, though, the streets were blocked for the race.