Archive for July 2011
The queues for food were too long at the Mela so we opted to have a barbecue back at the house (now that the neighbours have buggered off apparently just ahead of the bailiffs, we can at last enjoy our garden). The queues for the portapotties weren’t too bad but afterall they are still portaloos and I really didn’t fancy hitting one of these after a bunch of revelers that had been scarfing curry from outdoor vendors all afternoon had been using them. We opted to find a more suitable facility.
Emerging from the Town Garden area above the bicycle rail-to-trail we were confronted with a perfect solution: the Plough, an old pub at the point in Old Town where the road to Wroughton suddenly falls away downhill (better photos on the website). Inside we found a couple of nice rooms inhabited by folks for whom we were the only strangers. I got a 3B and Jackie a vodka tonic and we went out to the garden for some fresh air.
Well, garden in name as the house is on a cliff hanging over the old rail line 80 feet below, but there were some nice plants. And speaking of cliffs, the more lubricated and salubrious of the two guys out on the porch was also Cliff. A bit more friendly than I would have hoped, he seemed harmless enough but that didn’t stop his friend apologising for his behaviour.
“He can be a lot worse than this. At least he hasn’t taken his harmonica out.”
“I hope that’s not a euphemism.”
Later but before we finished drinks and hit the head, we heard what sounded like a train whistle and crashing down below. I climbed up the wall to look down at the trail on the old rail bed and there was Cliff, toothless and tangled up in the twisted mass of bicycle parts he had just steered into the rock face, laughing until he could find the actual harmonica and make the train noise again. As I sat back down, I said to Jackie, “everyone knows Kenny.”
The Town Gardens is my favourite park in Swindon and it gets used frequently for festivals. This weekend it hosted the Swindon Mela, billed as a celebration of all things asian. This was an awful lot of fun although far too crowded for my taste; still, if moved to a larger park it might lose a bit of the cosmopolitan flavour that the Town Gardens offer. Also, the Garden is at the highest point in town and that lends a bit of an air all by itself.
By asian, the Brits almost always mean Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi but it was nice to see such a wide variety represented (although Indian geographically, there is a substantial Goan population in town that has a vibrant culture and a unique identity, for instance). I didn’t note a lot of Iranian or, looking further east, Thai stalls but the crowd made it hard to get close to any of the information booths or vendors. There was a little segregation to note:
The ethnically English among the crowd (and a lot of us other pale folk) found the most culturally familiar fare at the Cobra Lager stand. Bitter and strong (like me!), it was refreshing after the climb to Old Town on this warmest day of the season.
The Bollywood actor Jeet worked the crowd not from the stage but face to face. He even came back onto stage and performed more (again, right at the railings to the delight of the mostly female fans) when the much more aloof and (it seemed to me) self-important Silinder was fashionably late. After his extra gigs, Jeet came strolling through the crowd with his offspring, shaking hands and chatting amiably with anyone who came along.
With Jeet away (there’s a dirty joke in there somewhere), the stage filled with a female dance troupe and the crowd up front quickly exchanged young women for a bunch of dudes.
The overall crowd mix remained about 60% caucasian British, 40% Asian, with 2 or 3 Caribbeans and a couple of Americans. Advice for next year’s visit: arrive early and stake out a good place near the Bowl after getting some food and beer (the queues are enormous after about 1 pm).
On reviewing the timetable, I found that my bus wasn’t due for 20 minutes and since the bus stop is right next to the New Inn…
The place, a sort of typical old hotel bar, appeared empty except for a guy watching the 2nd Test between India and England, so I went looking for help. I found the manager toiling away in the hotel reception cubby and made my presence known but halfway through filling my pint of Bass the phone rang and he ran off. I glanced at my watch and the punter came over, reached across the bar and finished filling my glass; I guess I could have done that, but it turned out he ran another house in town.
We talked a bit about food as I showed interest in his mention of the occasional Italian Market held in town. He says the cheeses are spectacular and when I asked if there were meat stalls (pointing out that I would commit murder or any range of lesser sins for some proper sausages since British sausages are quite shit), he asked where in Swindon I lived. Strange response, I thought, but told him not far from the Oasis, not far from Gorse Hill. He directed me to a proper Italian deli not 5 minutes walk from the house that he uses regularly (I have since checked their hours and will give them a test drive next weekend). If nothing else, this made the trip in for a quick pint worth the effort.
With 45 minutes remaining until the bus to Swindon would arrive, I followed a father, daughter, and their dog into the Crown. Immediately, two other dogs started in on the interloper and I instinctively started yelling, “fight! fight! fight!” The bartender served the harassed family as soon as the other puppies calmed down then asked my order with a smirk. Looking at the range from Halfpenny Brewery (the in-house brewery of the Crown), I ordered Old Lech (of…course).
There was a space next to a quiet fellow staring out one of the ancient windows and I slid into the seat. “Don’t mind me…I’m not getting naked, yet,” I offered as I changed into a dry shirt at the table. It may have been that semi-lewd exposure or just the foreign accent but the ice was broken and we had a nice chat about the area.
A retiree, he and his wife just brought the caravan down for the week and were enjoying the town in their own ways, she doing lady stuff and he, obviously, exploring the wares of the hospitality trade. I learned that Lechlade had been a port, the most inland port in England, in fact which goes some way to explaining the fine houses and good road connections to Gloucester, Swindon, and Witney (additional to the waterway to Oxford and London). But, with ten minutes until bus time, I had to leave.
I eagerly anticipated the run from Faringdon to Lechlade because the mildest rolling foothills of the lower Cotswolds begin in that area and the Thames River Path is relatively unpopulated due to the swampy nature of the stretch from the source to Lechlade and the relative public transport isolation of the town. However, it turns out that the no public trails directly connect the two towns and you spend a bit of effort and extra distance finding your way without spending too much time on rural highways.
Still the path I took is rewarding. There is a stretch along the eastern edge of Buscot Park that crosses a recreation lake and a cricket ground and the lead up to these (as well as a mile or so following on) is tree-lined and varies from hardpack to asphalt; the bit along the Thames Path is quite lovely as well with unusually deep waters so close to a stream’s origin. And, as you come out onto the highway again and cross an ancient bridge from Oxfordshire into Glocs there is the Trout.
When I entered, the place seemed somewhat aged and decrepit, much like the old trout that greeted me with, “well, what do you want?” I realise now that she must be the landlady but I just assumed she was some old alcoholic propositioning me from across the ratty upholstery that separated the two bars before us (I know, there’s a lot of pot-kettle-black going on in this paragraph, but I still like the way it looks). She flagged down a barmaid who poured me a nice scrumpy and I made my way out to the marina/garden to partially air dry and cool off in the late afternoon breeze.
“Oxford Town, Oxford Town,
“Ain’t a lotta Arkell Pubs in Oxford Town.
“You can run for miles and miles around
“Before you drink a pint of 3B down.”
–missing lyrics to Oxford Town by Bob Dylan
The run loop had been unusually dry, new-pub-wise, considering I was on a lot of new territory to me after the first 30 minutes and all of it looked like the type of housing the owners of which could use a drink. I was to the point that I considered running over to the University track and getting a carrot juice in the canteen and grabbing a quick shower when, lo, what looked like a bike shop had the magic phrase “Arkell’s Kingsdown Brewery Ltd” painted on the side of what turned out to be The Rusty Bicycle.
It was late, but I wasn’t hungry so the 2:30 closing time wasn’t a problem. The venue was very nice and appeared to a converted shop circa 1920 or 1930. The music was laid back, sort of folky psychedelia and for that matter the woman who served my perfect 3B had a bit of a folky psychedelic whiff about her as well. It would be easy to imagine her following Phish around their phinal tour (and, so nice was the place and the hostess that I felt bad putting together jokes I won’t use–feel free to make your own, though–about the town rusty bicycle). I felt very much at home for my 15 minute break, and I left with Dylan in my head albeit more about Mobile and Memphis than Oxford (trust me, as you get closer to Cowley Road people just get uglier and you lose sense of time).
I think they are gone. No shit, all indications are that they have moved away. With the apparent retreat of the forces of darkness, the Siege of Swindongrad may be over. I am still cautious but here were a series of emails and then my eyewitness observations of the halfwits:
date Tue, Jul 26, 2011 at 1:36 PM
Don’t get too excited but Fat Boy and The Kid are here in a big rental van from Selby in North Yorkshire. No sign of the caravan or any of their other cars. Pray.
date Tue, Jul 26, 2011 at 2:11 PM
subject Re: trash
Offer them a hand. the Sooner they fuck off the better.
Actually, try not to think about it…you might jinx it.
date Tue, Jul 26, 2011 at 2:29 PM
subject Re: trash
They are loading the truck. Appliances and odds and ends, some boxes so far. Will keep you posted. Keep praying.
date Tue, Jul 26, 2011 at 3:36 PM
Looks official. Living room furniture gone and tons and tons of boxes.
date Tue, Jul 26, 2011 at 3:40 PM
subject Re: trash
I’m not buying the champagne, yet…. Yet. What’s the Wine Warehouse delivery time policy, just in case?
date Tue, Jul 26, 2011 at 4:11 PM
subject Re: trash
It’s official, baby, whoa-ho! The boxes just keep coming and now they are carrying out individual odds and ends.
As I approached the houses from the west I could see the van getting loaded with a bulky item which turned out to be a tanning bed. If anything says ‘white trash,’ it would be a tanning bed but as I entered our house I was directed to the back window where a hose continuously drained water. At first we thought it might be an aquarium, but it was still flowing hours later. This seemed to indicate either a water bed or, far more likely, a hydroponics system; this would also serve to answer why these pale folk have a tanning bed: this is a perfect excuse for high electrical usage if noticed by the power company or a police heat camera (we get an unusual number of helicopter flyovers for a UK town).
Anyway, the House Harpy has reported on her social networking site that she is from Yorkshire and the day after ‘the incident’ (see link to Part 5, below) a couple of older folk came and had a civilised chat in the garden; we reckon these are her unfortunate and almost certainly disappointed parents.
It seems strange that they would move house so suddenly or, indeed, so surreptitiously: with each load one of the feral offspring packed into the truck they would emerge nervously and scope out the traffic on the street. There were many parking spaces available (and them parking on the pedestrian right-of-way has never been a problem for them before) yet they chose to park their own vehicle down an alleyway. Moreover, they own this house…that’s the strangest bit of all: they are abandoning an abode they have at least £58K (housing search turned up the last sale date and price) tied up in.
It is the general opinion up and down the street that this lot has been perpetrating benefits theft (welfare fraud for you Americans) on a grand scale. Lately they have also pissed off a lot of their neighbours (actual citizens in addition to us foreigners) and the general word has been that something had to be done.
A judgement against them to repay several years of incapacity benefits and the 10′s of thousands of pounds per year skimmed for their Motability Scheme vehicles, Council Tax Waivers, and other expensive scams would make sense of this recent behaviour. I surely hope that is what happened…it would go along nicely with Fat Boy’s loudly proclaimed taunts in no general direction at 3:30 am a few nights ago of, “If they think I’m going to take this they better fucking think again. They don’t know who their fucking with.”
If “they,” whomever “they” may be, would like to find Fat Boy and his hive there should be some sort of records held by the Collier’s Car, Van and Truck Hire in Selby, North Yorks. They let him drive off in a truck with registration plates GK52 TFY (first letter a little obscured) on 26th July 2011.
I awoke to birdsong this morning.
Earlier adventures available here, but there will be more:
24 April 2011–Part 1, The Pool, rotting laundry, mangy cats, and other initial thoughts on dignity
19 June 2011–Part 2, ‘Trash’ is to ‘White Trash’ as ‘Common’ is to ‘Dead Common’…Discuss
21 June 2011–Part 3, Pallet Shack?
17 July 2011–Part 4, Six Months Remain On Our Tenancy Agreement
21 July 2011–Part 5, Wiltshire Constabulary involvement
Rested yesterday to recover from the Marlborough-to-Swindon run on Sunday and felt pretty good this morning as a result. An early start to work and then lunch while placing some equipment orders at 9:30 am left my usual lunchtime free for a run and I headed out across the meadow that borders University Parks then into Old Marston past the Red Lion, the Three Horseshoes (late doors), and Victoria and on up Mill Lane to the loop road. This way gets you to the heights of Headington with the gentlest grade (an almost imperceptible climb along the loop road).
Clearing the lower section of Barton I felt I could reward myself with a beverage but the only place I haven’t hit previously that I knew how to get to was the Six Bells. I wasn’t even certain it was still in business but headed there to find a bunch of middle-aged guys quaffing lager. There was Greene King IPA on a sweating pump so I opted for a Stella…in places where there is only one ale available and no one is drinking it, you can’t be sure it is well kept.
I wasn’t included in the conversation which ranged from longing for a cigarette to the heart bypass operations that prompted several of the guys to give up tobacco to the wide range of hypertension medications and analytical procedures that enslave them. Pretty bleak as I was one of the oldest guys in the bar. Still, the run from there was brilliant and one of the most fluid and pleasant downhill trots I have had this year…not at all plodding or jarring like the Six Bells.
About 5 miles into the run from Marlborough I had to cross a road to pick up the bike trail again. In this little village, Ogbourne St. George, I spotted the Inn With the Well about 50 meters away…hooray! I went into the comfortable, wood panelled bar and ordered a pint of something called Golden Train or something like that, but the furnishings looked too nice for my profuse sweating and I took it outside.
The folks outside were from Bulgaria. I know this because every other sentence was “in Boowelgawria theess,” and “in Boowelgawria dot,” and it would have really been annoying if I didn’t have something of a fetish for this accent. “Get Moose and Squirrel, dahling.” The management was ready to start a barbecue out on the porch, and some British relatives of Natasha and Boris showed up so I decided it was time to get back on the trail.
A few blocks after crossing the River Kennett I spotted the Roebuck Inn, not at all far from the Kebab place but already seeming overdue…the garlic residue and congealed fat really needed tending. It is a bit out of the town centre and probably suffers for it, but the staff was great, the London Pride did all the things I wanted it to do, and the food there looked and smelled fantastic. Alas, I couldn’t linger and set off as soon as the glass was empty for the rail trail (National Cycle Trail #482) which crosses the road about a half kilometer away.
The neighbours are away so we took advantage of the relative quiet last night and played a bunch of records (at a tolerable volume, mind you) out the back garden. Record Night has always turned into a session and this was no exception so the next morning Jackie was a bit under the weather. Me too, but I had promised myself a decent run so I took my leave and caught the bus to Marlborough with the intention of running the rail trail through Chiseldon and back into Swindon.
First, though, I needed some nourishment. My hangover cure usually involves equal proportions of salt, carbs, meat protein, and fat and nothing really fits the bill like doner meat and chips with chilli sauce. But, Marlborough is sort of a posh town and although it has its fair share of shitty little restaurants they each give the outward impression that they are too good for you…especially if you are wearing a tee shirt that says, “Now it’s time for my REAL job: Getting Loaded.” I opted to start my run off the High Street at the Kebab and Pizza House.
The guys there were friendly and the food was no worse than I could have hoped for. The doner oven was fired up for my order alone so I got a bit more than a normal amount which came back to haunt me 13 or 14 miles into the run but I had to remind myself that this situation was of my own doing. The only thing remaining was to find a pub to get something to wash this down, somewhere along the way to the Rail Trail.
I was going to swing by Aldi for some of that fine Clarke’s bourbon but I got lost during the run and opted to shortcut back to the house. Luckily, I passed the Sainsbury’s at the Brunel Centre and figured, what the hell, the house brand isn’t so bad. They don’t always stock the bourbon, opting for Jim Beam white label at £20 - £25 per bottle (or Jack Daniels, which is foul swill and NOT BOURBON, brits…NOT BOURBON). Anyway, it was pretty nice for a change on the weekend and it really makes Saturday breakfast better. No idea who supplies this, but it is a little harsh like Early Times (don’t get me wrong…I drink a lot of Early Times back in the States, but it is a little harsh).
The Castle is my current favourite pub. I walked in and felt immediately at home. The clientele were roughly my age (μ ≈ 45, σ ≈ 8). The conversation was intelligent but also mostly bollocks. Three punters were working on crossword puzzles and the papers they were doing these in were the Times, the Guardian, and the Independent.
A guy walks in and says, “yeah, give us a lager, then.” Everyone laughs at him and the tender pulls him a Doom Bar which appears to be as perfect as the one I had in front of me…crystalline, dark, perfectly settled and a delight both visually and in flavour. Close to the top of the hill in Old Town, I hope our next house is close enough to make this our local.
Hopped off the bus at the cop shop out on the A420 and started a run with the intention of doing a four mile arc to the house and taking a break at about 2.5 miles in Old Town at a pub. I got a little lost and confused, like you do, and wound up down south near Coate Water. A bright spot was that the Sun Inn appeared on the periphery of my line of sight. I dashed in and had a pint of Hurricane.
I had heard no news at all from Friday (hectic day at work and I skipped lunch when I would usually scan the online news sources) so was fairly surprised to find that 1) Norway has their OWN problem with self righteous christian fundamentalists that think their manifest mental illnesses are actually political justification for all sorts of atrocities and 2) Amy Winehouse finally popped her last balloon. This latter one effected me less than I would have hoped…quite a talent, but in the long run she lived a lot longer than I thought she would (my bet, for which I have lost the betting slip, was for Boxing Day 2010).
The house is really large and the staff is friendly enough. My camera batteries were flat, so I snatched the photo off google street view.
Two nights ago, the circus next door spilled out onto the streets with some yelling and screaming followed by a visit from one cop who hauled away a girl when another cop showed up and went into chat with the neighbours for an hour and a half…we poured a couple of drinks and, like many of the other neighbours, took up observation posts in hope-against-hope that the paddy wagon would show up. It didn’t but another cooper did and started interviewing neighbours a few doors down from us. Before he could get as far as our joint, an emergency call came in and he and two other cop vehicles posted at either end of our street rolled off with sirens going. Shit, missed opportunity.
Last night, though, our viewing of a documentary about a teenage drag queen in some lead mining town in County Durham (I love BBC 3) was interrupted and a better opportunity for temporarily relocating one or more of the next door neighbours emerged. We gave it a few minutes to make sure this was going to be a big blow-up, but it seemed to have staying power. The coppers must have been too busy to answer the multiple calls from up and down the street this time so I sent them a note (expurgated here of identifying details as per the vagaries of libel law, here):
Earlier adventures available here, but there will be more:
24 April 2011–Part 1
19 June 2011–Part 2
21 June 2011–Part 3
17 July 2011–Part 4
In the past couple of weeks running has once again become easy enough to be considered a joy. I look forward to hills and I can look at a map and pick out several places, memorise their locations relative to one another and then head out until I find one (or, if overshooting them all, watch for street signs directing me toward any of them). It had been awhile since I ran around the neighbourhoods at the old Headington quarries and so sprinted up Headington Hill and out and about through the undulating and Byzantine streets in that area for a short work break. Eventually, of course, I found a pub: the Chequers.
It gets a bad rap, the Chequers, because it has mostly lager on tap and though there is always Hobgoblin it isn’t well kept (I hear); there are three other ale pumps, though, and I imagine they are at least sometimes in use. The exterior of the pub looks great with its Cotswold stone face and indoors there is a large bar and several large rooms plus a great sunken garden (part of one of the quarries). The bartender was friendly and the telly had on cricket but the sound was low enough to tolerate.
I had a Kingfisher, a very bitter and astringent (and lovely) Indian lager served damned near ice-cold. They also house an Indian restaurant here and this would be a great accompaniment to a curry and a test match (India is currently touring the UK for just such an incident).
TP’s is not the most palatable place to imagine a drink when observed at street level as you wander down from the library, the Brunel Centre, the Parade or wherever. The blokes that quaff lager out in the open air seating lend a menacing atmosphere that you don’t get in a lot of rougher bars in more dangerous locales…sort of equal portions of GHB and GBH potential. This, it turns out, is an unfair prejudgment of a fairly nice lager bar…in the light of day. The guys that hang out may be creepy but they are just taking advantage of the great location for people watching.
Inside you get a comfortable feel for the architecture of the building that extends above the lucite façade. The furniture is comfortable and enough of it is loose so that you could move it to another table to crowd around with friends; there doesn’t seem to be any concern about the stools being used as weapons, to put it another way. That said, it is obviously a party bar, a place to come and get hammered on an evening. The lager taps are in 8 clumps of 5, spread out about 15 feet apart the length of the huge bar; adverts for the kind of sugary kiddie cocktails (served in fish bowls, how fun!) that amateur drinkers love sit on every table.
From Swindon Adver, 25 Feb 2012: http://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/9553700.Bar_wins_its_fight_to_stay_open_later/?ref=eb
Last photoshop thingy before I left the States
We’ve been in Britain two-and-a-half years as of today and so have two-and-a-half years until we can get permanent residence…halfway there, and only a year more after that for citizenship. Hooray (wheeeee!).
Looking back at this blog I can happily report that I have met my own criteria for visiting 632 pubs in that time (including TP’s in Swindon after a short run after work tonight) and can only imagine that there would be more than 700 had I not taken two weeks holiday in Italy and then wasted an additional two-and-a-half weeks in the US last year, and the couple of months recovering from the car wreck caused a dip in the pace of things. Oh, well…mustn’t complain.
Pubs count so far
The blog remains a vehicle for sending photos to friends back in the States coupled with some text they might find amusing, and I have actively tried not to attract a wider audience but also haven’t made it private so that I can easily tell new folks I meet or ‘cover’ in these pages where to look for things of interest. As a result I get strangers visiting due to Google searches, mostly on pub names or locations.
The most frequent search term on all search engines (including the one on WordPress itself) has been ‘Eddie Izzard’ which, in various forms, has brought in more than 5000 hits. Others (thousands of them), boggle the mind. Here are some of my favourites from the big list:
1983 nhs nurses uniforms
2012 presidential election odds
30 pack marathon
aldi bourbon clarkes
animated gif wanker
british 10k crap race
condoms for girls
curse of the goat
eat me dates
jesus in limbo
modern drunkard fez
pub in fucking austria
pubs in cottenham cambridge
royale with cheese
what do tumours look like
what is a hasher pub crawl
what would be the closest thing to a german doner in the us
whats the pub next door to the dockle in swindon
Update 2013-06-12: This news, from today’s Adver, is quite a shame: http://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/10478267.Surprise_as_Deers_Leap_closes_its_doors/
You know you are living the dream when, lost on a bleak public housing estate with rain starting, you pop into a pub and the giant tele isn’t tuned to sport but is showing a Pogues video. A bunch of dudes were gambling nearby, others shot billiards and drunkenly hugged one another saying, “oi, you’re a good lad,” then dropping into boxing stances. Two rooms, but the back one was darkened; no ale (definitely a lager bar) but they had Bulmer’s cider on tap. Friendly bar staff, but the punters eye you with suspicion which is fair enough but might make you uncomfortable–you probably don’t want to talk about your visit to the Tate Modern too loudly (at least keep it down below the level of the video jukebox).
After dinner, we watched another episode of The Wire (we are up to season 4) and midway through there was a wake held in the cop bar. “The Body of an American” was blaring in that bar…yep, I’ve been living right, lately.
From Wanborough I went back to the farmland trails via Rotten Row, eventually emerging near the Great Western Hospital (where they brought me after cutting the car away from me in January). It was the first time I had been there and able to look around…very posh looking neighbourhood, indeed. Continuing eastward I spotted my bus stop and just beyond it down the hill was the pub that looks for all the world like a US style steakhouse. Well, I thought, they have beer and it is here, so it’ll do.
The public bar isn’t separated from the dining area by a door but is demarcated well enough that kids and diners stay out. There are some comfortable chairs in that section, too.