Archive for November 2011
The Republicans have an uncanny way of staying on message. However, a wide spectrum of the media (liberal and Gawd-fearin’) have locked onto a particular phrase that should be a talking point:
“Disillusionment with Obama’s curiously frigid administration is a pervasive theme, but his rivals for the greatest office on earth look like competitors in a holiday camp freak show.” — Daily Mail (UK), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2065500/Barack-Obama-weak-President-United-States-Paralysis.html?ito=feeds-newsxml
“My point is not the obvious one that the freak show is deplorable. It’s that the freak show is not going away.” — CBS News (USA), http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20129026-503544/why-cains-story-isnt-like-clarence-thomas/
“It’s easy to laugh at the freak-show race for the Republican presidential nomination.” — City Watch, LA (USA), http://www.citywatchla.com/8box-left/2518-the-republicans-not-funny-theyre-scary
“Those who say the debates are hurting the Republicans may be right. There is a freak-show element.” — Wall Street Journal (USA), http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204224604577030192740119830.html
“…the Republican field of presidential candidates—the relatively normal Mitt Romney excepted—who collectively constitute the kind of freak show Americans are unaccustomed to seeing at the highest levels of national politics.” — The American Prospect (USA), http://prospect.org/article/return-sanity
Of course, calling them freaks might backfire…the 2010 poster above should have been more effective but it really seemed to rally their pinhead voters. “One of us, one of us, we accept you one of us…” to quote the Tod Browning film, Freaks (1932):
I have never heard of any of these, but Lidl was the last grocer at the end of the run . Thanksgiving restock would have to entail these weird beverage choices:
For bourbon, Western Gold:
Western Gold tastes a bit like Clarke’s and like Clarke’s is imported exclusively into Germany. Not bad, but don’t seek it out. To top off the vodka stockpile, Putinoff:
There are people that say, “Vodka is vodka,” but they usually don’t drink down at the ethyl acetate end of the triple distilled spectrum. Have a go at Putinoff, my friend; it comes in 500 mL bottles and can be used as glass cleaner.
Finally, for an apéritif and final beverage at the end of the night some 18-year-old single malt of no discernible background and very little character (but dirt cheap). Not very smoky, malty or smooth but whaddaya expect? I’ll splash out for Lagavullin at Xmas and New Years:
Over a hill and through some muddy fields to the south of Purton, my run continued into Lydiard Millicent where the Sun Inn greeted me on the road back into western Swindon. Owned by the guy that owns The Steam Railway in Old Town, the nice landlady interrogated me about the photography right off the bat which makes me think she might know about this blog (I might just be paranoid, though). The beer was good, something like Cornish Knocker [or something rude about your tackle] in the name. Quite a delightful place, but the flu relapse was upon me and I didn’t linger.
The initial rush of Thanksgiving cooking done and the birds in a slow cooker (and the flu abated for the time being), I felt like I should take the opportunity to grab a run and headed out to Purton over some nicely wooded hills. You can avoid much of the ugly, suburban sections of Northwest Swindon with some careful planning and most of this trot was very pleasant indeed, especially the last quarter-mile or before the Angel, a nice old house just past the cloistered little path from the south.
As the first customer in, I got to look around a bit and chat with the manageress about the village and its rapidly dying pub culture. Turns out the Royal George recently re-opened but is struggling. This one was nice, with a line of airline-sized Jagermeister bottles incongruous with the ancient timbers holding the house up…or maybe it’s the Jager that’s keeping the roof up….
I love Thanksgiving…too much drink, too much food, and most of it exotic. After yesterday’s visit to Casa Paolo I had a hankering for some Tuscan Pasta (farfalle, sausages, cannelini, some light spices, a little escarole soup and some stewed tomatoes), so headed up to Franco and Anna’s (a superb Italian deli in our neighbourhood a dude in Lechlade tipped me off to, months ago). Anna stocks the only decent fresh sausage in the south of England (and the cured meats look as good as what you might find in the Polish places around) and she knows (or is related to) every Italian in the county, it seems, so is always worth a visit. I also wanted to ask about ordering some Vin Santo for the Christmas holidays (this is something amazing if you dip almond biscotti into it–a discovery from our first trip to Firenze back in 2002).
Turns out, they stock this stuff all the time at less than you pay for it in Italy, so I got a bottle and some almonds and went home to do some baking:
You toast a cup of almonds 10 minutes at 175°C and let them cool. Meanwhile, mix 2 cups of flour, a teaspoon of baking soda, and a cup of sugar; also, melt a knob of butter (an ounce or two–use a shot glass, ’cause we know you have one). Once the butter is back to room temperature splash in some vanilla extract (1 or 2 teaspoons) and three eggs, stir ‘em up and pour into the flour mix, and knead. Once it holds together start dusting with flour and pulling through the bowl until the stuff at the side starts to cling. Dust it one more time and push the almonds in, letting it sit for 5-10 minutes for the liquids to absorb and the lump to thereby dry a little. Roll into two cylinders about 16 inches long and bake on a floured sheet at 150°C (300°F) for 40 minutes. Cut at a diagonal, once cool, into 1/2″ wide slices and toast another 50 minutes at the same temperature. Divine.
With Jackie sick my Sunday afternoon was a bit open so I planned to run to Purton village and find a pub out the northwest, but as I arced around the Mouldon Hill I didn’t use my compass and had nothing but heavily overcast skies so eventually made a loop around the damn thing rather than picking up the trail I wanted. Shit. Consulting my compass and my Ordnance Survey, all-too-late, I spotted another pub on the map not too far away and headed over. The sign said “The Forrester’s Arms” but the wall said “Bar Casa Paolo.” All that really mattered, though, was the unlocked door.
BCP is a proper Italian Restaurant, hosted by Paolo and his lovely, friendly, and quite overly caffeinated partner whose name I did not catch. She poured my Guinness and attentively offered me towels to wipe my sweaty brow and conversation to distract from my self-inflicted troubles. They are from Savonna in Liguria, it was revealed but moved here from London to return to a more rural and slow-paced lifestyle; they raise chickens around back, and have a nice herb garden (essential in their business) just over the fence from whence I shot the bar photo. I think I could spend a lazy Sunday trying out my rubbish Italian on these wonderful folk, and would be more than willing to help with prep in the kitchen if it lent me some proper cooking tips. At the very least, a return visit is on the list.
The village of Little Coxwell is tiny and remote and poorly lit on this episode of Jackie’s Guitar Lesson Night pub explorations. The Stagecoach Route 66 stop nearest the Eagle Tavern is a half mile away at the opposite end of a farm track that is fairly pleasant to run in the daylight but oppressively dark this evening. The only sign of life before I reached the pub was the unfriendly greyhound that bounded out of one of the houses on the edge of the village. Finally reaching the pub, I dove in only to be similarly assaulted byBon Jovi with “Living on a Prayer” blasting on the house tannoy.
The pub always looks great but closes mid afternoon until 6, so this was my first chance to have a drink here. It is obviously an old building, but the hopes generated by this outward appearance are soon dashed by the modern, brightly lit, and all too standard restaurant stylings inside. The affable bartender chatted as he served me my pint of Dark and Handsome (Box Steam Brewery), asking what brings me here (indeed, as the place is as hard to find as the village is hard to reach). “Oh, aye, a cheeky pint then…nothing wrong with that,” he said in response to the guitar lesson night ritual.
The pint, like the pub, looked perfect but inside seemed initially trivial. There wasn’t much mouth or body to it but their was a bit of a chocolate foretaste to it that was going to have to carry it. As I worked on a puzzle and the pint sat a few minutes, an aftertaste developed and each sip returned with a mixture of floral sweetness and citric bitterness. Still very lightweight, it and the pub, alike, grew on me. Worth the journey.
Proof that large pubs in the suburbs don’t have to be as faceless, plastic and bleak as their surroundings the Abbey Meads was quite a pleasant break after a few miles lost in the hilly modern estates on the north side after my quick pint at the Jovial Monk. From the street, it didn’t promise much but the interior was warm and welcoming and the service was quick and attentive while maintaining contact with the customers already lined up drinking nearby.
I’m not a fan of the “family friendly” atmosphere of suburban estate pubs, but the high spirits of the kids here were reined in by the civilised parents or grandparents inside. One girl ran past squealing as I toted my Jameson’s whiskey to a table, and some relatives gently but firmly told her to “mind the lovely man and his whiskey, you nearly knocked him down.” This bar, a little out-of-the-way and hard to get to if you don’t live in the neighbourhood, is alright.
North of the council estate on Penhill and south of Blunsdon, Swindon becomes a hilly and modern suburban atrocity designed to discourage casual travel either by foot or vehicle. If you don’t belong here, you should stay in your easily navigable poverty. This is not to say that there is anything posh or sophisticated up there, no; in fact, it is quite the opposite–insular and willfully ignorant.
The blaring disco music in the Jovial Monk seemed to suit the entirely male clientele as did the pornographic calendar on the wall. I have nothing against a strip club and am glad there wasn’t a cover (or dress code) but it was (calendar notwithstanding) devoid of naked ladies. Indeed, except for the friendly barmaid (the only good aspect of this disappointing visit other than the well presented pint of 3B) there was not a woman in sight.
My office mate asked how to fix her PC and I gave some suggestions and offered to have a look myself if it all went tits up. She wasn’t in Monday but had dropped the PC off and I went ahead and took the initiative and sorted it out. Wednesday there was a bag on my desk with four very nice half-liter bottles of ale, sort of a non-cash payment (we agreed that in these uncertain financial times beer is something like a precious metal). On Saturday, I executed the first Helena PC Repair Beer Festival.
I started the morning with a cheese omelet/quesadilla and the hot sauce really called for a beer. Who could have asked for something more appropriate than Spitfire? The Shepherd’s Neame ale is an old favourite that often appears at Oxford hashes and helped clear the Friday night cobwebs away.
We did our Saturday out-and-about stuff and I came home to start the evening meal. We had a bit of zucchini that was about to go bad and the tomato vines keep producing so I opted for an umido, a sort of stewed vegetable recipe from Italy. I paired this chore with a Fursty Ferret that was bitter but had a sort of citrus odour to it that was very pleasant.
While actually cooking (we had some beef patties on the grill and some chips, as well) and faced with a choice I opted for the Hook Norton Haymaker. This also took me through the feast and met the rich and varied flavours of the vegetables on side and the main dish (with mushrooms and savoury spices mixed into the patties) with aplomb.
Then it was time for dessert as the HPCRBeerFest drew to a close. Timothy Taylor Landlord has always been a good choice in bars and it went especially well with some oat, raisin and hazelnut cookies. As time was called on these festivities the committee (that is, me) agreed that this should become a regular event.
“What bourbons do you have?” was a question that threw the barmaid at the Royal Inn (renamed from the Borough Arms in honour of the town’s new Royal status). ”I’m not the best one to ask,” she said as she hopelessly looked around the collection of bottles. ”Jim Beam, maybe? It’s in a clear bottle with a white label,” I helped and then added, “it’s kind of brown,” as she picked up a bottle of blue Curacao. ”Maybe you should just do me a pint of 3B, honey,” I finally settled. My bus was due soon and I didn’t have the time to waste.
A couple of builders were sitting nearby in the small bar and they, too, were rushing to down their pints before the bus. As they finished before me and headed out, I lifted mine and said, “hold that bus for me,” and the younger one immediately sat back down and said I should hold the bus for him that way he could have another round. I leaned back to the confused barmaid to say, “he says he’s buying the next round…did you ever find that whiskey?”
“Whiskey? I thought you said bourbon.” But, there was the bus.
I got a glowing recommendation for the Five Bells from a commenter on the Carter’s Rest and planned for my run from Lyneham to finish there. That guy was absolutely correct, this is a fantastic pub with a small front bar and slightly larger lounge behind and windows into the bar from all sides. The place was heaving with locals and yet I was met with the warmest of welcomes despite, or perhaps because of, my haggard appearance.
The trail, about 15 minutes before darkness fell...
I spent the previous hour mostly lost in dark, rainy fields and briar filled copses trying to make out the readings on my compass and occasionally getting to high enough ground to see the lights of RWB; when I entered the bar I was muddy, soaked with a combination of sweat and fine mist, and bleeding fairly steadily. There were at least 6 ales on (although I wouldn’t have been surprised to find gravity barrels around the corner). The guy I sat next to while attacking the pint of Brains before me was affable and commented on my compass, the only bit of kit I stole from Uncle Sam lo these many years ago; “that’s a good compass you got there, lad…it brung you here.” Indeed.
The publican appeared in due course and sat nibbles out before each of the windows and two bowls on the bar. They were some of the most delicious Cumberland sausages I have found since moving here, grilled to perfection and best-of-all free. Another old dude showed up and we chatted awhile, too then I went and changed into some dry clothes and bade farewell. Great pub.
The run had to start somewhere and with the rain pissing down the best bet was to change into the running kit someplace sheltered and warm. And, friendly. And, perhaps with a beverage. As luck would have it, the trail I planned had me hop off the bus a few hundred meters from the Mallard, which fit all those bills.
This was quite a nice venue, with a larger bar in the room next to the lounge I sat in. Some children went screaming past and one’s mum told them to go out and play (in the rain…I love Britain), which they duly did. I had my shorts on under some jeans and had just switched shirts and was pulling the jeans down when I realised a woman was watching me; “don’t mind me, darling, just getting naked over here.” She shrugged as if to say, oh they’re starting early tonight they are, and fetched her drink and her drinking buddy and headed out for a smoke. I finished up my lager and headed out into the mist, hoping to make Royal Wootton Bassett before dark.
The Bear and Ragged Staff was owned by St John’s College Oxford 600 years ago, but the building is somewhat older dating back to Saxon and medieval eras when the parish of Cumnor was huge and this was all part of Berkshire. It sits across from Cumnor Place, home of the Earl of Leicester known as a lover of Elizabeth I and possibly the murderer of his wife, Amy Dudley (who haunts the neighbourhood since the pile was pulled down in the 19th century). Cromwell removed the royal crest from the fireplace during the siege of Oxford, and on the 3rd of November I did my lunchtime run up to the bar and back. That covers most of the important events in the pub’s history.
The place is really gorgeous inside and huge so it was sad to see so few patrons. I think things pick up for the evening dining crowd and they are now booking rooms as an inn. This notice board (above) makes sound like a grand dining experience.
I had a Westons Perry served up by the friendly bar lady (and manager, I gather from the ledgers she was working on). I ducked to go through the low-roofed hall into the front bar and found it delightful, but lonely. I think the Cromwellian vandalism was to the fireplace behind the bar but there was no one to ask and I couldn’t linger even though the return trip was mostly downhill with a long flat finish (much like the perry).
I have frequently run the hills around the Folly (built by the eccentric Lord Berners, dubbed during its construction as “Lord Berners’ monstrous erection” by a local newsman). It has been two years since the first time I tried to go to the Folly pub and it was worthy of the repeated effort (another example of failed Folly-ing is here). Well, I don’t know how much effort tonight was, as Jackie has some guitar lessons till 9 on this night all month so I will do a pub with late doors somewhere on/near the bus route each week, starting here. Still, it was the first time I ever found the place unlocked.
The publican saw me weigh the taps and swing to the bar on the right whereupon he suggested theWorlds Biggest Liar, a Jennings special brew that he claimed had a bit of a chocolate taste but was in fact a bit light and watery. A good start on their World’s Biggest Liar competition later in the month, it was not bad just not very good.
"Aye, he was in the war, him." "What war was that then?" "Boer."
The pub dog is a big fat lab that wandered around with a beer mat in his mouth while the half dozen or so regulars talked shit and made each other (and me) laugh. It’s very small but had twice as many patrons as any of the others just down the hill toward the town centre. As I left, everyone said hearty farewells and I felt like I should do this one again once I hit a couple of the other guitar night possibilities.